Coworking – a gimmick or the real solution for future challenges
The early signs were recognizable already years ago
”Traditional business incubators will fade away, replaced by new kinds of spaces for entrepreneurship and collaborative research. Pop-up labs, co-working hubs, mobile incubators and disposable research parks will provide flexible physical spaces for R&D. Rather than warehousing workers, they will meet a need for communal collaborative meeting space in a world of increased mobility within and between worksplaces. They will be neutral places where networks of investors, entrepreneurs, hackers ans customers converge for collaborative knowledge creation and trust building, cementing relationships initiated and cultivated online.”
Rather than warehousing workers, they will meet a need for communal collaborative meeting space in a world of increased mobility within and between worksplaces
This is how the report from Institute for the Future described in 2009 an emerging trend called ”The Social Life of Small Research Spaces”. Sounds familiar ? Later on that year I was interviewed by a reporter from an independent supplement of Media Planet within the Wall Street Journal. The article ”What is the Future of Research Parks?” was part of the publication and my outspoken vision in December 2009 was pretty incisive:
“There should be places where people could meet more randomly and ad-hoc. Research parks should work on trying to increase the diversity among their clientele. So far, it looks like science parks are no longer very attractive to the younger generation. Young people feel the parks too rigid or too business like. They like this more relaxed environment. You have to develop methods for “serendipity management” and “open innovation” to discover ways to best facilitate the ad hoc collaborations. Otherwise it will happen in coffee shops and bars.”
Today we will see this happening in ever increasing speed and mostly outside the walls of STPs. The new innovation scene is attractively set mainly by coworking spaces and by new innovation platforms like netWork Oasis, Demola, Urban Mill etc (this was discussed in my previous blog.)
Location, location, location
While the coworking movement is gaining momentum and STPs loosing it, maybe we should analyze some of the fundamentals behind this trend. My understanding is that one of the decisive elements is location.
There are hardly any STPs in the downtown locations of the metropolises.
Coworking spaces are mainly located in downtown areas, where the people density and diversity is high naturally. The STPs are located in suburban areas, in university campuses or industrial zones. There are hardly any STPs in the downtown locations of the metropolises. Why is this an important difference? Watching the old classic by William ”Holly” White – a 55 min film ” The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces -The Street Corner” might give you insight.
The vibrant and random action on the streets and the possibility to serendipitous encounters – the coincidensity! – can be harnessed in the nearby located coworking spaces but not in the STP glasstowers in suburban locations. And like the video proved even small changes in the settings can be decisive. Our behavior is very context dependent!
Linking surrounding communities into the innovation processes
A week ago Stowe Boyd published a great blog where he interviewed Jennifer Magnolfi. Jennifer is widely acknowledged for her reputation in the field and the visionary way of thinking. Her applied research work explores coworking and co-creation, the technologies and practices that support workspaces for innovation, collaboration and community development. In 2012, Jennifer teamed up with Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh to support the company’s new headquarters redesign. Jennifer explains in the interview the magic of coworking spaces:
“Coworking spaces have the capacity to support productive work because of the very human-centric approach to how they are created: the community, or network, comes first, followed by studying and stabilizing the network, and then creation of an environment that supports the behaviors and needs of that network.”
The creation process was based on self-organising principles and the core tribe members were selected because of their passion to the topic.
We surely can confirm that. In our 3GSP pilot project we noticed that the implementation of netWork Oasis, a coworking space inside the existing STP, was the vital element in understanding how the communities are created and supported. We discovered in the very beginning the importance of the core tribe. The creation process was based on self-organising principles and the core tribe members were selected because of their passion to the topic. Actually to be precise – our idea of creating a revolutionary collaborative working environment (CWE) – like it was called at that time (2002) – was so attractive, that it was evident that we could gather the masterminds of this topic into our planning team. The community building was further supported by using our Training Camp approach. As a result we had in the spring 2004 the most diverse and motivated team consisting of core tribe members, substance experts and networking members. By the way, who would have imagined that our task attracted also a monk, Father Andreas, from nearby Valamo monastery to join our team….So passionate lead users and core tribe members were leading the way to create the concept.
Harnessing the benefits of a vibrant coworking space
A properly organized coworking space is essential in hosting various communities. The design of the physical space is extremely important, like Jennifer explains : “The properties of space –- volume, texture, materials, proportions, light — have the capacity to trigger neurochemical reactions in the brain. It is believed that when this is understood correctly, it can be a tool to design for a certain kind of behavior: concentration, energy, focus.” In fact with the design and implementation of netWork Oasis we went one step further, our leading design principle for the space was to support and generate serendipitous encounters of people with diverse backgrounds.
And as important as the physical space is the virtual collaboration platform. Like Jennifer says: “Our digital social space has implicit laws (it’s based on distributed networks), speed and acceleration. It also creates new emergent behaviors in users. For businesses, the purpose of understanding this social context is to describe and possibly predict its future evolution. In other words, understanding these emergent behaviors helps businesses innovate faster, and thus achieve competitive advantage.
That kind of attractive and open space will work as a camp site, similar to those of the ancient nomadic communities – a campfire which gathers the surrounding communities together to reflect, to create and to enjoy.
A vibrant coworking space is the core platform in our 3GSP tool box! It works because the communities are alive and hence able to attract more inspiring people with diverse backgrounds to the space. That kind of attractive and open space will work as a camp site, similar to those of the ancient nomadic communities – a campfire which gathers the surrounding communities together to reflect, to create and to enjoy. And like Jennifer Magnolfi mentioned earlier on, these mental campfire places can be created. The most attractive element in netWork Oasis in fact has turned out to be the logfire place in Serendipity Cafe, where you can watch the flames of the logs burning live. It’s a general wisdom that campfires are one of the most relaxing phenomenons a mankind have ever created. Our experience shows that a natural campfire ambience is by far the best way to create insightful moments in a built environment. And insight really is, what is needed in our communities!
Photo courtesy – Finnish Game Jam / Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151279405885369&set=pb.256699080368.-2207520000.1364371251&type=3&theater