What would you name the un-employer of the future?

How fun would it be to take everything– everything– that goes into a complete support system for employees and see how we can make new, better equivalents for in(ter)dependent workers?

For a good long while now, I’ve been focused on this idea of a meta-corporation that looks like a traditional industrial employer, but is in fact completely different under the hood. Instead of existing as a hierarchy that funnels value upward to executives and shareholders, it would exist as a networked system that facilitates value transfer between peers.

It would still have all of the support structures of a traditional employer, but re-engineered for the needs of the new workforce.

So what would we call it?

It would have to sound a little corporate. If we’re going to be printing this on letterhead and putting it on the sides of buildings, it’s got to sound like something that could be well-established. Institutional, even.

It would have to be more than a little tongue-in-cheek. It could go so far as to be a living parody of everything that wasn’t so great about the old way of doing things. It could invite people to laugh a bit, and then wonder: “okay, but seriously though. How can we do this better?”

It would have to pass the Mom Test. That is, one should be able to tell their mom that they’re a part of this company and it would sound sufficiently secure and legitimate as to not make mom worry.

I’ve had a few ideas for what to call it, but I know there are some great ideas out there. What would you call this company?

Leave a comment!

 

What would George Washington do if he ran New Work City? How about Donald Trump?

NWC 2015 Brainstorm

Yesterday, my friend and fellow New Work City coworker Ray of ThinkDesign took a bunch of us through a creative brainstorming exercise to drum up lots of ideas for where we can go with our community next year and beyond. It was an incredibly awesome exercise, because we were forced to throw out ideas in such a rapid-fire way that we didn’t have a chance to second guess ourselves. We also took on the personas of famous figures, which forced us to look at things from different perspectives. On the other side we ended up with ideas that we may never have thought about otherwise.

The central question revolved around what we could do next year to set up NWC to be something that is secured for a long time, while also taking on a renewed sense of purpose and ambition.

What kinds of things did we learn? Here are a few takeaways:

What would George Washington do if he ran New Work City?

At first, I didn’t think there’d be a lot to come up with for this. For all we revere George, what do we really know about him and his beliefs? Well, maybe we can just use our rough understanding of what he means to us, and go from there. What would he do?

  • He’d declare war on his oppressors.
  • He’d collaborate with his friends to articulate a set of core values.
  • He’d develop an open source system of democracy.
  • He’d keep the power in the hands of the people.
  • He’d be first and most famous.
    • (Really, think about it. We have a capitol city, a state, a currency, and so much more in his name, in part because of this fact.)
  • He’d envision things 100 years down the road.
  • He’d forge alliances.
  • He’d look at the current circumstances and find ways to turn them to his advantage.

What would Donald Trump do if he ran New Work City?

We used him as the “anti-example,” and sure enough the first few notes I drew up were more punchlines than productive ideas. But after I got that out of my system, something funny happened. It turns out that, while we may never want to do things the way Trump would do them, we might have something to learn from it anyway. What would he do?

  • He’d be unafraid to take big risks.
  • He’d commit to a really ambitious project and compel everyone to believe it can happen.
  • He’d not be afraid to make people angry with his beliefs.
  • He’d write a book about how awesome and successful he is and why people should emulate him. (Okay, we’re not going to do this, but maybe we could glean something from it?)
  • Brand brand brand brand brand.
  • He’d find a way to profit from the legions of unemployed and underemployed (ha!)

What would Martin Luther King, Jr do if he ran New Work City?

We have much to learn from the Civil Rights Movement and one of the great leaders of the past century. What would he do?

  • He’d give a voice and vision to the oppressed.
  • He’d have a dream and talk about it.
  • He’d write and give a speech that resonates deeply with people.
  • He’d empower people to organize and act.
  • He’d appeal to human decency.
  • He’d focus on the needs of a specific group of people.
  • He’d align himself with an unstoppable force (God).
  • He’d stage visible protests.
  • He’d call out injustice and publicly oppose it.
  • He’d bring the power to the have-nots.
  • He’d show the power of gentleness and compassion.

How do these notions filter down to an actionable plan? We’ll cover that next. Whatever we decide to do, we’ll have the wisdom of some great (and not so great but remarkable nonetheless) individuals to guide us.

 

What happens when you become the boss?

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It’s easy to hate on the boss. The clueless middle-manager. The power-hungry doofus. Bill Lumbergh. Michael Scott, if we’re lucky.

So when we see that more and more people are starting to work for themselves instead of for bosses, we celebrate the fact. We throw up giant flags that say “do what you love.” We romanticize it, and for good reason.

But there’s a flipside to all the newfound liberty. While we may be right to take joy in shedding the oppression of full-time employment, we also must take caution in acknowledging the support and security we lose along with it. Shedding the personified human boss above you on the org chart doesn’t mean that the role of the boss ceases to exist; it means that the role now shifts to elsewhere. In large part, it shifts to inside of you.

You become the boss now. You’re the man. You are, now, perhaps, the clueless middle-manager. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, right?

Do we really want that responsibility? Are we well-equipped for it? Are we going to love it?

In a world whose attention is increasingly being consumed by an ever-improving system designed to stimulate our brains with shocking listicles and engagement-optimized tweets, do we really trust ourselves to manage ourselves well?

When the boss is us, who’s going to tell us to unplug the social media and get back to work? Who’s going to remind us that instead of playing into the development of the 21st century Couch Potato, we should be doing what we love– like we said we would?

Not everyone who is making the shift toward independent work is going willingly. Traditional full-time jobs, like them or not, are going away and not coming back. Some people welcome the change, but some are kicking and screaming. They fear a world in which they’re on their own, and with good reason. We’re not meant to be on our own.

I know how badly I need to not be on my own. I don’t want to be consumed by my own lack of discipline. I really really don’t want to hate my boss now, because he’s not going anywhere. I know I’m not the only one facing these sorts of things.

And therein lies an opportunity to shape how this plays out.

We can scatter, each of us on our own, battling social media and our own shortcomings and ever-increasing costs and who knows what else, and hope that we might eek out a happy life somewhere in between. Or we can find new ways to organize and help each other.

This is why I believe so deeply in the potential of Coworking. By putting us in the same room together, it gives us a fighting chance. But it can’t just be window dressing on an office space rental business, as many believe it is now. We have to think of it as a tool to build better ways for us to support each other.

How we approach that is something I’ve been looking at from a lot of angles. I’ve found some answers, but there are so many more yet to be found.

If you’re around next Saturday, a group of us will be talking about these kinds of things all day. I’d love for you to join. I’d also love to hear your voice in the comments below if you have a moment.

Collaborative motivation groups

Cotivation at New Work City

Back at the end of 2012, I was facing an interesting challenge: New Work City’s membership was lagging after a slow Fall season, and the culture was starting to slide into one of passive workspace consumption. Which is not what we’re about.

So I wanted to undertake an effort that would simultaneously stimulate interest in membership while also creating an opportunity to revitalize the culture from within. I wanted to promote our place in a way that was more substantial than just “we’re great, come hang with us! Really!” — so I thought about a program that would give people a way to forge deeper, more intentional working relationships with each other.

I thought about what I needed myself, and what I saw in others. Two themes came up consistently: structure and accountability. In traditional employment, these things are taken care of, but for independent workers these critical constructs are nearly nonexistent without some kind of deliberate effort.

So to that end, I cooked up a basic but powerful concept for an accountability group, dubbed Cotivation (think collaborative motivation), where participants would meet weekly to set goals, keep each other accountable, and discuss whatever’s holding them back.

I themed the first one around making and keeping a New Year’s resolution and published it just before the end of the year, inviting people to join for our official kickoff in mid-January (why mid-January? because that’s when you most need a boost; after the initial excitement of the new year has worn off. But also because it gave us some time to promote it).

What resulted was incredible: a dozen or so people, some existing members and some newcomers, got together and started opening up to each other. We dug deep. We talked about our hopes and dreams and what was holding us back.

We set monthly goals and then weekly interim milestones, checking in each week to see whether we’d done what we’d said we would. Inevitably, some of us would fail, which gave us a chance to examine why. We’d discuss, we’d adjust, and we’d repeat.

When the first Cotivation came to a close in February, the next step was obvious: let’s do this again. So we repeated the format, inviting others to join.

We quickly formed deep bonds. The people who participated in those early Cotivation sessions ended up being the same people who went out for drinks after work and joined our volleyball team in the springtime.

Today, Cotivation groups are running or in development in New York, Seattle, Toronto, and Fort Collins. A handful of members run their own Cotivation group at New Work City now, with new groups on the way.

I’m excited about the ways Cotivation can help independents have a sense of the crucial structure and accountability they need, while also giving coworking spaces a valuable way to facilitate stronger connections and greater value between members.

If you’re interested in starting a Cotivation group, contact me!

Quarantining new ideas for monthly review

I have this terrible tendency to flit from one idea to the next. Ask me what I’m up to today, and I’ll tell you something I’m really excited about, but then ask me again in two weeks, and odds are I’ll give you a different answer. Ask me again in a few months and I might tell you about the first idea I mentioned to you again.

In Bruce Lee terms, it’s like practicing 10,000 kicks once. It’s paralysis.

To combat this, I’m practicing developing a routine in which I funnel all new ideas onto a Trello list that I’ll make space to look at with intention at the end of each month. This will be a time when I’ll be setting intentions for the following month, so it will be a good time to look at this.

This allows me to feel good about letting the ideas go in the immediate moment, knowing that if they’re true winners they’ll prove themselves out when compared to the many others at the end of the month.

More importantly, I’ll keep the shininess of those ideas from interfering with whatever I’m working on in the present moment, which incidentally was probably an idea that was really shiny to me sometime in the past. If I can clear enough space to follow through on those ideas, execute them well, and build on them, then I’m onto something.

 

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Routine challenges

One of the main areas of professional self-improvement I’m focusing on right now is developing, refining, and, perhaps most importantly, trusting a routine.

In theory, everything that comes across my transom should be able to be handled in a consistent and predictable way. I’ve found, however, it really hard to nail that down. I think I just have to start somewhere, identify what doesn’t fit with the system, and refine as I go.

As I work towards that, I thought I’d share some things that have so far defied my attempts at systems:

  • A request from a friend to help me find sponsors for her conference. She’s a good friend, so I want to help her, but I’m not sure how to allocate time to reach out to potential sponsors for her. It seems like a painful task, so I’m not sure where or how to slot it in.
  • A friend of a friend who’s looking for a job. I’m getting a sense that this, and other things, could be batched together into a single, let’s say weekly, digest of things I post to NWC’s group and maybe my blog. It wouldn’t be much work if I focused on it for a solid hour or so once a week. I’m going to start a “Batch Favors” label as an incremental step for this.
  • A member who wanted to introduce me to someone who might want to add coworking to their space. I have some pretty good systems in place for this. I have a primer I send to people who ask my advice, which includes a compilation of questions I’ve answered in interviews and similar correspondence, and an appointment system I can direct people to for office hours-like meetings. I think, for now, this is largely a matter of trusting the systems I already have in place.

    …HOWEVER, I can’t help but feel like more can be done to better gather even just the NYC-area coworking organizers I encounter. I don’t want to obligate myself to organizing Another Thing, but… something. Another puzzle piece.

  • Friends sharing ideas for projects I’d love to do, but have no space to tackle.
    • A program for helping people get on their feet working for themselves (establishing an LLC, bank account, basic routines, etc).
    • A Welcome Center program where we create little brochures introducing people to the core communities and resources available to them in NYC (and then partnering with like-minded coworking spaces to have them offer the brochures as well.) Maybe also a paid consulting service for people who want to sit down with someone who will work with them to get them properly acquainted.
    • Lots of possible accountability / shared structure groups

This is a partial list I put together just from spending an hour going through things in my backlog. Perhaps I’ll add to it as I identify more.

Do you have a consistent way of handling things like these in a non-painful way? Help me out!

Help me put together the puzzle pieces (or stop trying)

As part of my continuing effort to revisit transparency as a general practice in my life and work, I share here an overview of the various puzzle pieces I see somehow one day converging into a more singular, focused, highly impactful effort.

It kills me not to know how to fit them together, so I am working to stop trying to figure it out all by myself. In a very short conversation I once had with Simon Sinek, he sized me up so quickly that he was able to cut me off mid-sentence and advise me to stop trying to do it all myself. So, really, I’m just trying to do what Simon says!

Here’s what I see:

  1. We have our own coworking space in NYC. We can do anything we want with it (so long as it’s legal!)— daytime, evening time, weekends.
  2. We’re friendly with other coworking spaces in NYC. And around the world. We have a growing number of like-minded neighbors whose higher purposes are in alignment with ours. We have so much to gain by joining forces, if only we can find the proper impetus.
  3. We’ve got a big lovely Meetup group. Coworking Community NYC Meetup has over 1,800 members on it and it’s growing every day. We could be having more people host more Meetups.
  4. We’ve got some really handy constructs. Work Sprints and Cotivation in particular are really handy tools people can use to externalize some structure and accountability in local communities. We also use this idea of To-DONE lists to share what we’re getting done and get a mutual sense of accomplishment.
  5. We’ve got this sticker-based social network idea. Dubbed “underground laptop mafia,” the idea is to manufacture semi-anonymous stickers that people could put on their laptops, so people could discover each other in cafes and elsewhere, look up their profiles, and see if they want to connect in real life. It could let us essentially build a distributed coworking community. Plus, it would be really cool to have a neat secret-society-looking sticker.
  6. We’ve got this new coworking network forming. My friends Drew and David, who run Conjunctured in Austin, are building Nomatik on top of the Seats2Meet platform, which allows people to broadcast where they are and find people to connect with. This could naturally fit in with the Underground Laptop Mafia idea above. But how does it fit into the bigger picture?
  7. We’ve got a new spot for charting out new ideas. I’m calling it Project Bossless. It’s a clean slate that could evolve into a more well-formed entity once these pieces start coming together better.
  8. I’ve got this crazy idea that I can’t get out of my head. The idea centers around a fictional company, dubbed Bossless Industries, that masquerades as a traditional industrial employer, but is in fact the opposite of one behind the curtain. It would serve as a vehicle for those used to full-time employment to transition into independent work without it being too much of a popped-out-of-the-matrix experience.

I’ve got countless of ideas for projects: winter retreats, mastermind groups, consulting projects, unconferences, books, and so much more. I would think the obvious answer is to “just pick one and focus on that,” but I feel like I could use a little something more. I want to feel like I’m making the right choices amidst a wide array of options.

What does this look like to you?


If you caught the very subtle Groundhog Day reference in this post, many points to you.

Act IV

This fall, New Work City will celebrate its sixth anniversary since first opening for business in 2008. It’s hard to believe it’s been six whole years; building and sustaining a small brick-and-mortar business for that long is no small feat!

The current version of New Work City, the one located at 412 Broadway, is in what I would call Act III of the overarching narrative of our story.

As we look to the future, it’s time to think about what Act IV will look like for us. Before we get to that, let’s go over how we got here.

ACT I – Jelly & CooperBricolage

Back in 2007, coworking was this obscure thing that happened in a Williamsburg artist collective and five-bedroom loft apartment on 39th Street. When I attended my first Jelly, my life changed forever. It was the first time I’d been exposed to a world of my peers who were working for themselves, doing creative work that was in alignment with their souls.

Soon thereafter, I moved into that apartment and eventually picked up where the original organizers had left off, hosting Jellies and helping others do similar. At the same time, I started working with my new friend Sanford and a bunch of other new friends on building a dedicated coworking community, dubbed CooperBricolage in tribute to Peter Cooper and Nate Westheimer’s vision of a cafe-based coworking concept called CafeBricolage, using East Village cafes as our home bases.

Between these two communities, we were able to develop a sense of consistent culture and critical mass that would be necessary for us to take the next step. Act I: Culture: Set!

ACT II – New Work City

While working in cafes was great, one can only take so many conference calls on the sidewalk before feeling some wear and tear. We needed a place we could count on to be ours. By late 2008, there was still a tremendous need for someone to build a central coworking space in Manhattan, so when NWC opened its doors, it was a boon for the people who needed it and for many who would be inspired by the example it set.

We didn’t have any investors, but we did have a lot of friends. Sanford found a startup that had more space than they needed and helped convince them to give us a chance.

We conspired to develop an arrangement that would allow us to open for business with minimal risk. With a little bit of cash and a trip to Ikea, we were in business. Act II: Business: Launched!

ACT III – New Work City 1.5 and 2.0

The space we shared with our startup friends was a fantastic incubator for what we were building. What we really needed, however, was a home of our own. Sharing space with our sublessors felt, at times, like living with our parents. Fortunately, we were able to be just successful enough with what we had there to get ourselves to the next level: a place of our own.

When it came time for us to leave that space, we set our sights on just that. After a life-saving four-month stopover sharing space with our friends at Greenspaces, a Kickstarter campaign and an overwhelming amount of support from hundreds of loving people, we got our own space open at 412 Broadway in September of 2010. We’ve been there ever since. Act III: Mission: Accomplished!

ACT IV

Next June, our current lease will expire. It gives us an opportunity to revisit why we’re here and what we want to do next. The end of this lease will constitute the end of the third act. What does Act IV look like? That’s for us to ascertain together.

As we consider what Act IV might be, I gravitate towards two main areas of focus: purpose and sustainability.

Focus 1: Purpose

Our purpose for a long time was to build and sustain a great coworking space in a central part of Manhattan. That mission is largely accomplished. So, what’s next?

Every business should be aspiring to something more. It’s no fun to just try to tread water. How, then, might we go about articulating a higher ambition to strive for?

We’ve always had a general ambition of better supporting the needs of the growing ranks of the independents. Considering the litany of things we still each have to deal with on our own without any external support, there’s no shortage of opportunity there.

New Work City as it’s currently constituted isn’t organized around working towards that purpose. It was designed to get us to where we are today. In order to develop a mandate that aligns us with the larger mission in a more specific way, we must consider how to develop a proper vehicle for that.

Focus 2: Sustainability

I very deliberately shaped New Work City into something that wasn’t to be treated as a business venture. Back when it was getting started, I thought doing so would dirty it. I wanted to see New Work City become something that people could trust to have their interests in mind, not the interest of profit-minded investors or other entities with their own agendas.

Now, as we look ahead, I’m revisiting that philosophy. A sustainable entity has a robust structure around it to ensure its vitality beyond the constraints of any one individual. NWC, as it stands, depends way too much on Peter and myself to be sustainable as a long-term entity.

So if this thing is to continue to live on in some form for the foreseeable future, it seems worth considering how we might best develop such a structure to wrap around it.

What happens next

We know that whatever Act IV looks like, it’s something more purposeful and more sustainable. That could manifest in the form of a new business entity, or a partnership with a like-minded organization, or something else we can’t yet see. What we can do, now, is take action that creates space for those possibilities to become more real.

Here are some of the things I’m currently working on:

  1. Exploring new ideas with Project Bossless – I recently launched this site to create a clean slate from which new approaches could be explored. The core of the project focuses on the emergence of the larger ecosystem that I believe coworking is a part of—an interdependent support system for people who would otherwise be on their own.
  2. Organizing IndieCon, an unconference by and for independent workers – We did the first one last fall, and it was an amazing way to rally people around finding new ways to help one another. This year, we’re planning on doing it again, bigger and better, with intention to continue building on the ideas after the conference is over.
  3. Facilitating Meetups – We’ve ramped up self-organized coworking gatherings this year through our Meetup group, which has been hugely helpful in giving us a better understanding of the different ways we can play with the coworking model. We should continue to explore how we can use this group to try new things.
  4. Talking more – So much of what helped make New Work City survive and thrive in its transitions from one act to the next came from a commitment to share and engage openly in the process as we went. The more we invited people to buy into the conversation and participate in shaping its direction, the better it got for everyone involved.

Now that the next act is coming into focus, it makes sense for us to be talking more openly about what happens next.

We know that coworking represents an important part of the future of work. As more and more people join the ranks of the never-again-to-be-traditionally-employed, the importance of coworking spaces as support systems rises accordingly.

We can’t just all be trying to figure everything out on their own. We need each other to make this shift a healthy one. Coworking is a vessel for that.

Let’s look together in earnest at how we can take what we’ve got and build on it, for ourselves and those who follow us.

If you’re reading this, you’re a part of the effort already. Comment below with your thoughts, join IndieCon (stay tuned), attend or propose a coworking gathering through our Meetup group, or of course join as a member of New Work City and help shape our future with us together.

Revisiting transparency

The scene: a Friday night happy hour at New Work City. We have happy hours every Friday, but this one was particularly special, because we were sending off one of our most steadfast and supportive members who had recently decided to move on.

A group of familiar faces gathered for the occasion. Each of them, in their own way, had themselves already moved on, but on this night they came together for their friend.

We toasted to the end of an era. We talked about what we’d be doing next. We laughed.

Then we went our separate ways.

That night, which took place a few weeks ago, marked a major shift for me in how I approach New Work City and its community.

Up to that point, I was operating with an all-in-one strategy that for years I’d wanted so badly to work. It was a strategy that envisioned the coworking space as the place where people do their work in the daytime, but then also gather socially in the evenings for movie nights and card games. It was a strategy that envisioned my circle of closest friends and the circle of NWC’s most active members as being one and the same.

I’d seen it done successfully in other coworking spaces, at least as far as I could tell. More importantly, it was what I’d wanted: a place where my friends were my coworkers and the line between the two was nonexistent.

The strategy worked for a while. At its peak, it was something really special. We were playing volleyball together; we had a weekly late night “therapy” session at my favorite local pub; we were collaborating on projects.

But it didn’t last. It started with one of the big teams in our space moving out (for the best reason possible—they were so successful that they outgrew us), removing from our daily routine a couple of people who were cornerstones of our cadre. Shortly thereafter, one after another started dropping off. By the time we got to this special happy hour, there was no denying that the circle was no more.

What happened? Certainly, each person had their own story and their own reasons. New York City is a place of transition. Few New Yorkers I know are people who are exactly where they want to be and seek to stay put for a long time. People come to New York to get to somewhere else.

Our location feeds into that sense of transience. The fact that New Work City is on Broadway & Canal Street makes it convenient to just about everyone, but it’s not exactly a neighborhood people want to hang out in.  While our neighborhood has for a long time been home to a vibrant community of independent workers, those workers trade in knockoff bags and watches. Most NWC members live far from the space and from each other in every direction. Gathering, then, is always somewhat of a stretch for everyone.

There were a lot of factors at play, but ultimately, it fell on me. I placed myself at the center of the group, then disappeared for weeks at a time. One might assume my falling for a wonderful woman who lives in another part of the country had something to do with it, but I’ve done this in the past when there wasn’t a long-distance relationship to focus on as the reason. Eventually, one way or another, I find a way to detach. The reality is that I could have taken everyone along for that journey and I didn’t. For long stretches, I just fell off. That’s on me.

That wouldn’t have been as big of an issue if I’d architected something that didn’t depend on me so much, but from the very start I had set an expectation that I’d be around to keep things rolling. When I wasn’t there, things didn’t feel quite the same.

Seeing what had happened for what it was, I toasted that night knowing I had to go a different way from now on. I had no desire to repeat this cycle again. I certainly had no desire to disappoint people I cared about. Rebuilding was going to require taking what I’d experienced, learning from it, and adjusting.

The following Monday, I came into work and started to rebuild.

I quickly realized I had narrowed so much of my focus to the relatively small group of friends I was cultivating. Zooming out, I was able to better see the entire community of 150+ people who were all in their own ways finding each other and forming their own bonds and sub-communities. I had no direct involvement in this happening; I didn’t even know a lot of these people. But here they were, under my nose, befriending each other and conducting business together and going out to lunch with each other. Letting go of the smaller group let me see the bigger group for the wonderful ecosystem that it is.

I shifted my focus to facilitating connections between members without getting too directly involved myself. I still play an active role, but as more of a coach than a player. I meet with members and the people who have stepped up to play larger roles at NWC with the intention of figuring out how to best empower them to use the thing we’ve built to their best benefit, without making me a linchpin any moreso than necessary.

It’s only been a short time, but already I am finding myself much more comfortable in this role. I find I’m less afraid that the work I do now will end up overloading me later. I feel like the work I’m doing is helping build something more sustainable.

One example: this past Friday, we held the first of what will be a monthly series of Welcome Aboard Member Meetings (WAMMs). Sarah, our Space Captain, did a tremendous job recruiting for it, so we ended up having two separate meetings totaling 26 coworkers, some who’d joined as recently as that day and others who’d been members for years. We learned more about each other, why we joined, what we’re working on, what we need help with, and even our favorite snack. We took it as an opportunity to educate people as to how they could use the tools NWC provides to achieve what they’re going for.

A monthly meeting like that is something that I can work on and be present for that doesn’t foster lots dependence upon me but instead can act as a clearinghouse for empowering and emboldening people to connect with each other without the constant need for a middleman.

It’s only been one meeting, but it’s left me hopeful for the potential in this new direction.

As for me, I realized that I can go further to change my own story. I wonder: What would it look like for me to be unafraid of taking on too much and shutting down when I get overwhelmed? Being open and transparent with people got me so far when I practiced it naturally. When New Work City was just getting started, my fastidious inclusion of everyone in every step of the process of getting it off the ground gave people an opportunity to buy in and feel like they were a part of it.

The less I shared as time went on, the less opportunities people had to connect to me and to it. This invited greater dependence on me as the provider who’s holding all of the cards.

Shutting down and closing people out can be an effective defense against being overwhelmed with input, but the collateral damage is too great. At this point, I think there are far greater risks in not sharing than there are in sharing. Why not flip things over and see what happens?

As for cultivating friendships, I can now start to focus on what that looks like outside the context of my coworking community. I can and do still have friends who are members, of course, but what does it look like for me to think of my network of friends as something distinct and separate from my business? This is something I now make myself free to explore.

Posting something like this is scary to me. I feel vulnerable exposing myself.

I don’t have all the answers. I’m just someone trying to figure it all out. That can be insanely hard for a leader to say, but it’s the reality whether you face it or not.

I’m working to face it.

There are still so many people whose lives would be so much better if they had better ways to connect with each other. There are still so many people suffering who don’t have to be. There’s still a lot of work to do.

If sharing more of my vulnerable, imperfect self helps me be a better vehicle for helping those people, then it’s time to open up and let it flow.

If I’ve let you down, I’m sorry. I want to do my part to support you and invite you to support me, imperfections and all, out of love for ourselves and each other.

Thanks for reading this. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to connect with you.

 

The problem with coworking (and an idea for how to solve it)

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Coworking has served to unite millions of people around the world who share a common interest. Over seven years ago, when I was living with my parents, working from home and losing my mind, I was able to discover Jelly in NYC and a global movement with a simple Google search. Once I saw the word, I knew that whatever coworking was, it was what I needed.

Zoom way, way forward to present day, and coworking is now quickly seeping into the collective consciousness. As an ardent champion of coworking since I first discovered it, I see this as a tremendously good thing.

That growth was made possible by a simple fact: the guy who invented modern day coworking freely offered it to be taken and shared and copied and remixed by anyone anywhere. While that simple act ignited massive rallying by people all around the world, it came with one critical tradeoff: no one person or entity can control the direction or perception of the word now that it’s out in the world for anyone to use.

As a result, the meaning behind the notion of coworking has undergone an extremely long game of telephone, wherein a little bit of the original signal is lost every time it gets passed along from one to another.

Along its journey from obscurity to household name, coworking found a powerful delivery vehicle in a business model that relies on renting space and then charging people to share that space.

Over time, the deep, meaningful, purposeful power behind the word got overwhelmed by the business model. Coworking, to many people, has been reduced to simply another way of renting workspace.

Those of us who have experienced what is possible with coworking, however, know that it speaks to something far deeper and more important. Experiencing it illuminated to me the direction that work as we know it is going: away from traditional employment and even from independent models toward something that mixes the best of both.

Coworking gives us a peek way ahead, to a world in which people are empowered but not isolated. In some ways, it’s way ahead of its time.

But so long as coworking remains outside of anyone’s control, we can’t use it by itself without some additional help.

I’ve seen this in a number of stories I’ve heard and experienced myself when coworking spaces in the same city try to get together to support each other. They struggle to find ways to collaborate, because ultimately their businesses rely upon them renting space, and there’s little room for their ultimate interests to align.

If coworking spaces such as those could be united under a more specifically articulated, higher purpose, we may have an opportunity to go further.

Idea: Articulate a higher purpose people can rally around.

If the aspirations of a coworking space can extend beyond simply getting enough members to pay the rent, new opportunities for collaboration come into play. Neighboring coworking spaces have a better chance of working together, while each individual space also has an opportunity to re-cast its relationship with current and future members in the context of their shared efforts toward this common purpose.

It’s what most of us are already in the business of doing—we just need to call it out in a way that invites others to participate.

I didn’t dedicate myself to New Work City because I thought it was a fab way to make profits trading space for cash.  I’d venture a guess that most coworking space owners would agree.

We got into this business because we want to help people. We want to help ourselves, and future generations. We see a way of working that is made better when we gather and organize together.

What would it look like if we articulated, in a specific way, why we’re doing what we’re doing and started speaking and acting with that in mind?

Potential higher purposes, just off the top of my head:

  • Making your town a more welcoming place for independent creatives
  • Improving your city’s economy through increased commerce between citizens
  • Growing the number of people who are successfully working for themselves
  • Reducing economic inequality by providing low-cost access to education and resources
  • Making it just as easy to work for yourself as it used to be to work for someone else
  • Helping 1,000 people in the region make their first $100 working for themselves by the end of 2014
  • Building a support infrastructure for the emergent interdependent workforce

I’m keen on developing my own take on these higher ambitions. I want to see coworking spaces around the world working towards a shared mission in a way that’s more explicit and exciting.

How can we go about better fostering this greater sense of purpose?