Creating the Future

Okay, everyone, here’s the deal. As it turns out, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and a lot of talking about the incredible future that awaits us, but I haven’t done much writing about it. I started this blog in part to start sharing some of the thoughts I’ve had in a way that can be shared and discussed over time, so let’s get down to business.

I am deeply curious about finding ways to cultivate true happiness in the world. But not just any kind of happiness. Angry Birds makes people happy, but only on a very superficial level. I’m talking about the good stuff.

Fulfillment. Self actualization. Truly embracing the fact that happiness is found in the pursuit of a better self.

We’re moving from knowledge work to creative work. That means there is more and more opportunity for people to make a living doing something about which they are truly passionate. Coworking communities are petri dishes for these new, creative, highly autonomous and independent people. They are just a glimpse of where the world is going, and the early things we’re observing are really exciting. Because in this early phase, we’re seeing people collaborating. Sharing. Creating. Building great things. Helping one another. They are engaged. They are, as a population, collectively closer to a state of fulfillment than any other that I’ve encountered.

And the ranks are growing fast. A handful of coworking communities only five years ago is now hundreds. And the thousands of people who count themselves among this new population is growing every day at an accelerating rate.

But it’s early. We’ve only just begun to build new things to accommodate the unique needs of these independent workers. Only a few years ago, these people didn’t even have a place to gather. Now, as they approach a critical mass, they are increasingly gathering in one place, united by their shared interests and values. But aside from getting everyone in the same room together, we haven’t gone much further than that yet. Surely these people need more than just a place to gather. They need, for example, to replace much of the structure and accountability that previous work structures provided.

Working 9 to 5 and commuting to an office may suck for many, but a total lack of externally applied structure is no good either. Doing away with the old structures is a great first step, but the next step is to rebuild them in a way that fits our new needs.

I want to explore these things deeply. If we can replace the old with the new and make it easier for more people to pursue independent, passionate, creative careers, then more people will have an opportunity to achieve a true fulfillment. More people will be building real, useful, beautiful things, and that’s a healthy thing for all of us, not to mention an ailing economy in need of some fresh success.

The future is ours to build. I want to build a future in which true personal fulfillment is achievable by anyone who seeks it.

New Work City is a foundation for building this future. Let’s talk about what we can do with that.

Are you in?

Every Town has a Public Library

Originally posted here.

Public libraries are everywhere, all over the world. Odds are, wherever you are, you’re within a short distance of one… perhaps even walking or biking distance.

When one thinks of a library, one might immediately think of stacks of books— still useful, but becoming increasingly marginalized in today’s digital world.

But libraries serve all sorts of functions. They organize free events. They let you host your events. They almost universally have free internet. They even have computers to connect to that internet, in case you don’t own one (and millions of Americans don’t).

Any town of a decent size in America has a public library, and they’re all paid for with tax dollars.

Why do we pay taxes to keep library doors open? Paying taxes to things like police and fire stations, transportation, infrastructure, security, all make obvious sense— but what critical function does a library serve that makes it such a staple of every city?

It’s historically played an important part in bridging literacy gaps, and has helped make information more accessible to the masses. While not formally part of a public school system which has its own buildings and libraries, the public library seems to exist as an optional, open public service for those who elect to learn more on their own. The non-compulsory part of public education.

The discussion on the future of the library is a fascinating one, for certain. What I am more curious about, personally, is the potential of new constructs which might follow in this path.

If it weren’t yet obvious, I’m thinking about where this intersects with coworking.

Right now, countless coworking spaces are popping up all over the world. They’re not publicly funded, but they do exist because of the largely altruistic ambitions of their founders— independent, passionate individuals who, for the most part, don’t expect or seek to take personal profit from their efforts.

One of the challenges for coworking space owners is finding a sustainable model for the future. Without the ability to generate enough revenue to pay people to run the space, spaces must continually depend on the good will of someone willing to donate their time to keep things running and breaking even.

This may be a sustainable model unto itself, if we presume that a good healthy coworking community should be predicated upon a minimum amount of passion and good will.

But for many it’s a struggle. Coworking spaces need to generate enough revenue to, at the very least, pay the bills, and that means a significant amount of work has to be put into marketing, accounting, management, maintenance, and more. A coworking space that had enough money to pay for those services, I believe, would be truly sustainable.

Getting a coworking space to the point where it generates enough revenue to pay the salaries of the people who run it, however, is a high bar to set— perhaps requiring a size or price point high enough that it compromises the needs of the community.

Where, then, might coworking spaces find a sustainable model to follow?

What if we started thinking about the public service coworking spaces provide to their area? The economic development they facilitate, the flexible, affordable workspace they provide, the community events they host (often for free), the sanity they provide for lonely people working form home— these are a true public good, and increasingly important in our current world.

What would a coworking space look like if it were publicly funded? What if it were thought of as serving a similarly critical public service as a public library?

Could they be free? Could they help underserved and unserved communities? Could they be established in suburbs to encourage people to telecommute and save on carbon, gas, traffic, and aggravation?

These and so many more questions are still outstanding. I’m looking forward to figuring out how to answer some of these questions.

Libraries are changing, the workplace is changing, and education is changing. How and when and how much for the better they change is up to us to figure out.