Last Friday, as we were walking through the fog-drenched streets of Inner Sunset in San Francisco, we saw a massive group of cyclists come barreling down the road. Along with other pedestrians, we watched them whip by like a migrating helmeted herd, oblivious to our gawking.
No, they weren’t a biker gang or anything. These folks were part of the movement founded in San Francisco known as Critical Mass, which invites cyclists from all over the city, usually on the last Friday of every month, to take a ride around town. Over 300 cities around the world participate and host a Critical Mass event. Some of them are organized as direct action events; others are planned purely for fun, letting people travel as a pack through city streets– and directly or inadvertently pissing off angry motorists by creating traffic jams.
There is an energy in the ‘group’. The group attracts your attention. It stops traffic (a.k.a. the old way of doing things). When it moves, you take notice.
Well, there’s also another type of group forming in cities, suburbs, and small towns across the country that’s becoming in many ways, a critical mass of its own, and a force to be reckoned with: People who cowork.
Experts are finding that where you work really does matter, and coworking spaces are challenging conventional notions of where innovation and creativity come from. Great ideas flourish in the moshpit of collaboration and are born out of the churn of working with others.
You don’t have to stand on the shoulders of giants– but being around others at a coworking space with different perspectives, expertise, backgrounds– can spark new thinking.
Teresa Amabile, who runs the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School and is the world’s foremost scholar on creativity in the workplace, found that, “…The most creative teams are those that have the confidence to share and debate ideas.”
Coworking hinges on the belief that innovation and inspiration comes from the cross-pollination of different people in different fields. Random opportunities and discoveries that arise from interactions with others— also called “accelerated serendipity”— play a large role in coworking.
Jeff Shiau, director of The Hub Bay Area, a coworking space with locations in Berkeley and San Francisco, uses the metaphor of density and critical mass cited in Stephen Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From to describe the benefits of coworking.
“You look at these bigger cities, these condensed cities where people are frequently colliding, where people are frequently having to compete against each other. Whether it’s friendly competition or fierce business competition, people are constantly interacting. There is a lot more innovation and creativity in these areas,” Jeff says in an interview with us for Working in the UnOffice: A Guide to Coworking (Night Owls Press, August 2011).
Coworking enables the freelancer or the independent woker to reach a certain level of creativity more quickly because of collaboration. “You’re not just saving on rent, but you’re also able to make connections, to build a community around your ideas quickly— at a creative level that’s beyond what you would be able to do if you were just working by yourself in a single office space, if you were working out of a coffee shop, or working at home.”
Well, we think it’s time to join your own critical mass of independent workers by checking out a coworking space or collaborative workspace near you. If you’re interested in learning more about coworking, check out Working in the UnOffice: A Guide to Coworking.
Other great resources on coworking include:
Deskmag: An online publication that covers issues related to innovative workplaces and new ways of working. It focuses on coworking spaces and the new breed of independent workers and small companies that work there. Check out their “Tool and Tips” section for great coworking advice.
Shareable Magazine: An online magazine devoted to the amazing things that happen when people share and collaborate in all areas of life—art, urban design, food, science and technology, and workplaces. Get tips for community-building, how to be a socially-conscious collaborative consumer, and more in their “How To Share” series.
(Image: Thomas Hawk)