For the last few months, I’ve been quietly been working on a new project. Actually, I’ve been working on the contents of the project for over 3 years now, but recently, I’ve been plugging it into a new framework.
Back in the fall, I was approached by David Hauser from Grasshopper with interest in helping him set up a new coworking space in Boston. David’s whole “empowering entrepreneurs to change the world” value statement for Grasshopper is clear alignment with coworking, far beyond the business proposition. Furthermore, on a very personal note, he might be the only person I’ve met in business who harps on core values as an operating model more than me.
I dig that.
David and I quickly made it past the superficial conversations about coworking spaces and got to talking about community, people, empowerment, higher purpose, and the big questions like “why” we do things the way we do them at IndyHall. David’s eyes went wide and I watched him “get it”. He said, “more people need to hear this, why haven’t you written it down?”
Fact is, I have written it down. Most of it, in fact. The problem was that it was all over the place. Blog posts on this site as well as IndyHall.org. Literally hundreds of posts to the Coworking Google Group. But no cohesive story arc unless you got me in a room and put a beer in my hand.
So we decided that it was valuable enough for David to get behind the project, not just for himself, but with the goal to create something that would help many others kick ass. The end result of the project be something with larger value.
And so, I began writing The Coworking Book.
Now before I go on to post the excerpt, I’m sure you’re asking,
“But what about everybody else that’s written about their experiences? Who the hell are you, one guy, to tell this story by yourself?”
If you’re not asking that question, you should be, because I asked myself the question long and hard before deciding how this project would take form.
Instead of thinking I could take on that task, I instead set out to write the framework. That’s it. I’m building a framework that we can hang ideas from, and to guide people in to coworking from whatever vantage point they are coming from.
I’m writing what I hope is a cohesive story arc that makes the content interesting, valuable, and somewhat linear. And I’m telling it from a single lens: my own.
That’s version 0.1. The alpha. My version. That’s what I’m releasing this week at SXSWi. I’m going to be taking time out of my schedule while in Austin to put the finishing touches on the work I’ve done so far, and to follow my own advice – just effing ship.
My plans for next steps are to begin something that begins to look like the communal composition of some of the oldest texts in history. I’ve decided that within the margins of each paragraph of each chapter of version 0.1, I’m inviting people to tell their stories.
Through their own lense.
There are going to be holes that need filling in. I need you to patch them. There are going to be disagreements on points of execution. We need to discuss them.
But in the framework I’ve constructed, there are always decision-guiding tools to make resolving disagreements simpler and to remove ego, including mine, from the end product.
All of the discussion that goes on in the margins will then be folded in to the primary text with some guidance and support of others. What others? My hope is that some people step up from the margins and want to become co-curators.
Addendum: For the coders in the room, think of the main text as the trunk, the commentary as patch submissions/pull requests, and the curators as “core team”. And lets not forget the ever growing user base that ultimately will want to use this tool because it helps them kick ass.
The tool we’ll be using to collaborate is actually built on top of WordPress, it’s called Digress.it. It’s a plugin + a theme, and while it’s not perfect, it’s pretty badass. This sort of interface was largely inspired by the DjangoBook, the official book for the Django Project, a framework for the programming language Python. What’s important to me is that people can comment with accountability and attribution on every post AND every paragraph individually, and this tool gives exactly that.
Dave Troy has been talking about a “curatorial economy” on his blog, and its an idea that I like. Curatorial is not inherently exclusionary. It does, however, push for people to step up to plate and act. The ones who are considered are the ones who act. It’s not the same as a “do-ocracy”, where those who do get to make the decisions. This is about guiding but not imposing.
Curation is about making a choice, but with shared and articulated vision.
And that is my hope for the final product of The Coworking Book. That through a number of iterations, and communal curation, the work product that emerges is a clear, high value, extremely accessible utility for people interested in the past, present, and future of work.
Lots of commas in that last sentence. Sorry about that.
About the content
This part is important: forever, each version of the text, and the related comments and discussions in the margin, will remain online for free. Searchable. With 100% attribution.
At some point, we’ll need to “release”. Versions will each have a roadmap, with a set of goals that it needs to accomplish. When we achieve those goals, the book will be released.
When we reach a 1.0 version, we’ll only have a snapshot. It won’t be the bible, because it will continue to evolve. But we’ll have a snapshot, something that’s missing from the history books for our movement and our community.
The important part is this: we don’t stop at version 1.0. We don’t ever stop. We keep telling this story, and evolving the text. The growth and change in the sphere of coworking has changed immensely in only 3 years, and the change is accelerating. Lets snapshot things now so we can continue to measure that growth moving forward.
And without further adieu, I present you with an excerpt from the chapter “Finding your Coworkers”.
If you’ve seen the movie “Fight Club”, the main character who’s known as “Jack” is a hypochondriac who attends self help groups to feel better about himself. Demented and selfish intentions aside, something interesting happens to Jack: he meets Marla Singer, another self-help group junkie. In order to not appear awkward in front of their group members, they decide to split up the nights.
There’s a good chance you’re going to find a similar situation along your journey of community exploration. Except this time, this works to your advantage instead of being a detractor like in Jack and Marla’s relationship.
When you start recognizing people at multiple events, or on multiple lists…you’ve found another connector.
Connectors are the most important people in any community building effort because they are catalysts for speeding up your process. If a person is already dedicated enough to be participating in multiple events and groups, it’s not a reach to think they might want to team up with you to more efficiently map the topography of events and activities going on. They might even be able to help find more connectors.
These connectors tend to also make great leaders, and are critical to the mobilization efforts you’ll be embarking on very soon.
Over time, you will find yourself building a map of the existing communities and the active pieces of your region. Coworking can augment many of them, and they can all provide channels for potential members for your space.
More mature communities may already have these maps established, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go through this process on your own. You may uncover something that hasn’t received as much exposure as it deserves and it will go on to be one of your greatest assets once you open a space.
Whatever you do, don't build your coworking community alone.
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