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Coworking & Zones of Proximal Development

28 Mar 2011
by Alex Hillman

Quick repost from the coworking google group. This was too good not to share here.

A member of the Global Coworking Google Group named Garth posted the following:

I spent Earth Hour chatting with an old buddy about his passion, psychology.  When I told him what we’re trying to achieve with coworking, he suggested I look up “zone of proximal development.”  Any of you have enough psych background to assess whether there is some value in reviewing the literature on that?  Could it be applied to coworking? So I don’t have much of a psych “background” other than my armchair interest in it as Coworking (like most things) has become less about business and more about people for me. Here’s my response, with some minor edits for clarity from the original post to the Google Group:


I’ve spent a good amount of the last year reading more articles and books on psychology, sociology, and cognitive science for ideas and lessons to apply to coworking…chiefly for the purpose of finding terms like this that could lead to more study of the context. It’s so often that I observe a pattern and the main thing keeping me from understanding it more is not knowing what the pattern is called or means, so I can’t look up a study or research paper on it. Best I can do is write about it and hope somebody posts about it.

Interestingly enough, I think this concept is a meta explanation of exactly that experience. Here’s what I mean:

A quick skim of the concept makes me think there’s a lot of application here. It also reinforces some of my theories that coworking is most valuable when it’s not a room full of “likeminded people” doing the same thing (startups, law, technology, creative, communication, writing, art, business, science, education, etc) but instead a room full of “likeminded people” doing DIFFERENT things (startups, law, technology, creative, communication, writing, art, business, science, education, etc.).

That is to say, especially as adults, we’re less likely to learn from peers that are too similar. We spend too much time reinforcing each other’s existing habits and knowledge instead of creating space for new knowledge to be exchanged. That “space” isn’t physical space like a coworking space, but conceptual space, like the “zone of proximal development”.

Essentially, we share what we knowWe don’t share what we don’t know. And we don’t know what we don’t know. Coworking can help break down those barriers.

Coworking, in its best forms, creates a zone where we’re surrounded by people aren’t limited by knowing what we don’t know (or know what we do know) and it can be shared in loose contexts and formats that we’re all increasingly comfortable with.

Cool shit. Thanks for sharing, Garth.

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Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.