There is a new coworking space opening. I know, that's not exactly news right now with so many new spaces opening in Atlanta. This one though. . . well, it's in the same building as NEX. Just in case you didn't know, NEX is a coworking space. So, a business that purports to do exactly the same thing is opening in our building. This is making me consider the last 6 years and I wanted to share a few thoughts. . . things I think are important and I want you to consider also.
Being JUST a Coworking Space
I’m tired of people talking about how they are more than co-working; I see this on every new coworking space web page. As if co-working wasn’t important. As if the space isn't important in and of itself. Isn't that where bad design and tacky corporate offices take the most criticism. . . you hear people say, "oh my officemates were great, but the place is just so stifling. It's a cube farm and all gray."
Let me just say that I think it's time for Atlanta to take it's spaces seriously. It's ok to be a (just a) space. Space is incredibly important to our productivity and it's the primary way that we create a shared experience. . . "Oh, yeah, I've been there. You too? That place is awesome." Spaces can do so many things; including inspire us, calm us and bring us together. There is a lovely term, genus loci or genius loci. It means the spirit of the place or the thing that makes a space a living, breathing, growing and evolving thing. And it's the life and light (energy, but literal light also) embedded in the physicality of the space.
It’s the place where you find the intersection of working and community. It’s incredibly important. Even if NEX were just a space, we take that VERY seriously. It’s our job to create a space that supports our members for more productivity and greater thinking, for risk-taking, collaboration with their teams and other people, learning, rebounding from failure and even to prepare for the enlightenment of the journey. And we know we can do that without a host and without lots of technology because we know space.
Building the Ecosystem
It's so vital to understand the context in which you exist and how that makes you a part of a larger network. Our country celebrates the rugged individualist, but we are incredibly connected and no one creates in a vacuum. So, just like good plants and animals, we have to do our job of being the ecosystem in which we (and others) grow and thrive. Here's what I think your job description looks like:
Purposefully Open Doors. Not just for yourself, but for people you think should have an opportunity and people you think are interesting. Do it because it works a different muscle group to open a door for someone else than it does for yourself.
Make Real Introductions. Take the time to establish who the two people are and what you think it's important that they know about each other. What are you trying to accomplish in the introduction? Make it clear, and kick off the conversation by telling them where to start talking. It's all in your head when you have the idea, you just have to take the time to say it. This is an excellent way to show people how thoughtful you are. And I've never sent an introduction like this that didn't get a thank you back telling me how special it made that person feel to know what I thought of their expertise or project or intelligence.
Articulate Inclusion and Support. We live in such a diverse city and I think it's easy for people to think "that's for other people." Take a minute to invite someone to an event or ask them to join a conversation. Our ecosystem is deep and wide, and if you are in it, make sure people know they are welcome, they are a part of it, and how to feel the support of it.
Give Back. Keep score for yourself of all the awesome things people do for you. Then, pay it forward. I even like to tell people, "Someone did something for me and I'm doing it for you. So, really, you owe that amazing person over there." You have things to offer, even if you don't think so. Everyone has something. It's a terrible thing to end up being an ask-hole.
Follow Up.* So this is where the rubber meets the road. It's important because you are taking action on the intention or the initial engagement. It's really fun to talk about future plans, but this is about the real work. Did you really mean it? Do you really want to do it? This is the core element of executing on authenticity and integrity. It's how you create relationships and that's the connective tissue of the ecosystem. We are not a community of entities, we are a network of relationships.
Being on the Leading Edge. . . of pretty much anything
It's bloody and brutal. Over the time I've been market-making in the office space sector, I've wished for a lot of things, but more than anything, collaboration between spaces and founders. I personally don't believe that you can create a space for collaboration if you aren't doing it yourself. You might get a few sparks here and there. You will get joint-venture projects. Founders will be introduced and companies will meet customers, but that is not necessarily collaboration - it's partnership. But it only achieves that definition when it's done well. In the partnership model, creating those connections is a happy accident, not a culture of collaboration. For collaboration, leaders most certainly have to model the behavior that will create the culture. So, give it a whack. Real collaboration starts with agreement about being at the table and how to STAY there. Longevity is an element of collaboration. As Ric Geyer said at Burning Plan in November, "For a good relationship, I start with saying YES. Then we use that position and alignment to establish the details of the arrangement." It's an elegant and arduous path/process/way of relating. I encourage you to embark now that we may get there faster.
So much has happened in the last 6 years. Atlanta went from having 3 spaces to an explosion of them. I'm loathe to give a number because they are popping up faster than I can keep count.** It's fantastic. We're creating all these wonderful places filled with a variety of activity and each with it's own genius. My call to action is to create the connective tissue. What is your call? What are you trying to do?
* So, a little brutal honesty: I'm not good at this. I have other areas of excellence. So I have asked Yvonne Dodd for some comments here because she is a boss on the follow up.
** I started this article saying one had opened in our same building. At this moment, I think they don't know we exist. So, I conclude they aren't keeping up any better than I am.