Why Problem-Solving in Groups is Useful in Coworking

Group of people working

A story on NPR’s program All Things Considered talks about coworking. Okay. Not quite. But it does discuss one of the key components of successful coworking: collaboration.

Key in NPR’s study was the point that equal participation in problem-solving fostered more innovative solutions. The research points to why and how getting a group of people together to solve a problem is not so much about getting the “smartest” people together, but instead is about equal participation and multiple perspectives from people in the group.

A group of people. Equal participation and multiple perspectives. Hm…that sounds a lot like coworking.

Taking a cue from the NPR story, here are some ways problem-solving in groups might be useful in coworking:

  • You—the coworker—have a challenge in your work.
    Can your coworkers help you overcome a client/work challenge? This is especially effective if you ask nicely.
  • You—the coworking space catalyst—have a challenge in your space.
    Can the coworking community help you brainstorm solutions to that challenge? Or can you hop on the Coworking Google Group to ask your online coworking community for ideas?
  • You—the coworker OR coworking space catalyst—have a challenge in your local community.
    Can coworkers go beyond their coworking space walls and contribute their smarts to a local challenge? This, of course, requires extra time and energy beyond work. But you never know what sorts of beneficial connections could be made in the local community (perhaps resulting in new clients, new work, new ideas!).
  • You—the interesting person.
    Sometimes, it’s simply about getting interesting people together to see what interesting things they come up with. (And if that sounds vague—it should! The possibilities are as limitless when it comes to grouping together independent, creative, community-oriented coworkers.)

Although coworkers tend to be highly independent individuals, problem-solving in groups is where the real magic happens in coworking. This type of problem-solving has so many advantages—seen, for example, in the rise of collaborative consumption. So try problem-solving in a group—and let us know how it goes.

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Image Credit: Flickr – Peter Samis

Physical Density: When Innovation Happens in Coworking Spaces

co-loco—an Australian organization that connects independent workers with shared desk space—shared a snippet of Steven Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From in a recent blog post. In his book, Johnson traces the ways innovation happens—and why some environments are particularly good for generating new, creative ideas. Not only does Johnson look at environments in which people are innovative—he also looks to nature for clues (such as the coral reef and rain forests). And he argues that one of the patterns in innovation is physical density.

So, then, what does physical density have to do with innovation? And what does a (physical) space of innovation really look like?

In fact, it looks a lot like a coworking space.

And here’s why:

co-loco’s blog post pulled out three points about physical density from Johnson’s book:

  • Physical density creates informal networks of influence.
  • Physical density allows companies to easily grow and contract and share employees.
  • Physical density fosters diversity.

“Physical density” simply means grouping people together in the same physical space. Coworking spaces are meant to create physical density—they are spaces for independents to work together.

Physical density in coworking spaces fosters innovation because:

  • it allows coworkers to network with each other.
  • it can ignite the spark for coworkers to collaborate on projects or refer work to each other—helping them to grow their businesses.
  • it encourages coworkers from diverse personal and professional backgrounds to meet, connect, work, brainstorm and collaborate.

Encouraging creativity may be as simple as gathering people together—and this happens at Cohere during focus groups, workshops, The Business of Freelance breakfasts and other impromptu lunches, brainstorms, or conversations. And the added bonus of “physical density” at Cohere is the opportunity for long-lasting relationships and collaboration. Putting creative minds together is when innovation can happen in coworking spaces.


Collaborative Consumption and the Coworking Community

“Collaborative consumption” is a new phrase that has entered our business and social lexicon. It signals the way some people are changing their consumption habits away from individual consumption and toward a focus on trading, sharing, bartering and lending within a community. And it’s happening in coworking.

What's Mine Is Yours on CollaborativeConsumption.com

Infographic on CollaborativeConsumption.com

In thinking about how coworking relates to collaborative consumption, it’s no question that coworking fosters the kind of atmosphere that allows for—and encourages—sharing and trading. As described on the about page of the Global Coworking Blog:

Beyond just creating better places to work, coworking spaces are built around the idea of community-building and sustainability. Coworking spaces agree to uphold the values set forth by those who developed the concept in the first place: collaboration, community, sustainability, openness, and accessibility.

Collaborative consumption is all about community and sustainability. Coworking is also about community and sustainability.

To make this idea of collaborative consumption a bit more tangible, following are some examples you may have heard of or used:

  • Superfluid – allows people to collaborate by trading favors using “virtual currency”—in essence, bartering
  • Zopa and CommunityLend – social lending
  • Airbnb – a “community marketplace for unique spaces”
  • Freecycle – a place to give and find stuff for free
  • ZipCar – carsharing
  • CouchSurfing – allows travelers to make connections with people, and rooms/couches, in the area they’re visiting
  • Swap – swap books, CDs, movies and video games
  • B-Cycle – bike sharing system
  • Hyperlocavore – a yardsharing community

So, how might collaborative consumption happen in a coworking community?

  • Trading skills/expertise with another member for mutual benefit (for example, a graphic designer creates a logo in exchange for a fellow copywriter creating newsletter content)
  • Sharing resources (for example, several coworkers may pool their collective buying power to get lower rates at a local gym)
  • Exchanging ideas (though collaborative consumption focuses mostly on products and services, brainstorming and ideating are still valuable “commodities”)

A recent post on the Global Coworking Blog highlights some of the ways that sharing and trading happens amongst coworkers.  And another post discusses several of the ways that coworking can save a small business—including bartering and brainstorming.

Of course, this is not to say that sharing and trading are the be-all, end-all to community and economy; we all still have bills to pay and cold hard cash to tender. But this shift in thinking seems like it’s here to stay.

If this topic piques your interest, check out these insightful reads about collaborative consumption:
Infographic – GOOD.is: Sharing is Contagious
Article – Inc.com: Understanding the Consumer of the Future
Book – What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption
Book – The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Sharing

Have you shared your resources or skills with others at Cohere? What about this “collaborative consumption” worked? What didn’t work?

Coworking: this is your brain on creativity

I’m always amazed by the stuff that ends up on the whiteboards at Cohere.  The coworkers have particularly vivid brain dump sessions late at night or when plagued by tough decisions that need to be made.  Last week’s work filled an entire board on how to promote a headless pig keychain with client instructions to  “make sure the tagline is borderline inappropriate.”  How fun is that!?  I wasn’t able to capture that session in a photo but here are some more that will let you peek under Cohere’s hood to see what’s happening.

Left: I’m not sure what problem they were working on here but it appears to be a mashup of a merchandising problem for our resident fashionista Suzanne and Zachariah’s take on that problem using some PHP coding.  Who knows but it sure does look neat.

Right: Here we have the random happy thoughts board that took shape during Cohere’s grand opening.  Several people tucked away in the library nook to write words of encouragement or funny quips like “I want to play madlibs here.”  How cute is that!?

Left: The phone room is Paul’s favorite place to work out Python coding problems and #inappropriatecorner is host to any number of random quotes and methods of mockery to keep things light hearted.

What is the moral of this visual journey through Cohere’s collective brain?  Don’t judge our weirdness and propensity for silliness, come be a part of it.  There’s a blank board waiting for you.

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