Evan Rosen, in his Culture of Collaboration blog, asks the great question, "Is Coworking Collaborative?" I really like the coworking concept, and have been a fan of Citizen Space since I walked into its cozy environment when it first opened. I recall being thoroughly entranced by its community goals (plus I know and respect both Tara Hunt and Chris Messina). I adore Po Bronson's concoction of The Grotto for similar reasons. The startup incubator model appeals to me too. There is a vital energy in spaces like that.
However, the more I think about when I actually thrive and grow expansively within a work-play environment--it's not freelancing or free agency no matter how many people are buzzing around me, and it's not sitting in an attic scribing the Great American Novel in solitude.
Rather, I thrive in a "third mind" type of environment with others working toward shared goals, shared purpose. I desire immediate feedback and mutual experimentation that escalates toward building something new beyond anything we could have conceived separately. That maybe why I believe that the research laboratory or atelier (artisan workshop) analogy (and, for me, I mean situated in real space, not virtual space) is best suited for me.
I totally related to what Jane McGonigal shared about writing a book. It's too solitary, too much like writing to a piece of paper. For a long time, blogging, for me, was a peer-to-peer cooperative and real-time mutual feedback endeavor (more so during years 2004-2005 when folks had time and inclination to both blog and read each other's works). Blogging reminded me of letter-writing or an intense dialogue in a coffeeshop, but in a many-to-many format rather than just one-to-one. I never wanted to write a book.
"I need to game-ify writing my book... Writing a book does not provide me with the same kind of real-time feedback, scaffolded challenges, and network of potential allies that a well-designed videogame does....Writing 18 months into the future is just too much like writing in the void!" - Jane McGonigal
I guess I'm seeking to create an environment akin to what Napoleon Hill described in Think and Grow Rich. There, Hill says a "mastermind" or "third mind" is:
"The coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.
.... A third mind that asks and answers questions you didn’t know you needed to ask to solve problems and overcome challenges you didn’t know you were about to face!"
Or William S. Burroughs described: "No two minds ever come together without, thereby, creating a third, invisible, intangible force which may be likened to a third mind."
Below Evan Rose explains that while cooperation and camaraderie are wonderful things, they're not necessarily collaboration:
"So, is coworking collaborative? That depends. Undoubtedly, including people engaged in different enterprises under the same roof sparks synergies. And without offices or cubicles, interaction can happen on the fly. An entrepreneur working across from a web designer need only call across the table to get design input. A technical writer can engage a software developer with a tap on the shoulder. Relationships form, and trust may develop.
Collaboration, however, requires many cultural elements including shared goals. In collaborative organizations, people come together across disciplines, departments, roles and regions to create value. The shared goal may involve slashing product development time or closing sales more effectively or curing a disease. Coworking invites input from others, but usually without shared goals. One person has a stake in the input, while the other provides advice as a friendly gesture or deposit in the favor bank. Coworking may lead to collaboration, but collaboration is by no means automatic. Of course, coworkers may discover they share some goals and then join forces to start a business or curb climate change or elect a candidate.
The main connection between coworking and collaboration involves people from different disciplines interacting in an informal physical environment. This, in turn, encourages informal interaction which reinforces, but does not create, The Culture of Collaboration."