Co-creation spaces are giving rise to a wave of entrepreneurs who are building communities and careers by connecting passion with profession.
If you could build anything, what would you build?
Why haven’t you?
Inspired by transformations in today’s business world, we’ve been considering these questions at the Center for the Edge. Why do change and disruption take the forms they do? We’re seeing broad change in the form of new technologies and the business models they inspire. On the individual level, these larger changes have made it possible for many individuals to unlock passions—and make them their professions. In particular, co-creation spaces are giving rise to a new wave of entrepreneurs, innovators, and makers who, rather than organizing themselves around a profession, have led with passion, using co-creation spaces to organize themselves around curiosity, creativity, and collaboration. And because their passions align with monetizable aspects of a flourishing new tech economy, they have become well-positioned to reap the full benefits of meaningful work and meaningful consumption.
The locus of this activity is outside traditional business models, in communities and movements that are helping to catalyze collaboration, connection, and learning. Techshop, for example, was launched in 2006 as a “playground for creativity,” offering members access to professional design and fabrication equipment, software, and expertise. It’s since expanded into eight cities, with plans for more locations.
Many mid-sized to large companies have difficulty distinguishing between ambition and passion. In a recent paper on workers and passion, we suggested that organizations should identify the passionate explorers in their companies—employees internally motivated by their desire to quest, connect, and make an impact. Businesses should retain and support passionate explorers, because they are more adept and more able to thrive in rapidly changing environments. Today, however, such people make up only about 11 percent of the workforce, most of them in high-level management and marketing positions that allow them to channel passion in ways unavailable to most employees.
As Techshop CEO Mark Hatch describes in his Maker Movement Manifesto, Techshop and similar co-creative organizations are helping people outside that 11 percent unlock their passions, giving them access to tools—and possibly work—that fit their interests and lifestyles. This is the first time since the advent of the Industrial Revolution that increasing numbers of people have been given such wide access to tools. While the effects of this “maker revolution” have yet to fully unfold, these spaces offer a place and a possibility where people can unlock passion that drives self-sustaining careers.
Co-creation spaces can break down barriers to collaboration, production, and learning, democratizing access to specialized tools and processes that would otherwise be expensive, limited, or inaccessible. This also suggests that makers are recognizing that, rather than investing large amounts of money in specialized, often prohibitively expensive tools, they simply need a way to access them when necessary.
The community function of co-creation spaces is also contagious. By creating a safe space where members can learn from classes and workshops and test and tinker with ideas, concepts, and forms, Techshop, in particular, helps foster ongoing development and exploration, with members learning from each other as much as they do from more formal offerings.
In a world where traditional businesses show little concern with unlocking passion, the makers in these communities have moved passion to the center, using access, community, and collaboration to allow professions to unfold as a byproduct rather than the focal point—and to build scalable, satisfactory, self-created careers.
It is this possibility that makes co-creation spaces, and the philosophy behind them, so promising. Change is not just taking a different form, it is taking a form that is working for more people in more ways. Providing access to tools and collaborative communities helps people engage with work differently. At the center, we’re interested in this engagement both practically and theoretically. For example, our head of strategy, Duleesha Kulasooirya, recently began refurbishing a school bus as an additional work and play space for his family—and has connected with a community across the globe. We’re driven to understand how such experiences work, and how more people can use them to bridge their passions and professions.
So what does this mean for traditional businesses? Not every business should completely redefine its organization to focus on passion—and the maker culture should not “wear the hat of rarity” that implies complete separation from traditional models. For now, businesses that want to retain passionate workers should, as a first step, consider the implications of a collaborative culture with access to tools. And people who are now building and playing and changing the business landscape in beautiful ways should keep doing what they’re doing, staying open to what might arise. Maybe what we’re really wondering is why we, as a culture, haven’t built something like this before. And now that we have, what are the implications for what we might build next?