Last week I went to CoCo, a co-working business in downtown Minneapolis. I had heard about CoCo via Twitter. I was anxious to check it out for myself. Apparently CoCo is thriving.
Once I walked into the CoCo open space, I could see why: low, warm light, moveable walls, and cozy wooden floors, arching ceilings from the old Grain Exchange, comfortable furniture, throw rugs, and quirky touches like street lamps and string lights. The place is an upscale student union with touches of Steelcase, Architectural Digest and Starbucks. CoCo is open without being crowded, intimate but high-tech, intense yet relaxed.
The place is a magnet for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Memberships offer desk(s) rental or setup for small groups. Members can reserve a single day or several. CoCo’s allure isn’t just its environment: it is the opportunity to meet other small businesses. Networking, whether social or business, is continual. When people push away from their desks, they grab a cup of coffee, find a sofa and chat with someone that just met. CoCo is all about collaboration.
So, where does my comment about innovation tie in? As part of an activity on Design Thinking, I had to interview random people in CoCo. My task was to approach strangers and ask them to tell me what “modern,” “family” and “innovation” meant to them. With a legal pad in hand, I asked two young people on a coffee break if they would help me. They agreed.
Both are at the start of their careers. They are friend-associates from different enterprises who look forward to the days when they can meet at CoCo. “Cate” and “Elissa” were fashionable, cosmopolitan and soft-spoken. They gave me twenty minutes.
What did they say? What did I learn?
“Modern” meant “architecture” to them. “That’s lines and buildings” “I don’t think of myself as modern.”
“Family” is “networks” and “friends.” “I have a work family and my home family. Sometimes they merge.” “My work family grows from acquaintances I meet here and on projects.”
And “innovation?” Here Cate pushed her stylish glasses atop her head so we could see her full eye roll.” “I am so done with ‘innovation.’ It doesn’t mean anything to me.” I pressed her: “Why?” She went on: “Oh, I guess innovation is important, but it’s what I do with my friends, it’s how I make things better.” Elissa: “Innovation is for automobiles and sandwiches. It’s everywhere.”
This was epiphany for me: “innovation” has shifted. This baby boomer (me) sees “innovation” and thinks of bold breakthroughs: moon landings, technology and artificial hearts. Innovation is an end to itself. A patent. A trophy. A triumph. Mankind marching forth. Progress.
But not at CoCo. “Innovation” is a means to an end. It’s what you do.