„Free Coworking“ could be like a „Toyota Production System“ of Coworking

Veröffentlicht am 15. Februar 2012 von Felix Schürholz in Kategorie: CoWorking Basics, Konzeptionelles, CoWorking Kultur, CoWorking News International, Fundsachen, Gruppenprozesse, Videos | Trackback URL | Zur Diskussion

In his talk on „Science and Practice of Cooperation“ (see Video below thx David Hodgson for sharing) Harvard Professor Yochai Benkler develops the idea of systems of self-interest and systems of collaboration. In terms of computer hardware and software these systems could be identified with people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates on the one hand and networks and developments like Linux and Open Source on the other. In terms of knowledge transfer they could have representatives like Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipedia. Yochai Benkler is not a complete critic of the system of self-interest although he presents ample evidence that systems of collaboration are not only feasible, but also more sustainable and human.

Regarding „Free Coworking“ I see a lot of evidence and arguments in his talk for the need to develop „Free Coworking“ systematically further as an evolution from „Paid Coworking“. Having worked in the automotive industry for many years myself, I can associate with the „Toyota Production System“ (TPS) very well, that Benkler mentions in his talk. For people not familiar to these ideas I will go straight to the points that are relevant to Coworking. TPS  is based on a culture that relies on every individual to take full responsibility for all aspects they can control and influence for the best running of the whole system. That means using the example of the Andon system, that every worker can stop the production line when he/she notices a major error or problem. If after inspection of the andon signal the problem cannot be solved, the line will not start again until the problem is solved. In practice this could be days, weeks or even months if necessary. The principle is not to produce any waste, in this example no waste of making defective products.

What has this to do with „Free Coworking“ and systems of collaboration? Benkler, quotes TPS as a a system of collaboration and team work, opposed to the scientific management processes of old American car production lines like the ones at GM prior to the introduction of TPS. Scientific management, is not necessarily equal to „paid coworking“, but it is the old way of doing coworking.

What all these systems of self-interest have in common is the fact that there is very little trust between the agents in the system. It is all about the way you frame a system. Benkler brings the example of an experiment in game theory. Two groups of people played the same game. The first group was told, they were playing a game called „collaboration game“, the second group were told they were playing the „wall-street game“. The rules in both games were exactly the same. The outcome though was completely different. In the first game 70% of people were able to cooperate successfully, in the second group only 30% did. So it is all about the way we see a situation.

In coworking, obviously that works the same way. If you think that coworking is only about paid flexible office desks where somehow you get feedback, knowledge and support in a magical way for your individual project, you are missing the point. Real feedback, useful knowledge and real support will only happen in an area where there is trust and collaboration. When everybody is working on their own project, that is not collaboration.

Collaboration is exchanging of skills, not only in terms of acquiring or learning a skill, but also by applying it in practice. If people want to go in a coworking space to learn new things that is fine, but that is just a learning space not a coworking space. „Free Coworking“ is about real projects that are carried out together. In practice one coworking space can offer all these aspects, „paid coworking“, „lectures and learning of new skills“ and „free coworking – project work“.

TPS, the „Toyota Production System“ could be a very good model to shape this new „Free Coworking“ space. Based on a culture of trust, openness and sustainability, processes for collaboration, continuous improvement and continuous learning can be developed. Referring to this central point of continuously solving root problems to drive organizational learning, I like to stress these three:

1. Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation (Genchi Genbutsu).

2. Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options (Nemawashi); implement decisions rapidly.

3. Become a learning organization through relentless reflection (Hansei) and continuous improvement (Kaizen).

I invite everybody interested in

  • Respect (We respect others, make every effort to understand each other, take responsibility and do our best to build mutual trust) and
  • Teamwork (We stimulate personal and professional growth, share the opportunities of development and maximize individual and team performance.)

to develop this new system of collaboration called „Free Coworking“. TPS is just one area of expertise and knowledge we can use. I am sure there are many others that we will find useful as well. Come and join and share your expertise.


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  1. People in Saxony, and Thuringia certainly are the role models for lean thinking (or TPS). With a rich history of scarcity during the GDR times, people over here, especially around Dresden (where I happen so live for almost two decades now) are able to see opportunities to solve problems, which open doors to what Peter Diamandis calls a „world of abundance“. Unleashing the immense creative potential will eventually capture free coworking, first there will be smaller steps to be taken to make it possible what we all envision.

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