The coworking rabbi and fighting monoculture

Monoculture (n): a population of a single kind of organism

Last week a colleague of mine returned to our Auckland office after attending a bar mitzvah. While munching on leftover dolmades in the kitchen, he mentioned that the young rabbi there had expressed interest in coming to check out our coworking space. The rabbi was involved in a network of overseas hostels (of sorts) for traveling Israelis and currently working out of the house that he’d set up in Auckland. Full as it was of loud, traveling Israelis who were prone to the odd beverage, he was finding it difficult to get any work done. As you would.

Discussing the hypothetical of a rabbi working out of the BizDojo, the recurring theme of “… but that’s so different to our normal audience” circled our conversation. You see, the BizDojo is a curated community. That’s sort of a fancy term for “try before you buy”, on the part of BizDojo and potential residents. It’s why we never commence memberships without having a potential resident work out of our space for a few days - the free trial is basically a prerequisite to a membership signup. We do this for two reasons: one, we don’t want to take your money before you’re confident that the BizDojo will be a productive, enjoyable place for you to work; and two, we want to make sure (as best we can) that you’ll be a good culture fit for the community.

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‘Culture fit’ as a concept can be taken too far, though, and plenty of coworking spaces fall into a trap when they end up populated by only tech startups, or only service companies, or only freelance creatives. Monoculture, originally coined for the agricultural sector, is when you only grow one kind of crop in vast quantities over long periods of time. In our world, monoculture is having a community populated by exactly the same kinds of companies and individuals with exactly the same experience and skillset. The problem arises when everyone shares the same patterns of thinking and all the voices around the table agree - then there’s nobody to question ideas or disrupt habitual ways of thinking and doing. The secret sauce to a vibrant, collaborative community of residents is having people from vastly different backgrounds all housed in the same space. A broad cross-section of skillsets and resources is the most fertile ground for innovation. 

Some argue that startup teams themselves need monoculture … that to incubate and grow, you need your team to share a singular, cult-like mindset. But in the context of a coworking environment, we walk a fine line. Too little of it and your community doesn’t find professional value in itself; too much and innovation suffers.

So back to the rabbi. That would definitely be a first for us. But then it occurred to me: that’s probably the single most powerful reason for us to give it a shot. Because we are not - and cannot - be a monoculture.

Now we’ll just have to see if he takes us up on the offer.


Sarin Moddle is the BizDojo Community Manager for Auckland. Follow her on Twitter.