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Tow The Line

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Turns out most people mistakenly write “tow the line” when they mean “toe the line,” which refers to a person placing her toe on the starting line at the outset of a foot race. It’s used as a way of saying “to conform to the norm.” When you toe the line you’re following the rules, adhering to the status quo, doing what’s expected.

For example, a coworking space is expected to promote coworking, sell memberships and offices, host happy hours, throw launch parties, and do whatever it takes to get people to bust out their credit card. They find ways to sell memberships to pretty much anybody because, to them, coworking is the end-all-and-be-all answer to the universe. They don’t often look beyond the nuts and bolts of coworking because looking there seems risky. It doesn’t seem as if it will translate into membership sales, the ability to compete in an ever more competitive marketplace, or paying the rent. This is the status quo, the modus operandi of the coworking world. This is what it means to toe the line. And it will cause you to be mediocre, which means eventually you’ll fail.

Instead, I recommend towing the line. Towing the line is what happens when you hook up a cable or rope to your dad’s pickup truck and drag an entrenched car out of the mud.

There’s two interesting lessons with this analogy.

First, heavy objects such as cars have a lot of inertia, which is to say it takes a lot of force to get them to move, and they’ll only move when you use enough force. If it takes 100 units of force to move an object, the first 99 units do absolutely nothing.

Second, if the goal is to get both the lead object (truck) and the stuck object (car) out of the mud, then the lead object must actually pass the point where the stuck object needs to end up. If not, the towed object never reaches its destination, and sinks back into the mud.

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So what does this have to do with coworking? Well, a coworking space is nothing more than the lead object and your community is the stuck object.

The initial effort you put into leading your community will not do anything at all. You must overcome the community’s inertia first, which will mean a massive amount of effort on your part. If it’s not working, it’s because you’re not applying enough force. It’s possible that you may not be able to apply enough force to move a stuck community. The community might be too big, too scattered, or you might not be influential enough. In which case you should find a different community or find ways to increase your influence.

Additionally, your goal must be moving people to their desired destination, not yours. If becoming profitable and filling your workspace is your primary goal, you’re not leading properly. You’re stopping short. The community is already in the state it’s in, so if you’re not moving them somewhere new and desirable, why on earth would they let you lead them, let alone pay for the privilege?

This means you need to do things that seemingly have nothing to do with your business. You need to get involved in the community beyond the workspace. You need to treat other shared workspaces (whatever form they may take) as partners, not competitors. You need to stir the pot. You need to be the leader your community will want to follow. You need to remember that your coworking space is not the point itself, it’s merely a vessel for a group of people who want to go somewhere amazing.

Thus, your coworking space transcends the property of being merely a static office. It becomes a movement, a mission, a force that carries the community forward.

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