1776 DC and Co-working Environments
On a muggy D.C. evening last month, some 400 people packed into on open space working loft to hear Jeff Sellingo, editor at large for The Chronicle of Higher Education, talk about his new book, “College Unbound”. The crowd was a mix of educators, government officials, and entrepreneurs. Some came to hear Mr. Selingo’s thoughts on the future of higher education (hint: he’s a fan of competency-based learning), others came to hear the rapid-fire speeches given by a smattering of established and fledgling education entrepreneurs. The founders of Coursera and Udacity joined the conversation via live video feed, while more than a dozen entrepreneurs gave their speeches in person on the small, dimly-lit stage in the corner of the penthouse. Our own Chris Etesse spoke passionately on the opportunities to improve learning efficiency:
This kind of event and this kind of crowd is normal at 1776, one of the newest and most high-profile co-working spaces-slash-incubators in D.C. The space is home to some 100 start-ups in all stages of development: from one-man operations that use a single desk on evenings and weekends, to established operations like ours with a full time team of a dozen or more. The energy is high and most of the furniture is mobile, indicative of the need for flexibility and the collaborative nature of the people who work here.
1776 is where Flat World Knowledge is operating a new office, to complement our office in New York City. While it’s a cost efficient way for a growing company to have great office resources a few blocks from the White House, the access to ideas and innovators here is unparalleled. The floor plan is intentionally designed so that people would have to meet and engage with each other. Recent events have hosted entrepreneurs from near and far, government officials from Germany and Chile, and Mayor Vincent Gray has made multiple visits. Not a week goes by without a stop to the Flat World corner by a curious entrepreneur or official, excited by what we do and how it could fit into their project.
What if other organizations and institutions embraced the kind of work environment that Flat World has? Leveraging economies of scale, of course, but also exposing themselves continuously to new people and ideas in related and unrelated fields? Even within a company, the open floor plan at 1776 facilitates communication in a way that separate offices simply can’t. In an age when we take for granted the speed of information transfer, we often forget the details and relationships that are lost because of distance. Communication isn’t just a matter of speed, it’s also a matter of ease and happenstance: of capturing an offhand idea in real time, of letting others overhear you and letting them chime in with knowledge you didn’t know they had.
Much of Flat World’s story is about using technology to help renovate the architecture of legacy academic systems, but that doesn’t mean that we ignore the benefits of old school solutions. Sometimes sitting across the desk from your colleagues is the best, albeit ironic, approach to figuring out how to use technology to make life more efficient.