Facebook’s Company Town…

You see all kinds of odd perks in the high tech industry: free food, massages, foosball tables, gym memberships. But Facebook has either gone either one step better or worse. Or maybe both at the same time.

Facebook apparently has plans for a “$120 million, 394-unit housing community within walking distance of its offices,” according to the Wall Street Journal. It will even have a sports bar and dog daycare facility. We can presume high speed Internet will be everywhere.

Although a Facebook spokesperson said that this wasn’t a move to increase retention, some employees have begun to wonder where they should live, as housing availability in Menlo Park, California, is tight.

Facebook’s Company Town: Good for Recruiting,

Bad for Innovation BY 

Housing employees in a company-built, $120 million housing complex may sound like smart strategy, but it also might make things too close for comfort.

 

21st Century Company Town

Of course the first thought many will have is how this could parallel the 19th and early 20th century concept of a company town. At times necessary to enable the large number of workers they needed (Hershey, Pennsylvania, was an example of a company town developed by the chocolate firm), some company towns also became largely synonymous with exploitation. A corporation would own the housing, food store, and anything else of substance and only take company script for payment. High prices would keep workers effective slaves, as they fell into debt and never made enough to clear it.

Facebook already has a reputation of creating an elaborate and attractive environmentfor workers. So why not return to the good old days when CEO Mark Zuckerberg and a coterie moved to California and rented a house. After all, having people in constant contact has to supercharge innovation, right? That’s what the new entrepreneurial communes hope for, at least.

Not a chance. The assumption that people in close quarters during work and private hours will naturally generate great things is a big mistake. First of all, how anxious would you be to go into business with your parents and all live in the same house? It’s OK, just wait: the panic attack will subside.

Although in any entrepreneurial endeavor there will be times when long hours are necessary, getting away from everyone you’re around all day long is healthy. Who wants to have a phalanx of unwilling stalkers? Just as work can let some people get needed space from home, home should do the same for work. Interpersonal problems are just as likely, and I’d argue more, to blossom the more you are around coworkers.

The Cost to Innovation

As for innovation, it requires creativity and research shows that creativity requires the collision and melding of seemingly disconnected and different ideas. You want to absorb new experiences and different ideas to recharge yourself and have something to bring to attempts at innovation. When everyone is around each other too much, you cut down on the unexpected parts of life that are the fuel your creativity needs.

And let’s consider some practicalities. Someone is fired or quits. So, what, suddenly the person has to find a new home? Talk about awkward moments in the hallways.

Facebook, there’s nothing wrong with trying to ensure that employees have someplace to live. Maybe building housing will be the only option. But that seems hard to believe. Why not invest in a real estate developer who could build lots of housing for all the people who need it? That might offer a good return. And it’s bound to be better than what you might get when co-workers get a little too close for comfort.

How to Get from Collaboration to Execution

Startup Weekend.org

recently launched its first startup event in South Carolina, inhistoric downtown Georgetown.  In case you are not familiar with startup weekend events, which are conducted every weekend around the world, they typically unfold like this:

  • A group of people with ideas gets together for the weekend.
  • Business ideas are pitched at the beginning, and teams are formed.
  • Ideas are refined, prototyped, turned into businesses, and eventually presented to a panel of judges.
  • Prizes are awarded at the conclusion of the weekend to the teams with the most viable idea and best presentation.

Essentially, over a period of 54 hours, a myriad of real, viable companies, all with an MVP (minimal viable product), are created.  It is a high-intensity, fast-paced weekend.

More impressive is that over 36% of these new companies continue for at least three months after the competition.

As a coach during the event, I assisted teams in refining their concepts, pitches and presentations. The event really reinforced my understanding of how important collaboration can be for innovation and idea generation.

In my line of work with Wild Creations, I meet numerous people who have great ideas for new products.  Often, these individuals simply lack the experience, expertise or network to take the concept from idea to market.  Beyond that, the biggest concern is typically theft of the idea.  Even with non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, many would-be entrepreneurs simply do not trust others with their idea.

Very few ideas are so proprietary or unique that they will avoid being knocked off or eventually created by someone else.  Instead, entrepreneurs should consider collaborating to make their idea a reality.  Here are some things to consider:

1. Embrace Collaboration

By bringing people into your “circle” and working with them, you will add much- needed expertise and cover areas of your new business where you are weakest.  More important, by simply having a sounding board that will listen to your idea and provide feedback, you may discover early in the process that your business concept simply does not work.  At this point, while it’s still feasible, you can pivot in a new direction.

2. Participate in Collaboration

One of the great benefits of events like Startup Weekend is that you do not necessarily need to contribute a great business idea.  You can, in fact, just choose to work with others, offering your expertise and professional strengths to create value for another team.  By simply participating, you may very well find yourself generating new ideas of your own and, more important, forming the network of people who can help you.

3. Promote Collaboration

An interesting thing happened at Startup Weekend.  When the value of the collaborative effort was understood, everyone let their guard down, worked together, and incredible progress was made.  In order to get the full benefit of collaborating with others, all parties need to understand its value.

4. Implement Collaboration

Startup Weekends don’t happen everywhere, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from implementing your own collaboration efforts.  Co-working spaces, such as the one that now operates in my city, Cowork MYR, are places where people share a common work space and, by mere proximity, end up discussing and sharing projects and collaborating.  Often, the collaborators are in the tech field, such as programmers, developers and designers, but they bring with them a vast network of other valuable resources that could benefit entrepreneurs.  If you can’t find a co-working space in your city, then start one yourself.  It’s as simple as inviting smart, like-minded individuals together over coffee to discuss ideas.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not advocating that if you have an idea for a new product or service you broadcast it to everyone within earshot.  You should always weigh the pros and cons of such a decision, and if you are convinced that your idea is important enough to be protected, you should seek proper legal advice to do so, even if only for your peace of mind.

In my personal experience, however, I have seen incredible value and benefit come from the collaboration of individuals from a wide range of expertise. This past weekend solidified it for me.  If you still have your doubts, then I would encourage you to try it yourself.

If nothing else, you will have a wonderful fraternal weekend experience with a great group of people!

Do you have an experience where collaborating helped (or hurt) your business?  Please share with others below.

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