Innovation Spaces: Supporting individual action

In June 2013, I joined TASCHA’s Chris Coward to help launch a project on Innovation Spaces. This work builds on earlier conversations Chris has had with Christine Prefontaine and Beth Kolko, among others. Using a giant whiteboard, we shared, discussed, debated, synced, and altered our understanding over a period of weeks. The office got used to the hijacking of most of the common wall space. We had many questions: What are these spaces and what do we call them? What types of innovation do they foster? Why do people go to them?

This last question proved to be a topic of intense discussion. Much has been written about the centrality of community in these places, and certainly without community, these places would cease to be what makes them so valuable. But in our minds there had to be something more fundamental going on for people to want to be a part of a coworking or makerspace community versus any number of other communities one could join.

What we arrived at is, that these spaces supported individual action to pursue creative and innovative endeavours (irrespective of whether the interest is personal, entrepreneurial, or other). Supporting the individual to take action was, we felt, the driving reason for the popularity of these spaces. An individual’s ability to be creative and innovative is a critical skill for leading a satisfying life. But building this skill and the confidence to use it requires “guided mastery,” a concept developed by the psychologist Albert Bandura and adapted by David Kelley of IDEO and the Stanford (see, for example, his TED Talk).  It is a step-by-step process, as visualized below.

(adapted from source: Plant City Adult Learning Lab, Florida)

In short, innovation spaces provide a number of ingredients – including community – that empower an individual to climb this ladder, whether one is on the first step or higher up. And even if one has mastered one set of skills, there are always new skills that one can learn from other people in the community. One could also become a teacher or mentor to others in the community. Seen in this context, the courses, peer learning, community events, and other activities, can be viewed as contributing to personal growth and the individual journey each person is on.