Coworking and the Birth of Rock and Roll



A recurring topic of conversation during my record store years was around that period in music history when blues and early R&B—styles created by black artists—were co-opted and sold to white audiences.

The obvious example of this is Elvis Presley, who, um, borrowed heavily from Chuck Berry, who is arguably the real father of rock.

American roots music purists balk at the notion of Elvis being the “King of Rock and Roll” because he was a well-funded product of producer Sam Phillips and his (admittedly legendary and kind of amazing) Sun Studios.

Berry created a sound and proved its popularity. Phillips saw the market viability of the style and repackaged it for white audiences.

Elvis, as you know, blew up to become a popular icon, credited with inspiring countless rock artists.

If you want to really understand rock and roll, however, you have to go back to the blues, which Chuck Berry built on to create his sound. That’s where the music is pure, authentic and real—designed not for pop consumption, but for communities of people. That music was created as a way to connect, celebrate and endure the challenges of life.

But, and there is a but…

If we throw out everything that came after Elvis—all the music and artists he inspired—we would throw out an enormous part of popular music culture.

I see a clear parallel between what happened in music and what’s happening in coworking. In the early days, a handful of coworking space operators willed this movement into existence, driven by passion and an unwavering sense of community, connection and the need for a new way of working.

Then came the big money that observed the coworking model working, injected tons of cash into the now-industry, and repackaged it to suit their audience.

But, and yes, there’s a but here, as well…

We can’t dismiss everything in coworking that came after the injection of big money into it. There are scaled, well-funded spaces that are doing everything right: they’re focused on community, they support their members in every way possible, they’re engaged in the local community, they’re consciously working to create diverse, inclusive spaces.

When I’m in purist mode, I have a hard time stomaching the co-opting of coworking by Big Shiny Brand Inc. When I pull back a bit, though, it’s clear that, if the mission for coworking is to support the new workforce, build community, and further the future of work, then we can’t dismiss all the spaces riding the current workspace industry wave.

If our vision of community is limited to a particularly type of community, we’re doing coworking wrong.

Don’t let the emergence of more Big Shiny Brand spaces freak you out, stay focused on you.

And while I’ve got your attention, give Chuck Berry a spin and think of everything that’s come after him. It’s pretty impressive, indeed.

What do you think? Email me, or find me on Twitter and let me know.

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