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When trying to define a new word in an exhaustive manner, you always risk stopping its evolution, reducing an emerging concept to a frozen reality, and sometimes nipping it in the bud before it blooms.

A guest post by William van den Broek of La Mutinerie, a coworking space in Paris.

During the 'Coworking Europe 2011' conference in Berlin, some of us argued that we couldn’t just observe our differences without trying to make a bit more order in that big boiling mess united under the banner of 'coworking'. Many participants tried to define what a coworking space is exactly. This task appears to be pretty tough. We were all doing things in our own ways, trying to serve our different communities the best we could. Our methods, our business models, and our types of organizations are quite different.

The global coworking movement is united by values and goals more than by a specific type of service. It’s like a hydra, sharing the same body and the same soul, but having different heads.

In one of his recent articles, Alex Hillman wrote about the difficulty of defining what coworking is exactly. 'A definition assumes there is only one, and the experience of Coworking Europe conference showed us that there is not only one kind of coworking.' So, as he says, the important issue for coworking is to describe it, not define it.

Sebastian Olma even wondered if coworking was somehow following Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principe, used in quantum mechanics, which states, 'The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa.' Basically the closer we think we are to a definition is exactly when the definition changes. If a direct observation of coworking seems impossible, if we can't really come out with a satisfying definition of coworking with the classical approaches, why not following Olma's intuitions and use a bit of quantum theory?

Wave–particle duality postulates that all particles exhibit both wave and particle properties. Quantum theory says that 'waves' and 'particles' are ways of seeing things and not things in themselves. If coworking is a quantic object, you can't define it with words but you can describe it from two angles, the 'wave' angle and the 'particle' angle, and the crossing of both angles will be the closest description of the reality. That sounds juicy doesn't it?

Coworking is made of 'particles', the physical reality of the various spaces spread around the world, but it is also made of 'waves',or vibes, the energies that underlie the movement of coworking.

I think we naturally tend to define concepts or movements  with a 'particle' focus. We observe the different business models, the various types of organization, the type of people involved in a movement and hope we could find a satisfying definition with those elements. But this can lead to misunderstandings. If you have tried to explain coworking to an uninitiated person too late at night, I'm sure you've experienced this kind of situation:

'Coworking is sharing a working place with flexible workers (freelancers, entrepreneurs, teleworkers)'. And the guy in front of you replies, 'Ok, you're talking about a kind of business center...'

That's a typical example of what happens if you describe the movement without its vibe.

Don't get me wrong, forgetting the 'particle' scope and focussing only on the 'vibe' leads to another trap:

'We are creating a place designed to share vibes and energies, to help people grow in knowledge and creativity. A place where people are free to come and go, work in a trusting and friendly atmosphere...'

'Ok, you're talking about a kind of hippie camp.'

As every good quantic object, coworking always needs to be explained with both "particle" and "wave" properties to be truly understood. Yes it's a bit esoteric, but I like it this way!

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