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Archive for March 4th, 2012

Coffeehouse collaboration

Years ago, my friend Therese Skelly, a rock star in the business coaching world, told me the story of a client who was struggling with her new business. An extrovert working out of her home, the client was finding herself frustrated and depressed with how difficult it was to get things moving. Upon asking a few questions, Therese discovered that the underlying problem was that her client was missing human contact! They arrived at a very easy solution: a few times a week, the client would go to a coffee shop to work. There, she could have the people connections she craved while still getting her work done. I can personally relate to both this conundrum and the solution.

With the advent of WIFI, coffee shops have become the entrepreneur’s non-home office. Some shop owners are immensely generous and allow customers to sit for the better part of the day on not much more than a cup of Americano. Others understandably set dollar or time limits. But in most cosmopolitan areas, finding a coffeehouse in which to work is a fairly simple thing. There are at least a half-dozen of them within a mile or so of my house in central Phoenix, at least four of which are indie (read, not Starbucks) shops.

A friend of mine jokes that he could never write at a coffee shop because he doesn’t want to “be the cliché.” As much as I actually understand this sentiment, I’d much rather be the cliché and get work done than sit at home and feel grumpy because I’m spending too much time by myself. To that end, I have a standing Thursday morning meeting with a colleague at one of my favorite Valley shops, Mama Java Coffeehouse. Like the Cheers theme song says, it’s nice to be “regulars” where they know our names and are glad we came.

But there’s more to working at a coffeehouse than familiarity and regular socialization. There is also, at least in my experience, a wonderful sense of collaboration. Perhaps it’s the nature of working in a coffee shop. You know why you’re there, and can guess with a fair degree of certainty that most of the others are there for similar reasons. So, when you overhear an interesting conversation – whether it’ about business, politics, or a local issue – you feel comfortable piping up and joining the confab.

Just this week, my friend Judy and I were trying to find a name for a canine character in a screenplay we’re writing. A fellow writer overheard our conversation and chimed in with his idea. While we may not go with the name he suggested, he also gave us several other fantastic suggestions that we have decided to use. None of that would have transpired if we’d been working at home, or if he’d been afraid to speak up. This has happened to me on numerous occasions, where either I speak up or the other person does, and things evolve into an interesting, enlightening, and mutually beneficial conversation.

It does take some finesse, however. I don’t suggest lurking around coffee shops just waiting for your chance to burst in on someone’s conversation. But, if you’re in line to order or at a nearby table, overhear something interesting, and sense the others might be open to you, why not say something? You never know what kinds of friendships, business associations, and other outstanding relationships might result.

Beyond the other customers, by becoming a regular at your favorite coffeehouses, you have the chance to get to know the proprietors. Most smart shop owners appreciate customers who bring in new faces, so what better place to stage a reading or two? Or broaden your horizons by hosting a regular book club meeting? Coffee and books – what could be a more natural fit?

Happy conversing!

Laura

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