We Need Civic Action, not just Innovation

Society of Work, a coworking space in Downtown Chattanooga

There’s something about our modern English language that likes to take a word and beat it to the point that it no longer retains its original meaning. Every time you turn around these days, you hear the word innovation being thrown around. I was recently asked to contribute to this blog in my role as owner of Chattanooga’s coworking space, Society of Work. Coworking spaces were started with the developing workforce in mind. The truth of the matter is this: it’s not just millennials who are looking for meaningful contributions, flexibility in their schedules, and freedom in their jobs. What does this mean for the future of work and innovation? As our workforce becomes increasingly mobile and we are able to contribute from nearly anywhere, more people are finding new and various ways to make their jobs work for them.

So, is a coworking space bringing something “innovative” to Chattanooga? Not in the true definition of the word: Society of Work is not the first coworking space and it certainly won’t be the last, but our approach is different at Society of Work. We can use what we’re learning to help guide and grow the work force in Chattanooga with the changing economy. In truth, this work is more innovative than the actual coworking space itself.

Coworkers at Society of Work

By simply not thinking of our work as innovative- just doing the work we believe in everyday and asking questions about how we can influence others around us to grow Chattanooga - leans towards innovation. With phrases like civic innovation, we run the risk of alienating people who don’t think the term applies to them. The right way to think of it is civic action. At its core, civic innovation is people taking action towards an issue they are passionate about. Previously this blog has defined civic innovation as what “happens when citizens engage one another in improving their community by creating a novel solution to a social problem or challenge.” While this might be a good Merriam-Webster sort of definition, there’s a disconnect between people’s academic understanding and our actual cultural understanding of civic innovation. In an informal poll taken at Society of Work, I got the following answers when I asked members what comes to mind when they think of civic innovation: hidden agendas, outmoded, volunteering, necessary, buzzword, exclusive, grass roots, and lastly, bullsh*t. I say this to shed light on the fact that the very people who are working on “innovative” projects, find the word largely useless in this day and time.

Innovation is a word best reserved for work that is causing an upheaval or meaningful change in some form- big or small. Innovation does not exist on every other corner. Not unlike the use of the words epic or awesome, innovation has been taken over by a segment of society that has unknowingly (or knowingly) alienated an entire sector of citizens in some way.

Chattanooga is tired of talk, this city wants to see action. If you are reading this- it’s up to you to take action. We, the citizens of Chattanooga, can talk about what would improve Chattanooga, but we must be a part of the solution. It’s not up to large entities in the city to push or fund innovation. There is no doubt that an individual’s work can be catapulted when large entities take notice. In fact, that’s when some of the best results happen. But it all starts with us.

The perfect example of simple, but highly effective action is Jenny Park who is now a Senior Planner with the RPA. Jenny steered her passion for bike transit toward full-time work by volunteering for a conference on bike transit. Three years later, she is speaking at the same conference after turning her passion into her day job.

So, what are you passionate about changing in your surroundings and what simple action can you take to make a change?

Kelly Fitzgerald is the Founder of Society of Work. 
“Chattanooga is tired of talk, this city wants to see action. ”