“It was a failed social experiment,” WeWork founder Adam Neumann said of the kibbutz, the collective community in Israel in which he grew up. “As a teenager and as a child, it was the most unbelievable place to grow up. I was with my friends from morning till night. We ate in the same dining hall, we drove to the same school, and then we all did our homework together, or we didn’t do our homework together. It was awesome.”
Neumann loved the sense of community, but didn’t get why the kibbutz paid everyone the same salary regarding of how much effort they put in. Thus was seeded the inspiration for the company he would one day co-found and run, WeWork, which Neumann cheerfully described as a sort of Capitalist kibbutz.
He was speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt earlier this week, to an audience that—not surprisingly for a group of highly creative innovators across industries and disciplines—was not only familiar with WeWork but, in many cases, ensconced in one of its buildings. As could be expected for a company growing at such an exponential rate, much of the conversation revolved around numbers, be it the three million square feet WeWork currently occupies, the five million additional square feet it plans to add next year, or the 90,000 glasses of beer it serve its members worldwide just last month. It’s an impressive growth rate, but growth for its own sake, Neumann said, was never the point of WeWork.
“When Miguel and I started this company,” he said, “the intention was ‘Can we change the world?’ And if we taught other people to treat each other the way they want to be treated, even if they did it just a little bit, inside WeWork, will that make a difference? And we feel that all these things, the more time is passing, the more we let it happen, the bigger the difference is. So yes, community is definitely a difference, but I think the real difference is intention and meaning behind what we do.”
And it’s intention and meaning, he added, that are cherished above all by the We Generation, those people of all ages and all professions and all walks of life who define success as feeling well, doing good, being grateful for their good fortune, and leveraging community through social experience. These, Neumann added, are the people who’ve created the sharing economy, and the people who found an immediate and natural home in WeWork’s community of creators.
Photo credit: Lauren Kallen