By coWORKer Julie Landry Petersen

Every week members and guests come together at WORK Petaluma for a coffee social. Since coworking is as much about sharing ideas as it is about sharing office space, the ensuing conversation is always lively and surprising. Here’s a peek inside…

Despite the sunshine outside and the coffee inside WORK Petaluma, it seemed for a minute like we were about to veer down a depressing conversational path. A coWORKer was telling us about the new book by New Yorker staff writer George Packer, The Unwinding.  Packer had just published a book about Iraq and then came back to write this one about America, “a superpower in danger of coming apart at the seams, its elites no longer elite, its institutions no longer working, its ordinary people left to improvise their own schemes for success and salvation.”


But once the caffeine started doing its work and coWORKers began introducing themselves and their work, things took a more optimistic turn: how can we optimize our WORK, our organizations, our bodies and even our blog posts?

After a little bit of brainstorming about how to maximize the return on investment, talk turned to optimizing of other sorts. An offhand comment about fundraising turned into a discussion about what social good organizations prioritize among their goals — will they do good or do well, or both?  — and how their structure plays into that.  Not every for-profit is an Enron, and not every nonprofit is virtuous.

For example, did you know the National Football League is a nonprofit?  Does that make the Superbowl and all its commercials the world’s largest fundraising event? It turns out that IKEA is a nonprofit of sorts, too  — more of a company owned by a foundation that’s larger than the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Even VISA and MasterCard started out as nonprofit associations of their member banks.

Meanwhile, does the fact that Goodwill is a nonprofit that operates like a for-profit retail company make your donations any less charitable, or less worthy than the Salvation Army? New corporate structures are designed to make these tradeoffs a little more explicit. “Low-profit limited liability companies” (L3Cs) are designed to allow private companies to engage in “financially risky but socially beneficial” practices, while B Corporations must meet certain ethical, social and environmental standards. But it’s still a murky world out there.

By comparison, the discussion that followed — on the impact of the world on our bodies and selves — seemed to be a little more tangible. One coWORKer is involved with a range of projects related to healing the body in unconventional ways, such as horses and flower essences.

Another coWORKer’s intense experience with an art installation made of nothing but light reminded us that everything around us affects us, sometimes in ways we don’t even notice. Because of the angle of the sun, proximity to the equator can affect our vitamin D levels and lead to seasonal affective disorder (otherwise known as the “winter blues”). Harnessing the power of light has led not only to lamps that combat the blues, but also lighting on Boeing 787s that reduce jet lag.

Many were intrigued with the proactive steps we can take to monitor and influence the effects of the world on our bodies. The popular FitBit and other fitness products can now capture — and communicate — increasingly fine-grained details about our activities and our body composition, from intensity of exercise to quality of sleep. We were simultaneously fascinated with the idea of tracking every little thing and drawn to the idea that our bodies were built to do that intuitively so we could turn our brains to other pursuits.

And speaking of optimization, it turns out that the term “search engine optimization” (SEO) was coined just down 101 from Petaluma, in Sausalito, in 1995. A local Web designer’s new site for Jefferson Starship raised the ire of the band’s manager, who couldn’t remember the URL (, no longer operational) and found it way down on the fourth page of search results — far below the sites operated by the band’s fans. The problem was solved by printing the band’s name over and over again, invisibly in black on the page’s black background, and SEO was born.

It was a potent reminder: yet another practically invisible solution that yielded a visible outcome.

Julie Landry Petersen is a freelance writer and independent communications consultant who has worked with education startups and nonprofits for over a decade. She lives in Petaluma with her husband and two children, and can be reached at

Julie is also a member of WORK Petaluma: Independent Modern Workspace Curious about coWORKing? Contact Natasha and she’ll give you the low-down.