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Human Network

The Lab aims to build connection in a disconnected world

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HOW CREATIVE  Attendees at May’s Spring Lab mix it up at Sebastopol’s West County Coffee & Wine.
  • HOW CREATIVE Attendees at May’s Spring Lab mix it up at Sebastopol’s West County Coffee & Wine.

Networking, that essential business skill, is undergoing a makeover.

Instead of corporate happy hours and awkward special events in hotel lobbies, workshops, co-working and collaborative events are bringing folks together, with creativity and casual fun along the way.

This approach is shaped into conferences such as the women's entrepreneur event Create + Cultivate, summer camps like the four-day Unique Camp mountain retreat and other one-day events from San Francisco to New York City.

In Sebastopol, Daniel Weinzveg, an organization development consultant and design specialist, and Alexa Cole, a career coach and leadership trainer, have created their own local offering, the Lab. Spring Lab went down in May, and Summer Lab is set for August.

"The Lab is a collaborative and creative experience for individuals, communities and teams, facilitating conversations among entrepreneurs, artists and professionals, and deepening professional relationships," Weinzveg says.

"These days," Cole adds, "humans are not connected in the ways they need—to our deeper selves, purposes and in meaningful ways to one another. The Lab is a creative forum which fosters that."

The event was recently held at Sebastopol's West County Coffee & Wine and hosted 28 designers, consultants, artists and other creative types who paid $35 for a day of fun and problem-solving. Among other activities, Weinzveg and Cole had the participants make two 12-foot pieces of art with paint, crayons, stickers, Play-Doh and other childhood-evoking materials.

"Some talked about creating a home, others about new lines of business, others more spiritual practices," Weinzveg says.

In addition to getting their hands dirty, participants talked about their creative and professional plans for spring, set career goals and gave each other honest feedback on ideas and initiatives.

Lani Yadegar, a relationship coach, was one of the attendees. "It was so fun to let myself be messy with my creativity, be prompted by great questions and eat good food with good people while doing that," she says.

Others used the event to foster self-empowerment. "It taught me to disregard thoughts that might be critical, shameful or fearful," says Sebastopol graphic designer Patrick Finney, "something I struggle with as designer trying to anticipate client reactions to my work."

The organizers, already at work on the next event, are lamenting a national shift in how and where people work and the way we think about employment. "More people are working in non-traditional work settings, at home, in geographically disparate settings, at coffee shops, at co-working facilities," says Weinzveg. "This change is exciting and poses new challenges—[but] how do you foster deeper connections with those we work with and next to?"

"The millennial generation is the first highly digital generation, which innately separates us," adds Cole, reflecting on the current state of individuality and fluid workplaces, "even though globally we may feel closer,"

At Summer Lab, Weinzveg and Cole are partnering with Santa Rosa's 6th Street Playhouse and planning "lively networking, a shared delicious meal, thought-provoking fun and exploration of passions and goals."

Sonoma County needs such initiatives, say Weinzveg and Cole, but the support network for entrepreneurs and creative individuals in the county is growing. They point to Chimera Community Arts & Makerspace in Sebastopol, which also serves as a co-working space, and the Sebastopol Entrepreneurs Project, a project launched by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board that provides resources, courses and community support for business startups.

The Lab is joining them—and bringing crayons to the party.

"Like many communities around metropolitan cities," Cole says, "Sonoma County is harnessing and supporting new energy and evolution through creative projects."

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