Karl Marx didn’t think much of modern industrial work – he thought it was dehumanising, moreorless turning people into widgets. Boy how the world has changed. Here we are in 2013 and the growth curve is steadily upwards for independent working. Many of us are doing jobs we find fulfilling because we are doing stuff we love. Ask any musician, artist, author etc and they will say it was always this way, but accountancy? Legal practice? General medical practice?
Look at the rise of organisations like Escape the City and Good People in the UK – there are countless other examples elsewhere. There is a trend towards a meaningful career, where your efforts go towards doing something that will actually make a difference to the world.
Anyone remember those career self help books of the past few decades as we tried to find the simple answer to work success? Richard Bolles book ‘What Color Is Your Parachute? 2013: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers?’ was first published in 1970 as a guide to finding a fulfilling job (see, even back then). He rewrote it recently to reflect the changing economic situation – putting the emphasis on survival. And it reflects a new flavour of independent career focussing on giving people hope and tools that will equip them for just about anything, including how to market yourself in the age of the internet and social networking.
It’s the company you keep.
Your friends, ex colleagues and family have always played an important part in the search for work, but social media has power forced that. Can you imagine not having Linkedin? Even thought the LinkedIn recommendations are a little discredited, you can certainly be judged by the company you keep. Two of the last projects I secured were on the back of LinkedIn.
But it’s not just about finding jobs. The groups facility on LinkedIn is a very useful way to stay on top of what’s what in your industry, sharing intelligence and information.
Continuous learning is key.
Lynda Gratton of the London Business School has made the point in The Shift – The Future of Work is Changing, that the pace of change will be so rapid that people need to continuously learn and update their skills. She calls this process “serial mastery”. She also says that our education systems just don’t work like that currently, and it’s still unusual to see further education that is more personalised. She believes that for a growing number of workers, the trick will be to jump from one company to another to take advantage of changing skill shortages, and that we independents are well placed for this.
A big part of Lynda Gratton’s thesis is that people need to think about their personal ‘social capital’. For those of you who shudder at the thought of maintaining just one social media profile, don’t worry, it’s not all about online social networking, it’s about how you work with the world, sharing knowledge and collaborating for the common good.
Identify your tribe
She says that you should identify your tribe, a small group of up to 15 people who you can turn to when you need support and encouragement, or just to bounce ideas off.
And Lynda Gratton is not the only commentator to say this. In The Power of Pull, John Hagel and John Seely Brown argued that to be successful in the future, we need to live in clusters of talented, open-minded people and spend a lot of time with our “regenerative communities” to maintain our emotional health. Basically that means ensuring you hang out with people that renew and refresh you.
That’s a problem for those of us who work from home where we can sometimes become isolated. Many products and services are emerging to counteract that including coworking hubs, clubs and groups. More than just a desk, these often offer courses, meet ups and other forms of professional development as well as social events.
It is starting to feel as it people who work their way up the corporate ladder in the traditional way will increasingly be the exception. Lynda Gratton says, “The pleasures of the traditional working role were the certainty of a parent-child relationship. You could leave it in the hands of the corporation to make the big decisions about your working life”.
She says, now the world is moving towards an “adult-adult” relationship, which will require “each one of us to take a more thoughtful, determined and energetic approach to exercising the choices available to us”. Hooray.
We must stick together
Way back, workers stuck together in trade unions to hold out against employers’ exploitation. Whatever your politics are, it’s certain that in the richer countries unions have been in decline – partly because the past decades of strong economic growth meant that there was plenty for most.
But working independently – who looks after your interests? What happens when you can’t work for a period of time? And how do we protect our rights?
We’re enormously impressed by the Freelancers’ Union in the US, which has also been growing rapidly. Set up in 1995, it now has over 212,000 members. Of course, because its members are not employees as such, it doesn’t do collective bargaining but uses its members’ combined buying muscle to negotiate better terms for things like health care and pensions. It also runs fitness centres.
This new movement will bring together mutual organisations, co-operatives, friendly societies and social-enterprise start-ups to build a new type of supportive infrastructure and perhaps campaigning to get better protection for members. ‘Client Scorecard’ from the Freelancers Union rating employers on how promptly they pay contractors is a great example of that.
We are starting to see new models across the world. KindredHQ is part of that, and you’ll see enormous growth in this sector over the next few years. Sara Horowitz, the Freelancers Union’s founder calls this ‘new mutualism. “If work is going to be more gig-like and short-term, the supportive safety-net institutions will need to be much more about enabling flexibility in the workforce” she says.