July 30th, 2011
It is time to slowly say good-bye to the “job” as it has been known in our lifetime and the lifetime of our parents. The parents of baby boomers were the first full generation that lived with the general concept of “life-long employment.” Baby boomers left college and stepped on lower rungs of a “career path.” Now, after three consecutive “jobless recoveries,” it should be clear that jobs as we had defined them are disappearing.
Since the collapse of Lehman Brothers almost three years ago, a number of people who had recently lost jobs due to downsizing, bankruptcy and lack of funding, have asked me where they should look for jobs. My answer has been consistent: become your own job.
What is it that you love? What is it that you are good at? What are your most marketable skills? What is your greatest value to the marketplace? If you stop and think about it, there should be a lot of overlap in the answers to these questions.
It is time to become the job you are. It is time to embrace being a free agent. It is time to be a one-person company. It is time to let go of the concept that there is a job out there that provides security.
As early as late 2008, I forecasted that the unemployment rate in the U.S. would push through nine percent and perhaps reach 10 percent. I further suggested that the country would stay close to these historically high levels of unemployment for years. This reality is only now being discussed and accepted. Two years ago, this forecast was doubted. What led me to make this forecast?
The social concept of jobs, careers and companies really developed over the last 300 years in the Industrial Age. Before the invention of the steam engine, the centralization of industry, and the urbanization of the developed countries, people were artisans, cobblers, blacksmiths and farmers. One apprenticed with a master and gradually learned the trade. Craftsmanship and high-quality work were prized; scale was small and individualized. People plied their crafts on a one-to-one basis.
The 100 years from the Civil War through the 1950s was a time of scale, mechanization, centralization and the creation of vertical hierarchies that rapidly became bureaucracies. People started at the bottom, or if they had a college degree, slightly above the bottom, and over time, moved up the career ladder in a life-long sequence of promotions, often moving wherever the company told them to. The apotheosis of this was post-WWII America, with its triumphant manufacturing power that was the envy of the world.
The 1970s ushered us into the Information Age – with computers and communications satellites – and started the transition from production of goods to the generation of information at ever-increasing rates. An economy based on atoms was ceding to an economy based on digits. Waves of technological innovation across all sectors of the economy provided us all with moments of Toffler’s “Future Shock.” The future kept showing up and altering our life, work and behavior.
The last decade of the 20th century, with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, unleashed globalism and the global economy. Work began to transcend national boundaries. The birth of the Internet launched the connectivity revolution, which is playing out to this day. Technology moved from the desktop to the briefcase, and now to the pocket. It moved from the office to the home. The clear consumerization of technology is flowing through the global workplace. People can now sit in a coffee shop or on a park bench and run companies, create products, collaborate globally.
In the Industrial Age, machines replaced manual or blue-collar labor. In the Information Age, computers replaced office or white-collar workers. Hardware and software replaced people doing jobs. The Internet connected the world, so the lowest-cost producer became ascendant. Now in the Shift Age, all is in a state of shift. Instead of hierarchies, silos and vertical management structures, we are becoming a global net of connected work.
Jobs have less and less value, which is why people who have lost their jobs in the recent Global Financial Crisis cannot find jobs that pay the same as the ones they lost. It is time to let go of the concept of a job and think of becoming a node in the global network of commerce, of creativity. What might be your highest value to others? What is your greatest passion? What is it that you do well? What can you give to others in the connected global economy that will give you money in return? What is your innovative idea? In the Shift Age, wealth will flow from IP, intellectual property. What is your IP?
Stop looking for the “job” that is increasingly hard to find. Create your own job. Become the job you are.