Good-Bye to the “Job”

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.

13 Responses to “Good-Bye to the “Job””

  1. John Hennessey Says:

    There are workers and there are entrepreneurs. The vast majority of the people that I know or have known have not the mind nor the temperament nor the balls to start, own or operate a business. They want to work somewhere and get paid for working. No worries, no pressure and no responsibility. Give me my paycheck and I’ll show up on time and do my job.Period.

    You’re suggestion that Joe who has mixed paint or made steel or framed houses or washed cars or Craig who has lost his IT job because it was outsourced or Sharon who worked for thirty years as a buyer for a department store until it was bought by Target should now seek to discover his or her inner IP and become the next Gordon Gecko or Martha Stewart is ridiculous.

    I suggest you widen your view.


  2. Good-Bye to the old CRM data model « Liliendahl on Data Quality Says:

    [...] I stumbled upon a blog post called Good-Bye to the “Job” by David Houle, a futurist, strategist and [...]

  3. jill g. baker Says:

    Cheri certainly fits in your last paragraph, and she’s doing quite well this summer in Ethiopia.

    Looking forward to your take, somehow, on the debacle in D.C. Will be very interested in the 2012 elections to see how the voters respond.

    Had two people with Rahm contacts for your education reform suggestions….but neither willing to act directly. Both suggested just dropping off your book in his office, figuring if your suggestions were valid someone would pass them along.

    Stay cool….Jill

  4. Jonathan Says:


    What concerns me about the death of the “job” is how few people may be capable of surviving in such a world.

    Also, if you are constantly trying to figure out how to make a living in an ever changing world, when do you have time to raise children?

    IMHO, this picture, painted by my fellow MBAs and futurists and others is a threat to the survival of families. It is ok for singles early in life and empty nesters later in life but bad news in between.

    Also, I have met many, many people who do not impress me with their passion for working in such a world. Many people want to work in a setting where their families are their lives and their jobs are just means to an end. These people look like deer caught in the headlights when they end up in job search classes.

  5. Graeme Says:

    David, your reply isn’t grasping the whole concept. If you continue to think about life as it has happened in the ‘job’ age, then, yes, you will struggle to see how family life will work.
    You also highlight the reason some people will find it very difficult with just one word – passion.
    Too often these days people drift through life from work to the TV and not a lot else without really going for their passion.
    We are fortunate to be early adopters and are building a business based on our underlying passion, which is to help as many people as possible prosper in this incredible life by showing them how they can create financial freedom for their family(we do have a young family as well).
    After years of working in a traditional ‘job’, we are very fortunate to find an opportunity to become a “node in the global network of commerce”.
    This is now possible because of the change to the ‘Shift Age’.
    Many more people will join us in the next few years as we are joined by the early majority and late majority adopters.
    I suspect the group you most refer to are known as the ‘laggards’ of change.
    IMHO we haven’t seen the end of the GFC and won’t see it for a number of years yet. This in itself will give impetus to the change David predicts. The innovative minds of today will be joined by the ones currently staring into the headlights.
    It’s such an exciting time, just when we thought our Grandparents had seen more change than we would ever expect to experience.


    David: The Free Agent Society and the End of the Job has been chronicled since the early ’90′s. As you point out it is more true than ever.

    He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils. (Francis Bacon)

    Great post by you. Thanks.

  7. Donna Says:

    I think that my maternal grandfather in the 1920s may have had a reaction similar to the one you describe . He could no longer sustain his family with his small farm in central Minnesota and went to work in a Detroit car manufacturing plant. His wife, still mothering 3 small children could not tolerate city life. They returned to Minn. where they supported their family by selling their labor–he as a trashman and farm helper, she as a laundress and pie baker. They survived the last great disruption. My adult son is coping with the current disruption or Shift. Disorienting. Painful. Anxiety-producing. But survivable. New skills and ways of thinking emerge out of necessity.

  8. Graeme Says:

    Correction to my August 1st, 2011 at 7:56 am post.

    It should read as a response to Jonathan (not David).
    I support David’s post and ideas.

  9. What if you had to say Good-Bye to the “Job” « Linchpins are everywhere Says:

    [...] What if you had to say Good-Bye to the “Job” 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. (more) [...]

  10. Max Roujeon Says:

    I love it! And David is right. Not new at all but like all evident things nobody saw it coming.
    Here is my story:
    I quit a prestigious and envied position at an international Ad agency to start my own bus back in 1994. «I wanted to live to work and not work to live».
    What happened and what you should know:
    I went from famous to unknown in 24 hours.
    One should never underestimate the magic of a company name on a business card. On my new bus card, my name was here the same as before but Maxo Direct was the company name now, beside it, now not «abc international worldwide». My title was partner (even though I owned 100% of it with my wife, I felt embarrassed (I respect other people too much) to claim the title of president or COO or CMO…of a «one employee company». Well, the phone did not melt from ringing too much. While before I had to decline attending numerous breakfast, diners supper invites and lectures, I had to re create my world, I knew that before, but I did not think though, that my envied florishing agenda and who’s who phone list would turn into a desert in 24 hours.
    Ho, nobody let me down, when I phoned and my name was given, I got to speak to the people I wanted to no matter how hight they sat in thier company. I got lunches invitation etc…to maintain the relation…, the ending was always «let’s keep in touch»…I realised later that it was in case I became «powerful again». This is OK, I knew that also. But you have to be humble.
    So, I did what made me be good in spite of the company name that shut it all. I did conferences and taught. I delivered the battle on a battlefield where I knew I could win. I created a yearly program on direct marketing then internet all around maths and results and…creative. To get it known, I gave my time and knowledge to our professional association, which was dead broke ready to close and agonising just about to be taken over by a competitor. Money flooded in, as we charged good price for my seminars, in that «universe» my name had full value and company name did not contribute to the success. When you attend a conference, you know the speakers name, you need to hear what he-she has to say. I became THE reference, I got calls from people that I knew and that I did not know but who were referred to me. People remembered my name it was not associated to company abc which incidentally as it went down made it obvious that I had something to do in the past success.
    And people like success and success is attributed to people not companies.
    Mandates came in. I was choosing the best ones. The best were evaluated based on how fun they would be to do and how much new they would bring to the business. I stopped doing the conferences as time is money and I needed some.I am now semi retired and will go back to conferences
    Voilà, a long story will you say. A long story yes, but to give you the courage to drop a job that make you sick, no matter how big a pay cheque you get in return. A long story to encourage you to create your own wealth if you have been fired of your job.
    -A long story to give an example that what David «says», works.
    Do not expect help from your gov. they are in deep trouble (I am polite). If you get some good for you.
    Use your talent to win. Be a good strategist. I was asked to lecture and write a program for continued education by the 2 best known universities. I said thank you I am honored but no thank you. Look for what will pay you back.Be humble. Be (a little bit) patient.
    Progress is like a stairway, make step at your size, for a given ascension if you think that the less steps there are, the faster you can climb them…Give time for success to arrive, it will.And…eventought that has nothing to do in it…good luck!

  11. Why Women Will Help Shape the Future of Work | Zaykar Global Ventures Says:

    [...] we’re all just missing the point. If the future of work is here at last — business thought leaders have been predicting its arrival for years — it [...]

  12. Why Women Will Help Shape the Future of Work | WORDPRESS PORTAL Says:

    [...] we’re all usually blank a point. If a future of work is here during final — business suspicion leaders have been presaging a attainment for years [...]

  13. Daniel Adam Freeman Says:

    Thank you for your thoughts David,

    I agree on one level and disagree on another. To the point that we must offer real value to the marketplace I agree. To the point that it will be IP (Intellectual Property) I do and do not. If the economy crashes and the dollar becomes worth nothing then in essence, if IP is the new service offered, all we do as a culture is exchange ‘things of value or necessity’ to bask in the intellectual property of another.

    As I look forward in this ideology I see a world where no real necessities are produced. Your words hit a very specific market niche and I feel do not apply to everyone, nor can they. They apply to myself and many like me – the creatives who walk the edges of the world; those rare men and women who look into the future dare to face it head on as they leap into the unknown. Yet this is not a path for everyone, nor even the majority of men.

    While many are comfortable in change there are many others who do not have, nor want to have, IP to offer. They want a simple life and a family life at that. They want the necessities and comforts of life. Looking forward I see the growing necessity for families to become more self-sufficient and for communities to come together and support one another in what they create. It will no longer be sufficient to create a business of your choosing – but rather to offer something that your community needs so that benefit is felt all around. They in turn do the same. It is time that we addressed the needs of our community first, and then looked outward to help other communities secondarily.

    Our survival in what is to come must not be based upon our IP alone but rather putting together the systems, businesses, processes, and agreements ‘as a community’ that will allow us to survive. Who cares about what IP is offered them when there is no food on the table for their loved ones?

    Let me simply ask this – what if the economy collapses completely and the dollar is valued at Zero? What is the new economy then – and are we ready for it?

    Now that my thoughts are out let me say that I do agree with what you have said – but I lack faith in the system upon which it is founded. I do not believe that it will last and endure much longer as we know it. Currency will be reborn in some fashion. But first it will crash and burn and if we are not prepared leave us, and our families, reeling in its wake.

    I think there are many individuals who have also lost faith. And there is no amount of words, or inspiration, which will remedy this lack and loss of faith; only action and time to test if it is real and enduring. Trust will build slowly and once trust and faith are re-established passion will be renewed. Until then the world will be filled with many people doing what they have to in order to survive, not simply what they love. It is time that we as a Nation stand up and do what is necessary and not simply what we enjoy.

    We must again be a nation that provides more than Services and IP to the nations of the world… to ourselves. We must produce, and assure the production, of our necessities first and foremost. Yet we in America have become ‘too good’ for the work of the common man and seek employ in labors more fitting of our ‘talents’ and ‘abilities’ which have set us above our brothers.

    In this world the only right we have is to decide what we do and what becomes of us. All else we create for ourselves based on how we use this right of decision. All other things; talents, gifts, choices, comforts, luxuries, and even many of the so-called ‘necessities’ of this life come later. Necessities first. Needs second. Comforts and desires lastly.

    I hope I have not gone on too long but reading your words caused many thoughts to pass through my mind. Looking forward to more of your thoughts of the future my friend. I agree that this is the new economy – for the time being. Thank you for your words.