Did You Give Away Your Job?
There seems to be a growing sense that young people in their 20s and 30s aren’t getting the opportunities they were promised in life. I’m not old enough to know if this is really different from the past, but it’s clear that many people have hit a dead-end. And now with the after-effects of the recession(s), many more in all age groups have joined them. What’s going on here? One possibility is that a lot of the jobs people expected to have were given away for free.
I don’t just mean they went to low-cost countries. Some of the work is actually being done for free, by the same people who want better jobs. Sound crazy?
A blog post I came across recently highlights how this happens by drawing together three books from highly respected authors. Daniel Pink, Seth Godin, and Clay Shirky highlight how companies in the west are increasingly realizing that instead of hiring more and more people, they need to hire less people who do more. And it’s not just by working employees to death. Investments in technology and training can increase people’s output to the point where less people are needed (maybe the promised productivity gains from technology are finally coming through!)
At the same time, people whose skills aren’t fully used at work go home and spend their free time creating things that you couldn’t buy at any price in earlier ages, and then giving them away. In fact some of the free stuff is a higher level of quality than you can buy today. A large part of the internet is a testament to this. Put these trends together, and people are actually giving away jobs!
Each of the pieces makes sense on its own. But taken together it’s a strange picture. Some people can’t get jobs, others have jobs that limit what they can do instead of pushing them to do more. And yet those same people can be giving away something better than what they get paid for. Why aren’t people getting paid (more) for the highest value they create instead of boring and menial tasks?
There are two sides to this. Some things can only be done for fun and for free. They may be done more often now that the internet can connect people easily but that doesn’t mean they’ll turn into a business. For example there are great guitar lessons available for free but the percentage of guitar players who earn a significant income will never be very large. On the other hand, some things will contribute to the economy over time. Open source software is given away for free by experts but as their work gains popularity it often leads to new jobs and new business.
Hidden behind these changes there’s an opportunity big enough to change the world and a turning point that will change the world. Tomorrow I’ll explain more!