I find it hard to imagine a situation in which all real needs can be satisfied without any work being performed by people. I find it equally hard to believe that we will ever see full employment; understood to mean enough jobs to go around. Automation is real, and it's inconceivable to me that the future needs all of us. Thus, as long as we are living under a market economy, some of us will be expendable.
Nowadays you don’t have to search very hard to find well-respected thinkers forecasting the decline of traditional employment and a corresponding rise in self-employment. Daniel Pink, author of Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working For Yourself, had been tracking the decreasing average “half-life” of organizations well before this book was published in 2001. During his time as former speechwriter for Al Gore, he was one of the first to see the information that the Bureau of Labor Statistics churned out on a weekly basis. The relationship between organizations and employees is changing thanks to technological advancement and, in particular, the Internet. Pink foresees a future in which a great proportion of the population will be working as contractors, getting together and working on one project, dispersing when the project ends, then getting together with a different group to work on another project in the fashion of film crews. Here is Daniel Pink discussing this scenario in the following video:
In Race Against the Machine, authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee agree with the forecast. Moreover, they suggest a plethora of recommendations aimed at institutions to facilitate and support people as they transition from traditional employment to self-employment. Andrew McAfree holds an optimistic view of the future in this interesting presentation at a TED Conference in Boston:
At this moment in time, however, I’ve encountered people struggling with their attempt at self-employment. As a freelance researcher, some of my clients called upon me to look up requirements and procedures as they set about establishing their business. Some of the tasks seemed intimidating to them. Skimping on knowledge gathering in particular left them vulnerable to ridiculously huge liabilities and problems.
My experimental attempt at self-employment began only recently as well. So, I don’t have very many recommendations that would help those seeking self-employment succeed in their endeavor. However, when it comes to acquiring the necessary knowledge, a bit of stamina will go a long way. One of the first steps you should take, and one that I’ve witnessed so many people neglecting to take, is grabbing a comprehensive guide such as Working For Yourself: Law & Taxes for Independent Contractors, Freelancers, & Consultants by Stephen Fishman, J.D., instead of looking for information here and there at various websites. First of all, many of these websites aren’t checked for accuracy. Secondly, seeking answers to questions only when they come to mind leaves you open to missing out on information you hadn’t thought to look up. Yes, reading reference materials doesn’t sound like fun however, for many of us, plowing through the numerous, complex requirements and laws is only the tip of the iceberg.
As I proceed, I will, hopefully, be able to offer up more about my experiences – especially with regard to being self-employed as an extreme introvert. If you are like me, you’ve probably had people tell you that you can’t do this because you’re not likely to go out and schmooze enough. I know that a bunch of us out there are struggling with this. However, putting myself out there on the Internet has helped me build valuable connections. Some people I’ve met online have offered good, constructive feedback with regard to my first attempt at blogging. For that, I’m saying thank you! Self-employment is certainly a challenging experience, but it is one that I enjoy and one that I would like to master in case that future scenario suddenly arrives.
See my follow-up post, The End of Organizations as We Know Them.