And what’s government’s role in all of this?

Well the question of tax, and how much of the newer forms of income are identified is already an issue. Some trading on eBay will inevitably hit UK capital gains thresholds but not all by any means. Airbnb rentals are absolutely akin to historic house rentals but if the owner provides (and charges for) additional services like a guided tour of the locality, cooking demonstrations, language teaching – does this become more of a formal business? The lines of distinction between business / personal; capital/income; incidental / regular will become significantly harder to define if portfolio income takes off.

And that’s before the question of where this activity will take place. Digital nomads were, at least until Covid interrupted, becoming more common. As more of our lives become virtual the question of where an activity is genuinely taking place becomes greyer. If a 3D print design is created by someone in the UK, but only drives revenue when it is used to print the item in say, USA – how does that work?

And above all there is the shift in mindset needed here. If portfolio income becomes the norm, then so many of our fundamental assumptions about the relationship between work and income will need to shift – where, who, how, what time of day, how the income is defined . . . . the list is endless. And will the complexity of these arrangements be left to the individual to sort out? Or will government need to educate, enable, facilitate and support – if for no other reason than to ensure equality of opportunity?

I’m quite sure that isn’t a definite list – more the tip of the iceberg. And I think there are many more new opportunities to come. So watch this space!

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And what about wider society?

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If you go back to my historic parallel of the industrial revolution it’s here that we will see the most radical shifts. And yet in some ways they are the most difficult to predict. Here’s a few that I can see today:

Almost certainly, left to the open market, leveraging one’s earnings potential will depend on financial status, range of contacts and knowledge, confidence and risk appetite amongst other attributes. Those are all criteria which favour those who already have. And few of them are hugely susceptible to tangible actions like opening up university places – indeed we are already seeing a trend where the most independent are eschewing university for real life experience. I fear therefore that inequality of opportunity will increase without some as yet unclear form of positive intervention.

Financial management of a career based on portfolio income becomes much more a matter for the individual – and again few are well equipped for this innately. A key element of education would therefore need to be around risk, financial arrangements, the purpose and availability of savings, changes to how debt is viewed today etc.

And many financial institutions would need to become much more sophisticated and integrated in their approach – mortgages, pensions etc today are predicated on some very simplistic assumptions: mortgages are predominantly assessed on regular employment income; pensions assume a steady working life (with employer contributions) with a key end date and lack of employment thereafter

Human nature and inertia of established institutions will look to maintain the status quo (think back to office working and broadening of IR35 as two signals today) – but I suspect the genie has well and truly left the bottle. The question therefore is what are our 3 wishes?

And is that compatible with how organisations will be affected?

For corporates, as Liz Edwards has highlighted in an earlier comment, the transfer of power or at least decision making to the individual has a multitude of implications. Firstly as we are seeing today, the nature of the competition for talent has changed already. It is not simply a corporate’s peers or that high profile startup which are in the war for the same talent – it’s all the other ways that talent might earn money. It is probably inevitable that the best talent has the widest opportunities in general terms.

·Secondly in identifying and attracting talent it could be as much about understanding the life cycles, and stages of life of the target audiences. Those who are poised to prize security of income above novelty or flexibility or who have a low risk appetite. This could, but probably isn’t true definitively, mean that young graduates or those starting out in the world of work are not the most obvious choice, at least for jobs that require some longevity. The whole concept of a career path may need to encompass spells, potentially long spells, outside the corporate world. And perhaps most interestingly, there may be a decline in the availability of experienced leaders and managers who, with a degree of financial security, look for other novel, and more flexible ways to work. Covid may have demonstrated the pluses and minuses of working from home, but there are other compelling possibilities to maintain it.

Thirdly, the offer corporates make will need to be relevant in the concept of the wider earnings portfolio not simply as measured against market norms for that job. What development is offered? How will it help build a network of valuable relationships? What business acumen will someone get? How flexibly can someone work – can they continue with different aspects of their portfolio whilst in full time work? These are not new issues, but they could become massively more complex.

In short, corporates are going to have to be able to see through the eyes of the talent they seek to attract – more so than ever, and what they see there may feel increasingly alien from their own world

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So what is the impact on individuals?

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I’ve set out what I see as the revolution towards individual’s commercializing their own earnings power in multiple ways. There are already many signals that this is happening – recent data suggests one third of the US workforce is involved in the gig economy, many alongside full time or other employment. And that’s only likely to be a sub-set of those involved in this – many of the traditional ways we measure how people work are dependent on tax status – and many of the newer ways to earn money aren’t easily picked up by tax assessments.

So I’ve been thinking about what the commercialisation of earnings power means for individuals, corporates, government and society: here’s some of the impacts that are likely from the evidence today (these will be the tip of the iceberg as we look back over time I suspect!).


·      People will have a broader perspective on the range of possible income sources they could have: – choosing how many to engage with, and which routes to earn money will depend on their risk appetite, their stage of life and economic / social circumstances, their knowledge of those opportunities and skill sets accessible to them.

·      Purpose has been discussed a lot as a driver – it will definitely come into the equation, but what the term will cover for each individual will I suspect be very broad, and not easily classified. Values may well be a more pertinent label – but even that probably will be hard to define. Nor do I think it will be the sole driver – just one of the multitude of variables that people will consider when making their choices

·      Influencers and communities of interest will I think become increasingly important in those decisions: – for example, at a very crude level, gaming and esports as a revenue generator is attractive partly because of the community involved – very much a community of shared interests. And, where those with highly developed competitive instincts can hone and apply those rigorously.

This then raises all kinds of interesting questions around relevant skill sets and how to continue developing those, financial responsibility, access to (and information on) potential opportunities, where networks and relationships fit in etc etc

Commercialisation of earnings?

It’s a horrible phrase so I’ll try to explain the thinking. I started the above diagram about 6-7 years ago and I’ve been adding to it ever since (and it’s nowhere near complete as it will continue to grow and change. It represents three shifts which are occurring at the same time, and which the Covid appetite for freedom has really accelerated, although these are not new.

Firstly, there has been a desire for more work-life balance for years (I’m tempted to say decades) with people looking for ways to make their day less structured and prescribed.  That’s the ovals here – with the outside the least structured, ie you can do the activity whenever you like (and in many cases it doesn’t take that long!).

Secondly, and I think this is at the heart of the revolution I’m seeing is the shift towards bringing in money in new and differing ways. If the industrial revolution was about what work we were doing, this revolution is about how we, as individuals, finance the cost of living. So I’ve identified (thus far at least) 4 buckets of activity which people are using to bring in money. The first is employment – that’s pretty familiar to most although it too is changing. The second is talent leverage – that’s where the familiar concept of entrepreneurs sits – people who use their own talents to create a business. But it is now so much more. The third is asset leverage – think Uber or Airbnb or Ebay. Making money from things that you items that you have and you either no longer want/need or you are underusing. The fourth is investment – which again is not new, but how it is being done today, and who is doing it has changed hugely.

The third shift is that increasingly a portfolio income – made up of several of these at any one is becoming more common, and has been enabled by the ability to many of these in what used to be ‘leisure time’, or at least without them consuming the whole day. And this fits neatly into what Lynda Gratton and Andrew Smith in their book/site 100 year life suggests – that we need to think about work in a completely different way. Not a single career, but something which flexes with our point in life, and the life style we want and can afford. Employment has usually in the past been seen as secure – and that will be key for parts of our life. Freedom to travel, to develop and explore is much more of a characteristic of those in their late teens, twenties and increasingly healthy 60’s-80’s. There is so much scope here for choice.

Which brings me onto the big driver for all of this – connected technology. Those labels in brown are those which are only possible at scale through connective technology – internet and mobile to date but with more to come. And the caveat remains that this is not available to all – the key will be making those choices available across society as a whole, not just those with the relevant financial cushion.

Commercialisation of earnings power

So when I refer to commercialization of earnings power, what do I mean exactly – well looking back to the industrial revolution, that was done by the employer – individuals went to work but the terms on which that work was rewarded was set by the employer. Although with the advent of unions, regulation and employment laws that balance had shifted somewhat, the basic tenet that employers set the nature of the commercialization (especially how work was done, where, when and for what price) had not really changed.

The exception was to some extent self-employment – but here again market expectations and regulation of many trades, professions or activities meant that the individual had limited control over the commercialization of their time and activity. Enter technology and now suddenly all kinds of activities (many of them closer to ‘fun’ and certainly well removed from employment) become the basis of commercialization – trading on eBay, renting out on Airbnb, esports, vlogging. In every case a platform has enabled the activity without (in many cases) setting the terms of ‘employment’. The net result is that many individuals are discovering that they can commercialise their own earnings power. And that sense of freedom is not just about money or income – it’s also about how and when ‘work’ gets done.

Now this is not all sunshine – those platforms which dictate terms to their users eg Uber (akin to the old employment status, irrespective of whether the law deems them to be employers) are not offering the same degree of commercial freedom. But the areas where personal commercialization is feasible are growing all the time. Fancy yourself as an investor – check out the crowdfunding platforms. Want to build your gaming expertise? Enrol on an esports degree course.

So what’s the big driver for this growth in technologically driven opportunities? Well essentially its that sense of freedom and being able to choose what, how and when you do earn. And before Covid, the opportunity for people to look at all of this and engage was limited for the majority – who commuted or were at least office bound during the working week. All of these opportunities felt like hobbies or things to be slotted in when other commitments had been dealt with. What Covid did was highlight the opportunity for freedom – and make the prospect much more attractive.

The world of work

100,000s leaving their existing work to seize new opportunities, moving from long established homes to fresh and different surroundings, abandoning traditional support networks and employment, leveraging new technologies and infrastructure. Ok, so this is another post on the Great Resignation – right?

Well, no actually – all of these things were equally true about the great migration to the industrial mill towns in the nineteenth century. The start of the industrial revolution looked, in many ways, remarkably similar to today – albeit the drivers were a little more desperate. But it’s worth thinking about the parallels because it took (if you start with the population moves and reckon that the rise of the welfare state and the origin of the NHS are somewhere towards the end) well over 100 years for all the ramifications to work through. Those years saw:

  • Massive technology introductions, most of which were unimaginable in their final impact when first seen – canals, trains, electricity, cars
  • Societal upheaval from a primarily rural economy to a global industrially based empire with education, household size and composition, democratic engagement and worker organization all changing along side
  • Huge inequality resulting – from the Carnegies to the poorest chimney sweeps boy, with attempts to redress this covering everything from the philanthropy of Saltaire or New Lanark to workhouses
  • Above all, the rise of globalization and the international connectivity of trade, politics and it seems, almost inevitably, war

With hindsight, we now recognize this as the industrial revolution. So what, if we think of today’s context, might posterity recognize as beginning today? I would argue it is the commercialization of earning power – an ugly phrase admittedly, but like the world in 1800, we have no experience of what’s coming, and hence limited language to match it.

The Great Resignation or the Great Reset?

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This absolutely hit the mark for me – resonates with so much I’ve seen, heard and read and I agree with the findings. But, I think there is something else going on here which Coivd-19 has accelerated hugely. About 7 years ago I did a presentation to a group of senior HR executives at one of their annual events and mentioned that “employees are consumers – just wearing a different hat’. What I went onto say was that in the mobile era, consumers had (in reality in some cases and in perception in others) taken much more control of what and how they buy – online, via apps like Instagram, through influencers, by click & collect – the changes are endless and have only continued since that talk. But the underlying shift is essentially a move of the power towards the individual consumer and away from providers and sellers. 

So much has been written about the massive numbers of people thinking about or indeed quitting their jobs. But there is less consensus and less debate on the drivers for it – frequently it’s narrowly focused on the benefits / drawbacks of working from home vs the office. There is talk of purpose, culture or values (or perhaps the lack of them) within corporates, a lack of flexibility in working from home, or uncertainty over what hybrid working will mean. But maybe, just maybe it’s all of those and something a little bit deeper and simpler – maybe we just want control of our lives back, in the same way we feel more in control of buying things. For some people (and many more than previously) they no longer want to accept that their earning capability is dictated by their employer.

That’s always been the dream for many – and entrepreneurs talk about it a lot although in many cases, it means long, long hours, high risk and a high potential failure rate. But Covid-19 highlighted the profile of that ‘freedom’ in a way that simply had never happened before, Suddenly the structure of the daily commute fell away, the school run became a home schooling planning session (a mixed blessing!) and the joys of gardening became apparent.

All of which sounds idyllic – and it wasn’t, and isn’t, for many. BUT, the glimpse of something else that is possible, a recognition that 10 hour plus working days, long commutes, on call 24/7 is not necessarily the rest of our lives, has created a restlessness, a dissatisfaction, a desire to try something different. The rise of alternatives to fulltime paid employment isn’t a bed of roses, and if left to evolve, may indeed lead to huge progress, but also huge inequality. There are lots of examples in the gig economy where that shift of power to the individual remains illusory. And it’s not for everyone – but, as this data from GoRemotely shows, the rise of the self-employed, either as a full-time or part-time occupation is global and increasing.

Community & crowd

crowd 2

Increasingly crowds (whether existing communities or not) are a vital source of inspiration, funding, ideas, insights or simply support to many organisations. Think crowdfunding – whether the Eden project, business expansion or local causes there are now multiple ways that individuals (in a regulated manner, at least for equity and debt based funding) can get involved in supporting projects, organisations and activities that they care about. This is classic community territory where the power of ‘people like me’ turns into practical support.

But that support doesn’t have to be money – crowdsourcing has even more potential. Everything from Apple’s App Developer Network (no, they are not employees or formal suppliers) through to the employee who recommends a friend for recruitment purposes and including the ideas of the Kaggle community along the way constitute ways of tapping into communities with formal and informal knowledge, views, opinions and ideas.

The question of what’s in it for them also has multiple answers – for Apple it’s easy – 70% of any app revenue Apple takes  (and by early 2019 that’s estimated to amount to some $120bn) but for others its the fun of having their ideas listened to, the intellectual challenge of a data problem, working with like minded colleagues and friends.

What underpins both, and perhaps makes any ‘crowd’ activity difficult for established businesses to identify effectively is the passion that drives these. Crowdsourcing anything requires the community or crowd to have an interest – something that inspires them to get involved. An overt outcome of making money for the organisation is certainly not enough on it’s own – but providing the value to the community is understood and engaged, it is not of itself a barrier.

The second barrier for large organisations (and which taps into the question of agility) is the lack of command and control. The very nature of crowds are that they are not going to return the obvious – or if they are why would you bother? That can feel very risky to an organisation looking for guaranteed outcomes.

And of course from the community perspective it becomes clear that their particular crowd have an element of control, of opportunity. The increase (albeit at low levels) of peer to peer platforms to a great extent depends on communities being prepared and passionate about getting together.

Performance – show time!


We all know about performance – it’s probably the commonest metric apart from cash in any business. And there are usually two elements to it – increase the top line, and reduce the costs. Both feel like an ongoing battle usually, and for most businesses both are only achieved incrementally and not always consistently.

Exponential type organisations by definition don’t simply grow incrementally – so what are they doing differently? Well in many cases they are changing the fundamental rules of the game. The costs to increase the top line may no longer rest within the organisation for example. A classic example is user generated content for advertising – you don’t have to pay an expensive media company for the film, and there is (if done well and genuinely) the added bonus that other customers will tend to believe ‘someone like them’ more than you telling them. That example relates to two of the headings in the map above – community & crowd and social / engagement. Product development by your customers (Threadless involving their ecosystem in the design of T-shirts is a well known example) is a great instance of community / crowd as are many examples of open innovation – whether the long established Innocentive or individual competitions like Nokia’s one in. The key to all of these is that the cost is low (and the scaling cost nominal) whilst the benefit can be substantial and will be innately relevant. Because of the low cost, they are inherently agile, as they are both variable costs and (although there are pitfalls to engaging external audience and then not following through) very flexible.

AND they are not limited to high growth or start up businesses.

Automation and AI are slightly different (although both can be applied to reduce still further the costs of engaging audiences beyond the corporate boundary. But both have the same potential of reducing costs / improving productivity beyond the purely incremental. One simple example is the use of robots in industrial complexes or warehouses to work 24/7 – perhaps stacking parts or stock ready for human intervention during the day.

A final point – just as demonstrated by Amazon so clearly, the use of online connectivity can make the long tail as profitable to service as the mass volume sales, and increasingly connectivity, mobile and an ever expanding set of technologies are enabling:

  • greater visibility and reach for lower or nil cost
  • higher engagement and opportunity to involve customers and audiences
  • lower production, supply and delivery costs

Clearly none of these is without issues – but in worrying about growth prospects, it’s easy to miss the startlingly large consequences of these opportunities.