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 assetleverage – 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.
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 question of food security and the planet’s ability to feed it’s projected population has been around for a while, cumulating in the UN’s second sustainable development goal being ‘Zero Hunger’. And whilst it is clear that ‘the number of undernourished people in the world has been on the rise since 2014, reaching an estimated 821 million in 2017’ (The state of food security and nutrition in the world, 2018), it is equally true that obesity is becoming an increasing problem. Together they represent a major problem today for almost all areas of the globe. Both have huge implications for health, economic growth, the environment (particularly rural areas), climate change and societal welfare. But both have been widely discussed for years without significant behavioural shifts or changes in agricultural practices. Is that about to change?
During 2018, just in the UK, we have seen:
Tesco, McDonalds, KFC amongst others selling plant based meat and burger substitutes, looking, tasting and smelling like the originals.
And all before we look at some of the wider signals such as product marking with climatic impacts, questions of waste or predictions such as the end of animal farming. The latter makes clear how difficult predicting the timing of changes can be when the levers and barriers are predominantly behavioural – but, as we’ve seen in our connected world, once a tipping point is reached, demand and appetite can change remarkably fast. And what seems immutable today, can with hindsight appear to be entirely the wrong approach!
Here I am again – one year on from the last post and somehow autumn is when I turn back to the blog . . . . maybe it’s because its my favourite season, maybe because I’m not outside so much. Anyway I’m hoping that this time I will persevere and provide a series of provocative posts . . . . .
A long time since the last post and I feel like I’m going back in time! Well not exactly but I am revisiting a topic which I’ve posted about before Language – is it for or against us? The reason being that I keep coming across words which to my mind are real barriers to communication, not enablers. Think of sustainability, innovation, transformation, change – all massively overused in the corporate world and rarely defined. What happens then is that everyone hears them and translates them into their own version, with often unhelpful consequences. Particularly as we now know just how strong our confirmation bias is
The next trend is to adopt words from one discipline into another – ecosystem is a great example where the concept of a natural ecosystem has some real pluses when thinking about a connected world. But quickly it just becomes a term for the network – one’s personal ecosystem or the organisations ecosystem is the contact or collaborations, losing much if not all of the characteristics associated with the original context.
And then there are new words – I’ve adopted ‘connective’ recently to describe the relationships I’m building in areas that relate to, add value to or overlap with my own activities. That’s a reaction to the fact that partnerships, networks, relationships or ventures all have connotations which don’t reflect how I’m working.
And in all of this, and particularly in our post truth world I am wondering whether or not language is still helping us or whether we need some form of rethink . . .
Last weekend I bought on impulse a beautiful hand embroidered quilt from Sophie Pattinson at the Stansted Garden Show – one of my favourite weekends of the year. Sophie clearly has many motives for what she does but one of them is the development of the craft skills of embroidery. Now craft is alive and well – Etsy is testament to that – but what about craftsmanship? The distinction to me is that crafts are about the production of product (or possibly a service) whereas craftsmanship is the development of the skills to do that – that’s a personal definition so please feel free to argue!
So why am I worrying about the distinction? Well it’s this debate – triggered by this research paper from the Oxford Martin School. There has been a lot of interest and discussion on employment more widely (about which more in a later post I suspect) but the issue of how technology impacts craftsmanship has not featured widely. And yet – much of the luxury market has traditionally depended on craftsmanship – couture, automotive (think Rolls Royce), Swiss watches . . . . it is a long list. And there is the fascinating question of whether new methods of manufacture, especially 3D printing require the development of craftsmanship to take the technique to its full potential . . . before we get to the intriguing question of whether intelligent systems are capable of craftsmanship without human intervention. Demand for the luxury market and craft products remains high but I am interested in the supply side. Do tech literate Millennials aspire to develop craftsmanship in old skills? When the present generation of craftsman retire will their skills die with them? Or will those skills be replaced by technology solutions in some form? And where does all of this overlap with design (for which technology is already huge)? I thought this was all a cerebral debate in my head, until I heard of a pre-school group running plasticine workshops for their new joiners – toddlers who had spent much time swiping on iPads and phones but who were failing to develop the necessary motor muscles in their hands because they were not gripping and pulling. I then realised that to date at least, making stuff has been an integral need for all of us – even if we don’t all become craftsmen.
The design question is what made me think about 3D printing and the wider Maker revolution. Clearly home made is not only a real possibility for many but an increasing reality. But is that the same as craftsmanship? Is the connectivity of the internet and the sharing of experiences and design today’s replacement for apprenticeships and long mentoring? Will immediate real-time discussion replace patient tutoring? Craftsmanship after all is not always about individualism but about expertise and quality coupled with the innate expert ability to overcome problems along the way – the wood that doesn’t quite do what you need it to, the old watch that needs repairing, the fabric which doesn’t drape quite right. Does this 3D printed fabric replace that need?
And what of intelligent manufacturing? What of the armies of Baxters and the equivalents? Can they learn craftsmanship and the skills that go with it? And if they do, are they then craftsbots? From a different perspective, if robots can paint artistically, could they become craftsmen?
I have so many questions about this – some really philosophical, some much more practical. From my own perspective I was happy to pay a premium for my quilt – partly to support Sophie and her groups in Bangladesh but even more for the beautiful craftsmanship displayed. I suspect that if AI or technology supersedes some of the tasks involved there will still be a premium payable for exquisite work – the danger in my mind is that we simply don’t have the people around the train a new generation – we want the craft but may not have the craftsmanship.