The Knowledge Worker Economy

You hear a lot these days about how a big part of the future is the “gig economy” where people work for themselves competing for gigs.  Obviously, the poster child of this whole thing is Uber, but you also see it with things like 99designs, Airtasker and Fiverr.

I am going to say it straight up, I think this whole idea is utterly ridiculous and is nothing more than a technology-enabled race to the bottom.  It generally results in people competing on price more than anything else.

I saw someone post today on Facebook about Uber drivers basically begging for tips in their cars by showing how little they make per trip.  My initial reaction was pretty straightforward – too bad.

Uber created an innovative system to disrupt an industry that was heavily regulated and highly inefficient.  The taxi industry around the world, in every city you go to, has almost no concern for delivering a great customer experience and Uber just made the whole thing better.  Their decision to start out with a “lux” service was clever and really highlighted the flaw with traditional taxi services.

But Uber X was never about anything other than unregulated ride-sharing at cheap prices.  It was opportunistic in that it offered customers an even cheaper option than taxis and sometimes even public transport.  No question, it was a flat out low price transport play.

Now, there are drivers complaining about how little they actually make.  Who cares?  That’s the business they entered.  They didn’t worry about undercutting taxi drivers and damaging their income.  They didn’t consider the impact of what they were doing on taxi plate owners and how many of them have taken a haircut to the tune of hundreds of thousands.

Sorry, if you’re struggling to make ends meet because you decided to start bidding for your work and undercutting your competitors on price, then that’s on you.  Again, too bad.

You see this across the entire gig economy.  People go on Fiverr, offer their service for five dollars and complain that their customers don’t appreciate them or a dog walker on Airtasker wondering when will they start to get regular paying customers.

This is not the future in my opinion.  This is cheap opportunism.

A big part of the economy of the future is the expansion of the role of the independent knowledge worker.

Let me explain a bit.  I think we can all agree that the days of getting a job for life in an office where you get a small pay increase every year and a little bonus at Christmas are done.  Companies are far more dynamic and for the most part, there is absolutely no loyalty anymore.

This situation is exacerbated by the fact that in the past thirty years it’s become socially acceptable for companies to ruthlessly pursue the improvement of their bottom line ahead of any form of social responsibility.  Governments have entirely lost the plot when it comes to their role.  They no longer serve us, but serve their corporate donors.

I’m not being some kind of socialist nut job, I’m just stating the obvious.  The rules of the economy have been shifted to allow companies to move jobs offshore easily, dodge taxes by shifting money around and then those two things have been compounded by free trade.  Effectively this means companies can make stuff in the cheapest place possible, sell it to the richest people they can and then pay almost no tax anywhere.

As an employee, you have no leverage.  You used to be able to withhold your labour when you wanted better conditions.  Now, companies just move your job offshore or put their hands out to the governments they pay for and get all sorts of backhand subsidies.

The answer for many people is going to find a way to work for themselves, but unfortunately, the gig marketplaces are selling themselves as the gateway to personal freedom.  In my opinion, for people offering their skills, these sites are parasites.

It’s important for you to get out of “marketplaces” like Uber or Upwork where the marketplace owner has structured the entire experience to drive down costs while building the client’s stickiness to them instead of with the service provider.  These environments turn you, the service provider into a disposable, replaceable perfunctory piece of the puzzle.

That’s not a business, that’s a low paying job with none of the upsides of actually being employed.  You need to get out of this situation for your own best interest – don’t confuse yourself by thinking these things are a stepping stone.  These kinds of gig jobs should convince you that you need to lift your game and find a way to add more value.

So the only thing you can really do is make your own way.  The gig economy just brings this race to the bottom down to a local level.  That’s just not sustainable for the economic changes that are going on structurally in the global economy.

The only way out for you is to develop a high-end set of skills in something and position yourself to maximise your return on those skills.  It is no longer acceptable for you to just be a really good accountant, you need to understand sales and marketing and ideally, you’ll specialise in something in your field that you can become a thought leader in.

That’s part of what drove me to push forward with Casual Marketer.  There are a bunch of people I know personally who, for whatever reason, have become structurally unemployable.  They have great skills, but they just don’t fit into a typical job.  These are one of the core constituents that I’m trying to serve.

And interestingly, these people represent a big part of the future of the economy for me.

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