Everything Is Personal In the Future of Work

In the disruption of work, we will all need to be generalists to some degree, even roles at large enterprises will require broad skill sets and an entrepreneurial mindset. No longer can we compartmentalize ourselves into being an “Java Developer” or “Business Development”. Everyone needs to know everything – having the entrepreneurial mindset of “just doing what it takes” will now be expected from everyone in any role.

Dan Pink’s prescient Free Agent Nation told us in 2002 that the future of work was going to be disrupted and we are seeing it happen. How can you survive in the new world of work? You need to be able to do a little bit of everything – no longer can you specialize in just doing one thing – your skills need to stretch beyond. The easiest way to do this – force yourself in those situations before you have to do them.

I used to be an engineering manager and coder – when the company I was working for decided to let me go. At the time my visa was in flux, so I begged them to keep me on in any role available. So I went into sales. I had no idea what I was doing, but after a few months, I landed a $250k contract, then a $500k contract. I forced myself to expand my skillset, and I was successful. I’m not special by any means – anyone can do this too. Human beings have an amazing capacity to learn and expand their minds and skillsets when they really need to or have to.

Ideally, we fully encompass within ourselves, the skills we need in order to earn a living, a specific technical skill, a specific knowledge asset. But we are no longer expected to be a cog in a machine – we are expected to be whole machines – we need to know how to do everything! We need to be able to sell, we need to be able to make, and we need to be able to service. In the future of work, we are all solopreneurs, fully responsible for bringing in the business, developing whatever we are selling and then servicing it afterwards. We are responsible for everything. The person is the business.

There is no such thing as B2B, or B2C, everything is P2P.

Are you B2B, or B2C – do you sell to other businesses a “business” type product, or to consumers, a “consumer” type product? I’m going to argue that that distinction is now gone. That there is no distinction between B2B and B2C, it’s all P2P. All selling, all success, is interaction between people at the right place and time. – someone has a need which needs to be filled by someone with a want. As DEVO said, “We shove the poles in the holes” The customer has a need or a want, a gap, a hole, and someone steps up to fill it. And that customer, increasingly is just a person, even if they work in some large enterprise. Everything is now, suddenly, personal.

A while back, I teased that this post would be about “3 Reasons That You Should Probably Stop Using LinkedIn, Unless…” The reality is that LinkedIn, as a “business network” is really not a business network. Rapidly, in this new world, this new definition of work and business is, what differentiates a “business” network from a “regular” network, like Facebook, which is used for almost all communications and authentication nowadays (between adults that is). Nothing really. Business is simply one aspect of interpersonal communications, and is becoming more and more personal. Business is personal. The distinction between work and play is gone, and now everything is open to everyone. As a “business” network, it doesn’t do a very good job of anything other than helping prospective employers and employees connect. Unless you are on one or the other side of that conversation, then why are you there? LinkedIn is not for selling, it’s for getting a job. No wonder their stock has dropped so far, investors realized that it was just a big job board… (full disclosure, I am an investor in LinkedIn). Problem is, “jobs”, in the classical sense, are going away. The future of work is rapidly becoming atomic.

A number of marketers, when taking about their target market, recommend that you hone everything done to a single individual. Some even suggest that you name them, give them a stock photo, and give them a bunch of ideal attributes. Some even go a step beyond that and suggest that you find one ideal customer, a specific real person who you wish to sell to, and then personally interview them, under the guise of an informational interview in order to make them tell you what they need, then devise all of your marketing to focus on that one, specific person, then hope to hit others like them in your marketing blasts.

It’s all so inefficient – but it makes a ton of money for Google and Facebook, neither would be the multi-billion dollar companies that they would be today if it weren’t for their ownership of the communications between buyer and seller. In fact, they could be a thousand times more efficient at connecting buyer and seller right now, were they not making so much money at it. It’s the reason I always thought Apple was slow to the streaming side was that they figured that they hadn’t totally tapped out the market to purchase music instead of renting it.

But I digress. I started off this post by saying that “everything is personal.” The world is shifting to a new model, and many are not prepared for it yet. Technology is forcing us to be independent in some ways, while it is pushing us to be co-dependent in others. The tiles are shifting under our feet.

We can no longer depend on corporations to help us to earn money, otherwise known as “having a job”. The career path, which many employees and employers expected to maintain over the course of their lives, is gone on the employer side. Employers no longer hide the fact that they are no longer loyal to the employee. On the flip side, employees must now take on full responsibility for their income, and have gone from a lifetime of working for others to a lifetime of entrepreneurship. Everyone has become a sub-atomic “solopreneur” running their own single-person shop “Me, Inc, or Me, LLC” even within some larger corporations. Now everyone must take on all of the tasks required to run a business on their own – from marketing to sales to producing the product or service, to servicing the customer, to accounting and payroll. Technology has made possible the true one-person shop, who needs to run everything. Even within the framework and structure of larger organizations, everyone is expected to do everything. One of the key reason why corporations formed in the first place, the division of labor, is sometimes no longer the case. Even with some companies, everyone is really on their own – they may have a shared vision, but everything is expected of everyone, unless it really is some true niche specialized knowledge.

If you’ve read The Circle, by Dave Eggers, he posits a near future where their employees are given more and more and more work to do, packing work into every moment of every day. There seems to be no one really supporting anyone else, just the constant stream of ever increasing work being piled on, and the “employee” just taking on more and more work. Expected to take on more work, for no seeming increase in pay. There is a clear disconnect between labor and reward. There is more and more labor given, for no increased, or slightly increased, reward. This is prescient, and is certainly happening today.

Of course, not everyone can run everything, and not everyone is capable of running everything, but everyone is expected to do everything, and be all things to all people. Witness the profusion of thousands of pieces of content which tell you how to be more efficient, how to be successful, how to be mindful, how to live your life better, how to improve, learn expand, or even worse, stories about how someone was crazy successful and now rich due to some fluke or lucky break. Quora and Medium are rife with people boasting about how wonderful their lives are and how rich they are. Someone even asked “Why is everyone on Quora so rich?”  – Someone wise told me once – that Facebook and all of these feeds are contributing to depression – since people only post (I should say boast) about the good stuff in their lives, Even if you don’t really want to, it seems like you have to, in order to succeed, to win, to get ahead. To not miss out. FOMO is real. We are inundated by it.

People are more connected than ever before, but they are also more alone than ever before. This hyper connection has created a flow of hyper information; which no one can possibly assimilate. This is why people spend crazy amounts of hours consuming feeds from Facebook, which has become the new TV.

All work will soon be atomic – we are now little atoms of labor – connecting and reconnecting as required in order to get work done. Are you ready to change your mindset?

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Chris Kalaboukis
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Chris Kalaboukis

CEO / Co-Founder at helloFUTURE
Chris is a prolific inventor (60+ patents), exceptional innovator (headed internal banking, retail and technology innovation programs), experienced technologist, serial entrepreneur and futurist.
Chris Kalaboukis
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