THE KGM INTRODUCES THE FREE-AGENT ECONOMY
Success was once defined as being able to stay at a company for a long time and move up the corporate ladder. The goal was to reach the top, accumulate wealth and retire to a life of ease.
If you weren’t changing companies every three or four years, you simply weren’t getting ahead in your career. But back then, if you said you were a consultant or freelancer, people wondered what was wrong with you. They would likely assume you had problems getting a job or weren’t a stellar employee.
Today, consulting or freelancing for five businesses at the same time is a badge of honor. It shows how valuable an individual is. Many companies now look to these “ultimate professionals” to solve problems their full-time teams can’t. Or they save money by hiring “top-tier experts” only for particular projects.
Working at home or in cafes, starting businesses with teams of consultants and freelancers you’ve met only online, and even launching business ventures that eventually may fail, all indicate “initiative,” “creativity,” and “adaptability,” which are very desirable traits in today’s workplace.
Most important, there is a growing recognition that people who balance work and play, and who work at what they are passionate about, are often more focused and productive, delivering greater value to their clients.
Who are these people? They are artists and designers; writers, editors and translators, animators, videographers, and sound professionals; programmers, providers of office services and career advice. It’s our friends, and our kids. And in 10 years it is going to be everyone.
What’s needed now is a marketplace — platforms specifically designed to bring freelancers and clients together. These online platforms must embrace the Free Agent Economy as a primary engine of business activity and growth.
The platforms then become the home of an individual’s personal brand and professional identity — a place to feature the most experienced, professional, and creative talent. This is where they conduct business, where a sense of community reinforces the culture and values of the Free Agent Economy, and where success is rewarded with good reviews that encourage more business.
Slowly but surely, these platforms create a bridge between traditional enterprises and this emerging economy. Perhaps more important, as the global economy continues to be disrupted by technology and other massive change, the Free Agent Economy will itself become an engine of economic and social transformation.
And workers everywhere will have something to celebrate once again.
There is a whole new economy out there that people call “the freelance economy.” Some people refer to it as the sharing economy. It’s basically the idea that the old economy was one of freelancing. People had full-time jobs but did freelancing once in a while. There are more and more opportunities now through new platforms for people to engage in freelancer work at every type of scale. They can do it once a day, once a week. They can do it almost as a full-time job, continuously shifting between, let’s say, working for a few hours ,at a company of their choice.
Companies will like having this flexibility because it allows them to have more workers working fewer hours, and it protects them from having to provide health insurance or higher rates of pay. That was the original motivation for a lot of the Free-Agent economy.
Not so long ago, the only people who looked for “freelance” were musicians. For the rest of us, once we outgrew our school dreams of rock stardom, we found “real” jobs that paid us a fixed salary every month, that allowed us to take paid holidays and formed the basis for planning a stable future.
Today, more and more of us choose, instead, to make our living working gigs rather than full time. To the optimists, it promises a future of empowered entrepreneurs and boundless innovation. To the naysayers, it portends a dystopian future of disenfranchised workers hunting for their next wedge of piecework.
Over the following two centuries, however, the emergence of mass production and distribution yielded modern corporations. Termed the Industrial Revolution.
A different technological revolution – the digital revolution – is partially responsible for the recent return to peer-to-peer exchange. Most of the new on-demand services rely on a population equipped with computers or GPS-enabled smartphones. Furthermore, the social capital we’ve digitized on Facebook and LinkedIn makes it easier to trust that semi-anonymous peer.
So it seems like we’ve invented a new institutional form – the peer-to-peer platform – a digitally powered hybrid between organizing economic activity through the market and within the organization. And because these platforms provide layers of trust, brand and expertise on demand, the need for specializing before you’re qualified to become a provider is reduced. Almost anyone with talent can become a part- time online commerce specialist.
And providers don’t have to commit to full days of work.
There’s certainly something empowering about being your own boss. With the right mindset, you can achieve a better work-life balance. But there’s also something empowering about a steady pay cheque, fixed work hours and company-provided benefits. It’s harder to plan your life longer term when you don’t know how much money you’re going to be making next year.
On the other hand, starting a new business has generally been an all-or-nothing proposition, requiring a significant appetite for risk. There are benefits to dipping your toes into the entrepreneurial waters by experimenting with a few gigs on the side. Perhaps this lowering of barriers to entrepreneurship will spur innovation across the economy. The main driver of sustained economic inequality over the past two centuries has been the concentration of wealth-producing “capital” in the hands of a few. This seems less likely if the economy is powered by thousands of Bahamians and micro-entrepreneurs who own their businesses, rather than a small number of giant corporations.