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Summary:

Politicians may be wrangling over various approaches to job creation, but the right and left seem to agree that with nine percent unemployment, America needs more jobs. Not author and marketing guru Seth Godin. He thinks we need to get over the whole idea.

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Seth Godin has a new book out, and, as usual, commentary and reviews are all over the Internet. Why? Love him or loathe him, Godin is always thought-provoking. Usually, his topic is marketing, but recently, he used his blog to take on a subject much closer to our hearts here at WebWorkerDaily: the future of work.

He thinks it will result in fewer jobs. Politicians may be wrangling over various approaches to job creation, but the right and left seem to agree that with nine percent unemployment, America needs more jobs. Not Godin. He thinks we need to get over the idea.

Why do we believe that jobs where we are paid really good money to do work that can be systemized, written in a manual and/or exported are going to come back ever? The internet has squeezed inefficiencies out of many systems, and the ability to move work around, coordinate activity and digitize data all combine to eliminate a wide swath of the jobs the industrial age created….

The industrial age, the one that started with the industrial revolution, is fading away. It is no longer the growth engine of the economy and it seems absurd to imagine that great pay for replaceable work is on the horizon.

Godin seems pretty gloomy about Americans’ employment prospects, but he claims that, in fact, he’s an optimist. We may not soon see the return of many jobs, but work is forever, according to Godin.

I’m not a pessimist, though, because the new revolution, the revolution of connection, creates all sorts of new productivity and new opportunities. Not for repetitive factory work, though, not for the sort of thing ADP measures. Most of the wealth created by this revolution doesn’t look like a job, not a full time one anyway.

When everyone has a laptop and connection to the world, then everyone owns a factory. Instead of coming together physically, we have the ability to come together virtually, to earn attention, to connect labor and resources, to deliver value.

Stressful? Of course it is. No one is trained in how to do this, in how to initiate, to visualize, to solve interesting problems and then deliver. Some see the new work as a hodgepodge of little projects, a pale imitation of a ‘real’ job. Others realize that this is a platform for a kind of art, a far more level in which owning a factory isn’t a birthright for a tiny minority but something that hundreds of millions of people have the chance to do.

There are a couple of points worth making about Godin’s vision of the new job-less way of work. First off, Godin’s idea of earning money through “earning attention” doesn’t sound that far off from the ideas of You Are Not a Gadget author Jaron Lanier who argues in this very long, very interesting interview that the only way the Internet won’t destroy the middle class is if we find ways to monetize the products of our “hearts and brains.”

It’s worth pointing out that, level-playing field or no, making something non-replaceable with your heart or brain that will stand out in a crowded marketplace and that others will pay for is a really tall order, as anyone who has ever tried to create a viral video, design a logo or write a story can tell you. Captivating people is far harder than powering through paperwork in accounts payable or repeatedly fabricating the same metal widget. Are enough people capable of doing this to maintain a middle class? Can we train more people for the new economy by altering our education system?

Reservations aside, the fact that lots of steady, location-based, routine jobs are disappearing seems indisputable. Project-based, location-independent, creative work appears to be the way of the future.

Is Godin right that jobs as we once understood them aren’t coming back? Are we ready for this reality?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Hugo90.

  1. I’ve already seen this taking place in my home town, Jacksonville Fl. Many of the talented graphic designers, marketers and developers are leaving corporate life to become companies of one. They have found it to be much more rewarding to work for themselves and set their own priorities.

    It’s very invigorating to see this happening in our city, and with a good success rate to boot. I encourage anyone contemplating their next career move to consider building your own empire. The free agent workforce is on the rise.

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  2. You know, this is a great article (and all very true about the 9-5 job idea), but I stopped dead in my RSS-reader tracks when I saw the headline. You know, considering Steve Jobs just dying and my reader was filled with all sorts of tributes and then your title about “Jobs being so last century” … great article, but badly-timed headline (grin).

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  3. I have believed for some time now that the Industrial Age model of large companies that employ many people being the “normal” way to earn a living is on its way out. We perceive it as the status quo, but I see it as an aberration in history–through history, the majority of the people provided goods and services to each other on a small scale, with earned cash used for those things they could not trade for or produce themselves.

    Not that large companies are necessarily going to disappear, but I think we’ll see far more people in the coming decades adopting “old” approaches. Whether intellectual, artisan, or skilled laborer, I think there will be a lot of services and goods produced and sold at a local–not necessarily geographically local, but local to one’s personal sphere–level. I also expect and hope to see bartering come back as a normal course of business.

    It will be interesting to see what happens, though I fear for those whom our educational system have left without practical skills.

    (I confess I have no credentials or special knowledge in this area and may be totally off base, this is just my own personal supposition.)

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  4. I completely agree, especially considering that I myself left the office world to pursue a project-based freelance career some years back. The shift promises to be a slow one, but considering the amount of work companies are already outsourcing, it’s pretty inevitable. More thoughts on this topic: http://thehipstereffect.com/2011/10/07/what-job-this-heres-work/

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  5. This book will get bought, this post will get read, and guess what…we’ll still all be at work. Yes, the way we think about jobs has to evolve, but I’m not buying that the entire “jobs” concept will be foreign to future generations. There will always be offices, time clocks and bully bosses that demand you do your work on location. Period.

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  6. Oxford Music Snob Friday, October 7, 2011

    “Are enough people capable of doing this to maintain a middle class?”

    That’s the $60,000/year question isn’t it. I’m in the software and media creation field with two half-time jobs and a “personal empire” that I’m trying to build after 5:00 and on the weekends, but I think there has to be a resurgence in American manufacturing of PHYSICAL THINGS to really get the majority of the middle class thriving again. The interview below with Terry McAullife is a really good one, and it’s hard not to get fired up hearing the guy talking about what’s he’s doing to create jobs.

    http://www.terrymcauliffe.com/home

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  7. There are going to be plenty of jobs clearing up the mess that the industrial age has dumped on the environment.
    The destruction wrecked by fiercer and more frequent storms will mean there will be lots of rebuilding required and the acid rain melting the concrete structures of bridges and buildings will add to the workload. Coaxing knackered soil to produce crops will also need a whole load of manpower as will maintenance of lots of small scale energy generation units. Only real question will be where the money will come from to pay for repair as the current generation has also borrowed up to the hilt to finance the initial destruction!

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    1. Ambrish Kochikar Tuesday, October 11, 2011

      Great thought!

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  8. Leslie Golis Truex Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    I think there will always be “jobs”, but I agree that they may not look the same. After the last few years, its a wonder that employees want to put much faith in jobs. The economy is tough, but there are so many opportunities to take charge of ones income…and I think (hope) that will be the future of work.

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  9. When work is no longer defined by place, I guess I have to take sides with Seth Godin and agree: that we need to have a change in mindset when it comes to the idea of jobs. Everyday, we see plenty of innovations happen on the digital plane and the ‘stereotype’ is starting to get shattered. People these days must learn to adapt in these changing times and learn new skills to survive a new workforce where you bring your work with you anytime, anywhere; not the other way around. Just take a look at the growth of online job marketplaces and remote working… the trend is rising and the issue here is not where the work is outsourced to, but who can deliver quality work at the end of the day. Just my two cents’ worth.

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  10. I’ve been freelancing – a corporation of one since 1996. I couldn’t agree more that there is an explosion of independents. In New York City, where I reside, it is particularly widespread mode of work. Read Richard Florida’s “Rise of the Creative Class” for more on this topic. Godin has some real talent with the pen, but the idea is not new. The current blip of unemployment not withstanding, I think the amount of work, and jobs is mostly static over time, but obviously the mode of work and where those opportunities lie shifts and changes.

    Ultimately it seems the same power of the internet to bring voice to bloggers, disrupt the music & movie industries, and lubricate the global financial system also shakes up the traditional mode of work. Time to embrace it.

    http://www.iheavy.com/blog/

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  11. I’ve been freelancing – a corporation of one since 1996. I couldn’t agree more that there is an explosion of independents. In New York City, where I live, it’s a particularly widespread mode of work. Read Richard Florida’s “Rise of the Creative Class” for more on this topic. Godin has some real talent with the pen, but the idea is not new. The current blip of unemployment not withstanding, I think the amount of work, and jobs is mostly static over time, but obviously the mode of work and where those opportunities lie shifts and changes.

    Ultimately it seems the same power of the internet to bring voice to bloggers, disrupt the music and movie industries, and oil the global financial system also shakes up the traditional mode of work. Time to embrace it.

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  12. This is the same fallacy as the concept of the “service economy” that was foisted on the US, effectively gutting the real economy by skimming money off the top and squirreling it away.

    This is what happens when support functions think they are the end all and that an economy can be built entirely from support functions with no foundation. The surest sign of a companies demise is when the Accounting Manager changes the sign on their door to “Controller”. That is, when they stop being a support function and try to be an independent profit center. A support function can contribute to profitability, but it can’t generate profit. You can “outsource” a support function and pay a margin to that source, meaning they see a profit. But it only adds to the overhead burden rate to have layers of people “managing” the outsourced function.

    If all you have are ambitious people starting companies to provide support functions, without anything underneath creating value, eventually you run out of marks to skim off of. Or you have the current state of the American economy.

    Money is pretty much a zero sum thing unless you do something like dig something out of the ground or otherwise add to what is currently in circulation. Otherwise you have some raw materials, being made into some consumable thing and all the costs associated with doing that burdening the activity. Managing that burden to be cost effective (no more than is absolutely necessary) should be the goal. Not piling on with self justifying rationalizations about how you are such a necessary additional “service” and how wonderful your “contributions” are.

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