Relationships, the jobless future, and Zolodeck

“The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

This quote by William Gibson might as well have been about the future of jobs. The idea of jobs as we have known them for the past few decades has gone away, it’s just not gone away very evenly. Make no mistake, jobs are changing, and you will be affected.

Here are some reasons why things are changing, and fast:

Organizations re-thinking people and teams

Forward thinking organizations don’t have clearly defined job descriptions any more. They don’t issue such descriptions to their hiring personnel, they no longer seek people that fit certain predefined molds. Just as there isn’t a job description any more, there also isn’t a well defined career path either.

Organizations, are instead, thinking of things that need getting done, and staff project teams to make them happen. And people are assigned roles on these teams, based on their expertise. Old experiences and long years doing the same thing over and over don’t count for much in this new world. And it makes sense, as knowledge, processes, and indeed expertise, all evolve at Internet-speeds. There’s more urgency than ever to get the best results possible, no matter what the project is. And hierarchies, positions, titles, and job descriptions, etc. just get in the way of getting things actually done.

This is why roles and expertise are the new black, and are going to increasingly define what you may be doing at any point in time.

Personal demand, influence, and branding

No one has expected companies to provide long, fulfilling careers and a nice retirements, for some time now. People have long realized that they themselves are the only ones that truly care about them, and have started to manage their own careers much like agents and PR companies manage movie stars.

Now that people don’t put much stock in job descriptions, positions, or titles, how do they form opinions about people? Specifically, how do they form an opinion about you? The simple fact is, if people don’t know you, what you’re about, what you know,  what you can bring to the table, why would they need you on any project?

This is why there’s been such an explosion of personal branding initiatives on the Internet – blogs, twitter streams, comments, open-source or pro-bono work, Q&A forums, etc. Massive amounts of content has been created by folks who want to share and demonstrate their expertise. You gather followers and follow other influencers, all so you can keep up with what you care about, and be heard when you have something to say. And when others go searching for experts in their fields, you can be found easily. And then you can be engaged on new projects.

Some jobs aren’t coming back

This past recession has been a brutal one for a lot of people, and a lot of folks are still out of their old jobs, waiting for organizations to hire back and fill the holes from all those they let go. Here’s an even more brutal truth – most of these jobs aren’t coming back.

There’s been a structural realization in the corporate world that a lot of people who were let go, simply don’t need to be hired back any longer. The organization has simply adapted to not have them around, and if recent profit reports are anything to go by, are doing just fine.

Moreover, as productivity continues to increase, and indeed, as software continues to eat the world, a lot of the jobs that were to be had by a lot of people will simply disappear, and a leaner, meaner service will take over. An example is laundry. In the Bay Area, there are a remarkable number of laundry services, often multiple ones on short stretches of street. A recent YC company called Prim is now charging $25 for taking care of your bag of laundry (and only $15 for additional bags). They’ll pick it up, and drop it off. If this model succeeds, all these smaller, independent laundry services will be run out of business, and in its place will appear Big Prim, the Walmart of laundry services. They’ll eventually have large warehouse-like “factories” where people can get jobs for perhaps little more than minimum wage, that just launder incoming bags of clothes as fast as they can. And in fact…

The robots are coming

Prim will eventually replace the people with laundry robots. It’s going to happen – make no mistake. If not Prim, someone else will, to run Prim out of business.

And so are people from all over the world

And once you realize this can happen to service jobs, which traditionally meant that people actually had to be physically present to do the job (not any more, thanks to robots), what chance do knowledge jobs have? IT work has shown us the way of these jobs already… lawyers, tax planners, accountants, architects, etc. are next… all these jobs can be done cheaper by someone living elsewhere. It’s just the reality, and better software services and faster Internet speeds are making this more and more possible and convenient, every day.

So the antidote is…?

Here’s what you can do about all this – you have to truly take charge of your career and your brand. You have to decide what valuable services you will provide, and you have to be damn good at them, if not the best. You have to make it so people don’t question themselves as to why they’re not just paying someone in Asia or Africa to do your job for much cheaper.

You also have to make sure that people know who you are and that you’re really good at these things. You’ve got to put yourself out there. No one else will.

You’ve also got to cultivate and grow your social capital, in other words your relationships with folks from within your various networks. This social capital is how you’ll be seen, and how plugged in you are will determine what projects you get on. This symbiotic support network will also be how you’ll know about the latest things in your chosen fields, or even if you should be diversifying your skills on to other areas.

In other words, these networks are going to crucial for you to thrive. And as they say, planting a sapling when you realize you need shade is a tad late. You should be planting today, and watering your garden, so you’ll have all the shade you need later on.

Networking isn’t a bad word, and doing it right takes back and forth, giving and taking (mostly giving), one relationship at a time, and year over year of disciplined effort. But it pays off. And it will be the only thing that can help guard against the uncertain, but inevitable future that is coming.

P. S. I’ve personally never been particularly good about taking care of my networks. That is the reason we started building Zolodeck, so we can keep in touch with our connections, and improve our relationships, one at a time. Hopefully, it will be one of those services that people will find valuable going forward…

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