The New Future of Making It… in a Breakdown-Breakthrough World

  • Making It… Making the life and livelihood that we choose.
  • Breakdown… When the previous ways of Making It no longer work.
  • Breakthrough… When new ways of creating a life and livelihood emerge, often in totally unexpected ways.

Two enthusiastic, tech savvy millennials cornered me last weekend, immediately after my talk on “The Future of Making It — Making the Life and Livelihood that we Choose.” They wanted to share their fears and concerns for the future and they were happy to see someone recognizing the career dilemmas they face…

No, you’re not crazy for going independent. Chasing a job you don’t really want, to work for people you may not like, doing work that may hold no meaning for you, for an industry that might change radically…that’s crazy.

Today is an extremely confusing environment in which to shape a career, where there are no clear paths, where all bets are off.

Yet, my new millennial friends are also excited about this time in their lives and eager to share their ideas about creating new possibilities for work and family. They each have their own web design and tech consulting businesses — employee counts of one, network of dozens. They build computer systems for local businesses, teach people how to make the most of technology, team up together to do sound and video recording for events, and have a band and a small music production business.

They graduated college right as the Great Recession was upon us. It was a tough time, with enormous fear of global financial collapse and far fewer jobs in corporate America than were available for my generation. Many young people entering the workforce had to do something else and at the same time, felt the opportunity to use their creativity to do things they loved. My two friends chose small, localized technology and their own music creations. The combination of the hard push of necessity and the energizing pull of dreams brought them to the new world of independent “Career Collaging,” a way many people are adapting today.

I’ve included the back of one of their business cards here, to share a sense of the breadth and flexibility of their approach to work. They don’t have (nor want) one career, one job working for one company in one industry that may not be there tomorrow. Instead, they’re embracing diversity, shaping a collage of multiple careers, gigs, and creative work. They’re adaptive, opportunistic, and driven by a belief in themselves and the value they can create for others. They’re willing to screw up the status quo of work expectations and create the life they want for themselves, outside the old models.

They are among the creators, shaping the new Creator Economy rapidly replacing the retreating Consumer Economy. (I’ll share more about the emerging Creator Economy a little later in this article.) They’re also among the 34% of our workforce today classified as “independent,” which will be growing to over 40% by 2020. They also worry, because this life looks different than the success of the past.

It bears repeating, people are becoming “independents” through both push and pull, and certainly not all of them are thriving. Will we adapt our social systems and support them in new ways of “doing” careers, or will we simply say to this 40%, “keep looking for a real job”?

This is a period of breakdown…breakdown of our previous models of work and success. Almost every industry and company has to replace current business models with new ones to better reflect the continuously moving target of the future. Most of our major institutions and public sector structures are long overdue for reinvention. Even the core value systems that shaped our modern world are being replaced…70 million Millennials are coming in, many with a value system that will not accept the irresponsible, extractive, polluting, inequality-creating systems that drove much of 20th century “success.”

This is also a period of breakthrough…breakthrough in values, technology, medicine, science, business and art. All the bad news put out by our “ain’t it awful” media can distort and obscure our picture of the many enormous breakthroughs in our world. To name just a few positives:

  • Vaccination for measles has cut those deaths worldwide by 75%, polio is almost eradicated, life expectancy in the US has more than doubled since 1900, and global child mortality is at an all time low;
  • Global war deaths are at an all time low in modern history, even with the Middle Eastern and African wars, and there are no wars in the Western Hemisphere;
  • 700 million Chinese have been lifted out of extreme poverty;
  • The price of solar energy has plummeted by 99% since 1980;
  • 90% of people worldwide can read;
  • Medical miracles are possible, such as restoring sight, enabling the crippled to walk and operating robotic arms with our minds thanks to chips implanted in our brains;
  • Street art, tagging and graffiti have come out of the shadows, now often seen as something to celebrate and exerting an enormous influence on the art world.

(Data from UNESCO 2015 report, “11 Reasons Why 2015 Was a Great Year for Humanity” by @angushervey, plus our observations and a couple insights from recent news reports.)

Making It

To take a deeper dive into the breakdown/breakthrough of Making It, here are just a few of the facts and projections that tell me the previous ways of Making It are breaking down (and opening new breakthrough possibilities):

  • Two billion jobs in the world, as they are defined today, will be eliminated by technology/automation by 2030.
  • Automation, as noted by the EconomistBill Gates and many others, will eliminate both high and low skilled jobs: truck drivers, commercial pilots, legal work, accountants, telemarketers, retail workers, real estate sales agents… on and on.
  • For many people, the jobs they once knew won’t come back. In the USA,50% of all the mid-level jobs were eliminated in the Great Recession, 2% have come back, the other 48% will never return. Of the jobs added to our workforce, 60% pay $15 or less an hour. Too many of our political leaders believe that bringing back traditional jobs is of the utmost importance, but what if, instead, we focused on creating new work that matters?
  • Of all the S&P 500 companies listed today, 75% will no longer exist in 2030. If that seems like a lot of churn for big companies, imagine what it will mean for the rest of us. From this churn, new technologies and businesses will emerge to open new creative possibilities for our new “Making It” plans.
  • Just about every major underpinning of our society is broken and needs to be reinvented…Education, Veteran Services, Infrastructure, Health, Security, etc. Are there new roles we can play in reinventing our institutions?
  • Major values and worldview shift — the 70 million Millennials are part of the fastest growing segment of our population, the Culture Creatives (35% to 45% of developed nations population…of all ages). Culture Creatives are united by their values and worldview. They value more highly creative work with meaning and purpose, care for the planet, tolerance, human/minority/women’s rights, authenticity and transparency. How will we factor this significant worldview shift into our plans for building our businesses and brands, our professional/customer relationships and communications?
  • The New Creator Economy — As of the financial crisis of 2008, we have left the previous two economies, Industrial and Consumer, behind and are now in the beginning stages of what Paul Saffo, future forecaster at Stanford, calls the new Creator Economy. The Creator Economy puts a greater emphasis on engagement and experience than on the acquiring of things. It is about creating new work options and radical new forms of enterprises. The new Creator Economy comes with new rules and priorities that will last the next 20 to 30 years. Companies like AirBnB, Uber/Lyft, and Task Rabbit (part of what some call the Gig/Sharing economy) are initial waves in the emerging Creator Economy. My millennial friends’ approach to work is another version.

(Data from SAP research “99 facts on the Future of Business in the Digital Economy”, “The Future Business Landscape” by Frank Diana; plus research from Dr. Paul Ray and Paul Saffo)

Although billions of jobs will disappear in the next 14 years, work will not disappear. New industries and technology-enabled jobs will be created. Just a few of the projected categories for the future are…

Atmospheric Water Harvesters, Commercial Drones, 3D Printing & Printed Housing, Rapid Transit, Internet of Things, Big Data, New Currencies and Financial Systems, Micro-grids for Electricity and Storage, Driverless Everything, Micro-Colleges, Senior Living, Significantly New Sources for Food, Dismantlers of Old Industrial Production, new Sharing Economy business forms, etc. (Source: “162 Future Jobs: Preparing for Jobs that don’t Exist Yet” by futurist Thomas Frey.)

All of this brings up many questions for each of us…

Where in these and other emerging categories, will there be the rich opportunities to create new industries and work? When our current jobs are replaced by technology/automation, how will we develop new skills and apply them in new ways? Instead of fearing new technology, how can we use the new technology to our advantage to augment our individual and collective value creating capabilities?

This new economy won’t be handed down from on-high based on a grand master blueprint. It’s emerging now and we help create it through the choices we make and the creativity we bring to our lives.

Here are just a few of the big questions we have to answer as a society…

When nearly half the workforce is “independent,” how will a new flexible way of making it change and what new social patterns will be created? How will climate change affect risks and opportunities in the future world of work? How will independents access healthcare and support family life? How can tax structures be changed to reflect new work realities? How can we harness technology to increase wellbeing, not just increase profits?

Change is usually driven by the hard push of necessity and the enticing pull of dreams, which is where we find ourselves today. Our millennial population is already screwing up the status quo of work/career laid out by the previous generation, so they can Make It in the future. Those of us in the older generations need to support them, look at our own lives and choices, and evolve the enterprises we run to reflect the needed changes. We need to recognize the realities of breakdown/breakthrough, help move through the breakdown and be bold enough to create practical and idealistic dreams of breakthrough.

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.” — Sydney J. Harris

It is not in the cards that things will “remain the same but get better”. Our challenge is to actively and creatively screw up the status quo, adapt, innovate and transform…to create value and enrich life for ourselves and others. We need to work together to make “Making It” in the future possible for everyone.

Written by Dan & Meredith BEAM

We’re dedicated to screwing up the status quo to create value and enrich life.