It’s a question that most of us have considered. And it’s one with many answers. There are plenty of different sectors, job roles, careers and options. But if we asked this question of a young person today, who knows what the answer might be. Will the jobs that exist today, exist in the future? Probably not.
We’re educating people into a world that doesn’t exist. A world that allows young people to believe that they can grow up to become accountants, sports referees, bookkeepers – all roles that, according to a 2013 study by researchers at Oxford University, have a 98% chance of falling to automation and will be replaced by a machine learning algorithm.
This is a pivotal moment in our history. The nature and meaning of work, and the shape of our organisations, are likely to change dramatically over the next few decades.
A study conducted by the Freelancers Union, in collaboration with Upwork, found that by 2027, 50.9% of the total population of the US will be freelance. What does this mean for our sense of belonging? And what are the personal attributes we’ll need in order to get things done in this new independent (isolated?) world of work?
Humans are social creatures, and while armies of freelancers are finding a home and community in an increasing number of co-working spaces, there are some interesting new types of organisations emerging that enable these free agents to band together and increase their impact. We had the pleasure of hearing from Kate Beecroft at Meaning 2017 who shared the story of Enspiral a large freelancer coop originating in New Zealand. It has developed its own processes for participatory decision making and sharing resources and has built the tech tool necessary for operating at scale.
This liberating and flexible way of living is further challenging the notion of the traditional job. In the study, over half of the freelance respondents stated that they would not take a permanent job in an organisation if it were offered to them – not for any amount of money.
Perhaps part of the appeal of working in this way is that it enables people to come to together without the need for the fixed hierarchies of the past. This is a shift that is not only happening among the collaborative freelancer community – or in fact just in start-ups and boutique agencies. Recognition that greater equality and flexibility at work is good for innovation and productivity means that ‘self-management’ is the latest must-have business operating system.
Morning Star changed the way I think about the world, and the organisations in it.”
Paul Green Jnr, the cofounder of the Morning Star Self-Management Institute, captivated participants at Meaning 2016, as he told the story of Morning Star, the multi-million-dollar, self-managed company, which has no defined roles, titles or career paths in its organisational set up. Instead, Morning Star – an agricultural business, which processes over 40% of America’s canned tomatoes – lets its workers make all the big decisions and encourages them to innovate independently. And they’ve been doing it this way for decades.
The organisational set up is that there is no structural hierarchy. People are given the autonomy and freedom to create their own roles and achieve that they want to achieve without subordinating their own drives and desires to do whatever the organisation wants.”
So in one sense we’re moving into a much more human economy – where people seek work with meaning: purpose-driven work that reflects their personal values.
But, what happens when this human economy becomes an automated one?
The trajectory shows that as the desire for real human connection in life and business grows, so too does the innovation in machine learning and AI. The two are paradoxically interlinked, with AI having the capacity to help address the biggest societal challenges in our world today, areas such as climate change and healthcare – the areas which those of us driven by purpose care passionately about. Yet, with machines eventually having the capability to carry out human work, complement it and go beyond it – what’s left of our human economy? And how will we make ends meet in a world where traditional job availability diminishes at the speed of an iOS update?
It’s not about welfare. It’s about work.”
That’s what Frances Coppola told the Meaning audience in 2016, as she argued in favour of the oft-debated Universal Basic Income (UBI). Frances, who is a leading thinker on economics and regularly writes for Forbes and the Financial Times, believes that there should be a basic income for each person, each month, without means testing, and irrespective of whether they have a job or not.
People dream of stability and security; of a job for life – and they’re finding themselves living from job to job. We need to create a place of safety, an anchor which removes the existential threat which says: if I don’t work, I don’t eat.”
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Said a school teacher to a five-year-old John Lennon.
“Happy” said John.
She told him he didn’t understand the assignment. He told her she didn’t understand life.
Meaning 2018 is happening in Brighton on Thursday 15 November. Join us to explore the future of work and much much more.