The Turning Point

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How will we view work, life and the economy differently when there are more entrepreneurs than employees?

What happens when there are more entrepreneurs than employees in society?

Even if you are an employee, think like a business.

A paradigm shaping book for me was Reid Hoffman’s Startup of You. It is not a new book by any means, but I keep referring it as a foundational block to those thinking about careers and success in the new world.

The ratio of entrepreneurs to employees has been on the rise in the last 50 years, with rapid acceleration in the last 10. The reasons for that are plenty such as entry barriers coming down with rapid digitalisation, the democratisation of creative tools such as smartphones and personal computers, new venues for innovation opening up, demand new skills and so on. I don’t think they need further detailing here.

A recent conversation I had with a graphic artist friend was about the tension between looking at the world as an entrepreneur or as an employee. We all want job security (some of us more than others, which is fine) we all want to do creative and fulfilling work, we all want to earn good money and create wealth for us and our family. But the way we go about doing that depends less and less on not on the actual skills we have, and more and more on how to perceive and navigate the market (including but not limited to the job market) by in matching our skills to demands.

Theo’s story

For clarity, let’s take on an imaginary example. Meet our protagonist, Theo. He has the required skill set to produce high-quality video content. From shooting to editing, he is a full-stack marketing video production expert. After 3 years, the digital media company he worked for went out of business. Now he has a choice, he can (a) look for a job, and (b) look for ways to integrate into the market as an entrepreneur.

If he decides to look for a job, he will invest time in improving his CV; applying to jobs; networking; getting interviews, and finally getting offers. Understandable.

However, if he decides to go the entrepreneur route, he will invest time in trying to understand the market; get to know different types of businesses and their needs; identify possible solutions to those problems; build a prototype and a value proposition; and sell through B2B sales, or grow through marketing in the case it is a B2C product. Very different new or “meta” skills upon his existing skill set of video content creation…

The key difference between the two scenarios is their sustainability. Whereas in the first scenario, Theo builds additional skills in job search, interviewing, salary negotiations and in some cases, internal company politics; in the second scenario he builds additional skills in understanding the market, building a business value proposition and either selling or marketing (or both, as in most cases).

Fast forward 5 years and the two scenarios create two entirely different Theo’s.

Theo the Employee has great video production skills but also job searching skills and ability to make a good impression on recruiters and hiring managers.

Theo the Entrepreneur has again, the same great video production skills but also now knows about reading the market, building MVPs and value propositions, selling & marketing.

Understanding the market, knowing how to build, market, and sell are incomparably more valuable than learning to “wow” recruiters and getting hiring managers to want to hire you.

What is true for Theo is true for many people and in many industries, and not just the creative ones!

Why is this a problem?

Comes down to convergence or divergence from the market

If what has happened in the last decade is any indication; how companies recruit people will continue to change rapidly. So there is a good chance the some of the meta-skills people built-in job search and in interviewing will become irrelevant.

But the bigger problem is that of limited feedback from the market. As an entrepreneur, if what you are selling does not resonate (or stops resonating because the market has changed with new tech) you will know about that almost instantly. As an employee, your company acts as a protective cover that shields you from the changes in market demand. The big drawback to this is that risk piles up. The market might be shifting away for the demand for your skills. What you are selling might not have left any buyers by the time your company goes out of business or you are let go of.

Because of this, as an entrepreneur, there is a higher chance that the skills you develop will converge with the market’s real needs. As an employee, there is a greater risk that the skills you develop will diverge from the market’s real needs.

Through a macro lens

My point is not that you have to start your own business or be an entrepreneur. (If the scope of this article was to give some personal advice, it would be this; even if you are working a full-time job, try to think like an entrepreneur.) But my main concern is the social change we are going through.

When the above-mentioned divergence, convergence and meta-skills are considered together, it is easy to conclude that the ratio of entrepreneurs to employees will continue to increase and in a few generations (if not much sooner), the norm, rather than the exception will to be an entrepreneur.

How will we view work, life and the economy differently when there are more entrepreneurs than employees?

Speculations

If one day, there are more entrepreneurs than employees…

  1. What we perceive as riskier will change.

Our perception of risk has less to do with the factual risks of our decisions and more to do with how common or uncommon of a choice it is. Although it seems very counter-intuitive now, it is logical to assume being an employee will be considered riskier than being an entrepreneur. Being an employee just might be the outlier’s choice.

2. A whole new set of services to support entrepreneurs will emerge.

There will be fewer job boards and recruitment businesses; there will be more RFS (request for service) boards and accelerators/incubators. Psychological support for founders will be a thing. (It exists now, but it will be bigger and more common.) We will find better and more efficient ways of time and task management.

3. The service industry will shift to accommodate a different understanding of time management.

A new set of services and products will emerge for people with more flexible time schedules instead of the fixed time commitments of the typical white-collar worker. Being a parent will have new challenges & comforts. Our understanding of holidays will change. The role of transportation will evolve. Stability of data connection will be a basic necessity for a bigger portion of the population.

4. Our understanding of a weekday and weekend will evolve.

Weekdays will have more fluidity in between work, meetings and social activities. Work will not be limited to weekdays. Weekends will have a different social function still, but it will have a more varied role for different individuals with different occupations. Peak hours for restaurants, activities, commute will change.

5. Both our workplaces and our attires will evolve.

We are already experiencing that “working from home” 5 days a week isn’t as good as we hoped it would be. People need activity, interaction and a sense of space for work and home. So we still will have workplaces but their role and function will definitely evolve. Our attire will continue to be a symbol of belonging, status, class and style but it will be less dependent on the occupation.

6. What would you speculate?

Change happens but doesn’t have to be good all the time. It is our responsibility to push the future towards a more desirable reality. Whatever that is, how humans integrate into the economy will be a big (if not the biggest) variable in our new future.

If you are curious…

My domain expertise has been people, culture and learning for the last 10+ years. Founded some startups, written some books (including Startups Grow With People: How to Pick Partners, Recruit the Top Talent and Build a Company Culture). Also acted as a consultant for some great companies. Now I’m running CommonWisdom and building some side projects such as StartupsofLondon

All the other stuff I made over the years is at ozandagdeviren.com

Find me at Twitter or Linkedin to connect.

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