Freelancers Shall Inherit the Earth

Every industry in America is in the throes of massive change right now. Car sales, manufacturing, healthcare, education, the food industry: all of it is being turned on its head.

This has been happening for a while now, but we’re reaching a critical tipping point.

Our current ideas about hierarchical structures and organizations are quickly becoming irrelevant. Technology and shifting attitudes about work are making this more apparent every day.

The guy in the conference room who gets pissed at the 24-year-old who just fact-checked him on Google? Yeah, he’s done. As the kids say, “ain’t nobody got time for that!” 

Like it or not, gatekeepers are no longer necessary. The scales have tipped. Information is a commodity and no one has any need for the illusory threats of information-based power.

Coaching, mentoring, and apprentice-like models are where it’s at. Ironic, eh?

The truth is that “the system” can’t keep up. It’s too old. Too slow. Too entrenched in the way things were. Too interested in holding on instead of letting go.

Challenging the System

The number one problem teachers have with their jobs right now is “the system.” The same goes for doctors and nurses. Ask someone what their biggest frustration with our current political climate is and they’ll mention the system.

This is mostly because “the system” is trying to react to changes instead of embracing or anticipating them. I don’t know about you, but when something no longer works, I typically stop doing it.

Enter freelancing.

The organizations our parents believed in are no longer worthy of our belief. Pensions are slashed. Funding is cut. Everyone is told to do more with less. And you’re supposed to stick around, despite all of this.

My mom worked for the same bank for 20 years. When she finally left to take a new job, they didn’t even give her a thank you card.

Is this supposed to convince us of some sort of guarantee in return for our loyalty? Hardly.

There’s no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. And everyone is finally starting to realize it.

So naturally we’ve begun to turn more often to the people we can rely on most: ourselves. We’re becoming more willing to break the rules to create “a system” that actually works.

According to a 2014 Forbes article, freelancers are expected to grow from about 7% of the workforce to 16% by 2020. Think about that. Within five years, we’re going to more than double the number of people working for themselves. Most of these will be Millennials.

For as lazy as Millennials are supposed to be, they sure are proving to be resourceful, especially when it means doing things on their own terms. To those at the top, this is called entitlement. To those who are doing it, it’s called self-confidence.

The Future of Work

The future of work now rests firmly in the hands of individuals who are more willing to put the risks and rewards in their own hands. Those who do, know they’re their own best option.

Survey after survey demonstrate that Millennials believe the answers to our biggest problems - climate change, inequality, innovation - lie in the hands of businesses who can get results.

Not old-school, bloated, hierarchical systems, but nimble, brave, fast-moving businesses. Need proof? Look at how Starbucks has recently changed the narrative around education, benefits, and pay.

People in the workforce, more than ever, are looking for purpose, alignment of values, and feedback that lets them know they’re doing good work.

Large systems rarely provide this. Individuals working for themselves definitely do.

But it goes beyond a simple sense of self-reliance. Information has been democratized.

A New Way Forward

The power to unite like-minded individuals, to curate appropriate information, to inspire and move others - these are the new way forward. Context has become more important than content.

Fast Company recently published a fascinating article that has me excited about where this is all headed. Among the rising need for individuals to take care of aging Boomers, two of the most interesting jobs on the list are “Freelance professors” and “Personal Tribers”

While the titles aren’t that awe-inspiring, the work they predict is.

By 2025 all you need to start your own university is a great online teaching style, course materials, and marketing plan.
— Futurist and Strategic Designer, Joe Tankersley

Both are built on similar ideas: when people need to learn something or hire someone, they need it now. No labyrinthine system. No four year education required. Just give me what I need, get me results, and let’s all move on.

In Closing

Not one industry will go untouched by these changes in the way we view our work. This isn’t a passing fad. This is the beginning of a revolution.

If we’re going to face uncertainty in the systems we’ve been told will take care of us, why not face the same uncertainties on our own, but actually have the power to affect on our own terms?

It’s time to stop thinking about a better box. The box has been doused with gasoline. It’s only a matter of whether you’re willing to drop the match.

Have something to say about freelancing, independent work, or contracting? Leave a comment below.