First Think Like an “Indie Employee”
In the Yellow Zone I want you to begin thinking of yourself — at the very least — as an independent (indie) employee. Better yet, I want you to think of yourself as an “indie capitalist” or company of one. I’m counting on it as we progress through the Yellow Zone and beyond.
Of course, “indie” is short for “independent.”
“Indie employee” is a term I’ve borrowed from indie rock which grew out of the 60s garage, 70s punk and post 80s alternative/college radio music. Anything that wasn’t mainstream became indie rock.
In business “indie” is often used to mean “any business not associated with a large company.
However, I think of an indie employee as an indie capitalist who works within a company for the primary purpose of personal growth, knowledge, skills and career advancement in pursuit of a fair share of the wealth. It’s a major change in relationship. The employer is there as an enabler, not a user.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying and indie capitalist works contrary to the company. An indie capitalist isn’t going to make much progress on personal growth, improvement and career advancement by working at cross-purposes with the employer. On the other hand, if the indie capitalist doesn’t put self first, no one else will.
Like it or not, if you grow you will reach a level where you know you will have to move on in order to move up. Careers today depend on mobility and being mobile means being ready to make a change.
You have already learned in the Red Zone there is rarely a life-long bond between employer and employee these days, no matter how satisfied you and your employer are at the moment. The trend is away from direct employment and toward contract workers. Heck, they’re even trying to replace you with robots and artificial intelligence!
Before long you will be commoditized and working for a staffing agency that makes the profit while you do the work.
I have been a customer at a particular Bob Evans restaurant for 20 years and I’m fascinated by two employees there. One is a tall and slender, handsome, personable, well-spoken black man . . . probably in his late 30s or early 40s . . . who has waited table there for as long as I can remember. He seems intelligent and is enthusiastic and very good at what he does. I assume he likes his job. I like him.
The other is a tiny, aging single white woman with a bubbly personality and a ton of bleached hair piled on top of her head who tells me she has worked for Bob Evans Farms for 23 years and she still loves it.
As far as it goes, Bob Evans is as good an employer of its type as there is. Wages are above average and there is a benefits package that includes company-sponsored health insurance and a 401k plan. However, the company’s contributions to the 401k are rated below average and the average balance for employees in the plan is considerably less than $10,000. Hardly a plan for old age.
Wages top out at $13.25 an hour for assistant managers and food handlers. Servers make $4.02 per hour plus tips, which means servers probably make more than the assistant manager. I notice the employee turnover is low at that restaurant. Obviously these are happy campers.
I’m not critical of people who are satisfied with jobs like that, but I worry for them and I want more for you.
At the end of this class I will recommend a book about being an indie entrepreneur, but I’m troubled by the author’s assumption that it is an alternative to grab on to when you become unemployed.
For you, I want it to be a career plan to the concept of being a cowork entrepreneur.
I became familiar with the concept of company of one back at the turn of this century and became an advocate when I switched from corporate knowledge management to personal knowledge management.
And so, I’ll state my case here just to make a point. A complete class on personal knowledge management will come later on in the Green Zone.
Failure of Information Technology
Likely you’ve experienced, heard or read of the Information Age because there was a lot of hoopla about it throughout the last quarter of the last century. The talk was mostly about the impact of technology and how it was going to be good. It brought dramatic new options for living. It brought with it new forms of entertainment, commerce, research and communication. The driving force behind it was the popularity of the Internet.
And the capitalists loved it.
They created their own corporate intranets to capture every tiny bit of data generated by employees through its networks of computers. Finally they had a way to capture what their employees knew and what they were creating by tapping into their electronic devices. They were milking minds.
It was supposed to fill the corporate vaults with tons of valuable information, assets the company could then own, convert into new, improved and competitive products and services, and reap the profits for themselves and their financial backers. Virtual gold mines to be guarded and protected just like real money.
But they were sorely disappointed. Their intranets became jammed with a glut of information so poorly catalogued or organized (or not organized at all), that it was almost impossible to navigate and search or draw any conclusion or meaning. And it was also devoid of the dimension of human intellect.
Knowledge Management Fares No Better
And so, at the turn of the century, the Information Age was a bust and it was now time to launch the Knowledge Age — driven by human resources, not information resources. People were finally going to get their just due. They were to be recognized as the primary holders of intellectual capital and managed through facilitation, not command.
But it didn’t happen that way. Traditional capitalists could not reboot the behaviors learned over centuries. Once they saw knowledge as an asset, they had to own it, not manage it. Exploit it, not facilitate it.
It was then that I abandoned my gig in KM.
Wait a minute! Time out!
I’ve slipped back into the Red Zone, but I’m not going to apologize.
Looking Back to Look Forward
There is a professional in the insurance industry . . . one who is also used in other forms of business . . . called an actuary. Not an accountant but one who looks backward to see forward.
To explain this to you, I visited the website Be An Actuary.org.
“Part super-hero. Part fortune-teller. Part trusted advisor. We manage risk. With unbeatable analytical skills, we help organizations plan for the future and protect themselves from loss. By understanding the very nature of risk, we play a key role in the psychological, physical, and financial stability of society. With our help, businesses can grow, retirees can invest with confidence, and people can enjoy peace of mind.”
This is the kind of strategic thinking corporations are using for themselves and that we need to be using for ourselves.
I’m no actuary, but I see a future for you that comes from the past and starts right now. I see a future for the world of enterprise that narrowly escapes human bankruptcy by finally recognizing the need for people with passion. And I see a rescue force composed of COWORK Entrepreneurs like you who can help industry and enterprise by working as partners, not peons.
That’s why I place such a high value on exploring the Red Zone first.
Your passion will come from being a stakeholder, not a stockholder. Your investment will be in your own human capital, not your sweat. The company you work for will be your platform, not your box. You will still be used, but you will also use.
And balance will finally come between business and labor.
Am I thinking too big for you? Well, why not? We’re just brainstorming your future, not making commitments beyond thinking. Let’s leave the decisions for later and give our dreams a chance. All I’m asking you to do right now is to think of yourself as a company of one. We’re considering whether the gig economy has an opportunity for you.
Just one Google and I discover it does.
A study by Intuit predicts that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers will be independent contractors, not the drones of staffing agencies. Less than a year from now! On the down side, most of those gigs will be temporary jobs. But let’s see what it looks like if you are engaged as a cowork entrepreneur. You don’t really want just one gig. You’re not looking for a full time “job”; you’re looking for as many clients as you can handle. You’re looking for a stable career. A career that belongs to you.
As an employee, you’ve been putting all your eggs in one basket. Your employer holds your future in her hands. She puts the squeeze on your budget every year without a cost of living wage increase or less. And she could spill all your eggs at a moment’s notice. As an independent capitalist, you will have multiple clients and in the event you lose one, you will have the others to fall back on and an endless supply of new ones from which to choose. With such a supply, you can choose the best offers and prosper.
We’ll get into those kinds of tactics in the Green Zone, but for now, we’re thinking big and looking for the information and knowledge we need to make decisions and set sail. Or not. This time, you have a choice!
Please move on to the next essay
On Behalf of Capitalism