The Double-Edged Sword of the Freelance Economy

One thing that concerns me about how crowdsourcing is being depicted is that it is somehow exploitative by design. Listening to David Alan Grier’s talk about the history of crowdsourcing did nothing to dispel this notion. And whenKeniks founder and CEO Patrick McKenna shared his formula for crowdsourcing, he essentially ruled out the possibility that it is viable to harness real talent but that we should instead focus our business model on the low-end work.

Here’s what I think: what we are really talking about is tapping into the global talent supply chain in ways that were never before possible, and in doing so we have the opportunity to create meaningful work and viable opportunities for people who were marginalized as a result of the Great Recession and other seismic changes in the employment market.

There’s certainly a global perspective to explore, but for the moment I want to think about the domestic implications here in the United States. By some estimates, we currently have 15 million people unemployed in the U.S. My bet is that the number is higher than this. Most of us are now beginning to realize that many of the jobs that have vanished over the last decade are not coming back. Ever.

People who have followed the accepted employment model are used to job descriptions and career paths, and while empowerment is a popular buzzword most workers have a finite amount of latitude in what they do and how they do it within the corporation. In other words, people are used to being told what to do. Here’s the upshot: as part of the obsession to streamline and automate, coupled with the availability of outsourcing services, those positions which could be tightly defined in a job description are mostly gone, either to an “offshore” service provider or simply eliminated.

Our education system is more closely aligned to the 20th century model of employment, but what if the 21st century Knowledge Economy actually requires a completely different orientation to employment? For example, what if the estimated 42 million or so “free agents” (sole proprietors, contractors, consultants, etc. – according to the Human Capital Institute) are actually on the leading edge of the next economy? What skill sets do they need to have to succeed? And how prepared are we as a workforce to take our skills directly to the marketplace and earn a living based not on a more-or-less predictable employment model but rather in the fluid free agent market?

Here’s where the lessons of crowdsourcing come in. The “game changer” which makes 21st century crowdsourcing possible is the Internet, and its ability to link people anywhere in the world. The Internet is the backbone of the new global talent supply chain, and the participants in this new economy can participate whether they are in the corporate parks of Bangalore, India or the rural counties of Indiana.

More to follow …

Posted on April 28, 2012, in Crowdsourcing, Freelancing, New World of Work. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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