We tend to think in absolute terms – not least when assessing the labour market. How many people are running their own business? And how many are employed by others in a typical job? Or are they unemployed entirely?
Such static snapshots have their uses – in part because they make the health of the economy easier to comprehend. But with an increasingly dynamic and fluid labour force, this rigid analysis is beginning to look flimsy and outdated.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sphere of self-employment. The most recent Business Population Estimates indicate that around 16.5 per cent of people are now working for themselves – the highest level on record. Yet many of these will be doing so on the side of something else. Perhaps on top of a full-time job, or adding to a part-time one.
According to the market analysts Key Note, close to 1.8 million people in the UK are running moonlighting businesses. Indeed, we see this phenomenon time and again in our own conversations with business owners, many of whom are juggling multiple jobs and ventures at once. One man in Bristol told of how we was starting up a couriers firm while working full-time at the university; another person in Orkney described how he is running a manufacturing business at the same time as working part-time for his local council. And then there are the countless numbers of young people we’ve encountered who are coming out of university with mini ventures to complement mini jobs.
What’s driving this trend? Partly technology, for sure. Platforms like Etsy – which will reach a milestone of a billion sales in 2013 – are radically reducing the time and costs of running a business, enabling people to operate a viable venture on as little as a few hours work each week. Etsy’s recent survey of its sellers in the US found that 58 per cent work in other jobs in addition to managing their creative business (and half of these are combining it with full-time employment). Likewise, the emergence of peer-to-peer sharing websites like SideCar and Airbnb have the potential to turn everyone into entrepreneurs (of sorts).
But perhaps the biggest drivers of part-time business lie in wider economic shifts – namely falling living standards caused by declining wages and higher costs of living. A survey undertaken earlier this month by Aviva found that nearly half (44 per cent) of part-time business owners are running a business to supplement their existing income. What’s interesting here is that the vast majority of those surveyed by Aviva already have a full-time job. In other words, it’s the 9-5ers who are becoming the new 5-9ers.
All of which suggests that moonlighting may be a means of propping up the incomes of a struggling middle class. We know from the work of the Resolution Foundation that low to middle income households are set to have incomes 15 per cent lower in 2020 than in 2008. Leaked findings from the Social Mobility Commission echo these concerns, suggesting that today’s middle class children are on track to be worse off than their parents – the first time this has happened in a century.
So the average turnover of £3,800 that comes from running a part-time business is not to be sniffed at. It works out as about double the typical wage cut that will be seen between 2010 and 2015 (according to Labour’s analysis of OBR forecasts). And a quick scan of the web shows that it could cover an average family’s fuel bills for 2 years, over a year’s worth of food shopping, or a typical season ticket for commuting by train to London.
Indeed, what’s clear about many part-time businesses is that they are not simply a means of meeting basic needs – scraping enough together to put food on the table. They are also about retaining the high standards of living experienced in the pre-crash days. Taking Etsy sellers as an example, we see that 24 per cent are using their extra income for discretionary spending, while 20 per cent are putting their earnings into savings. It all comes back to the old adage of what it requires to live a meaningful life: give us bread, but give us roses, too.
So can a new wave of moonlighting dramatically change the fortunes of a diminishing middle class? The answer of course is no – at least not on its own. The major forces of technological change and global competition merit far greater responses. But clearly enterprise has to be recognised by policy makers and others as a valuable tool in stemming the tide.
The RSA and Etsy are exploring similar themes in a new project, The Power of Small. Click here to find out more.
Follow Ben Dellot on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BenedictDel
At the risk of being a bit corny, I’m going to use today – the holiday of Thanksgiving in the US – to write about what I am thankful for.
This isn’t to wave a flag and to offer even more insight into American culture than we already get on a daily basis, but rather, it’s to link the holiday to the act of paying attention, one of the key themes of the RSA’s Social Brain Centre.
As we’ve previously blogged, paying attention to the positive aspects in your life can help to build emotional resilience (for a great exercise, see our late colleague Emma’s post about poetry and attention), and Jonathan wrote about the power of gratitude. So with this in mind, I’d like to declare three things for which I am thankful.
I am thankful that I am lucky enough to work in a field about which I am passionate, trying to learn and understand more about human nature and behaviour, what makes us tick, and how these insights can be applied to some of the many challenges of our time, including climate change and the socioeconomic performance gap in education among others.
I am immensely thankful for my friends and family, both near and far, many of whom will be celebrating today with a roast turkey.
And I am thankful for the great card from Louise, Associate Director of Education, which elicited a laugh and which makes me smile each time I glance at it – see the photo above!
Creating your own gratitude list is easy enough, but if you’d like to share it with others, I’ve just come across the gratitude list website where it looks like you can read what celebrities are thankful for and share your own lists, too.
To those celebrating, wishing you a very happy thanksgiving!
Firstly, have you missed me? Foolish question I know but I have been very lax in my commitment to the Fellowship blog. No doubt you are all dying to know what the regional team have been up to over the past few months. One of our key tasks since June has been supporting regions and nations host their annual conferences. The team have been working and supporting Chairs, Councillors and Fellows on these events.
Regional and Nations Annual Conferences aim to provide:
- report on previous activity and planned future activity in relation to the regional Development Plan
- showcase projects including local projects, RSA ARC programme and those funded by Catalyst or the region
- introduce current regional core team and other active members
- opportunities for Fellows to suggest projects, potential partnerships and activities
- opportunities for Fellows to join the regional team
- regional accounts are up to date and transparent
- opportunities for Fellows to network and connect with each
It’s been so useful to hear the mission from the Chairman personally and the commitment of RSA across the UK Lilian Barton, Chair North West
For 2013 Vikki Heywood CBE, RSA Chairman along with RSA Trustees made a commitment to visit all 14 UK regions and nations with an aim to discuss the mission and activities plus hear views from Fellows.
With the final event for 2013 taking place this Thurs (28 Nov in Cardiff, Wales) its been a busy period for all but we are already exploring ideas for 2014. Suggestions include looking to partner further with Universities and Colleges, considering joint conferences between areas and ways to increase RSA ARC research into the content and keynote lectures.
For the latest activity for your area please take a look at the where you are pages on the website. Here you will find a list of activity as well as contact details for active Fellows in your region.
Tonight I am chairing an event with my friend and former PhD supervisor Professor Guy Claxton, for the second of our series of public events on Spirituality, Tools of the Mind, and the Social Brain. The event is booked out with a large waiting list, but you can watch or listen to the event live, download after the event, or follow (and give) comments at the hashtag #RSASpirituality.
For now, I offer the following extracts as an appetiser. I am sure Guy’s thinking has evolved since his inaugural address at Bristol University in 2002 around the time we first met, but I’m equally sure the quality of thinking and expression will be just as good, if not better. Guy’s main argument tonight will be similar in spirit, enriched by some of his recent thinking on embodied cognition. The following extract follows from the claim that spiritual experiences tend to bring four shifts in the quality of our experience: aliveness, belonging, mystery and peace of mind, which Guy examines as follows:
“Underlying all these four shifts in the quality of experience seems to be an expansion in the sense of identity, so that instead of feeling like an anxious bubble, in constant danger of being jostled or pricked, one feels more union or wholeness, both within and without, and this brings with it more kinship and more trust. It is no coincidence that the descriptions are couched is such glowing language, for those who report them overwhelmingly appraise them as positive and valuable. While from the outside it is possible – as Freud and others have done – to interpret accounts of the Common Experience sceptically or pathologically, from the inside, there is little doubt that something precious, even momentous, has occurred.
I think that experiences like that are small gifts, little tastes of spirituality. And those tastes are attractive, and often leave, when they fade, as they mostly do, a thirst for more of what they have betokened. So here is my definition of spirituality. First, it involves the feeling of being drawn towards such qualities and experiences, and of wanting to increase their likelihood, frequency or stability. The urge is not to seek them piecemeal, however, but to develop the quality of being which underpins them. Second, spirituality may involve a strengthening desire to seek the company of people who seem to possess these qualities more strongly: to find what Buddhists call a sangha. And third, and less comfortably, the spiritual impulse may involve a feeling of heightened dissatisfaction with the absences or the opposites of such qualities. A taste of intensified aliveness may make normal energy levels and perceptions feel grey and dull. That blast of ‘belonging’ can make that orphaned feeling all the more intolerable. A surge of ‘mystery’ may make adventure seem more attractive than conventional security. And even a moment of deeply felt inner peace can painfully accentuate a more familiar feeling of self-consciousness or confusion.”
… and to non-economists, too.
A few weeks ago I attended a launch for the book Behavioural Public Policy. The book, a collection of academic papers with considered responses from other academics, is edited by Adam Oliver, and is born out of the suite of seminars he ran at the LSE (London School of Economics) in 2011.
The book launch, held in the LSE’s impressive Shaw library (similarly inspiring as the RSA’s Great Room), comprised an introduction from Adam and some short reflections from Julian Le Grand, Lord Gus O’Donnell, Drazen Prelec, and George Loewenstein. The RSA’s Social Brain Centre explores how a better understanding of human nature can be used to help address some of the challenges of our time, so a book about behaviour and policy sits nicely within our reference library. Here are some highlights of the evening:
Understanding behaviour is key to effective government policy
Kicking off the reflections, Lord Gus O’Donnell began with overwhelmingly positive praise for behavioural economics, explaining that in his view it is the biggest thing to happen to public policy in 30 years. (Despite all this positivity, Lord O’Donnell said he is working with Angus Deaton to investigate the question “when does an RCT go wrong?”).
In a very entertaining way of bringing theory to life, O’Donnell went through each of the components of MINDSPACE to demonstrate how the environment and situation were working to subtly influence our decision about whether to buy the book. For example, looking at the messenger effect, if Adam were to praise the book we would know that he has a vested interest, whereas since Lord O’Donnell was praising the book we can trust his endorsement. Incentives were of the standard economic type: the book was on sale at a special discounted price for the event. But our drive to avoid anticipated regret makes the limited-time discount all the more powerful. In terms of commitment, we had all already chosen to attend the event and made the effort to get there; remaining consistent with this commitment by buying the book would be a natural next step. And in my favourite example, for the affect component Lord O’Donnell pointed out that we had all been served wine.
Julian le Grand continued by summarising some of the key concerns about using behavioural science in policy, namely, that it could be seen to infantilise people, and, referring to the famous Titmuss paper about blood donation, that it is not always obvious how people will respond to incentives.
Better than psychology or just a tempest in a teapot?
Drazen Prelec continued the conversation with a very balanced view of the impact of behavioural economics. On the one hand, “behavioural economics is a tempest in the economics teapot”, in that it is (simply) a deviation from a point of view (the point of view of neoclassical economic theory). He explained that some of the insights from BE are really just a restoration of common sense. But on the other hand, some important findings have emerged and these insights would not have been available if the researchers were not “already marinated in the economics way of thinking”. In this sense, behavioural economics has something different to offer than does psychology.
Prelec offered three aspects of a Nudge approach that should be carefully taken into consideration as it becomes more widespread: transparency (of the nudgers’ interests), accountability for the outcome (is the nudger or the nudgee to blame for a failed intervention?), and neutrality (i.e. what values underpin the ‘neutral’ default option?).
George Loewenstein finished off the evening with his forecast about what will happen now that behavioural economics is becoming less niche and more mainstream, extending beyond academia and now into policy making and elsewhere. Echoing an earlier op-ed piece in the New York Times, Loewenstein asserted that the role of BE is to augment or increase the power of traditional economics. There is a risk that some people have seen it to be a substitute, rather than a complement, to standard econ theory.
Here he quoted Colin Camerer about neuroeconomics with an absolutely brilliant line, and applied the sentiment to behavioural economics: “the problem isn’t that we are overselling it; the problem is that it’s being over bought”. Loewenstein praised the Behavioural Public Policy book for avoiding the over-selling and offering instead a balanced view, and ended by stating his optimism that the field will work together with – not in opposition to – traditional economics.
What was great about the event is also what seems to be refreshing about the book: even-handed and thoughtful discussion about both the benefits and the limitations of behavioural economics, instead of an all-out love-fest. Although I readily admit to being one BE’s loudest cheerleaders, I appreciate that to understand its strengths, one must also understand its weaknesses.
Having attended nearly all of the Behavioural Public Policy seminars that Adam Oliver hosted, the chapter headings are no surprise to me. But the book includes responses to the papers and I expect will be more developed than the seminars, so I am glad that I was there to get a copy and to chat with fellow BE-enthusiasts. And in any case, recalling Lord O’Donnell’s comments, the launch provided entertaining insight into how behavioural science is used in practice – to flog books!
A version of this blog was originally posted here on 5th November 2013.
A discount code for the book Behavioural Public Policy is available here.
How do you make money in a world where things are increasingly free?
Take the music industry. Just a few years ago we were paying close to £15 for a single LP. Now you can stream as much music as you like on Spotify for the same amount. The result has been a dramatic fall in revenue for music labels, and in turn a big drop in income for the musicians under their banner. Lady Gaga, one of the most prolific artists in the world, estimates that a million plays on Spotify had netted her a meagre £108. And similar stories are playing out right across the music, publishing and software industries.
The question is, what can we do about it? One person who thinks he has the answer is Nicholas Lovell, who recently spoke at the RSA to launch his new book, The Curve. His argument is deceptively simple: don’t fight it, embrace it. In fact, learn to love it. He argues persuasively that firms should stop charging for many of their products, services and content, and start making the real money by selling things to the high value customers – aka the ‘superfans’. Central to this is knowing exactly what each customer is willing to pay, and then working out how to extract that value from them. It’s price discrimination on steroids.
But why take these steps now? Lovell’s answer is that piracy, enabled by ever more sophisticated technologies, is simply becoming unbeatable. Every customer with a computer and an internet connection has a whole raft of free products at their fingertips – whether that’s Radiohead’s latest album, J K Rowling’s most recent book or the new Woody Allen film. And with so many things available for nothing, the only option for firms is to fight fire with fire and join the fray, giving away more of what they used to sell. The money will have to come from providing higher value activities, which cannot be pirated.
Nowhere is this tactic more visible than in the app industry, with app makers giving huge amounts of content away in the hope that they can make up their losses among the more lucrative superfans. Farmville, Smurfs and Pocket Frogs are just a few of the apps that generate revenue by selling virtual items to its users within the game. Lovell points out that 22 of the top 30 revenue grossing games are ostensibly ‘free’. And this trend is spreading fast. Gartner estimate that in-app purchases (IAPs) will account for 48 per cent of app store revenue by 2017, up from 11 per cent in 2012.
Nor is this phenomenon limited to bits. Many firms dealing in material ‘atoms’ are also beginning to feel the heat. Again, the source of this angst can be found in technological advancements, namely 3D printing and other additive tools. Lovell uses the example of the well-known Alessi lemon squeezer (the one that looks like something from War of the Worlds). Whereas once this could only be found in retailers like John Lewis (£38.40), you can now download the product design from a website called Thingiverse and print it yourself (although the first versions look rather flimsy). As a result, Alessi is stepping up its game by creating premium, limited edition versions of the same product that are harder to make and which appeal to higher-value customers.
Of course, not everyone is so cheery about giving things away for free. From Jaron Lanier to Thom Yorke, a growing community of activists are genuinely and understandably worried about a world in which products and services no longer need to be paid for. No wonder, given the number of middle-skilled jobs that have already been ‘hollowed out’ by emergent technologies.
But can we really put this thing into reverse? Surely it’s better to expend our energy in adapting to these changes. Indeed, many in the music industry are already doing so. They’ve realised that new sources of income can be made in selling collectible items and in organising multiple sell-out tours. It’s why we’ve seen the rise of new apps like Eventful Demand, which allow fans to group together to ask bands to play in their home town.
And there, in a nutshell, is where the real benefits of these changes lie: with the consumer. They are forcing producers to refocus their attention on developing something that is of real value to people (both the more expensive offerings and the free stuff). As Lovell explains:
In the commodity era of limited availability, we asked ‘Can I get it?’ In the goods era of manufactured product, we asked ‘How much does it cost?’ In the service era of quality, we asked ‘Is it any good?’ Now that we can get great products cheaply whenever we want, we have started asking a new question: ‘How will it make me feel?’
As Slavoj Zizek put it when he spoke here some time ago, it’s no longer what you’re buying anymore that’s important, it’s what you’re buying into. This sounds innocuous enough, but the implication is that we may see a ‘great unbundling’ of big markets into niche ones, with firms coming up with specialised offerings that can more easily stoke emotions and make consumers feel something in what they buy. Indeed, Lovell argues that the only way that many firms (at least in the industries affected) will be able to survive is if they can satisfy the specific needs of individual consumers – for instance through tailoring and personalised products – and ultimately grab their attention (something increasingly scarce in the 21st century).
Which brings us to what this means for the microbusiness. On the face of it, you might think that the whole freemium model would be disastrous for small businesses, given their limited cashflow and capital base. Surely they can’t afford to offer free content. But that’s missing the point. It’s not all about the rise of the free; it’s also about the growth of the niche. And microbusinesses are perhaps the ideal economic unit for meeting the needs of customers that demand to feel something, and for creating tailored products that pull their heartstrings.
This is because 1) they are arguably more nimble than their larger counterparts, and therefore better placed to tweak products and services to suit clients (this happens thousands of times everyday on the likes of Etsy); and 2) they have the advantage of being (or at least appearing) more genuine, trustworthy and earnest. Of course, this is not to say that big business cannot satisfy customers in the same way. In no way is this a simple black and white, big vs. small binary. But undoubtedly there are a wealth of opportunities here that small businessses could benefit enormously from.
Anyway, don’t take all of this from me; go ahead and listen to Nicholas Lovell’s talk at the RSA. You’ll be glad to hear it’s free…
The RSA and Etsy are exploring similar themes in a new project, The Power of Small. Click here to find out more.
Follow Ben Dellot on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BenedictDel
The Guardian’s sustainable business hub just published the first of a series of posts that I hope to be contributing on behavioural insight for sustainable living:
“What do free bananas, pension auto-enrolments, and the deepest bin in the world have in common? They are all examples of behavioural insight. Free bananas have been used by charities to elicit donations, working with our notorious weakness for anything free, while subtly priming our sense of reciprocity. The introduction of pension auto-enrolment simply shifted a default setting from ‘off’ to ‘on’, harnessing the awesome power of inertia and ensuring provision for thousands. And the deepest bin in the world turns out to be a normal bin with in-built sound effects, making throwing rubbish away fun and helping to keep parks tidy.
Such examples are now legion, and the behavioural ideas that underpin them are rightly perceived to be cool. The fact that behavioural insight is a modern form of intellectual entertainment is no bad thing, but it should give us pause, because cool is not the same as profitable or ethical or sustainable, and it doesn’t address the core tension between commercial ambitions and ecological constraints.”
For the rest of the article, please go here.
The Big Idea: Nalibeli is an online platform created by Blair Glencorse FRSA and Surabhi Pudasaini that helps citizens in Nepal to navigate complicated public services, and uses crowdsourcing to give people access to the information they need. Here, Blair explains more…
Accessing basic services, like obtaining a new passport or renewing a driver’s license, is a difficult, complicated and messy ordeal for citizens in Nepal. There is no clear and readily available information – of the sort taken for granted in a country like the UK, whose gov.uk website won Design of the Year award – to help Nepalis understand the services the government should provide. As a result, it can take numerous visits to offices and a great deal of confusion (and bribes) to navigate the administration.
That is why we’ve started a crowdfunding campaign on the RSA crowdfunding area to support our Nalibeli portal. Nalibeli (a Nepali word that gives a sense of understanding the intricate details of something) helps citizens navigate government and make more informed decisions about issues that affect their lives. With generous support from the RSA US Challenge fund and RSA Catalyst (which supported initial development, research and network-building on the ground) we are using web-based tools, like Facebook, to gather ideas on the problems that Nepalis care about. Then we are using our contacts across the country to organize, package an disburse relevant information through a wiki-tool (using MediaWiki, the free, open source wiki product that was evolved from Wikipedia).
The story so far
We’ve begun a massive outreach campaign around the country and despite our small budget, results so far have been impressive: Nalibeli has over 115,000 hits and over 400 pages of information on key services in both Nepali and English. We began with higher education and mapped information across over 60 college campuses and 38 faculties, and we’re now mapping services through District Administrative Offices (with which all Nepalis have to interact for obtaining birth certificates, marriage licenses and so on). We’ve held numerous “wiki-a-thons” at colleges in different parts of Nepal as well as numerous informal wiki-sessions to build a committed user base and demonstrate the importance of what we are doing; and we’ve built up a solid team of 5 people and an informal network of over a dozen institutions and organizations who, on a volunteer basis, give us their time and expertise.
All of this has taken just a few months. There have been challenges of course. Crowdsourcing information under difficult conditions has been harder than we thought it would be, and bridging the digital divide is proving tricky, but we are working on these problems and making fantastic progress. The wiki is fully functional and has a truly vibrant community developing around it. Now we need it go from a useful tool to the essential resource it should be for every Nepali citizen to ensure that the provision of government services is equal and fair for all.
The next stage of the project involves recruiting plenty more volunteers, scaling up the amount of information in the wiki to cover all public services, and greater outreach efforts to ensure the tool is as usable and accessible as possible. Friends from elsewhere have also indicated that Nalibeli would prove valuable in their countries – and we are keen to pilot it in other South Asian contexts and beyond. Citizens everywhere want reliable and up-to-date information on government, after all, even if the government itself is unable or unwilling to provide it.
How you can help
We’ve had tons of interest in the project from Fellows so far. We’d love to speak to any other Fellows in the technology field, with experience in crowd-sourcing information or who may have grown projects like this across issues and countries.
We’d also welcome any support for this next stage which you can do through the new RSA Kickstarter crowdfunding area. There are plenty of amazing pledge gifts up for grabs including Intercontinental Holistic Missiles (ICHMs) – collections of medicinal, cooking and other healthful herbs grown in Nepal (all in Nepali embroidered bags!); vedic astrology charts and much more! Please help us continue to build transparent and accountable government in Nepal.
Support ‘NaliBeli: Helping government work in Nepal’ by finding his Kickstarter campaign on the RSA curated area. To get in contact, email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @blairglencorse.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post wondering why entrepreneurial spirit is so much greater in the south of the UK than the north. I’ve now cut the data in a new way and included the recent publication of the Business Population Estimates for 2012 which allows us to compare the last three full years of entrepreneurial activity across the country. What it shows is that while there are more businesses in the south, some parts of the north are displaying a rising entrepreneurial spirit and growing their business populations faster. But the overall picture is rather mixed and complex.
The table below shows how many businesses (registered and unregistered) there were per 10,000 of population for each region and nation over the last three years. The final column shows percentage growth over that time placed in order of size. It should give a rough idea of whether a region seems to be getting more or less entrepreneurial as we emerge from the deepest recession in many decades.
Business density by UK region and nation
per 10,000 population
per 10,000 population
|N Ireland||861||785||- 8.8|
If you prefer, you can look at the change in the total number of businesses in a region or a nation. The growth percentages are different from the above because of demographic shifts but the shape of the table is largely unchanged with the exception of London which leaps from sixth to third equal place again as a result of demographic change.
Business Population by UK region and nation
|N Ireland||122||113||- 7.3|
It is notable that four of the six areas in the top half of both tables are northern (assuming the West Midlands counts as northern). Most interestingly, the North East which has the lowest business density in the UK is managing to grow faster than any other part of the UK with the possible exception of the West Midlands – more than twice as fast as the South East in fact which has grown its business population surprisingly slowly since the Crash.
One fascinating thing about these tables is how those regions which have the highest business populations are not necessarily those growing fastest. This rather contradicts the point I made in my earlier post about how the south is favoured by a success breeds success principle.
Unfortunately, the picture is not entirely rosy. The situation in the Midlands is mixed with the West of the region growing apace and the East almost at a standstill. Maybe something excitingly entrepreneurial is happening in Birmingham that isn’t happening in Nottingham and Leicester.
Most worryingly, Wales and particularly Northern Ireland have suffered a shocking decline in entrepreneurialism recently – they are the only two parts of the UK to register a shrinking business population.
So there are some encouraging signs here which may point to the fact that some regions which have found it hard to compete with the south for entrepreneurial spirit are possibly coming out of the prolonged downturn with some gusto. But it’s far from a good news story everywhere.
Of course this leaves the rather pressing question of why this disparity is emerging. I can only speculate without further research but I’ll leave that to a later post.
Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/adamjlent
After a long week, a short blog… .(hooray you cry). And after typing thousands of words in emails, reports and proposals all week, I’m going to try pictures instead.
On Wednesday I left London, in my ongoing quest to find businesses that work differently.
I visited a manufacturing firm which used an interesting canine metaphor to describe their journey to having an autonomous, purposeful and prosperous workforce. They started as a business where employees thought and acted like this:
image by marc falardeau
The expectation was that management would tell them what to do, when, how, and maybe if they were very lucky, why. They were happy to clock in and out 9-5. They made barely more than minimum wage. But to the owners’ great surprise, when they were given the chance to have radically more freedom, responsibility, and importantly, money, many didn’t want it.
They looked and acted rather like this:
Image by Dave Goodman
Everything in their education and professional experience so far had been based on conformity to authority, clear boundaries, limited expectation, narrow jobs and minimum personal risk. They were thoroughly domesticated.
The next stage of the journey – taking off the leash and collar – was therefore very painful, protracted and often unpleasant. It took years for the change in culture to take root: to hand over the reins, and rewards, of the business to a workforce that had never expected to be given them and had learned somehow not to want them.
Seeking a domesticated, familiar environment, many left to work in conventional businesses. The remainder found it hard to find new workers who could not only hack it, but actively relish this radical autonomy.
In the interests of profit, performance, and people, the owners gave up their fat salaries and earned their (still good) money instead by supplying services (e.g. software, workspace) for the workers, tailored to the needs of the business. As a result they turned what had been a conventional, rather knackered and hierarchical manufacturing business into a highly efficient and profitable collaborative venture, where the workers did ‘whole’ jobs (incorporating sales, finance, production, marketing, HR), decided between them how to run the business, and earned great salaries by taking home directly what they produced. From being factory drones they became a team of interconnected, free-spirited and resourceful micro-entrepreneurs, who collaborate when they need to, and not when they don’t.
In effect, their experiment represents a ‘rewilding’ of work
Image by Caninfest
Talking to the workers themselves highlighted the fact that’s a demanding, way of working. It means living with constant pressures that are as much internally as externally driven. But they wouldn’t dream of leaving, and going back into a conventional business. The collar would chafe….
How wild is your workplace? And what could you do to help your organisation lose its domesticity?
Feel free to visit and join the discussion on this and related topics here.