Esko Kilpi photo

Hedging the future of work

In the future we typically work in three kinds of economic spaces: in long-term collectives, short-term communities, and in fast response flash networks.

Jobs in the developed economies have already shifted from manufacturing to services. One of the results from this shift is that the relationship between individuals and work has transformed towards a culture of more flexible and even on-demand engagements. As a result, there is now much more instability and insecurity in the world of work than before. Many people welcome what is going on, but most don’t. In entrepreneurship, this lack of security is linked explicitly to great expectations and positive opportunities, making risky work seem like an attractive alternative.

Flexibility, gig-work and weakened, or non-existing social protections mean that post-industrial work depends upon workers’ ability to cope with uncertainty and risk.

Whether we want it or not, economic risk has started to shift from a societal and corporate responsibility towards individuals. We are in the midst of a huge societal change that we have not really grasped yet.

Hacking uncertainty and hedging risks is an increasingly important part of the future of work.

The belief that risk taking will be rewarded (at least in the end) is a deeply held idea within business and entrepreneurship. Economists have accordingly viewed high profits as the rightful returns for taking high risks. The bigger the risks today, the more profits in the future (if you are lucky)! Framing economic risks as advantageous is one of the main narratives of the post-industrial, entrepreneurial era. The still open question is how this individual risk could or should be hedged?

The paradox of creative, post-industrial work is that on the one hand it is highly contextual, but at the same time the economics of knowledge and learning reward leverage. Every valuable piece of learning can be put to use by someone else, or somewhere else. A physical asset cannot be in two places at once, but an idea, a thought, or results from what we have learned can. An asset that is shared can really be an asset doubled.

Like cash, the same knowledge can often be used in different contexts. But, unlike cash, knowledge used can be used again and again. Explicit knowledge is inherently scalable. The world of work today is a world of abundance. Every economic activity produces more information than what it consumes. Economies of scale reduced unit costs through repetitive mass production. Economies of network effects increase value through scaling up contextual learning. These are the grounding principles of work in all work environments

In the pre-digital, post-industrial world we typically work in three kinds of economic spaces: in longer-term collectives, in dynamic, shorter-term communities and projects, and, thirdly in very short term flash networks.

In the collectives, in the complimentary skill-sets that you typically find in many creative businesses, hedging should be based on being closely tied to the long-term success of the collective.

In dynamic, short-term communities and when working in projects, hedging should additionally be based on a growing personal reputation and learning that is portable from project to project. (And yes, you should understand the economic facts of non-compete clauses before you sign anything.)

The third alternative is the very short-term flash networks where participation often looks like Q&A gigs. In addition to everything listed above, such as equity and reputation, you should here focus on widening the network, creating social capital, scaling up learning and building trust.

Social capital is not something an individual can own. It is the commonly “owned” stock of active connections and trust between people in your network. Hedging is here based on building social capital and, at the same time, enriching the personal narrative, your long-term purpose.

The future of work will be based on hacking uncertainty and hedging risks through post-blockchain smart contracts, learning and social capital.

The main question is perhaps not what skills we should have in the future, but how we hedge the risks that are inbuilt in our world, our unique knowledge assets, the know-what, the know-who and know-how of our life.

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Credits Gina Neff