Way Beyond The Garage: The Future of Work and Collaboration Platforms

There is an opportunity for us to radically improve our value creation process. Over the last few years we have seen the emergence of the on demand economy. We have seen the impact of harnessing underutilized assets and the power of platforms to facilitate the matching of demand with supply. However we know that these platforms are designed to benefit the middle man and give the users just enough so that they come back. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A platform can be built to arrange and bring together capable teams so that they can all work for the benefit of themselves and not a boss. This platform can move beyond the classical freelancers marketplace, instead it can be a community of sorts where members can propose a venture to one another. Such a platform would disrupt the nature of the firm as we know it.

The firm in its classical form has served as the primary way by which we group together and “hunt” for quite some time. Typically it is more beneficial and lucrative for us to collaborate (i.e. work) ,split the labor and take a paycheck for our contribution rather than the alternative of hunting alone or arranging and negotiating separate contracts for all involved. And for a while this arrangement worked. However we now know that wages have stagnated and the middle class is dying because wages are not keeping up with inflation. And so working for a paycheck is becoming less and less of an attractive option. The freelancers economy has emerged and in a few years will make up a very large percentage of our workforce.

The time is coming to redesign the firm. Capitalism is not evil and should not be replaced, it just needs an upgrade. The power structure of the classical firm favors the owners and designates the worker as replaceable part of the system. This has been the dominant structure since we started grouping together productivley . It became the template that we have copied and proliferated because, well, for the most part, it worked. Of course workers would prefer to share in the profits but normally that is not an option. The worker has no choice but to accept a paycheck or find a new job.

A platform designed to discover and align the interests of complimentary parties could change that. Such a platform could create a viable alternative to the perpetual firm. This platform would allow a new template to emerge; Temporary partnerships. Such teams would nimble in a way that was practically impossible beforehand. Their aim would not be perpetual growth but rather to accomplish and profit by executing the proposed venture available at the moment. Such a team is reminiscent of the teams seen in heist movies. The platform would serve as the matchmaker between all involved parties. Talent could use it to discover proposals that fit their skill sets. Proposals could be created that can be sent to relevant talent. After interest is signaled terms and conditions could negotiated and signed on. The platform could facilitate the negotiation of terms so that future profits are shared fairly. The platform would serve as the trust facilitator ensuring that all parties are trustworthy.When this platform is designed correctly a new choice will be created. The choice to work perpetually for a paycheck or to utilize your talents by joining a temporary venture. One could join many such ventures over a lifetime with the knowledge that it is simple and easy to find a new venture if the current one does not work out. The nature of work would become fluid and varied, a series of experiments, as opposed to the monotony that is all too common today.

This platform would provide anyone with the ability to create wealth out of their efforts instead of earning a paycheck. It would create a proliferation of innovation as new ideas would be able to find the appropriate team capable and motivated to bring it to life. Ones labor could be valued by the future value that it contributes toward creating. Obviously the details of such a platform need to be fleshed out.The first generation of labor marketplaces are implicitly designed to benefit their creators. At their core they are companies facilitating the fulfillment of existing demand for an existing good or service. And while they do fulfill that promise they miss the larger more impactful opportunity. The next generation of labor platforms will be the ones that facilitates and coordinates value creation.These platforms will enable and empower people to discover trustworthy collaborators and provide the ability for them to collaborate with one another. It will align motivation so that we can achieve what has been achieved through the open source movement without having to rely on the intrinsic motivation that all too often varies unpredictably.

We know that the way we have been organizing for the last 300 or so years is no longer working that well for most of us. We know that the rapid rise of technology has changed things irrevocably. We know that inequality is rising and that markets are not equilibrium systems but complex adaptive systems. What I have painted above is obviously not a finished product but a sketch. A sketch of what is possible if we design with the intention of reorganizing the way we work. I have tried to show what is possible if we are capable of zooming out of our implicit assumptions and challenging ourselves to imagine a better alternative. As we journey further into the digital age it is incumbent on all of us to evolve together with nature. We have to experiment with new ways of organizing when it becomes clear that the old way is broken. We are just at the beginning of seeing the implications of the networked reality we find ourselves in. We can create a reality that mirrors and perpetuates the current social structure of things as they are or we can join together to imagine new possibilities and get busy building them. I hope we choose the later.