Organisations used to own us: they recruited us as graduates or apprentices, mapped out a career path, trained and assessed us and then, finally, gave us a carriage clock and sent us out into retirement. It was safe, it worked for them, but it didn’t give us innovation and it wasn’t creative. And it wasn’t very fair, certainly once the relationship started to break down. In an age of start ups and market crashes, it became clear that our value was transient: when the going got tough, people got shown the door.
There is no such thing as a job for life anymore and, even if there were, it might not be the best thing for us to take.
Creativity and innovation are what businesses need: new ideas and the ability to create meaning, to create value. This might be in terms of engineering excellence, in terms of innovative services or it might be creative approaches to fulfilment, but whatever it is, it won’t be delivered by internal teams alone. The future is a mixed economy of core skills and outsourced capability, and that’s where your ability to shape and curate yourself comes into play.
But this isn’t to paint a bleak picture, where every one of us is sailing alone: far from it, welcome to the Social Age. It’s a place where everyone is connected and if anything will last a lifetime, it’s our communities. We have broken free, to be independent from the organisations that used to house us: there is still a relationship there, but it’s one that we can influence, one that recognises the skills and expertise that both sides bring and, crucially, that we need both sides.
This isn’t the difference between freelancers and employees, it’s the difference between actively managing your development and skill set or letting someone else dictate it for you, according to their needs. The worker in the Social Age may be freelance, or employed: social learning is a state of mind as much as a methodology for learning design. It’s about building and interacting in communities, about generosity of time, expertise and experience, it’s about co-creating meaning that benefits the organisation, the community and yourself.
The nature of work is changing, so it’s natural that the nature of workers will change too. There is still a role for large and ambitious organisations, and we can have great careers alongside them: it’s just that they won’t own that career anymore, we will. It’s a partnership that needs to be built upon trust and integrity. People can buy your time, but they can’t buy your trust.
As an employer, it’s about recognising that we have to contract with our teams, we have to have conversations about how they develop and thrive in their role now, then when they leave, we help them to thrive in their next job. After all, in the Social Age, we will probably sharing communities with them in the future, or even working together again when we have all developed our skills and mindsets further, down the line.
The changing nature of work is that it won’t all be done within four walls and between nine and five. It won’t always involve a lunch break because sometimes it’s done at dinnertime. Whilst organisations used to own and control knowledge, we will see them increasingly turning to communities to support them in creating meaning, and meaning is what gives us power these days. Relevance, timeliness of information, meaning for us all as individuals. Organisations may own knowledge, but meaning is created by the group.
The core skills we need to survive and thrive in the Social Age are grouped around our notion of social capital: our ability to form and thrive in communities, our ability to create meaning, our ability to form trusted bonds with our employer whilst actively keeping control of our career. It’s not about constant change (although we do tend to inhabit a biome that is constantly changing), it’s about agility, the ability to look at the world through different lenses, depending which way you are looking.
If organisations can attract agile learners and form long term bonds with them, it’s to everyone’s benefit: but this might not just mean giving them a job. The notion of a job implies ownership, whilst agile workers in the social age don’t want to be owned. They want to be fulfilled.
So relationships may be more fluid, but both parties can thrive: the social age exists and thrives on change, but values the individual. It’s a fairer society where generosity is rewarded.