As published on the Personal Due Diligence Blog, November 5, 2013
If you’re still in education, you have a fundamental decision to make once you graduate. Which of our two economies are you going to find work in?
We’re so used to hearing a single perspective in the media — the national GDP, the state of the financial markets — that a lot of people miss the fact that there’s really two economies running in parallel out there.
Neither respects the other all that much. Neither wants to hire someone from the “dark side” — and that’s true with a move in either direction. (Self-employment, running your own show, is the vehicle for gaining acceptance on one move from A to B.)
So what are these economies?
The first — I’ve heard people use the terms “old” and “new”, but frankly, both have been side by side for so long now that we’d really be better off with different terms — is the economy of organizations, jobs, career ladders, etc. Let’s call it the “organized” economy, so that we’re not prejudicing anything about it. It’s the home of big, mid-sized and small institutions: banks, industrial and big service companies, government agencies, universities, etc.
In this side of the game, résumés show career progression, educational qualifications, quantified accomplishments. This is the land of the ladder that ends at “Chief Executive Officer”, not as a legally-required title, but as “the leader to whom compliance and fealty are owed”.
If you read my discussion of the entrepreneur (in “Getting Started on a Non-Career Career”), it should be clear that entrepreneurs can definitely fall in this first economy. Whether it’s IBM or Facebook, the goal of being a publicly-traded company and dominant globally is the motivation that underlies all “organized” economy activities.
The second economy is the economy of “less organized”. Perhaps “less ordered” would work better — if you’ve never thought about how less orderly might be just as effective, watch Dave Snowden’s explanation of his Cynefin model — or better still, his “How to Organise a Children’s Party.
In this less orderly space, you also have ventures of all types, from the one-person effort on up to some fairly largish ones, and you have commercial efforts, community organizing ones, not-for-profit advocacy groups, even some educational efforts. Whatever your dream field, chances are it can be done in either economy.
So your question, as a soon-to-be or recent graduate, is “which one gives me better resilience for my own future?”.
There’s little question but that in almost all cases the choice of the organized economy gives you better prospects off the mark. The ladder of the future can be seen. This comes with salary and benefits progression, not to mention other perks of the job. A brilliant, globally-exploitable entrepreneurial start up would take on more risk at first, but promises a jump to the stratosphere upon success or sale.
But the less orderly economy increasingly supports the orderly one. It’s where the consultants who make a difference come from (please remember that a consultant trades on their experience just as much as their knowledge: that’s why many who dream of consulting start with one of the big firms [consultancy or corporation], then head off to be their own boss in a one person show once they have built up enough experience and distilled knowledge). It’s where many of the ideas that help keep behemoths afloat come from, too.
Increasingly (as a person recently in schooling, you probably noticed this — or you ought to have) the university’s professorate are drawn from this second economy, teaching you on sessional contracts with no commitments. That, in turn, points out the key thing for your consideration: which is growing and which is shrinking.
The ordered economy is shrinking. It has been for at least three decades now, and it will continue to do so. While there’ll always be some part of it lying around as long as we have an industrially-based civilization, the organizations we have are generally now the wrong size relative to available markets, funding, or customer bases. Hence the shrinkage, which would occur even without technological changes displacing some old ways of doing things (think media companies, recording labels, etc.)
By counterpart, the less ordered economy is growing. Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing are making “getting going” easier. There’s more tolerance for “portfolio” lives: people who do three or four things, each bringing in a bit of their total income. There’s more of an emphasis on “what can you contribute” and less on fitting in.
They are what Jon Husband calls wirearchies rather than the hierarchies of the ordered economy. Just enough order (remember the children’s party: there are some bounds needed!) and a lot of network bottom-up and side-to-side connectivity driving things forward.
The person who opens the depanneur or convenience store on the corner has always been in this world — they survive by connecting to their customers, knowing what will move, what they can mark up and what must be sold at prices that match the big chains, and by trading on extra hours — just as much as the one who starts a pressure group, a community help organization, or a little programming shop.
Bank financing: that’s the ordered, or organized world. Crowdfunding a first product, using shipments to finance growth, that’s more the less ordered world (you’ll go where the money leads you, to some extent). But of the two, the less ordered is often the more secure (there’s no bank calling your loan because their profits are going to be down a bit).
This is the fundamental choice you must make, when starting out, and at every career transition: do I go to the more ordered, or the less ordered world?