Discover more from Creative Destruction
From Corporation to Self-Actualization
Bullshit jobs, anti-work movements, community economies and productizing yourself
For quite some time now, corporations have been the dominant form of how we create (specifically economic) value for society and ourselves. Corporations, in the sense of big, large companies, dominate the business world, they define how we organize work and they’ve enabled us to create amazing products and services. For many, it’s become normal to either join a corporation and work up the career ladder; found a startup and scale it into (or sell it) to a corporation; or work at a small company that sells products or services to….corporations.
But what if that is about to change? What if corporations are becoming outdated with regards to our society’s current and future needs? What if there are better, more efficient and impactful systems out there? What if we are soon reaching peak corporation?
Let’s dive in:
Ok, let us first question our current system a bit:
The corporation is actually a rather young, questionable concept
Yes, that’s right. The modern idea of corporations and people being predominantly employed by such is a concept that’s only a few hundred years old (at most). To a person in the year 1800, the idea that most people would be employed by large corporations would have seemed crazy.
“Over the large arch of history, dating back to the Greeks, the Romans, and the Middle Ages in Western history, leisure was the basis of culture.” - Historian Benjamin Hunnicutt
Moreover, the foundations from which corporate structures and culture emerged, and are still influenced by, are quite questionable, to say the least: i.e. colonialist ideologies and military regimens and strategies.
“Yet the East India Company – the first great multinational corporation, and the first to run amok – was the ultimate model for many of today’s joint-stock corporations. […] [It] remains history’s most terrifying warning about the potential for the abuse of corporate power.” - The Original Corporate Raiders
Full employment is an utopian narrative which drives the creation of meaningless corporations and jobs
In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that technological progress would lead to a world in which his grandchildren would only have to work 15 hours per week. This never really happened because we have been married to this idea that everyone needs a job, i.e. the idea of full employment. But does that actually make sense? What if the mantra of full employment has actually led to a completely meaningless creation and scaling of both corporations, and jobs?
Anthropologist David Graeber famously raised awareness for the proliferation of what he called bullshit jobs. Here are a few categories of bullshit jobs:
The big corporates and their shadow workforces
Corporations nowadays aren’t these big closed-up entities anymore. More often, they are networks of different players that on their own, wouldn’t necessarily be able to survive.
Google, for example, employs more temporary workers and contractors around the world than actual full-time employees. These so-called shadow workforces exist across big tech and many other companies, and without them (and their inferior wages and bad working conditions) these corporations would dramatically lose their cost flexibility.
In addition, big corporations in all industries are, of course, relying on an army of suppliers, marketing and design agencies, and all kinds of business consultancies. What was once internal has long been outsourced.
Creators, influencers and gig workers (think Apple App Store app developers, Uber drivers, or YouTube creators) can likewise be considered as shadow corporate workforces as they provide the content and services that make the platforms they are on thrive. So, as I said in the intro, it turns out that most of us either work at a corporation or for a corporation.
Corporate structures are traditions not science
Many established corporate structures and cultures aren’t some well-studied and -tested optimal success factors. They are often just things that are done because others before have been doing them and people forgot to ask why.
One of the most established corporate structures is that of the 40h work week. It’s the(!) framing that dictates how we structure our week and is therefore heavily influencing various other work and non-work systems and processes. Why 40 hours, exactly? It’s not a scientific sweet spot, it’s a thing that has, over the years, become ingrained into our minds and systems. In other words, it has become a tradition and we take it for granted.
Alright, so let us recap:
A corporation is actually a quite young, “immature” concept (i.e. there is room to improve). Not that long ago, the idea of a corporation was considered crazy.
What’s more, the foundation and the early structures of corporations have been built upon colonialist, imperialist and military structures and mindsets
The misguided pursuit towards full employment is leading to the creation (and scaling) of meaningless jobs and corporations
Corporations, nowadays, are more like networks of different entities (some in the shadows) that alone would have hard times to survive, at least in the system that we have built.
And lastly, corporate structures are often traditions, and not some well-studied optimal, scientifically-proven success feature.
👀 What’s Changing
Ok, now that our minds are more prone to new ideas, let’s have a look at some new, emerging developments:
Freelancing is growing around the world
India is emerging as the second fastest-growing freelance market in the world. In the US, 36% of the workforce is already freelancing while 56% of non-freelancers say they are likely to freelance in the future.
Gig work makes instant jobs possible
In need of a job? Nowadays, thousands of platforms offer almost instant jobs. Here is a list of 150 apps that provide gig economy jobs, including grocery delivery, ridesharing, dog-sitting and proofreading.
The creator economy is exploding 🚀
"Over the past five years, job listings featuring the keyword “Creator” in their title or description have increased by a staggering 489,000%..."
What does that mean?
"In the past, the value of social media and tech platforms was perceived to be in their “algorithm,” like YouTube’s recommendations system or TikTok’s “For You” page. But now, creators hold massive sway over the decisions corporations across industries make." - The Business of Business
Going solo is easier than ever
Already in 2019, Li Jin wrote about the “creator stack” trend and how new platforms allow anyone to monetize their unique skills. Well now, we have web3 entering the game, further advancing the “creator stack” and leading to a new renaissance:
The quest for meaningful jobs
The career as a status symbol idea (“dad, i’ve been promoted to manager”) is becoming less of a thing for younger generations and is increasingly replaced by the quest for self-actualization. Nearly two-thirds of employees surveyed by McKinsey said the pandemic caused them to reflect on their life’s purpose.
Many are no longer willing to stay in unfulfilling jobs or work for employers that don’t treat employees, people, or the planet well. Read the NY Times’ YOLO Economy article or watch TikTok 1 (“doing this for the next 40 years…really?!) and 2 (“I wasn’t built for this”) shown below to get a sense of how lost (!) especially young employees feel these days in the corporate world.
The Great Resignation and the anti-work movement
What happens when people feel lost at their workplaces? They quit! These days, people are quitting in droves: the subreddit r/antiwork surged from 13,000 members in 2019 to now over 1.6 million members. People are fed up with bad working conditions, low wages, social inequality, capitalism and meaningless jobs. Just have a quick read through r/antiwork, check out #quittok or browse the 85k (!) replies of this tweet and you’ll furthermore “get it”:
Offices turn into Slack spaces
When a new job is only another Slack space away and colleagues transform into instant message avatars, things are becoming much more fluid. This means that loyalty and commitment to certain employers degrade drastically, and for those with the right skills and talents, new opportunities can be literally just a few clicks away.
“Investors would never choose to invest in just one company; the risk is too concentrated. Instead, they build portfolios. Over time, workers will invest their time in a similar way.” - Packy McCormick
Alright so let us again summarize:
Freelancing might soon be the dominant form of employment in some countries
Gig work makes small, instant side jobs possible
The creator economy is growing like crazy
Going solo is easier than ever
Young people feel out of place in the corporate world
People are becoming “anti-work”
Remote work leads to more “fluid” employment
🪐 New Worlds
Okay, this is where we go into the unknown. Where we dive into the crazy, often still imperfect but super interesting new worlds.
A company…without structure?
“No Meetings, No Deadlines, No Full-Time Employees” - Yes, it’s possible and can actually be quite successful. Learn more about the innovative work structure at Gumroad who went from a “growth at all costs” to a “freedom at all costs” mindset.
The internet enables individuals with all sorts of shared interests, values and specialized talents to seamlessly come together, to organize and to create value.
“Social media was at one time the poster child for carving out meaningful social spaces, but it’s now arguably created a more individualistic, less communal space. […] The authentic connections users look for (but don’t always find) on social media are part of the fabric of online communities – a major reason why people are turning to these spaces more and more.” - The Rise of Online Communities - GWI
Moreover, business creation is moving from building something for customers to building something with customers - i.e. with the community. So, forget MVP and embrace MVC - Minimum Viable Community, as the founder of Reddit preaches below:
Several well-known venture capital investors (including a16z) have recently invested in the leading crypto community Friends With Benefits.
DAOs - a new operating system for community economies?
Crypto communities like Friends With Benefits organize or govern themselves as DAOs. Other such DAOs have recently made headlines trying to buy the US constitution or an NBA team. Well, these DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) are all the talk in crypto-land these days, and there is a loooot more to them than the surface might reveal as 2022 might be the (!) year for DAOs. So check out this article titled Community DAOs in order to get a proper introduction to what could be the future operating system of how we organize work.
“DAOs are the new startups”?! So what’s it like to work for a DAO? I highly recommend reading this interview with Samantha Marin, who is a writer, editor and talent scout for a DAO called BanklessDAO.
Most importantly, building brands or creating products on the foundation of culture, shared values and flexibility (as opposed to colonialist, imperialist, or military foundations) can make a huge difference:
Another web3 trend that expands the creator or community stack are Social Tokens, i.e. tokens issued by individual creators or communities that enable the creator or community members to collaborate and share ownership in the value created, together.
Check out Talent Protocol, a super interesting startup that is “using the power of web3 to support undiscovered talent and reward their early believers and most active backers”. Through their platform, you can basically invest in a talented person that you think will eventually build impactful stuff, and then reap some of the benefits if they do. A sort of people-focused crowdinvesting.
If you want to understand the fundamentals of social tokens, then check out “A beginner’s guide to social tokens” which will introduce you perfectly to this new concept. Or read “Social Tokens and the Future of Work” by the, already mentioned, BanklessDAO from which I took some of the excerpts highlighted here.
In the end, I think the end goal and the massive new opportunity that all the new tools and perspective shifts mentioned above will unleash, is that more and more people will strive to productize themselves:
“You want to figure out what you’re uniquely good at - or what you uniquely are - and apply as much leverage as possible. So making money isn’t even something you do. It’s not a skill. It’s who you are, stamped out a million times.” Naval Ravikant
By now, you might already “get” what new worlds or alternatives to our current corporation-dominated system are imaginable based on the trends and tools highlighted above. However, there is of course still lots to explore and lots to experiment with. The purpose of the above is merely to break open your constraints to imagine new ways of doing things and to be in a mindset that’s eager to explore new paths. Which is the essence of Creative Destruction!
So, that’s it for the 1st issue! I hope you enjoyed it and are excited to explore more topics together with me and other subscribers. Keep your eyes peeled for many more deep dives as well as short mind-shifting explosions in between. 😉
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