As part of the conversation around the future of work, we were discussing whether there was any truth in the idea that we will all become full-time freelancers working in networked communities solely for ME Inc. In their book â??Karaoke Capitalismâ?? Jonas RidderstrÃ¥le and Kjell A NordstrÃ¶m talk about the importance of developing your own brand in order to stand out in the marketplace (saturated, we presume, with other freelancers touting for business, projects, sub-commissions etc). They don’t really discuss what this brand might be and how you would go about using it, which suggests that really what they mean by ‘your brand’ is actually ‘you’, ‘your personality, abilities and reputation’.
I suppose this could be considered a step forward from the OnBrand world of institutional work where the brand you live by isn’t your brand – it’s the organisations. Internal brand management is big business and has evolved into something more pervasive than a company handbook or a set of publication guidelines, (you know the script, “Our brand is our biggest asset – Misplacement of our logo devalues our relationship with our customers, and will result in mistrust, pestilence, apocalypse” etc). The brand is now incorporated into internal progress reviews, (“like how ‘Microsoft’ are you?”), and is communicated as pervasively to employees as it is to the potential customer. It also exists in much more subtle ways amongst the “we don’t do that kind of thing here” mentality which can sometimes exist in peer groups, and the fear/risk factor associated with any OffBrand thinking. In organisations with a strong OnBrand control culture, this control exists at the expense of the creative freedom of the individual and therefore the creative ability of the organisation to innovate and develop. There still exists a big gap between knowing that creativity is a powerful force for good in business, and actually creating the work structures where creativity can genuinely flourish.
Perhaps the future of work will lie somewhere in between these two possible futures, if organisations can loosen up and move away from a ‘control through consistency’ mentality. From the anecdotal evidence of big employers, it would appear that money is no longer the biggest priority amongst many employees, and both a better work/life balance and creative autonomy are creeping up the agenda. This would indicate that the motivating factors for working for ‘the man’ are no longer just financial, no questions asked, but tied into whether the job has any meaning and how that job fits in with the rest of their life. Whether this leads to a world where we are all empowered freelancers, or a different approach to structure and process at work, remains to be seen.