The Freelance Revolution – Shape Shifters needed

September 6th, 2011

Sarah Horowitz’s recent article The Freelance Surge is the Industrial Revolution of our Time provides a great complement to the Seth Godin article I highlighted in my previous post. As Horowitz writes:

Everywhere we look, we can see the U.S. workforce undergoing a massive change. No longer do we work at the same company for 25 years, waiting for the gold watch, expecting the benefits and security that come with full-time employment. We’re no longer simply lawyers, or photographers, or writers. Instead, we’re part-time lawyers-cum- amateur photographers who write on the side.

Today, careers consist of piecing together various types of work, juggling multiple clients, learning to be marketing and accounting experts, and creating offices in bedrooms/coffee shops/coworking spaces. Independent workers abound. We call them freelancers, contractors, sole proprietors, consultants, temps, and the self-employed.

Some people choose this life happily (myself included). Others are forced into it by the tremendous insecurity that is looking more and more like a permanent trait of the post-Web, post-Mobile, global economy. As the legions of freelancers grows, the need for a new perspective on education should be obvious. Marching students through the traditional school industrial complex is not going to prepare them adequately for this life. Here’s some of what we say about this phenomenon in Shift Ed:

…individuals, institutions, and even entire societies must be prepared to adapt rapidly new demands. Because technology and other systemic forces that can be controlled only in limited ways increasingly drive change, we cannot assume that we will be able to slow down or alter our direction if the change proves not to be to our liking. Huge numbers of people have already found that in our current economy their roles have become obsolete or replaceable by cheaper labor or technologies. There is no going back to what they had. The only way these people can survive—much less thrive—is if they can shape shift into new roles by acquiring new capabilities. There is every reason to expect the need to rapidly adjust in this way will grow dramatically in the future.

Successful freelancers are almost always skillful shape shifters – though they usually have to teach themselves this skill.

It looks like Sarah will be writing more on the freelance revolution in the coming days, so be sure to keep an eye on The Atlantic for follow up articles.

Jeff