Author: ruchir

Education for the Contingent Workforce

In my view, one of the biggest societal ramifications Internet has been responsible for is globalisation of jobs. Anyone today with skills can, in theory, find work. There are a number of platforms that connect those who want a piece of work done to those who can do them.

Examples span multiple industries – 99 Designs for design, Etsy for hand-made goods, RecruitLoop for recruitment, Flightfox for deals on flights, etc. There are many generalist websites as well across this spectrum and this list is by no means exhaustive.

On the jobs front, the implications are obvious. Work will continue to spread all over the world – and you don’t always need to be in the same town, state or country to work with someone. More people will find additional sources of income, or primarily become freelancers. In fact, I believe more and more people will become super-specialised in their skills and as a result get ‘valued’ better for their respective niche.

Various contractors define a contingent workforce
Source: MyPlacers.com

According to Wikipedia, a provisional group of workers who work for an organization on a non-permanent basis, also known as freelancers, independent professionals, temporary contract workers, independent contractors or consultants is called a contingent workforce.

However the big piece missing in this transition is that of training and education. The conventional education structure (both primary and tertiary) has its roots tied in enhancing skills en masse. It doesn’t facilitate specialisation early nor easily. It is certainly not customised based on a person’s interest nor does it let them pick their own direction until much later in their life (usually after 18, if that!).

What’s worse is it does not prepare anyone to be out on their own enabling them to be part of the contingent workforce. The 21st century is seeing a surge in micro-entrepreneurialism like never before – however this is despite the current education structure, not because of it.

I believe there are a few ideas that schools can consider to help adapt curriculum in the information age.

At a bare minimum schools should offer some basic business education, even if optional. This can include things like understanding financials (P&L, cash flow and balance sheet), understanding how to solve problems and making money including finding customers.

Something we notice at Langoor when interviewing people is that they are trained well in the more technical skills, but often soft skills such as communication, empathy or problem-solving capacity are missing. A renewed focus on soft skills, early in their formal education would help people adapt better in a contingent workforce. Another way to address this is by helping children ask questions early in their life and assisting them make their own decisions.

Even if children or young people are formally provided some vocational (work or hands-on) experience while being educated, that can go a long way to making them ready for the new order.

Lastly, the emergence of start up incubators is a case in point for lack of adaptability of the education system. Start up incubators today are effectively a breed of business schools that operate on principles which educators need to consider:

  • attaining training from people who have achieved some success; training people who are interested in the given topic
  • focus on asking tough questions and helping a person drive towards a ‘successful’ outcome on their own
  • focusing on ‘solving a problem’ more than training them on a specific skill

Organisations like YCombinator are leading change in education without realising it. This is certainly something education providers could benefit from by thinking of what education should be differently.

Preparing the next generation to adapt in what will likely be a globalised or mostly machine-automated economy will require thinking outside the box. Education providers risk going out of business if they don’t adapt to this in the next few years!

Three industries set to be utterly defeated by self driving cars

Reading the announcement today about Google’s self driving car prototype, I couldn’t help but think of three industries being completely disrupted.

Self Driving Car PrototypeImage Source: Google

The first one that has been discussed a bit so far is that of car insurance. With a significant reduction in car accidents, the car insurance industry is set to be out of business.

The second one, which is less obvious is how Uber and other taxi dispatch services will completely kill the current taxi industry business model. Uber is Google Ventures’ largest investment, and I can see why. We will likely find a situation where taxi drivers will be out of jobs, and effectively taxi dispatching technology providers will extend their software to self-driving cars.

Thirdly, the breathalyzer industry which is worth $55Bn in the US alone will have its own drop in business. You don’t need to check whether someone has had too much alcohol before or during driving.

I have no doubt there will be other industries that will have a similar impact including positive impact. For example imagine an app ecosystem for entertainment in the car.

Making male feminists sexy

On International Women’s Day I want to take a moment and reflect on getting men involved in the conversation around gender equality.

Men Need Feminism - Source: Facebook.com/WhoNeedsFeminism

One of the best sessions at the Australia India Youth Dialogue earlier this year was one that discussed gender equality.

I discovered during the session that unfortunately gender issues tend to be confined to being women driven even if men consciously try to engage. This is not because women do not provide that space for men to engage, rather it is due to an inherent fear a lot of men have about being insensitive.

The classic example at the panel itself was when as the Steering committee of the Dialogue we assumed that all panelists and moderators should be women. While we did not actively exclude men, we did not consider that option either. It was however pointed out very quickly by the moderator, Smita Sharma that if challenges of gender equality are to be overcome, men need to be engaged in the conversation.

The same point was raised the a few weeks ago by Christine Lagarde on ABC’s Q&A where while discussing progress of women, she said

… is making sure men and powerful men, like [Tony Jones], for instance, are on board and take ownership of the project. Because I believe that it’s not something that will be a woman’s business, a woman’s affair, but it’s going to be a human affair, and to have both men and women endorsing the project of these equal opportunities, of this fair access, of looking at the constraints in a very practical way to get things done is exactly the right way to go.

One of the key challenges I suppose through the process is not only encouraging male feminism but also actively showing support for it. Making men feel comfortable in the conversation is critical to gender equality.

While it may sound ironic, making male feminists sexy in the mainstream will go a long way to contributing to the broader gender equality conversation. Next time I see a man take a positive stand on gender equality I will make sure I vocally support that stand and highlight its importance.

Honesty is more important than being the best

Social media has implicitly changed the way we interact with people.

We socially follow lives of more people than we engage with. We use more messaging than calling. We easily curate things we find interesting for our “friends” to see.

However there is one change in how we communicate I find quite fascinating.

Cyanide and Happiness Honesty Internet Art Comic

Cyanide and Happiness Honesty Internet Art Comic


Image Source: Cyanide and Happiness

Celebrities are now able to communicate directly with their fans. This is without any filters in between. They are able to control this message, usually with honesty. Honesty also applies when a trusted friend makes a good point or shares something you agree with.

Honesty is the new black. No spin, just honest.

This now extends to businesses and the way they communicate online. Traditionally all the online content or profile building is usually geared towards how they are the “best”. But without realising, recently, there has been a bridge building towards how an organisation is “honest”. They don’t necessarily blow their own trumpet but let the work speak for itself. They don’t scream about their awards, but showcase the LinkedIn profiles of their employees.

I am not necessarily clear whether honestly still “sells” as well. I certainly believe though people are more likely to give you a go if you are honest, rather than the self-proclaimed “best”.

Android will power Nest

I read a story in Quartz today that shared that Nest will be bigger than Android.

Android KitKat logoImage Source: Google

I agree with the author that Nest will be huge for Google but I don’t think this is about Android v/s Nest. The recent announcements around Android powering cars are a strong indicator of where Android is going. It already powers Chromecast and Google Glass.

I believe we are more likely to see Android power the next generation of connected devices including the ones Nest has already built. Android will power Nest, not compete with it within the Google ecosystem.

The real question is whether you will need a Google+ account?

Getting stuff done

No saying is truer – if you want to s*it done, give it to a busy person.

So many times I come across people who are big picture, well intentioned and accomplished. But most often, the people I find will deliver are people who are just plain hard working and have the persistence to find a way.

I keep going back to a select group of people when I really want stuff done. These are people who you know have no time and yet magically they will work out a way to make it happen.

The changing definition of privacy

One of the biggest news stories of 2013 has been the Edward Snowden revelations. What I think is most interesting about this story is the lack of reaction from the world’s population.

No riots, no sit downs, no #occupyNSA! An online outcry, a few petitions and your standard 15-20 people gatherings summed up the non-media reaction. And yes, NSA is now getting a review – basically a slap on the wrist.

In someways this was inevitable. I am actually surprised that it took NSA about 15 years after the Internet became mainstream to monitor all Internet traffic. But on the flip side most people have generally expected companies and governments to monitor their activity online.

Usually if I am physically signing agreements I tend to read them, get a second opinion, be thorough and negotiate before I put ink to paper. In contrast, the number of times I accept terms and conditions online without reading should have resulted in some jail time for me by now. Or at least, my email address and data has probably been sold 150 times.

Before GMail when spam filters were not that good, without thinking much, I created one email address specifically for signing up with websites. I kept my email id for personal correspondence separate. Inadvertently my definition of privacy had already changed in my early years of using the Internet.

Of course, today the monitoring and tracking is at a whole new level. However, I think people see it as a trade-off.

I get to connect with people so I am happy to share my details. I want to browse fast so you can know what I search for. I need to get to a location so you can know how and when I get there.

Being aware that you need to let go of your information for an easier life, at least for the larger population is now acceptable. I suspect people, especially the ones born after 1990 who have never seen life without the Internet, don’t see an alternative.

So what does this mean for privacy? I’d say the new outlook seems to have put the onus on businesses and government to play their part. While the recent revelations don’t help, I believe people expect organisations to use the information, however to not mis-use it. There is an expectation that you will not be mis-represented. And that a user’s digital footprint will reflect what the user wants the world to see.

Also it is not about whether you want your information out there – it is now about how much. Everyone’s definition of how much of their life needs to be private is now their own hand-drawn line. As a result what you loose ends up being a result of what you are ok to loose to begin with.

This changes the rules and I think the privacy landscape will continue to change. The question is at what point do people stop caring completely?