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

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.

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?

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?

Hiring people with potential is not the same as hiring great people

About four years into running Langoor I’ve had an epiphany.

Hiring people with potential is not the same as hiring great people.

There are squillions of articles on the Internet about the need for startups to hire the right people. However given the financial constraints of a startup, I always focused on hiring people with great potential. Until recently, I thought that meant the same as hiring great people.

A few months ago, my agency merged with another and as a part of that, three of the key partners of the other agency became the key management team and partners at Langoor.

Three months in, I feel it is one of the best things that could have happened in our business. And I say this for one simple reason – these three people are great people. They are not people with potential, not people I have to wait for to shine, not people who require grooming – they are people who I am learning new things from every day. Their experience, attitude, focus, love and alignment with my vision make them people I am really excited about working with every morning I wake up.

I have now realised that trying to build a company just with people with potential is not the best strategy. Finding the right people is. It also makes a huge difference to have people you can learn from around you, even as a Founder. My level of motivation, excitement and the subsequent energy investment is really high (four years in!).

This, of course, doesn’t mean that people with potential are not important. You need a pipeline of great people – full stop. But the difference it makes to have the right people, with the right experience, focus, love and vision is amazing. It can actually make what you are trying to achieve easier.

Edit: After I wrote this, I stumbled across another article that talks about hiring for the short term. In some ways this piece and that article are related so I thought I would share it here.

How can Sydney become a better place for startups and entrepreneurs?

I recently answered this question on Quora.

As someone who works with startups through my agency in Sydney, I find that Sydney is already not a bad place for start ups and entrepreneurs.

The key perception where the ‘not great’ piece comes in is the relatively poor valuation entrepreneurs based in Sydney or for that matter, in Australia, attract. Please note the word relative is important here.

Through work, I get to travel to different countries often and I have noticed that a large part of the problem is about the risk-taking capacity in the culture.

The Australian culture generally, compared to other cultures, is more risk averse. This is especially true for the corporate frameworks and ideas related to business. That is not necessarily a bad thing because arguably that kept the banking system strong through the Global Financial Crisis. However it does affect the view funds and investors take on startups when they are looking to invest. This problem requires a longer term solution and mind set. Of course, competition in the capital market also helps.

Size of the market is another issue for both valuation and the size of the startup scene. The size of the Australian market means that the size of the start up scene will relatively tend to stay small. But I generally find a lot of startups have a larger view and often consider different parts of the broader world as a potential addressable market. As a result you also see a lot of startups migrate to the US.

It will be interesting to see when startups also consistently migrate to Asia – but that’s for a different discussion. What can help is more Australian startups, operating out of Australia, look at Asia as a target market and create products and services for it.

I’m fairly excited about the potential of programs such as Incubate have to increase relevance of entrepreneurship at Universities. Of course the challenge is much larger as Universities will certainly need to play a bigger role to play including with culture and customer centric thinking.

Another challenge is that despite the recent upswing in accelerators and support groups in the scene, the more known startup scene is a little ‘clicky’. The networks that exist tend to know each other well in a relatively small group and it takes a while to break through it. I don’t think the intention is to be like this at all and from everything I’ve seen, this community wants to be welcoming and tries hard to be. But I find that a lot of people on the fringe find it intimidating to approach and find their own way to innovate independently.

I come across these people often and work with many of them. The real challenge is to understand how you can capture the stories of these startups as well and help them share their stories with the rest of the community.

Lastly for anyone to be involved with startups (including everyone reading this), it is critical to recognise that startups are different, not always sexy and span various industries beyond technology. Australia and Sydney contribute through some amazing IP based or even more conventional businesses that often get ignored by the startup scene here as one of them. Embracing them in all shapes and helping them is everyone’s responsibility.