The Gig Economy, Personal Brands & The Future of Work — Are you ready?

Last year, I found myself sitting at my corporate job, staring blankly at my screen, like everyone else. For the most part, my job constituted of sitting in my chair at home or my city office, overlooking Queens Park — looking the part of a successful corporate gal but dying inside. My days were lackluster, sitting in beige conference rooms, churning out the same series of words — “let’s table that” , “let’s escalate”, “let’s re-circle” , “disruption”. Every day was beginning to feel like Groundhog Day — its own kind of mental demise.

Urgh!

For months, I was kicking myself for cheating on my was 23 year old self who I had promised:

I will never ever end up in one of these stuffy buildings in a spinning chair, staring at a screen all day , chit chatting at water coolers. I will travel around the world — go to exotic places and one day settle in Paris with a dog and fish in an aquarium, where I will write at the same cafes as Hemingway and Romantic Poets. Blah blah blah.

Well, none of that happened, quite as I had planned!

Today I live in a small city — outside of Toronto, a socially contrived human being, cycled through three multinational corporations, and countless corporate contracts, churned, semi gutted, and burnt out as a corporate Creative — you know that certain sense of jadedness that hits you and you feel that is no cure.

Today many years later, I sit, hanging on to all the creative activities that remained suppressed as I took on the corporate world just so I could feel a sense of “belonging” and conforming to the “way things are” a perfect product of the corporate cog. Recently, however, I have wondered:

What if I had followed my creative spirit?

What if I had moved to Paris at 23 and never return?

What if I had followed my dream of building an eco-spa in the middle of the rainforest?

What if I had embraced the “gig” like instead of a corporate — tech job “Designer?”

Undoubtedly the direction I did NOT take would be described today as the “Gigs life,” with no “job security” , never knowing what was next.

In recent years however, the term “Gig Economy” ( sometimes used interchangeably with the Hustle Economy) has become the norm, particularly among the millennial generation. You can’t scroll through any social site today, without a mention of the hashtags #hustle, #sidegig #giglife or#sidehustle mentioned. And if for some reason you have not heard of this concept — Welcome to the Future of Work!

Side gigs refers to ways in which people augment their income outside of your 9–5, allowing for more financial flexibility and enabling the pursuit of things they would rather be doing instead of a 9–5.

For many people, the word “side hustle” is also seen as just another millennial trend that will fade away as the millennial generation mature. From all reports, the trend is taking root among other generations. There are many factors at play, including the rapid automation of many jobs, making some traditional types of industrial and corporate roles, all but eliminated.

In the field of Design, for example, some types of Designers (visual and interaction) are going the way of the dinosaur, either through the emergence of generative design science or the many low cost and free apps like Canva and other graphic design apps that can generate more output than a human can. Further, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning combined will disrupt traditional work paradigms. I say disrupt, and not irradiate, as I see a sense of hopefulness in that many will retreat to the true passions that they may have side tract to enter traditional fields. The output of creativity that will come when many are doing the things they love as machines do the things we mostly do not love, or do better than humans is to me a plus.

This paradigmatic shift and work disruption will also force many of us to redefine our roles, our values and our personal brands to survive the new digital economy. Instead of the corporate specialization and post Industrial Revolution models, we have come to know, many will have to think of personal diversification of offerings, much like a real business. Many companies know this and are changing their own models to be gig suppliers in the new world order.

One of the better known platforms in the “gig economy” ecosystem is Uber; others include Fiverr and Maidstr, a Toronto based cleaning platform. And while some reports suggest that side gigs providers, like Lyft and Uber, may need to re-visit profit sharing structures as many side-hustlers are left with the shorter end of the stick, experts predict that a slowing global job-market, growing income inequality, and stagnant wages, combined with ballooning debt, have exacerbated the financial burdens for many, leading many to income augmentation.

In a publication “The future of work: The augmented workforce” 2017 Global Human Capital Trends, Deloitte writers (Schwartz et al.,) put this into global and technological perspective:

Driven by the acceleration of connectivity and cognitive technology, the nature of work is changing. As AI systems, robotics, and cognitive tools grow in sophistication; almost every job is being reinvented, creating what many call the “augmented workforce.” As this trend gathers speed, organizations must reconsider how they design jobs, organize work, and plan for future growth.

And while the concept of the Side Hustle is reaching a new level of social consciousness, it is a way of life in many other countries, and many lower income demographics, in what is considered first world countries like the US. In fact, the recent teacher riots in Oklahoma (April 2018) suggest that gigs are also becoming commonplace for what was considered white collar trades.

“If I didn’t have a second job, I’d be on food stamps,” said Rae Lovelace, a third-grade teacher and single mother in northwest Oklahoma who works 30 to 40 hours a week at a second job.

More personally, for me, with Caribbean roots, it is the normal in our wider communities. My grandfather was a local home builder, engineer, and foremost he was an estate farmer; his three ways of making money was just what we did. My mother, at some point, was a local seamstress, making school uniforms during the school season and a bar owner and a few times a year, she moonlighted as a “speculator” — traveling abroad to buy in bulk and returning to sell with a healthy markup. And the stories are the same for every home where I knew the family.

My socialization into North American corporate culture was in conflict with my understanding of work. No one seemed to be doing anything else but the 9–5 job for which they had trained, repressing all else. The mere mention of the concept of a side hustle was the reason for alarm. Did I not like my job? Was I not satisfied with the one title of Designer? Was I not committed to the corporate job? But the real question you should ask: do you not, like a company, have the right to diversify?

To our collective detriment, corporate titles and specialization serve to deflect those activities that give many of us the energy we need to tolerate our 9–5 jobs. An inability to think beyond the corporate titles is now becoming a kind of watershed moment where many are slowly waking up to the fact that they are being left behind. Consider that companies have portfolios and vertical markets in which they operate, but what are your diverse skill set that you can leverage and use to inform your personal brand in the coming economies?Understanding this, those interested in not becoming obsolete contributors of the new economy will have to revisit the breadth of their skills set — package themselves as operating brands with diverisfied portfolio, in some cases.

Some may look forward with some trepidation; however, we must celebrate a world forecast where individuals are empowered to engage in direct forms of commerce with other individuals, offering up their best natural skills, bypassing norms established by dated rules of economic engagement. This proliferation of entrepreneurship also echoes the writings of the Sottish economist Adam Smith who may, if he was alive, have seen this as a returning to the economy of the 18th century, as he wrote about in An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (The Wealth of Nations). And what is wrong with sometimes taking a step back to redefine the nature of the business, with broader inclusivity and a leveling of the economic playing field.