Will breakdance for money

It was 2005 when NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman published his book ‘The World is Flat’. This was quite an event as Friedman developed his views on globalisation and demonstrated to readers that places like China and India are not just countries full of cheap labour doing low-end work. They have smart people too.

I remember one of the analogies Friedman used in his book, alluding to several hundred years of history and competition. He broadly suggested that the nineteenth century had been ruled by the nation state. Warring naval forces and the constant empire-building was controlled by the state. The twentieth century was ruled by the company as we witnessed the growth in importance of the multinational corporation. And now, in the twenty-first century, it is the individual that is the important unit of competition. The atomisation of society down to the individual as an organisational unit.
In short, what Friedman means is that anyone, anywhere, in any profession can now compete for your job. I remember talking to some accountants recently in Liverpool. Half their department had been sent over to India. NHS hospitals do much of their accounting in India these days. Even management consultants are finding that many of their skills can be sourced from other locations – at a lower cost and at comparable levels of delivery.
But apart from the threat of outsourcing to lower cost regions, what Freidman was really alluding to was that if you want to remain relevant (and employed) in this century then you need to think of ‘brand me’ far more seriously. Not in the sense of reinventing yourself in the image of a ‘guru’, but by never losing sight of the fact that constant communication across borders is now commonplace. We all use social networks to talk to people in our line of work today and national boundaries rarely impact on those discussions – people take part in the conversation if they have something intelligent to add.
I noticed Tom Friedman talking about peer-to-peer jobs in the New York Times last weekend, so it was no surprise to see that the team at Freelancer.com got in touch with me this week to offer information on their service – Tom had mentioned the site in his column.
Freelancer.com is like eBay, but for jobs. It’s the natural evolution of what Friedman suggested five years ago. They allow people with skills to advertise their services, and people who need to commission some work to find the skills – wherever they may be. The average contract is about $200, and they are securing around 1,100 jobs per day right now.
The management thinker Charles Handy was writing about this as the future of work back in the 1980s, long before the Internet made it all possible. To some it may appear to be a horrifying vision of a dog-eat-dog society, to others it’s the end of the twentieth century organisation and a reversion to a previous era where people were hired job-by-job based on skills. Only this time, it’s not just the skills you have, it’s how you network yourself to ensure your clients around the world know you are ready to breakdance for money.