Music, Apple, iTunes
Remember how we used to buy music?
Music was packaged in CDs containing ~10 tracks. You had to buy the CD, including tracks you might not want. There was no picking or choosing. That’s how it worked. Music was a “package deal.”
Then Apple introduced iTunes and changed music forever.
CDs were out. Individual tracks became the new format. You could enjoy music, but you didn’t need to buy the CD. You had control.
Music production and consumption started operating on a redefined product unit, distribution method, and delivery model. Reputation was built (or eroded) faster.
This opened up new possibilities for music producers and consumers. Consumers could buy and curate music combinations that “fit” unique preferences and desires.
Unit costs also dropped, from $10+ per CD to $1 a track.
It was liberating.
The disruption of jobs
The economic structure of work and careers is undergoing a parallel, yet far bigger, disruption.
At the center of this disruption is the fractioning of jobs as the defining format of labor.
A job is an economic transaction where someone “rents” her human capital to (usually) a single firm for a recurring period of time. Using our music analog, a job is a “package deal” where a business “rents” the sum total of one’s skills and time.
But this economic structure is getting disrupted and displaced by new, competing “formats.”
The fractioning disruption is the result of digital technology innovations that drive a revolution in skills measurement and skills signaling, networked connectivity, and the inevitable rise of the skills economy.
The fractioning of jobs means work is not a “package deal” any longer.
Fractioning has three distinct dimensions:
Time: people control how much time they want to “rent”, how many “renters” they want to deal with at any point of time (it’s a continuum), the defining units of “rent” (hours, days, projects, words written, bugs detected, returns generated, sales made, etc.), and how they charge for it
Space: people can distribute their human capital directly by themselves or indirectly through third-party platforms, and deliver work flexibly from anywhere they choose (which allows them to, eg, manage work portfolios, combine work and learning, design their work/life balance)
Skills: people can “rent” specific skills or combinations of skills (which allows them to gain experience and establish themselves in multiple fields)
Where is this going?
Every job, from low skilled to professional and managerial, is undergoing fractioning—and that includes executive jobs
Work is becoming a service, with Labor-as-a-Service and Talent-as-a-Service becoming the new operating systems
People, not firms, become responsible for investing in, continuously upgrading, demonstrating, and selling their skills portfolios
Skills information and skills data analytics become critical, just like Bloomberg terminals are to the efficient operation of liquid capital markets
Just-in-time talent and talent-on-demand enable businesses to unlock new value, reach markets fasters, and redesign their operations and workforce
The relationship between labor and firms, and the meaning of corporate responsibility, take on new definitions
A better future
In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt, the then US President, said that —
“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
The fractioning of jobs, the shift from work to piecework, and the economic restructuring of labor — all of which are the hallmarks of the new skills economy — are desirable developments that give many more people from many more backgrounds in many more places the chance to acquire and use skills to “work hard at work worth doing”.
As Bill Gates said,
“Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many people in such short a time.”
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