A decade has passed since I last held a “real” job. My kids call the work I do now “Daddy’s Phony Baloney Made Up Job” but hey, it pays the bills so what can I say?
I didn’t realize when I left corporate life 10 years ago that I was actually beginning to ride a wave that continues to grow. I had joined the gig economy. What’s that? A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and companies sign up independent workers for short-term engagements. Companies don’t have “employees”, they have consultants or contractors. Think Uber – every driver works for themselves. Rather than a corporation of thousands, we have a thousand corporations of one.
According to Intuit, by 2020, 40 percent of American workers will be independent contractors. It’s liberating in some ways and incredibly stressful in others. No guaranteed paycheck. No paid-for healthcare or other benefits. You can set your own schedule and work as you choose but you have to go find that work. I mean, unless you’re a pro, playing a lot of golf doesn’t pay the bills.
We’ve become a society where we’re on our own. Putting aside what may be happening with small social safety net we do have here (no politics, please!), many more people are going through their daily lives without the safety net a “real” job provides, and many of the full-time jobs that are out there pay wages that haven’t increased in years because the demand for the shrinking number of jobs is still high. We have seen the growth of businesses and services that support individuals rather than corporations. Sites that help you find gigs (as opposed to full-time employment) are plentiful although in many cases they become places where it’s a race to the bottom with respect to what you can get paid.
What strikes me is that I struggled in many ways to get my business on a good track despite many years of business experience, having managed dozens of people, and being responsible for a multi-million dollar P&L. I often wonder how many kids starting out in this economy are going to struggle and fail without any sort of mentoring. I don’t mean the relatively easy stuff such as how to keep a proper set of books so you don’t have tax issues. I wonder about the hard stuff that involves learning how to formulate ideas and how to express them. It’s the stuff that we don’t learn in school that forms our business education (and that means you too, MBA’s). It’s hard to get that while you’re on your own.
This trend of being on your own is going to continue and to grow as more companies downsize and robots of some sort begin to perform tasks once performed by humans. Who is going to program and service those robots? Independent contractors, no doubt. Maybe you?
The government is one of everyone’s favorite punching bags. It really doesn’t matter where on the political spectrum you fall. The government is the target of an angry rant and/or much headshaking at some point. Today’s topic is a great example of that and it’s instructive to business as well. No, I haven’t reconsidered my self-imposed ban on politics in this space. This has nothing to do with politics and a lot to do with things such as management, customer service, and accountability.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The town in which I live just installed new curbs on Main Street. The new curbs, which meet federal and state standards, are made of granite for their durability (lots of salt and snow plows on the roads here in New England). They also have really sharp edges which, as documented in this article from a local blog shows, have been shredding tires. No, driving on the curb isn’t normal here, but parallel parking is, and apparently there have been many cases of the curbs cutting down tires as the tires bump into them. The government’s response?
The granite curbs used on Main Street are the same material and construction that is used throughout Connecticut and meets state and federal specifications. Because it is cut stone it does have a sharper edge than asphalt or concrete. It is a chosen material because of it hardness and resilience to salt. It can stand up to New England winters with routine snow plowing and application of salt. The curb is not intended to be driven upon and will not damage a tire on routine contact.
In other words, not my problem. We’re following the rules and despite the fact that the rules have caused the citizens (read customers) whom we serve to suffer flat tires, it’s your fault. Quit hitting the curb. Rather than thinking about how to round the edges and to solve the problem, the government official is thinking about how to blame the victim.
You might be shaking your head about this (as you should) but business does the same thing. Rather than fixing customer problems we look to shift blame. We do things such as ask customers to sign lengthy agreements written in legalese in which they waive rights. We impose hidden fees which are only clearly disclosed when someone complains. I can’t wait to hear the Downtown Merchants Association (a local business group), who will lose business as customers choose other places to park (and shop) weigh in on the topic of how the nicer new curbs have “helped” make downtown more attractive to business.
I happen to believe there is a valuable role for government to play in our lives (so do you every time you call a cop or report a fire or drive on a road). I don’t think there is a place for any business – government included – to ignore its customers nor to leave obvious problems unsolved. You?
Here is an interesting story from the folks at MediaBiz that just cuts to the core of almost every business issue. It points out the Sophie’s Choice created by some older business models in a time when technology is forcing them to change. First the facts:
DirecTV (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A handful of DIRECTV subs stopped receiving HBO after the company started blocking the signal on older TV sets that don’t have the encryption standard High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP). DIRECTV… recently added HDCP protection to all HBO-owned channels and “will continue rolling out to other premium services in the coming weeks.” The company said affected customers should replace their HDMI connection with a component video cable and a separate audio cable (emphasis added).
Most folks who do so for a living will tell you that HDMI is a better signal (and therefore picture) than component video. DirecTV also markets itself accurately as providing a better picture to consumers. Without content, however, there is no service – it’s a big, empty pipe. It’s the content providers who are insisting on the use of HDCP. They’re the ones whose business model is most impacted by what they presume is widespread piracy and are insisting on this protection layer. DirecTV is placed in the untenable position of either losing the content by catering to their partners or telling customers to degrade their pictures and potentially losing customers who can get better video elsewhere using more current technology.
Ultimately, customers pay the bills. I believe we win when we serve them and while that may, as in this case, cause problems with partners, suppliers, and others, that downside risk vs. that of angry and vocal consumers is minimal. In this case, the customers who would most notice the downgrade to component video are probably the ones who would know how to cut the cord and get the content they seek elsewhere, hopefully through legitimate means rather than piracy. As businesspeople, we encourage that illegal behavior by choosing any segment over our customers – witness what the music business did for a very long time.
That’s where I come out. How do you see it?
Image by sashimikid via Flickr
I’m in Las Vegas on business. Of course, all work and no play isn’t a good thing and almost an impossible thing in this town. Naturally I found myself sitting down for a few hands of Pai Gow Poker. I can hear the serious gamblers out there moaning because it’s a slow-paced, uncomplicated game (unlike business!) but it’s also extremely social. Most real gamblers don’t like the pace, the lack of a lot of “action” and are annoyed by conversations that go longer than “hit me” or “$10 behind the 6”.
Simply, the dealer gives you seven cards and you need to make a five-card poker hand and a two card hand out of them. To win, both your hands have to beat the dealer’s two hands. The interesting thing about Pai Gow is that there are times when you’re hoping not to lose more than you’re expecting or even trying to win and have to play your cards accordingly. What actually happens is that you win one hand and lose one hand. My traveling companion, who is just learning the game, said it well – you’re playing for the push. I, of course, immediately said “blog post” and here’s why. Continue reading
Image by AWKWORDrap via Flickr
Sad news this morning about The Big Man, Clarence Clemons. Reports are that he had a stroke over the weekend and isn’t doing well. This got me thinking about The Boss, of course, and another article from Rolling Stone (thanks Phil) that a friend posted in their Facebook stream about some great musical collaborations Bruce has had. In my mind, none is better than that with Clarence (OK, maybe with Steven too) and I’m hoping this illness is just a bump in the road.
Of course, the collaboration article got me thinking about business and let’s see if you agree. Continue reading
Image via Wikipedia
Finally Friday, and with it comes our weekly food-related theme. This one won’t be as pleasant as some but hopefully it gets you thinking (and eating) a little better about seafood specifically and all food in general.
Oceana is an organization founded to protect the oceans. They issued a report on seafood fraud recently which I found to be eye-opening although, unfortunately, unsurprising. I want to highlight one point and see if you agree with me that it leads to a bigger business point. Continue reading
Image via Wikipedia
I think we all know by now that politics is not a topic of conversation in this space. However, sometimes things going on in politics lead us to insights about business and hopefully that’s the case today.
You’re probably aware that there’s a “discussion” of sorts going on with respect to the Federal Budget (I use quotes because it often seems to be less of a discussion than a topic about which to issue press releases stressing one’s unwavering position as if that’s helping us all). I’m kind of amused that all we seem to hear about is how we need to cut spending (we do) and not a lot about how to grow revenues. Which of course got me thinking about it in business terms. Continue reading