6.4 Knowmads: the new employee is a non-employee

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    “Small is the new big, only when the person running the small thinks big. Don’t wait. Get small. Think big.”
    – Seth Godin

    In recent years, the business world has been in considerable motion. More and more people no longer experience an employment contract with an organization as secure as they used to, and have decided to start for themselves. The economic recession has accelerated this process. We have labeled this large group of people “SEPs“: Self-Employed Professionals, or Free Agents. John Moravec calls them, in his book, Knowmad Society (in which I contributed), simply, “knowmads.”

    “A Knowmad is a nomadic knowledge worker – that is, a creative, imaginative, and innovative person who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. Technologies allow for these new paradigm workers to work either at a specific place, virtually, or any blended combination. Knowmads can instantly reconfigure and recontextualize their work environments, and greater mobility is creating new opportunities.”
    – John Moravec, Education Futures

    Looking at this development from a generation’s point of view, you will see that the so-called Millennials are also knowmadic people. No matter what angle from which you look at this development, these people all share the same behavior.

    The Web is a very important tool for them. After all, the Web enables you to connect with like-minded people (i.e., to network), and that is precisely how knowmads gain their knowledge, contacts, and assignments. They drift around virtual networks.

    Many of them start their own business and have no staff. It’s a movement we are seeing throughout the Western world. At the moment, knowmads comprise about 10% of the working population; I estimate this percentage will rise to 30%, or even 40%, of working people in the next few years. In some Dutch cities, like Amsterdam, already 15% of the labor population is knowmadic. In the US, these percentages are even higher.

    The enormous stream of knowmads will be the driving force of the new era of value creation. Let us cherish them, and provide them with technical facilities! Knowmads are not just young people who have taken the leap into entrepreneurship. Their age spread covers a larger spectrum – young and old. Their motivation differs as well. Young people view digital and social networks as a perfect pick-up point, while the older knowmad is searching for renewed certainty, which his old establishment can no longer provide. There are many more motivating factors: a sense of freedom, the importance of independence, practicing a trade or profession, realizing a mission, or professing a passion. The knowmad spends a comparatively long amount of time keeping their network up, which predominantly exists outside the establishment. Social capital is flourishing. Knowmads shape the new ecosystem of and for entrepreneurs. They are globalists.

    Knowmads can generally work well together. They have to be good at something; they can’t hide behind organizational room dividers. They acknowledge and respect the professionalism of others, and seek out each other’s complementary competencies and talents. Together, often in coalitions formed by opportunity, they start companies or enterprises. Thanks to the Internet, small companies can do very large, or even global things. The Internet makes entrepreneurship very accessible. It’s striking that the concept of knowmads is not found in current rules and legislation. The establishment does not know what to do with them. Knowmads find it hard to get financing; they are dropped out of government tenders because they do not meet (financial) turnover criteria, or have not been in existence for over three years.

    This new value creation force has resulted in a declining interest in “owning stuff.” Knowmads and new workers share. Access is more important than actual ownership. These people buy fewer goods and services. Why buy a car if you can use Uber or Zipcar?

    This generation is far more important than politicians realize. “Our” knowmads are like elastic bands in the economic community. They fulfill this role now, during the current economic downturn, and will in the future, too. They do not want to rely on part-time unemployment and other benefits; they believe they should simply tighten their belts. They are adverse to enforced solidarity, and would rather handle affairs themselves or with other Knowmads. Sharing is second nature to them.

    So, collectivity, or enforced solidarity, in combination with governmental resistance against this innovative development is killing the national economies. Collaboration, or solidarity by choice, makes things work by allowing this generation of people to create value in a new way – yes! Give them space!

    At present, there are around one million knowmadic workers in The Netherlands, and their numbers are growing within the rest of the European Union as well. Knowmads form a very flexible labor pool; they are already the flexible “skin” surrounding the job market, as they continuously (re)train themselves in order to keep up-to-date, make optimal use of new media, and remain active within virtual social networks.

    In the US, we see the same movement. According to a survey of the US-based MBO partners, "the total independent workforce grew, and so too did the projected future size of this workforce, to be as many as 23-million strong in the next five years. The simultaneous growth in size, satisfaction, commitment, and intent to choose the path, together suggest independence is far from a cyclical economic choice. It instead appears to signal a conscious structural shift and recognition of a new model of work and engagement by innovative Americans."

    I have the pleasure of knowing many knowmads, and am always impressed by their knowledge, entrepreneurial spirit, drive, and willingness to collaborate. In short, for me, they are the value creators of today and tomorrow. What a joy it is to work with such a group of out of this world people!

    I would like to pass the following message on to knowmads: “Don’t let yourself be swallowed up by the establishment. Do not take up any position in a government body. So, not at the social and economic council, unions, or other quangos. Organize yourself informally, via the many networks available, and move outside the patterns of the establishment. You are an independent professional, and you do not need existing structures to create new value. In the very near future, the establishment will desperately need you, so define your own playing field!”

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