Most people would rather consign

by francine Hardaway on May 7, 2005

Most people would rather consign themselves to lives of quiet desperation in Dilbert-like cubicles than start businesses of their own, a fact that I find alternately amusing and worthy of disdain, especially in a global universe.

Surely by now you have heard Lou Dobbs rail about the outsourcing of America, a theme that makes me want to throw a shoe at the TV screen. And yet, the American worker seems to have the same sense of entitlement to a job that the crack-addicted welfare mother has to her Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

Not only are most jobs deadening; they are not even secure. Today, even the Dilbert jobs often go to the country in which they can be done either most cost effectively or most expeditiously during a 24-hour work day. There’s no longer any reason to trade off your freedom, creativity, and control– there’s no 21st century Organization Man, no corporate ladder to climb in an increasingly flat organization. The two leading American car manufacturers just had their bonds rated “junk.”

Even the government lays off, downsizes, and freezes hiring, as legislatures force tax cuts. In some school districts, teachers (once known as the safest jobs of all) are regularly RIF’d (subjected to Reduction in Force layoffs) at the end of the year until the budgets and enrollments are figured out.

So why don’t more people become entrepreneurs? It’s gotta be pure fear. A new study by the outplacement firm Right Management says that when employees are laid off, more than 4 out of 10 (44%) consider self-employment � a percentage almost four times higher than the number of people who are actually self-employed in the U.S. (12%).

Although 56% of respondents said they are thinking of changing careers, approximately 40% actually go through with this � including about one-third who switch industries for their next jobs (perform the same job function, but in a different industry), and less than 10% who start their own businesses.

�There is a trend toward more displaced employees switching industries for their next jobs, but fewer going into business for themselves,” says the Right Management study.

We’ll do anything rather than take the responsibility for their own economic lives. Guaranteed paychecks are just another form of welfare.

But I don’t believe we are going to have any choice in the next century.

The era in which someone could expect to work for a single company for an entire career was a brief blip on the screen of human history, a by product of the Industrial Revolution. During the Industrial Age, workers were brought together in “companies” because the tools to manufacture were centrally located at the factory. We had assembly lines and expensive equipment at central locations.

But that era is over — at least in the developed world. So now what do we do? No one needs us to swell the ranks of an assembly line or even stand in front of a classroom. Government workers are replaced by online portals that process vehicle licenses, business information, and social services. So we are thrown back on our own ingenuity.

Well, throughout most of mankind’s evolution, almost everyone worked for himself, flowing with the market and reinventing themselves when necessary for survival. How can we recapture that hunger, that enthusiasm for our own survival, that competitiveness in the face of the larger animal (which is probably China)?

My sense is that in the next century, we are going to have to be hungry again, and we are going to have to work for ourselves. But ours won’t be the same kind of entrepreneurship as I have seen in my travels: the woman in Africa raising chickens to sell eggs; or the man on the streets of India hawking pashminas; or the children in the streets Mexico peddling chewing gum or cleaning windows. (As recently as fifty years ago, children in New York ran up to your car windows and tried to clean them for pocket change while you were waiting at a traffic light.

Ours will be an entrepreneurship of ideas, not of products. It may be an entrepreneurship of services, such as genetically engineered individualized therapies for cancer, or dog walking. But at some point in your career, you will undoubtedly find yourself working for “the brand called you.”

Yes, you may hire some people to help you. A lone person can’t bring a new drug to market. But those people will be short term hires, ad hoc teams, independent contractors — not lifelong company men.

It’s changing, folks. Hop on for the ride.

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