The Capitalist, the Company Man, and the Way to Work in the New Millennium
For a long time, there have been only two roles to play in the American workplace: the Capitalist and the Company Man. Those with the cash, the connections, and the tolerance for risk became Capitalists. Most play the game and lose, but a lucky few build solid enterprises. The rest of us become employees of the Capitalists–Company Men and Women. We draw a steady paycheck, climb the corporate ladder, build our 401ks, and retire happy. Or we used to.
The recent economic crisis has shaken our collective faith in the “Company Man” archetype. We’ve watched as bedrock American corporations have fired loyal employees en masse to cut costs. We endured wage freezes, hiring freezes, and drastic cuts in benefits and retirement packages. Dave Ramsey, the popular personal finance guru, always opens his show with this catch phrase:
“Welcome to the Dave Ramsey show, where the paid-off mortgage is the new status symbol of choice in America!”
For those of us who were the victims (and to be fair, probably also the perpetrators) of the consumer debt crisis, Ramsey’s message resonates. We want to be ready for the next economic slump, armed with our paid-off cars and canceled credit cards. We want financial security and professional stability, yet we realize that being a “loyal employee” may no longer be a sure road to what we desire.
In light of this revelation, people are starting to view their career through the lens of “gigonomics,” the idea the primary goal of a job is to build your personal value proposition–not to achieve financial security. Tenure has given way to tenacity. The era of freelancers, contractors, consultants, bloggers, and other gigapreneurs has commenced.
What’s interesting is that this new class of gigapreneurs still come in two varieties. The one we hear most about closely resembles the traditional Capitalist, and is particularly common among Gen Y. This type of gigapreneur shares the Capitalist’s desire to build, create, and have ownership in his or her work. But unlike the traditional Capitalist, the gigapreneur variety rarely makes any one venture his or her “life’s work.” The Capitalist Gigapreneur may have a hand in many ventures over a lifetime, often simultaneously. This approach mitigates risk by spreading your eggs over many baskets, and learning to sell or abandon every venture at an opportune time. Only occasionally does the Capitalist Gigapreneur find a project interesting and profitable enough to stick with for the long haul.
Like the traditional Capitalist, Capitalist Gigapreneurs still represent a small segment of the population. Most of us will continue to work for others because we’re uncomfortable with the financial risk of self-employment. But the concept of “employee loyalty” has changed–and indeed, must change–in order for corporate workers to obtain the security and upward mobility corporate life once promised to provide. Enter the Corporate Gigapreneur.
Corporate Gigapreneurs have come to understand that all employees are capitalists. They also understand that prior to the recent economic collapse, very few of us understood that.
Employees have a product to sell (themselves) and a target market. As is the case with business ownership, there is a danger in assuming too narrow a target market. Many employees mistakenly believe that their target market is theircurrent employer. This is only partially true.
It may be your objective to stay with your current employer for as long as possible; this is usually a wise decision from a business perspective. The corporate ladder is easier to climb when you enjoy longevity and trust with your employer. Long tenure also allows you to maximize income from profit sharing and retirement plans.
But employees need to consider widening their target market to potential and future employers as well, or they’re likely to find themselves in a bad spot the next time the economy takes a nosedive. This requires establishing and marketing your personal brand, not just within your current circle, but to potential employers, colleagues within your industry, and other people who do similar work.
Corporate Gigapreneurs understand that they must maket their product through a constantly updated resume, stellar references, industry experience, social connections, a LinkedIn profile, a blog, an e-book, and/or their business cards. Like a venture capitalist, they scan the economic horizon for opportunities to gain expertise, talent, and skills that will make their “product” valuable to potential customers (employers) down the road.
Corporate Gigapreneurs may look, on the outside, like a Company Man or Woman, but they are “gigapreneurs” in the sense that they frequently take on additional work (paid or unpaid), projects, causes, hobbies, and education to hedge their bets against layoffs, company failures, and boredom. Corporate Gigapreneurs have options; they don’t have to stay at a job they don’t love because their services, abilities, and experience are worth a premium to many customers.
I’ve noticed another thing about Corporate Gigapreneurs. They may be an HR specialist, an engineer, a marketing professional, or an administrative assistant–but regardless of their specific role to play within an organization, they always have a broad understanding of the way a business works. This is because the breadth of their experience is so vast. They work so many gigs that over time, their worldly knowledge naturally outshines their rivals.
This is why in economic trouble, they have the least difficulty making a career change or transitioning to a new industry. because they’ve spent so much time developing and marketing their brand to others, interviewing is a cinch. People believe that the Corporate Gigapreneur will work their magic no matter where, in what position, or in what industry they are employed. And they’re right.
This blog is a resource for Corporate Gigapreneurs in the making. It is a place to think and talk about how to run your “business.” I blog about developing your brand, marketing it to others, building a resume, navigating office politics, and making an impact by solving tough business problems everyday. I hope you enjoy the blog enough to join the discussion. Leave comments, send me mail, or posts that you would like me to publish. I can’t wait to hear from you!