John McCann

Start a business; hire no-one

In Early Predictions, Entrepreneur on December 11, 2006 at 4:55 pm

An article in USA Today documents a trend that has been brewing for the past couple of decades: the demise of the job. Instead, we are seeing people start businesses that do not offer jobs because they have no employees.

“Fed up with rising labor costs, a new generation of entrepreneurs is launching millions of tiny companies differing from business in the past: They don’t want employees. The trend, building since the late 1990s, hit a milestone this year when the number of these microbusinesses reached 20 million — one for every six private-sector workers, a new analysis of government data shows. In place of paid employees, owners harness new technologies to outsource work, often linking up with other like-minded entrepreneurs to get jobs done in a virtual assembly line spanning the globe.”

Back in the mid-1990s, I collected many quotes that predicted this trend, such as this one from a Fortune article:

“What is disappearing is not just a certain number of jobs. … What is disappearing is the very thing itself: the job. That much sought after, much maligned social entity, a job, is vanishing like a species that has outlived its evolutionary time. A century from now Americans will look back and marvel that we couldn’t see more clearly what was happening. … The modern world is on the verge of another huge leap in creativity and productivity, but the job is not going to be part of tomorrow’s economic reality. There still is and will always be enormous amounts of work to do, but it is not going to be contained in the familiar envelopes we call jobs. In fact, many organizations are today well along the path toward being ‘de-jobbed.’ The job is a social artifact, though it is so deeply embedded in our consciousness that most of us have forgotten its artificiality or the fact that most societies since the beginning of time have done just fine without jobs. The job is an idea that emerged early in the 19th century to package the work that needed doing in the growing factories and bureaucracies of the industrializing nations. Before people had jobs, they worked just as hard but on shifting clusters of tasks, in a variety of locations, on a schedule set by the sun and the weather and the needs of the day. The modern job is a startling new idea — and to many, an unpleasant and perhaps socially dangerous one. … Now the world is changing again: The conditions that created jobs 200 years ago — mass production and the large organization — are disappearing. … Today’s organization is rapidly being transformed from a structure built out of jobs into a field of work needing to be done. Jobs are artificial units superimposed on this field. … Jobs are no longer socially adaptive. That is why they are going the way of the dinosaur.” (William Bridges, “The End of the Job,” Fortune, September 19, 1994, pp. 62-74)

I found the idea of a small company with no employees to be very appealing after I considered starting a traditional company that would apply my academic research. I lost interest in the venture when one of my potential employee asked : “What will be your travel policy? When can I fly first class?” I knew then that I was not interested in having people work for me, and I abandoned the idea of a business. It turns out that there are at least 20 million people like me.


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