This post is not a history lesson about Labor Day: It’s a discussion about the future of “labor.”
Labor Day is a U.S. federal holiday that celebrates the contributions of workers. It was signed into law in 1894 by President Grover Cleveland in hopes to end a growing trend of unrest and violence associated with the labor movement in the U.S. As economies of the world transitioned from agrarian to industrial economies, many jobs were lost and unfair labor practices were common. This led to the organization of labor unions and educational institutions to help people learn the new skills required for a new economic landscape.
Back to the Future
A hundred years after the beginning of the labor movement, the employment paradigm is shifting again. Seth Godin examines this shift in his book Linchpin. America’s factories needed workers with skills that were very different from those required in an agrarian economy. And so we developed institutions designed to create factory workers. He calls these workers “cogs”: They show up on time, do as they’re told, follow a script, don’t speak up and get paid an honest wage for an honest day’s work.
Unfortunately, they also get replaced.
This model worked well for over a hundred years, but as we transition from an industrial economy to an information economy a different type of employee is required. These, Godin calls “linchpins.” A linchpin doesn’t need a map because they blaze their own trail. They create art, which means doing their job in a way such that it is a gift to those around them. They defeat the lizard brain (which is constantly telling us to conform and not be different). And finally, a Linchpin ships (i.e. delivers). Instead of being replaceable, linchpins are indispensable.
As much as many of us would like to return to the comfortable days where we worked at one company for 40 years and retired with a reasonable pension, those days are gone. If you’ve been following our Charts of the Week, you’ve seen how the labor market is shifting. Full time work is giving way to part time work. Even more significant is the tendency to outsource tasks as we shift toward a freelance economy. This means that cogs are going to find it harder and harder to get ahead. Linchpins are going to reap the rewards.
That’s where #CareerGravity comes in. The Internet gives us the personal power to adapt and overcome. We are all fully empowered by free and low-cost Web 2.0 tools to take greater control over our own destinies, conduct our own educations and shape our environment. #CareerGravity is all about using that power to give your career some weight.
Our hope is that you take a moment on this Labor Day to consider the past and future of labor. The holiday was founded because of the stress and strain associated with the disruptive shift from one economy to another. We’re living through another shift that is probably larger and more disruptive than the industrial revolution.
Think about your own career and formulate a plan that will position you for this revolution.