Network Economy, Network Career

As we wrote in our first installment of this series, important trends in productivity, disruption, and individual responsibility are re-shaping the way that people work. We are witnessing the emergence of the Network Economy, distinguished by decentralization and openness. These trends are having an impact on the structure and behavior of organizations and their internal systems. In addition, their impact is being felt at the individual level, particularly in how people think about, plan, and conduct their careers.

Network Opportunities

In the Network Economy, de-centralization and openness lead to more widespread distribution of, and access to, knowledge and resources. Individuals have ready access to a vast array of research, production, and distribution tools; agile teams can form within or across organizational boundaries to accomplish specific tasks; organizations can access a wider range of talent and a larger, more varied store of knowledge. And as networks grow, they become more valuable, since each node can provide additional resources to all others. Cultural observers and theorists recognize the enormous collaborative and transformative potential of the network; as Kevin Kelly notes, “…we are just beginning to scratch the surface on how people come together to collaborate and get work done.”

Network Challenges

However, the network also presents challenges to traditional business models. As we pointed out previously, and as others are actively working to put into practice, decentralization and openness tend to [weaken traditional command and control hierarchies and organizational boundaries silos, and ultimately lead to diminished value of intellectual property as a business differentiator.

New Principles of Network Careers

Successful organizations will adapt and transform to meet the challenges of the Network Economy. For individuals, there is a parallel need. Many, especially the younger Generation Y now entering the workforce, have responded, sometimes intuitively, and sometimes systematically to the changing dynamics of work. Fortunately, the decentralization and openness that characterize the Network Economy both illustrate and provide the means to realize, new career principles for the Network Economy:

Reputation Beats Credentials

As the network grows and reputation models are refined, the traditional interview and static resume will reveal much less about candidates than their online presence. At present, job screenings take various online sources of information into account, mainly in the negative. Increasingly, candidates will be expected to be well-established in general online professional channels as well as industry-specific ones. Static qualifications will always be important, potential employers and partners will also expect to see the impact of your work on the organizations and people you have been involved with. As online channels become more prevalent and influential, they will evolve into tools that organizations will use to actively create positions tailored to the talent that they need to attract.

Work With, Not For

Increasingly, organizations and individuals are viewing employment of all kinds as opportunities to partner and collaborate. On the positive side, networks are making organizations more flexible and adaptive at moving between autonomous and collaborative modes of working and capitalizing on knowledge and talent wherever it resides; on the negative side, the degree of disruption in modern business is making a linear path up the ladder increasingly uncertain. Workers who focus on providing value at every opportunity will acquire reputations and connections that will help them advance regardless of their position in the hierarchy.

Out-Reach Beats In-Group

The network paradigm of lowering barriers and increasing access extends to social relationships as well. Social advantages based on family, school, and other affiliations will always exist; however, networks provide a neutral environment in which to connect with influential people, as well as a showcase for talent. The impact of the old adage ‘it’s not what, but who you know’ will level off, with both ‘what’ and ‘who’ becoming mutually reinforcing aspects of reputation and competence.

Just as organizations that want to participate in networks will need to become more open, and will need to contribute back to the network, individuals who participate only in ‘in-groups’ will be increasingly isolated, with little to offer the greater knowledge flow, and will no longer have much to offer those outside the group, and their influence will wane.

Reward Follows Value

Remember Do What You Love, the Money will Follow? In the Network Economy, low barriers to entry and increased access to production and distribution resources enable anyone with talent to conceive, research, and execute projects independently of traditional employment or academic/institutional sponsorship. This is fast becoming the norm in many fields; talented individuals are not waiting for permission or support to pursuing their calling.

Career boot-strapping and transitioning in the Network Economy will be far less reliant on traditional post-graduate work, coveted internships, entry-level positions, and lateral moves. Reputation-and portfolio- building will be talent-driven, and far less dependent on institutional ties and support.

Continuing Evolution

There is little doubt that the economy of work is evolving, and with it, the very nature of what a career entails. This process is certain to exert pressure on other aspects of the work/life continuum that are currently bound up with the traditional employment model. As more responsibility falls on individuals, we may see network effects helping to establish communities around career concerns, goals, tools, and strategies, including coping with crucial services, such as long-term financial stability and health care – an evolution from safety net to safety network.

If the Network Economy model prevails, we would expect to see the financial stability and health care resources provided in the current employment model become decentralized and open. This could lead in turn to a re-structuring based on independent, community-defined standards, to which providers along the supply chain would subscribe and add value.

In our next post… we’ll look at how these network career principles empower both clients and service providers through virtuous cycles of value, reputation, and empowerment.

We’d like to hear from you… do these principles resonate with how you are pursuing your career goals? Is the social web opening up your network, and are you seeing more opportunity as a result? What are the most pressing career needs not being met, or gaps that need to be filled, as the Network Economy evolves?

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