Why I Am Writing this Book
Actually, the plan was airtight. I had quit my well-paying, permanent employment because I wanted to be free. I wanted to get away from the daily grind at the office, from being directed by others, from the terror of nit-picky meetings and required attendance. I had even written a book called “Morgen komm ich später rein” (“I’ll be in later tomorrow”) about the fact that we are free to work when and wherever we want to—as long as the job gets done. During my research for the book, I had found many progressive companies that gave a lot of freedom to their employees and were highly successful in doing so. However, I knew exactly that my former employer—the magazine Vanity Fair that I had worked for as a managing editor—didn’t belong to them, same as most of the other media companies that I knew. Journalists are on duty 24/7. And they better always stay at their desks as there might be something that needs their attention.
Thus, I had decided to initially test my work-anywhere concept—which I had called “Easy Economy”—in the position in which it can be realized best: as a freelancer. I had many contacts, a presentable portfolio, many ideas, and I charged daily rates that I felt comfortable with. The plan was that I would travel the world, writing stories and developing concepts, anywhere. After my return to Germany, I would work as a consultant for publishers and agencies or give speeches. Should I get itchy feet for a couple of months, I would simply write the next book. In Bali, Buenos Aires, Bangkok—or some village in Eastern Germany. I fancied a life that I had always dreamt of: independent, cosmopolitan, and comfortable.
Then the economic crisis hit.
Initially, I thought what probably everyone else thought: It’ll pass. Doesn’t affect me. Then, the first people around me—professionals whom I had always considered optimistic and content—started painting the world black, predicting fewer jobs, smaller budgets, and crankier customers. Eventually, I noticed it myself: Editors didn’t call back. Fees were forced down, and jobs that I had believed to be safe were cancelled from one day to the next. Things didn’t really feel dramatic but still difficult, insecure, and kind of gloomy.
Did I really want to realize my vision of global mobility, maximum freedom, and professional self-fulfillment right now, of all times? Was it still about having the freedom to “be in later” or about having a job at all? Don’t act bitchy, don’t make unrealistic demands, and, for God’s sake, be at your desk and reachable. You better work overtime before they put you on short hours. During the recession, these were obviously the new demands that employees and freelancers had to meet. It occurred to me that I’d better put my travel plans on hold, mothball the collaboration software, and look for a decent 9-to-5 job—as long as there were any—and that I should be glad to get to sit at my desk every day.
After several days of pondering and numerous long discussions with friends and colleagues, I decided to do what every analytical man of action would have done after careful consideration: nothing to begin with. Maybe the crisis would just solve itself in the end. In any case, I didn’t want to jettison my theories just because the going got tougher—even though I felt like a man running towards an erupting volcano against a stream of refugees.
On one of those days when I seriously asked myself if my decision to abandon my leading position with the editorial staff had been somewhat rash, my phone buzzed with an SMS alert: “Vanity Fair out of business, all get the sack,” wrote a former colleague from the editorial board. At this point, I knew: It had been smarter to leave the sinking ship on my own initiative and with a vision than to cling to a permanent job that, at the end of the day, wasn’t that permanent. At any rate, my laid-off ex-colleagues had rough times ahead of them: The dismissal had taken them by surprise, and most of them didn’t have a plan B. Moreover: When 80 magazine employees look for a new job at once, things get tight. During the months to follow, jobs that had been believed to be crisis-proof turned out to be rather shaky—even at traditional brands such as Märklin, Rosenthal, Schiesser, Karstadt, and Opel. The security for life that previous generations enjoyed could no longer be found at these companies.
I, in turn, realized that the initially poor job situation was merely due to the insecurity that companies felt at the beginning of the crisis. Apparently, my theory wasn’t that naïve. There was indeed a chance that I could lead my free, independent, and happy life even in economically difficult times. Today, I earn at least as much as I did as a permanent employee, provided that I don’t take a time out. The way I work—sometimes in an office, sometimes in a café in Lisbon—isn’t questioned by anyone anymore. Life isn’t always easy, but you probably don’t get any closer to the Easy Economy.
Since then, I have met many people who have gone very similar ways: Disappointed by old certainties, they decided to take their lives into their own hands and to finally do what they love. They established an e-learning company or invented a little iPhone app that allows people to increase their own productivity. They set up a freelance agency that offers virtual personal assistants, they spent the winter months working in South America or stayed at a little house in the countryside.
To some, the lesson from the crisis is to stick to security even more and, in particular, to their permanent employment—provided that they have one. This seems plausible and, for the short term, reasonable. Yet in the long run, it isn’t necessarily the best and definitely not the only strategy. Some quit their well-paid jobs because they didn’t want to be intimidated by the crisis or because they perceived it as a chance. Many young professionals abandoned all hope for permanent employment and started to pursue their own business models from their living rooms, using nothing more than a laptop.
It is no accident that the Easy Economy approach, i.e. the approach of mobile, flexible, and autonomous working, also works during economically difficult times. Actually, I’ve come to believe that it even works better during such times. The crisis is already over again—at least this is what it feels like—but it has caused a profound change of consciousness. It was the catalyst for a development that experts had already considered inevitable, yet the crisis accelerated it and, most notably, made it visible to many people for the first time.
Its results are biographies and professional vitae that have little in common with those of the generation of our parents. We turn our hobbies into our professions, making the places where we feel the happiest and where we are most productive the centers of our lives. We have to position ourselves much like a brand, work on our strengths, and outsource tasks that we don’t like or that we’re not good at to other experts, maybe even to service providers in other countries. We feel easier about becoming independent professionals; above all, however, we think and feel in a more independent way. It is a good, exciting, and fulfilling life, yet not everyone can lead it. Only those with a good education, a disposition for lifelong learning, cultural open-mindedness, inquisitiveness, and a belief in their own abilities can be among us. This also means that many will fall through the cracks. The new working environment—let’s call it the Meconomy—will be tough, and it will divide our societies right in the middle.
Granted, not everyone can turn their passion into their profession, shake off the shackles of office life, and strive for self-actualization in our modern world. Those who will profit from this book are people who are attracted to the possibilities of the digital economy, of global mobility and individual branding: Permanent employees who suffer from being directed by others and consider at last doing something meaningful with their lives. Freelancers who have to eek out a living with routine work and bread-and-butter jobs. People who want to invent new jobs that don’t exist yet. Employers who want to find out how to attract the best employees in the future. This book is not directed towards those who appreciate cozy routines, calling it a day on time, and having a completely predictable future. Moreover, there are some occupations in which the promise of the Meconomy simply cannot be realized. This is a book that I essentially wrote for a specific target group: knowledge workers, also referred to as the “Creative Class.” Thus, it is a book for people who deal with information, who develop rather than manufacture products, who offer digital services rather than craftsmanship, and who mainly do computer-based work. Today, this applies to about 50 percent of all jobs—with an upward trend. Still, it doesn’t apply to all jobs.
The main reason why the Meconomy will be hard for all of us is that we will have to do with less security and without some of the guard rails of the old economic order. State, social security systems, and numerous political structures will have to adapt to this new world if they want to remain valid for people. Those who continue to rely on government-based networks, learned routines, and their familiar everyday work life, instead of on their own passions and skills, will encounter difficult times and will probably be on the losing end. The nice years are over. Here come the exciting and demanding years full of dangers and opportunities.
This book is published as an e-book precisely because of the fact that today we don’t need many of the classic institutions anymore. Instead, we are free to take things into our own hands, and this is what I want to prove with this book. I want to find my readers myself—without the backup of a major publisher or bookstores—or, respectively: I hope that readers will find my book. Besides, I believe the digital format to be superior for certain publications. Irrespective of the fact that reading devices are getting more and more user-friendly and that the paid content debate (i.e. the discussion about the pros and cons of selling contents via the Internet) is gaining momentum, the main reason for selling this book as an e-book is speed. My publisher would have needed almost one year to print the German version of the book and to put it into stores. I, in turn, wanted my theses to be discussed as soon as they were relevant: immediately.
This doesn’t mean that this book will never exist on paper. Its initial digital publication is an experiment, and I’m excited to see the result. I would be happy if you helped me prove what I firmly believe in: This distribution channel—which has already proven its relevance for documents, music, photos, and films—will also become dramatically more relevant for longer texts in the near future.
“The future of business will be more startups, fewer giants, and infinite opportunity.”
Sometimes we have to be thrown off course in order to find out where we want to go. Sometimes we need a decent push from the outside in order to accept changes which we have long known to be inevitable. And sometimes we just want to try something new, as the old tastes kind of stale and is likely to collapse soon anyway.
During the global economic crisis, we started to realize that many of the values and norms that had given our parents security and reliability had limits to them. We had already sensed that, but now it had become obvious: There was hardly anything that still offered existential security. A job for life? Big company brands? Retirement provisions? Either unreliable or completely obsolete. The supposed predictability of our rhythm of life, the daily way to work, saving money for retirement—suddenly, all of this seemed to be hopelessly outdated, unreliable, and wrong. Things looked pretty bleak. Nevertheless, it was still possible to find good news among the bad. After all, what is it that is waiting to replace the patriarchal system of Rhine capitalism, town houses, and retirement plans? Maybe it is a life that we have already had a taste of in the past but that we haven’t really dared to try yet—a life that offers us freedoms, decision options, and ways of self-actualization we wouldn’t have even thought of a few years ago.
To the magazine Monocle, 2009 was the “rethink year.” Editor-in-chief Andrew Tuck, who publishes voices on this topic from all over the world, told me that people had learned to rely on their abilities: “Many had to face terrible losses, but there were also some beneficial corrections.” Tuck also believes that it has become easier now to reinvent yourself: “I know people who were photographic agents and then retrained as cooks, same as people who were bankers and became farmers, and they do a good job in both fields. I think that’s great. It’s never too late to do what you really love.” During and after the crisis, many people learned what actually makes them happy.
It is said “Do what you love and you won’t work a single day in your life.” What sounded like an overblown romanticism of self-discovery some time ago has all of a sudden become possible. Especially the digital economy makes it easier and, at the same time, even more necessary to find target groups, supporters, and markets for activities and products that we feel passionate about. Life becomes a construction set that provides us with countless possibilities, and we are free to put exactly the parts together that suit us.
These days, people throughout the world are exchanging information about how everyday things in life can be managed better with practical tricks and modern technology. This way, they try to optimize their productivity as the good old 9-to-5 day at the office is increasingly a thing of the past. Thanks to the end of required attendance, we are, for the first time, interested in getting things done faster and more efficiently in order to have leisure time afterwards. In my last book “Morgen komm ich später rein,” I showed how mobile and flexible ways of working allow us to spend less time at the office and to gain time for other things. The resulting question is: What happens next? What do you do with that time? To more and more people, the answer is: educate yourself, expand your skills, and improve yourself.
At the same time, new Internet-based communication technologies and mobile services make it easier to build, motivate, and mobilize groups. This way, every person may become the leader of his own “tribe,” as marketing expert Seth Godin calls it. The current 18- to 25-year-olds are already considered the “creative generation”: They are not only used to consuming, but also take producing for granted. This presents another unprecedented chance for self-actualization to all of us.
Parallel to working environments, business models change as well. “What would Google do?” asks US author Jeff Jarvis and gives an answer that applies to many business sectors: They have to reinvent themselves, disclose many of their former business secrets, and allow their customers and subcontractors to remix their products in an unexpected way. Chris Anderson, Editor-in-chief of the smart technology magazine Wired, has identified “Free” as the new trend—the giving away of products and services in order to finally make money in various new ways. One thing is for sure: Currently, many business models are undergoing profound changes, and most companies still don’t know how to react to them. This essentially means two things: 1. It doesn’t matter how stable and big our employers used to be. Their future success and, consequently, our jobs are uncertain. 2. The barriers against the successful market entry of new players are lower than ever. Since no one knows how to proceed, it might as well be us who co-invent the future.
We are thrown back to depend on ourselves in a positive sense. The smallest meaningful unit that we can rely on in the knowledge society is our mind (i.e., us).
In this book, I dwell on ten pivotal developments that, in my opinion, will shape our work life and, thus, the world we live in during the years to come:
1) Established biographical routines and basic parameters of our life planning—such as permanent employment, safe pensions, 9-to-5 workdays, or traditional education—increasingly lose their value. More and more of what used to make our parents’ existence predictable has, at best, sentimental value for the generation of less-than-40-year-olds.
2) Many young people have reservations with regard to government-based structures. In the age of globalization, they take security promises with a grain of salt. They place more emphasis on their own initiative and entrepreneurship than on classic careers. Their motto is: If social standards cannot be maintained in the long run anyway, I at least want to be free.
3) Work will become increasingly mobile and flexible. We won’t spend the bulk of our life at the office anymore. This alteration of our work routines is predominantly a result of technological innovations that also lead to the development of alternative occupational areas. As knowledge, skills, and business models become outdated at an ever faster pace, we need to reinvent ourselves permanently. For us, the catchphrase “lifelong learning” is a tough reality.
4) We feel we are on our own. As a consequence, individualism as an aim in life gains more and more importance for many people. Others feel overwhelmed and left behind by the very same development.
5) This change implies a tremendous chance: The possibilities of communication provided by the Internet allow us more than just to find many like-minded people. At the same time, this technology also creates a huge laboratory of learning. The imparting of knowledge increasingly becomes free, global, individual, and socially organized.
6) Simultaneously, this communicative connection to the world allows us for the first time to turn our passions into professions and to make money with what inspires us. In the Internet, we find customers, like-minded people, and business models—yet we also encounter maximum competition. This not only means that we need to put more effort into taking charge of our lives but also that we are actually able to do so for the first time ever.
7) Learning things in order to apply them to practical work afterward isn’t enough anymore. In fact, we have to present ourselves as a brand and to use self-positioning in order to keep up within the global competition for workforce. In this context, making use of the Internet’s ability to connect and recalling our own strengths and passions will help us.
8) According to happiness researchers, we fulfill all requirements to be happy with this autonomous, diversified, yet also demanding way of structuring our work and life.
9) Both personal branding and the increasingly mobile and flexible nature of work allow us to choose places where we are happy and productive. Life and work gain independence from employers and places of residence. We become globally mobile, and this might make us happier.
10) As we increasingly decide for ourselves how, where, and with whom we make money, the search for meaning gains more importance. The trend to combine economical with social engagement grows stronger. We want to do good, be happy, and make money. In the old patriarchal, hierarchical, and inflexible working world, these aims were often mutually exclusive. In the Meconomy, their combination is almost a precondition for success.
All of this raises a number of questions that I shall deal with in this book. The first part “What is different today?” summarizes the changes that characterize the environment of the Meconomy. If and how these changes can make us more satisfied is discussed in the second section “What makes me happy?”. The third chapter, titled “What Could I Become,” tells us what we have to know in order to be successful in the Meconomy and how we acquire that knowledge. The question asked in the fourth section is: “How will I work?” Here, I use numerous examples and studies to explain why we can and must make our passions our professions. That these professions—along with a healthy dose of wanderlust—might lead us to distant places is described in the fifth chapter “Where do I want to live?”, which deals with our new global mobility. Finally, the sixth part elaborates on why the Meconomy does not entail a purely egoistic philosophy but, to the contrary, promotes a new culture of empathy and social engagement. At the same time, the question is raised which role the government with all its institutions might play in this development and which political reforms have become necessary now.
“Meconomy” is definitely a call to action, an optimistic counterpart to apocalyptic scenarios, crisis depressions, and doctrines of passiveness that suggest we “weather the storm” and “wait and see.” It is a tool kit for life—an invitation not to suffer from existence but to actively shape it. It addresses both individuals who want to take charge of their own careers as well as employers who want to find out which changes their companies will be facing regarding the needs of their highly qualified employees. Combining numerous practical examples from daily life with easy-to-understand theoretical support, the book summarizes the current state of a discussion led by academics, entrepreneurs, and practitioners. We live in confusing times. However, I don’t want to complain about that. Rather, I want to explain why things can be different, what we can learn from them, and how we can use recent developments to build a better life for us and our children.
Ten Theses on the Meconomy
There are three ways to buy Meconomy – depending on what format you prefer:
1) You can download the book as a PDF file here. The PDF version works on any computer as well as on many smartphones and e-readers. Besides, you get an animated color cover that looks pretty cool!
2) EPUB is the most common e-book format that works on almost all e-readers (note: with the exception of Kindle). EPUBs can also be read on the computer with freeware programs such as Digital Editions. The EPUB version of Meconomy is available at major e-book online shops like Libri.de, Ciando.de, Thalia.de or Buch.de.
3) If you want to purchase Meconomy as an iPhone App , please go to iTunes Store or textunes (where an excerpt from the book can be read online). The pros of this format: Apps can be conveniently downloaded in no time, they’re easy to handle and the contents look great. Apps come with an animated color cover.
Please note: No matter which format you buy or where you download it from, the price is always the same: EUR 9.99. However, iTunes users don’t need to buy the book twice: Those who e-mail me their iTunes invoice will receive a free PDF version of the book (note: Unfortunately, this doesn’t work the other way round, and this deal isn’t valid for purchased EPUBs).