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Posted: February 10, 2011

The end of business as we know it: Part 2

Get ready for the project-work lifestyle

Thomas Frey

(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read the first part.)

Given the choice between a stable 40-hour a week job and doing project work, why would anyone be interested in working on projects?

Indeed, there are many reasons.

Yes, some people may be unemployed and have no other options. But that will only play a minor role as most people running business colonies will be more inclined to work with those who are drawn to, and have acclimated to, the project-work lifestyle.

Young people today do not want to fall into the same trap that their parents were in, dependent upon a single employer with virtually no control over their own destiny. Ironically, people who do project work today find great security in being able to bounce from one project to the next without having to quit or resign from the last position.

There is great freedom to be found in aligning yourself only with the projects well suited for your interests and skills. In addition, the work becomes more meaningful and rewarding when someone is putting their reputation on the line and completing it in stellar fashion. Even though the projects may come with strict deadlines, people also find greater purpose in being able to pick the projects they want, and the flexibility to perform the work in a manner of their own choosing.

When you add up all of the positives - stability, flexibility, freedom, purpose, meaning, and an ability to control your own destiny - the business colony lifestyle brings with it some powerfully compelling reasons to switch.


As a project flows into a colony, the first step will be to assess the overall size and scale of the assignment and break it into logical and chunk-able tasks. Some projects will come with fixed budgets while others will determine the scope of work and negotiate the price as a preliminary step inside the colony.

Once tasks are defined and organized around a working timetable for completion, work projects will then be divided up and assigned to those who will complete them. Most colony members will be business entities. In fact, many will require that all members form their own LLC or other type of legal entity for tax purposes.

One-person LLCs are the typical way for individuals to magically transform themselves into businesses and avoid the hassles. Any payments will still be tagged as 1099 income, but direct payments to a company will eliminate tax filings, matching funds, and the complexities of payroll accounting. So the efficiency of any colony will hinge on the conversion of talent into private one-person business enterprises. Even though everyone will be working as a business entity, project assignments will be based on the reputation of the individual.

Reputation Management

In a business colony environment, reputation is everything. People with stellar reputations among colony leaders will always be at the top of the call list whenever a new project arrives.
Those who come to a colony for the first time will attempt to work their way up the hiring ladder as a way of improving the odds of a project manager selecting them as they assign talent to each new projects.

Some fast-moving projects may quickly expand outside of the bounds of a project manager's "friend network" and that is where referral systems and social networks come into play.
An online reputation consists of many things. Beyond the standard profiles and carefully crafted bios are an entire sub-layer of conversations, photos, videos, data sets, and reference points which add to the overall impression someone will use to assess your abilities.

Similar to the photo stitching technology which pieces together thousands of photos into one giant master photo, future reputation-stitching software will be used to develop reputation mosaics that sew together all of the online informational fragments into one comprehensive personality montage.

Thinking further, reputation-stitching software will incorporate various types of analytical tools for determining how well a particular project will match up with an individual's ability to perform on it. At the same time, other applications will be developed to help people optimize their reputations for working on certain types of projects.

The Evolution

Coworking spaces, like The Vault that we operate at the DaVinci Institute, are the logical forerunners to business colonies. Most consist of an aggregation of talent with additional capacity to take on extra projects. However, colonies will form in many different ways. Some will be private colonies run by large corporations. Others will form around a specific talent pool with specialties in such areas as metallurgy, bioinformatics, data mining, social mapping, or video production. Still others will be non-profit colonies formed around a specific cause like clean water, halting the spread of malaria, or rebuilding Haiti.

Over time, colleges will begin to transform themselves into educational colonies with an assortment of internal business colonies designed to give students practical work experience in parallel with their studies. Rather than tenured faculty, educational colonies will consist of "teaching entities" that are matched to curriculums on a project by project basis.

Final Thoughts...

The business world is constantly being tasked with doing more for less. Virtually any company that cannot find ways to do things more efficiently and reduce costs will not survive.
Typically the largest number on a company balance sheet is the cost of labor. Business colonies are an organic process of matching labor to projects for the exact duration of the contract. No more, no less. Overhead costs, compliance and accounting issues are all minimized to improve the overall efficiency of the operation.

I don't see business colonies as a way for corporations to take advantage of cheap labor, although many will try. Rather, the coming era of skill shortages will put talented people in the driver's seat with many commanding increasingly high rates for their unique abilities. Over time, people will be credentialed by the colonies they are associated with. Each colony will carry a certain pedigree, and the earliest among them will become the Harvard's and Yale's of the colony world.

In the future, few will be able to relate to the elaborate hiring and firing systems that we use today. As we enter the era of business colonies, business, as we know it, will become a thing of the past.

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Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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Readers Respond

Interesting insights. I am a tech professional with worldwide visibility due to some of the industry standards I helped to create and document. When my last employer downsized me some 8 years ago, I hung out my own shingle. And had been getting by comfortably through a succession of project work. My reputation was built in my standards work, so I try to stay engaged in that community. At times I am alternately excited and terrified of the interconnectedness of today's society. While the analogy is crude, the internet seems analogous to the first implementations of nervous systems in early multi-celled creatures. We all now have tools that make the intellectual work product of others instantly available in order to carry out some little task that affects the organism (society) as a whole. brrr... By Nunya Bidnez on 2011 02 11

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