This piece is ,as they say, very much a ‘game of two halves’, one half empty, one half full.
I am thoroughly enjoying life as a freelance consultant and , joy of joys!’ am even bringing in some income from the kind of work I hoped to attract when I stepped off the conveyor belt.
I meet talented, intelligent, stimulating people with innovative ideas and incredible passion.I attend events that inspire and motivate..I am even getting used to the idea that for much of the time I won’t be paid! And that networking or becoming connected is how to grow the business.
However, I also have this nagging feeling that can turn into a worry -not the kind to wake me up at four in the morning and force me to watch reruns of la liga matches to banish it!
But enough of a worry to sometimes make me stop and think.
What do I think?
Well, in the world in which I now move, many of the entrepreneurs, consultants, freelancers and kindred spirits used to make a living in what I now call the ‘Blair’ world, that public and semi public sector that came into being on the back of the cash injected into the British economy after 1997 via national,regional and local spending programmes and other NGO initiatives.
They were the Class of ’97 who truly wanted to tackle structural inequality , bring back life to our ailing cities and towns ,create a vital and connected cultural scene which was not all about elite events in the capital cities and show that the best of the public sector was at least as good if not better than anything the private sector could offer.
Many of them were not funded from within the the ‘mainstream’, so not surprisingly,as the austerity cuts bite they find themselves out of work, starved of funds and ignored by Whitehall.
This coming together of the Class of 97 (not all of whom are old enough to have been with the ‘programme’ since 97) can be seen in two ways.
Looking into the glass half full, we can perhaps see this as a real opportunity to harness the talents and skills of some of the countries brightest and best to work alongside local people, formal government structures and private business to find new and radical ways of tackling many of the problems we face.Freed of the constraints of public sector bureaucracy,forever filling in forms for the next funding round and twisting and turning to align with the latest ‘bright idea’ from some Whitehall think tank, these people can develop their own unique, dynamic and often local approaches that connect with the real lives of people.They come to rely less upon funds than the release of latent energies and talents.
At the risk of being controversial, I might say that this is a burgeoning and necessary growth of the Big Society – informal,intuitive,networked,energetic and passionate.
Business cards mount up, emails to Jane and John @me.com take the place of emails previously sent to email@example.com.
If you want to see how these new entrepreneurs work, you have to go not further than the pages of linked- in, very much the medium of choice for all of us .
But then I see the glass empty out.I notice that most of those linked-in entries and retweets are nothing more than some form of online Reuters or AP news bulletin alerting us to information that we either don’t need or previously lived without.
HR companies and others selling often idiosyncratic ideas and products swamp the medium so that sorting the wheat from the chaff becomes laborious to the point of potential disengagement. Online entires are increasingly designed to say ‘ hi, its me, look at me ‘ in a world where grabbing attention and indulging in self promotion is believed to be a necessary precondition of finding work.
Then I begin to notice that many of these entrepreneurs lack money – simple wages and income for either themselves or their projects.
And then I start to think maybe this is the beginning of a new bubble of the dotcom variety.
Government tells us to start up on our own rather than wait for somebody else to create the job.(ignoring the appalling failure rates of new start ups ).We all congregate in our coffee shop huddles and more formal workshops fueling our own self belief and reinforcing our sense of purpose and destiny. Mostly we find that we are not in sympathy with what the Government is doing and we are still committed to the same ideas and beliefs that sustained us as the Class of 97.So we are oppositional entrepreneurs – mostly very polite, often circumspect in our opposition and not to be confused with naked political activism (although we may support that at times).
I am one of these people and wonder where all this activity is going? Are we the @me.com generation that will find out that in the end one’s livelihood still very much depends upon the fortunes of the big beasts of the formal economy, both private and public ?And that this new and brave show of spirit and endeavour will be shoved aside as the real agenda is revealed to be a drive to establish ‘business as usual’ ?
Then the @me.com bubble will burst and be revealed, as was the dotcom bubble, as being built upon sands that were shifting in the opposite direction, although at the time we could not see that?
But I want to finish on a positive note.. Maybe the route to a more sustainable. ethical economy and society that can coexist with the market is through harnessing the talents of the many people that I meet who are not motivated by the size of their financial bonus but by a desire to contribute.
I have written before about the need for the idea of ‘contribution’ to become part and parcel of what it is to be a citizen.Sure, we all want to make a living;many of us have children and other dependents to care for and enjoy the pleasures that money can often bring. But how we build an economy and society to make that opportunity available for all ,wherever they live, may not be a question that can be answered simply by the actions of Government and the ‘big beasts’.
Maybe its by harnessing the energies of the growing number of @me.coms that new approaches and ideas will emerge that can begin to suggest fresh ways of tackling seemingly insurmounttable problems? So rather than the bubble bursting, it gains altitude and recognition for the important social phenomenon that it could be.
As for me, I’ll keep blogging,posting, networking and meeting over coffee.Maybe Ill become more discerning and focused on the real opportunities rather than those that are simply aspirational. What I will be doing is spending as much time as I can working with committed economic and social entrepreneurs .