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The impact of the passion economy on the future of work

  1. The economic fallout from the pandemic has caused record numbers of job losses and many workers to quit their jobs.

  2. People are seeking more fulfilment in their working lives and looking beyond the gig economy to pursue their interests.

  3. New platforms are giving rise to the passion economy by enabling people to monetize their passion projects.

The world lost more than 400 million full-time jobs due to the pandemic, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). At this point it is hard to say whether, and when, these jobs will come back. Startup hiring might improve things marginally but it cannot address the huge numbers of people looking to get back into the workforce. Governments are struggling to get economies back on track and with intense pressure on healthcare, providing stimulus to other sectors will not be easy.

The result of this systemic imbalance would be that millions are likely to be left to fend for themselves. They will have to reach out to their networks to explore new roles and find and create opportunities for themselves. Just like in previous recessions, many iconic companies will be born that will go on to create enormous financial wealth. They will become employers of choice in the coming decades, but can people wait for that to happen?

What is the passion economy?

Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz published a report on the future of work. One of its key findings is that the gig economy and the “Uber for X" model are partly making way for the passion economy, where micro-entrepreneurs monetize their individuality and creativity. A key reason for the growth of the passion economy is that it offers alternative ways of making money, innovative paths toward professional fulfilment and unprecedented career opportunities for millennials.

The gig economy resulted in massive productivity gains and huge consumer surplus. Cabs, food delivery, grocery shopping – practically all aspects of day-to-day life – aided by the efficiency of technology platforms and venture capital money became accessible to a large chunk of the global population. Millions of new jobs were created, innovative business models revitalized entire industries and the GDP of the internet exploded. While there were many practical benefits that accrued, new challenges came to fore. It wasn’t tech utopia by any means.

Creativity vs. productivity

For the longest time, creativity and productivity were at odds. Those who wanted to pursue creative fields found it hard to make ends meet. That is changing. Gig workers are looking for more meaningful ways to make a living. The era of the passion economy and side hustles is here.

New platforms are emerging for creators to monetize their craft and do what they love. The internet is shaping culture and transforming the way we work. Even white-collar professionals are quitting their day jobs to venture into the passion economy.

Gen Z creators, influencers and investors are making different career choices than their parents. There is a subtle shift in what they learn, how they learn and how they earn. They do not see creativity and productivity as two different things. Both are part of the new creator stack that is emerging in the third era of the internet which is often called Web 3.0, a distributed, decentralized internet.

According to a Harris Poll/LEGO® survey, the career today’s kids aspire to above all others is “YouTuber”. Being an online creator is twice as popular as being a film star, and three times as popular as being an astronaut. There might be differences in countries based on cultural and economic factors but this massive inversion of career preferences is going to be a defining characteristic of the jobs in the future.

According to the World Economic Forum, 85% of the jobs of 2030 don’t exist today. With the passion economy becoming mainstream, new kinds of careers drawing upon a person’s intrinsic curiosity will become the norm.

Unbundling of work from employment

In addition to widespread job losses, the world is also witnessing “The Great Resignation”, a term coined by Professor Anthony Klotz of Texas A&M University, that predicts a large number of people leaving their jobs during and after the pandemic because they are no longer fulfilled in their work lives.

The passion economy will result in the unbundling of work from employment. People will look to create a portfolio of passions and pursuits that also helps them make a living. In other words, they are likely to monetize their passion and build a career on their terms.

It won’t be all fun and games. People need the discipline and the rigour to work hard, experiment fast and deliver consistently. Unlike regular employment, passion economy participants will need to figure out human resource, accounting and legal issues, all by themselves.

In Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business, Paul Jarvis writes that today creators spend more than 50% of their time doing extraneous stuff, which is a colossal waste of income and potential. There is huge scope for improvement here.

Through my venture Network Capital, I am trying to help people teach what they love. One example that explains the unbundling of work from employment is a Lebanese professor of philosophy, Mahmoud Rasmi who quit his university job to build cohort-based courses on the internet.

Rasmi loved teaching philosophy but didn’t find the university in his home country conducive to his career growth. Today, he creates innovative courses on philosophy and uses Network Capital to host, sell and market his offering. In a few months, he is already making thousands of dollars every month. Given the economic and political crisis in Lebanon, he is one of the very people in the country making a decent income. All thanks to the passion economy.

Another example is Vicky Bennison who read zoology in college and graduated with an MBA from the University of Bath. She then worked in international development across Siberia, South Africa and Turkmenistan. Today, she is best known as the person behind Pasta Grannies, a YouTube channel that finds and films real Italian grannies — nonnas — making handmade pasta.

These grannies make lip-smacking pasta and tell delightful stories. What amazes me even more is how grandmas have embraced social media, learned digital marketing and emerged as media entrepreneurs across the world.

The passion economy is personal to me. Last year, in the middle of the pandemic, I quit my job at Microsoft to work full-time on Network Capital, my passion project. I loved my work at Microsoft, but the more I reflected on my core values, the kind of life I wanted to build, and the way I wanted to use my skills, the more it became clear to me that venturing into the passion economy was the way forward for me.

Voltaire said “Work spares us from three evils: boredom, vice, and need”. The current pandemic puts things in perspective. Work has never only been about a pay cheque but in the post-pandemic world, it is sure to alter the alchemy of relationships at scale as people will need to keep purpose and insurance constantly at the back of their minds while making professional choices.

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