A new way to think about employment

Years ago I came up with an idea I call distributed micro-income. Businesses have been doing this for decades (as have artists such as authors and musicians) but it’s only in recent years that it has become practical for small groups and individuals on a large scale.

Distributed micro-income

The idea is simple: Rather than having a single, monolithic source of income, a company will often serve several markets. Sony, for example, makes movies, household electronics and game systems. If any one of these industries were to crash, the others could keep the company afloat until they find a new source of income to replace it. In contrast, if an average employee loses their one full-time job they have nothing until they can find a new one.


Back in the mid-90s my employer, a small business owner, explained to me that the reason their company was an Internet Service Provider (ISP), provided web hosting, ran a gaming auction site AND hired out programmers for contract work was to provide a safety net. If the bottom fell out of any of those businesses the other two could keep the company going until they found something to replace it. I remember thinking that made perfect sense, but didn’t think much more about it at the time. That was just before the (first) Dot-com bubble burst. I managed to hang on through a couple more employers, but those were scary times. When all your eggs are in one basket – all your income coming from one employer – losing that basket can be devastating.

Modern, personal technology has brought us to a brave new era of possibilities for the independent creator. Long- and short-form videos are no longer the sole purview of major corporations. Podcasts have all but completely replaced talk radio. More and more authors are self-publishing every day. And now, with the growing popularity of crowd-funding and the ability to crowd-source for any number of needs, the average individual finally has all the pieces. I think back to that company, with their diversified stable of services (yes, they’re still around), and I ask myself “why can’t we all do that?”

The Maker Revolution

For hundreds of years now our economy, our very way of life, has been based on the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. The very concept of employment – having a job – is predicated on needing to pay for goods and services produced by companies which employed others, who in turn needed to pay for goods and services themselves. Et cetera, et cetera. This model made a certain amount of sense at first. It allowed more people to have greater access to more options, and provided a way for those who did the work of producing to be rewarded without having to worry about the logistics of acquiring a larger client base. In theory, anyway. Unfortunately it is also a system that was ripe for abuse. Today we have corporate entities who enjoy the same legal rights as individuals but contribute very little (if anything) to the greater good – seeking only to increase their financial power, even if only in tiny increments at a time.

Enter a new era: The Maker Revolution.

The Internet has often been lauded as the great equalizer throughout its history. Its power rests in providing knowledge and capabilities to everyone who has access, not just a privileged few. While this promise has sometimes been strained – as when the Internet was opened to commercial traffic in the 1990s – it has so far stubbornly persisted in that promise.

There are a variety of sites and services where anyone – not just companies – can create and sell products and/or services. T-shirts, mugs, posters, crafts, books, etc. have all been available for decades directly from individuals with only an idea and the willingness to put it out there. The last several years have seen the growth of popular crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter for larger efforts and now Patreon for producers creating ongoing content (such as podcasts, comics, etc.)

The Do It Yourself (DIY), or Maker, movement is in full-swing. Individuals and groups now have the ability to create things that were once only the purvue of large corporations – and thanks to the Internet we have the ability to fund them directly. We no longer have to wait for some business to decide that a product is financially viable at scale; we can create things that need to exist. Our dreams are no longer limited by The Market.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how the United States has lost its edge – how we are losing our lead in innovations and growth. I believe that passion is still there. We just need to recognize and support it. It’s a brave new world. The Industrial Revolution has served us reasonably well, but it has run it’s course. It’s time for a new era. The Maker Revolution is here.

Be part of the revolution

I’ve been thinking about all of this and planning for the last decade. A few weeks ago I took the first steps in my own efforts to transition to this new model of “employment”. What I find so exciting is the variety of opportunities that exist. Some that I am working on include:

  • Self-publishing: There are a variety of services out there that allow you to submit written content and will produce it as an e-book or print it for others to purchase. Or, if writing isn’t your thing, there are services that will help you self-publish coffee table photo books.
  • Video: Everything from regular video casts (I’m thinking about doing reviews of open source software) to one-on-one webcasts are possible.
  • Clothing: I mentioned T-shirts earlier, and that’s what I’d focus on, but I’ve seen all manner of shirts, pants, jewelery, etc. being offered by those with the skill and interest in producing it.
  • Training/mentoring: Instructional webcasts are an option, but also consider teaching part-time at a local community or technical college. (I was a part-time instructor for 3 years.)

The options listed above don’t even necessarily take into account the crowd-funding possibilities. And there are so many more opportunities. Do you enjoy baking? Working with wood? Are you good with electronics? Whatever you do, I guarantee you there is a way to make a bit of money doing it by using the Internet. Probably not enough to live on alone, but combine several income sources together and viola! You have distributed income.

There are also opportunities that don’t involve exchanging money. It’s a movement most often referred to as The Sharing Economy or Collaborative Consumption. This model de-emphasizes ownership and encourages bartering as well as direct payments for renting, borrowing or exchanging goods and services.

The point is there are new models available to us; we don’t have to keep living the same lives just because it’s the way things have been done up to now. Go out there and be the change you want to see in the world 🙂

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