It’s Not The Great Resignation. It’s Something Else.

Perhaps we should look at the Great Resignation as something else. To businesses, it’s the Great Resignation, that’s their perspective and they’re not wrong. But for those who’ve resigned, they haven’t quit. Quite the opposite. Perhaps instead, we should call it the Great Exploration. Ironically, it is because of the exact reason that so many businesses were able to stay alive and in some cases grow, during the pandemic. Digital technology. The internet.

The democratizing nature of the internet and all the various technologies, from smartphones to tablets and connected devices, has afforded people with an opportunity to do the same thing as the companies they worked for. Build a business. Doing jobs people actually want to do.

Today, you can build a reasonably good, eCommerce website, connected to a CRM, even a free one, have a bank account sorted in a day or two at little cost and payment systems through such services as Stripe and PayPal. You can have a fully enabled Shopify site up in a day or two. You can do all this from a basic laptop or tablet costing around $1,000 or less.

The pandemic put many knowledge workers at home. Many started side hustles, both as a distraction and as a safety blanket in case they lost their job. It doesn’t take long to find online workshops, how-to videos and tons of free information to figure out how to start a personal business.

For large enterprises, they have to invest in large technology systems and develop ominous workflows and of course, bureaucracy. The world of the internet became a disinter-mediator, scaling down those tools so a single person can have the same powers as a large enterprise. And they can scale up easier today as well.

What people realized as they spent more time online during the pandemic and reassessed their lives, is that they can take a flyer, explore, design a life more to their liking. Very few people are truly happy in their jobs. Not many people take a lot of joy in one or two hour commutes, doing repetitive work and trying perhaps, to also raise a family. But that is the current system. People are pushing back on it.

Business owners, leaders, shareholders, call it the Great Resignation, because for them, it is. But for all those employees who left their jobs, it is the Great Exploration. It’s likely that many who resigned, had some great ideas on how to make things better in their industry, but most enterprise businesses shun innovation more than adopt it. Employees know this. The peasants as the elites said in the feudal era, are restless.

The internet, the very technology that enabled larger businesses to find new markets and become ever bigger, is the same that enables employees to walk away and evolve their industry. Some would say disrupt. Not really. Not in most cases. They either leave because they see an opportunity their employer wouldn’t or couldn’t, or they have and idea for something else hat’s more interesting to them.

Given the choice, any human will take the opportunity to avoid being a cog in a wheel. Many are making that choice. Big business, even tech giants, are failing to see this. A huge sociocultural shift is underway, afforded by the internet and all it has enabled.

The Implications of the Great Exploration

The internet is the first technology to create an unprecedentedly massive division of labour. This means ever more specialized skills and roles. Economists can barely understand how that’s working. Eventually, they will. In the coming years, we will see even more specializations. Increasingly, larger businesses, the Fortune 500 types, will automate more, but they will also increasingly rely on digital contract workers, what is often referred to as the gig economy.

A current measure of a nation’s economic health is jobs. Economists know that when unemployment passes 6%, it usually means a recession. This measure will become increasingly difficult however. Economists will have to find a new measure to add into the mix. No wonder they call it the dismal science.

Right now, Decentralized Autonomous Organisations (DAO) are being heavily discussed. But they are in their early stages and typically not recognised, or understood, by Fortune 500 type companies. Even governments struggle. For now. A DAO upsets existing bureaucratic systems, which are highly centralized. But a DAO can make for a very efficient way of contract workers to organize and thus interface with a more centralized system. This will take time to evolve. Proponents of DAOs often want to move faster and don’t always understand how slow some larger organisations move.

Aside from the increase in specialisations and the need for larger organisations to find ways to ethically engage with more contract workers, will be an ever larger pool of micro-businesses, digital products and digital transformations of organisations of all sizes.

This is going to be a fascinating, complex set of situations over the coming decade or more.

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Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

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Digital / Cultural Anthropologist | Featured in Wired, National Geographic & Forbes | Celt | Explorer | Intensely Curious