Why Corporate Workers Should be More Like Hollywood Actors

If you are an actor in Hollywood, you don’t expect lifetime employment.  Actors expect to work on a project and then get ready to go back out and find their next project.  Why are corporate workers any different?

The future of work is a place where people come together to create value, and move on when it’s time. What would happen if careers were modularized?  What if each module was an independent instance? This was suggested by the idea of the ‘gig economy’, but not fully realized or embraced because most ‘gigs’ are not valued as highly as ‘full-time employment’.

Workplaces are not currently designed to for this flexibility.  Yes, I know you hire consultants and contingent workers, but overall our workplaces center around an org chart, and that limits the flexibility compared to a movie studio.

Job movement.  There’s still a stigma associated with frequent job changes, a model now favored by younger workers.  I have seen examples where someone’s boss won’t let them apply for promotion, for fear of losing them.  My clients have expressed similar “you can’t leave!” comments, when in fact, my work is often long since been completed.  Though flattering, it shows that many workplaces aren’t designed to accept the movement of people.

A modular work mindset would create an expectation that our time together is bounded by the time we can co-create value.  Movement opens up the possibliity for more creativity.  People don't get stuck in a box.  Lots of human connection can happen during this time, but it doesn’t mean we’ll be together forever.

What about stable teams?  Yes, I’m an advocate of stable, long-standing teams.  That is not in contradiction to people being able to move around.  A stable team will experience some change in its makeup, it’s part of the evolution of the team.  The team is an organism, and like any living organism, it should be designed to thrive with the normal sloughing off and rebuilding of cells.

What about operations?  “We’ll lose efficiency in operational work!” “We won’t have people with deep expertise in how the company works!”  A great strategy is to address that type of work last. And when you do, expect to see great innovation and advancement in work that you thought was unchangeable.  Having an expert doing the same thing year after year limits the possibilities for new ideas. Everyone defers to the expert.

Letting new people into specialized areas will also necessitate really good automation and documentation.  This creates a more nimble operation with transparency and a larger set of experts.

Women have babies.  One of the problems in the workplace today for women is that when they have children, they lose the momentum of their careers, to the point where it’s often unrecoverable when they return.  It’s like when they come back after a year, they’ve lost 7 years of experience have to start back as an entry-level worker. As a comparison, this doesn’t happen in Hollywood. If an actress has a baby and auditions after a year, her prior work stands.  No one says “why the gap in your resume?” Why are corporate jobs any different?

You’ll need an agent.  In Hollywood people have agents.  Because the nature of the work is short-term, someone needs to be looking out on the horizon while the actor is working on a movie.  No one wants an actor distracted by a call lining up their next gig while shooting a scene. There’s no multitasking in Hollywood! Actors have agents to help do this for them.  Some Silicon Valley techies have agents already, I think it’s a great idea for every corporate worker to have an agent. Not a recruiter, but an actual agent who is looking out for their next job, negotiating on their behalf, etc.  Let the workers do what they do best, and let someone else match you to the right gig.

Pay will be higher.  We’ll have to pay workers more than we pay contingent workers.  It will be worth it to the company because they will get a good match, not just a warm body.  The worker gets paid more because they are now taking on more of the risk, and also doing a job that’s better suited to their skills.  

Would you give up lifetime employment to work on short-term projects?  Let us know!