The Trillion Dollar Economy of Inefficiency


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By Stephen DeWitt, CEO, Work Market

Alexa, the personal assistant that powers Amazon’s Echo speaker, makes it easy to play music, turn on the lights, tell us a joke, or order takeout. “It’s almost like casting a spell,” The Economist said, “say a few words into the air, and a nearby device will grant your wish.”

If only managing your workforce was this easy. Now that the holidays are over, the American workforce has gone from casting spells with their Echo to dealing with the realities of running a business in 2017: there isn’t a company whose existence isn’t challenged by disruptive technologies, particularly by automation and artificial intelligence, both of which are central to Alexa’s success. To make matters worse, the best defense against disruption — your bright, resourceful talent base— is in the midst of its biggest productivity slump in decades.

Companies of all sizes, from multinationals like P&G to scrappy garage startups, are struggling to find the right talent at the right time, dealing with employee turnover and outdated corporate structures, poor access to specialized skills, and much more. On the other side of the table, skilled workers — everyone from technicians to designers to fitness professionals — are stuck in jobs that don’t make full use of their potential and don’t offer the kind of societal impact they crave. Despite their best efforts, leaders still aren’t satisfied with the productivity of their organization.

The result? A trillion dollar economy of inefficiency, markup, and worst of all: untapped potential. This has become the status quo of our economy — millions of skilled workers trapped in jobs that are poorly constructed, inefficient, and likely unnecessary.

The rise of freelancers — a group that now makes up 35% of the U.S. workforce — has helped offset this trend, creating greater flexibility for both skilled workers and employers. General Electric, for example, taps into on-demand labor when it has a talent shortage. P&G works with thousands of freelancers across the world to crowdsource product innovation. But still, many firms are struggling with the shift to this new “liquid workforce” operating model: worker misclassification, regulatory uncertainty, and a host of other concerns come with juggling salaried employees, vendors, and contractors.

So perhaps it’s time to ask: why don’t we have an Alexa for our workforce?

Until recently, there hasn’t been a system that can seamlessly manage the relationship between capital and labor. There’s never been a big data, artificially-intelligent approach to evaluating the skills of the world and connecting them to the right organization at the right time.

There’s a clear disconnect here: people and companies want to work differently, but the bridge between industry and labor isn’t holding up. This is exactly the type of bridge we’re building every day at Work Market: an AI engine that automatically provisions work between skilled labor and the companies looking for it. Not only that, but it’s a system that learns exponentially about how to best assign work, and it gets smarter every day.

The Work Market system empowers anyone — from established tech firms to a high schooler starting a magazine — to create “labor clouds” of on-demand talent so they can easily find the expertise they need to run and grow their business. Yahoo, for example, uses it to manage freelance writers and editors. Walgreens uses it to make their field services operations more efficient and responsive.

This is much bigger than firms just hiring more freelancers. We are in the midst of a data-driven industrial revolution, in which it will be easier for both people and companies to work the way they want. This begs the question, though: if we can successfully shift to this world of frictionless labor, in which anyone with marketable skills can become an enterprise of one, what would people actually work on? Would this transform the way our labor force operates?

We think it will. Skilled labor, without the constraints of an inefficient economy, will venture to the frontiers of work and focus on the problems that they’re passionate about solving. There are plenty of sectors that could use more smart, disruptive companies and workers, from healthcare to agriculture, smart cities to the environment. By making it easy for people to market their skills, we’ll see a shift towards people finding ways to monetize their passion, whatever it may be.

However, this has serious implications for the defensibility of labor, particularly for incumbents who rely on the productivity of thousands of employees. If anyone can create a labor cloud, then there’s very little that gives large, established firms a competitive advantage over a one-man company on the other side of the globe. Talent is the greatest asset of an organization, but a frictionless economy makes it difficult to keep.

This, in turn, will radically change the way businesses are built. Consider this prediction from Accenture: within 10 years, someone will build a Fortune 2000 company that has no full-time workers outside of the C-suite. It might seem like a bold claim, but there’s good reason for it: right now, the only sustainable operating model is one that gives you the ability to swiftly transform your business before it’s made obsolete. At its peak, Kodak had over 140,000 full-time employees, an operating model that proved disastrous when technological disruption completely upended their business. Incumbents today face the same risk, and it’s clear that the status quo for finding and managing talent isn’t working. The on-demand labor model — in which talent and industry are automatically matched in a frictionless, open marketplace — is proving to be the way forward.

The Management channel is brought to you by Work Market, the leading labor automation platform. Work Market empowers businesses and skilled professionals to unlock new levels of productivity, engagement and growth across the entire lifecycle of work. Learn more at

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