Sunday, 15 March 2009

Credit-crunch musings

These musings were posted elsewhere - I wrote them in response to discussion about the credit crunch
I want to raise the issue of paid-work (the day job) versus work-for-a-purpose (often, but not always, for no pay).

Many of the people who I most respect consider that their day-job is a necessity but their "purposeful work for no pay" is far more important and valuable (to themselves and to others). I suggest that we might help the newly time-rich to find their own purposeful work through involvement in online communities of purpose.

I was once in a small group discussion where people were talking animatedly about their work. All seemed in agreement until one person commented about his boss not allowing him to follow through on a particular area of interest. Suddenly some previous odd comments he had made fell into place. Unlike others he was talking about work he was paid to do. He wasn't talking about the work that was his passion, the purposeful work that he did in his own time. He didn't have purposeful work of his own. He thought everyone was talking about day-jobs!

I think we should take a lead from the Open Source community (or at least, my understanding of it) i .e some people write code in their own time, others get hired by organisations (like the OU wanting new Moodle applications perhaps). The code that is written all becomes available to everyone. If it is good then it is valued. Money has nothing to do with it. Code is not “better” because someone was paid to write it. No-one feels ashamed that they contirbuted their code in their own time instead of as part of their paid work. Or at least that is how I understand it to be.

The newly time-rich can be like a pool of people on secondment available to work alongside people who are already doing purposeful work for no pay. I am not talking about 20th century volunteering. I am talking about the opportunity for first hand experience of work patterns that are emerging in 21st century: more flexibility; a blurring of boundaries between working from home and working at work; an emphasis on collaborative work; the creation of teams that form temporarily to achieve a given purpose. I know I could find purposeful, interesting and challenging work for people if I didn't have to find money to pay them. I can't be alone in that.

Maybe such involvement will only be a stop-gap for the newly-time-rich during a brief career break. Maybe it will be a new experience for them which will help them develop better skills for 21st century online collaboration. Maybe they will take their experience of emergent 21st century work patterns back into long established organisations and their structures for the
benefit of all. Maybe some people will decide against going back to full-time employment and will choose to develop a sustainable lifestyle that includes doing their work paid and unpaid – a bit like my undersatnding of Open Source development.

The newly time-rich are a national resource. Let's get our act together to make use of them before their skills get rusty, their work habits slide, their self respect plummets and a huge opportunity for skill use and development is wasted.

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