The Great Unbundling of Work

People want a purposeful challenge and an ability to earn a living. We have bundled these into choices that at times make it impossible for people to get either. We face an era when an unbundling will create new choices & challenges in work. Preparation for these choices is key.

The Great Unbundling

Early apprenticeships and clerkships offered little chance of progression or change. Employees were contractually bound for long terms of service. Career progression depended on a vacancy due to retirement or death. Rewards if there were any were the ability to earn one’s keep & practice a craft.

Careers in the long boom of last century were based on an evolution of this model. Instead of indenture, loyalty & security bound people to navigating one organisation and its hierarchy. Careers bundled up a succession of jobs to gain security of remuneration with occasional challenges.

We unbundled jobs from organisational careers. People now can expect to change jobs, organisation and discipline many times over their life. Increasingly career choice & the responsibility of managing a career are in the hands of the individual.

We are beginning to unbundle work from jobs. Side projects, portfolio careers, tasks, freelancing and other flexible working are new and more viable options for many. Networks and digital business models expand the reach, capability and connection of everything we do. New business models are springing up to take advantage of the demand and supply. Purposeful work can be the focus because of the extent of choice possible. However, a fragile and fragmented market means security is less. Many sources of remuneration are under competitive pressure or at least highly variable.

Our next challenge may well be a further unbundling of remuneration from our primary purposeful work where required. This is more likely to be the work of digital markets than a redistributive welfare state. We will see a renewed focus on creating sources of non-personal income or secondary income sources from side projects to help fund a life of purposeful work. Many artists must manage this model already, pursuing secondary work as their primary income. There are already signs of this change in the maker movement and the many discussions of lean entrepreneurship.


Industries that face competitive pressures to unbundle products often experience dramatic change and innovation in the process. Often the social outcomes are mixed with an increased efficiency of choice offset against the social protections of cross-subsidies, lower returns and new risks. The future of work is likely heading down a similar path.

Reflecting on unbundling work is not a purely theoretical exercise. The future of work will demand new networks and capabilities. We can each prepare ourselves for this future. Consider the following questions:

  • What work fulfils your purpose?
  • Does your job offer this work?
  • How are you leveraging the networking, project and digital capabilities in your job, work and career now?
  • What capabilities can you leverage for new choices of purposeful work or new income in future?
  • What capabilities & networks do you need to build for purposeful work or new income in future?
  • How would you use reputation, experience and other indicators to demonstrate the quality and value of your skills and capabilities if they were not tied to a job?

We cannot predict the future of an unbundled world of work for anyone one individual. All we can say is both choice and risk are likely to be higher. However in a world of greater choice than ever we each need to consider our own plans and be prepared. Answers to these questions can guide what we do today and the value that is placed on our work in our jobs, organisations and careers.

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