A Wakeup Call After 20 Years Advising Large Organizations


How the gig mindset research started

Since 1998, I have advised organizations on strategies and actions steps for their internal digital work environments. I was always fascinated (and discouraged!) by how long it took to move things forward. In most cases, we made progress, the client and myself, but it was usually hard going. Yet, in nearly every organization I worked with, there was at least one person, sometimes a few more, with whom I felt a shared passion to shake things up, to open eyes and minds to new possibilities. gradually I realized that these rare people saw their jobs much as I, the external freelancer, saw mine.

The term “gig mindset” refers to what I saw in these people, their attitudes and behaviors that, even though they were salaried employees in the organization, they approached their work more as if they were independent freelancers. This contrasted strongly with most of the other people, also salaried, but who worked with what we might call a “traditional mindset”. The traditional approach to work was influenced by defined roles, hierarchy and established procedures. For the last few years I have slowly seen increasing numbers of people, salaried, inside organizations, showing signs of behavior much like freelancers. They were often frustrated in their work, felt held back by management and organizational constraints, yet were deeply convinced they had a mission to fulfill.

Even before starting my research, it was clear to me that organizations did not welcome the gig mindset, and often actively resisted it.

I decided to investigate further and used my keynotes at IntranetReloaded in Berlin in April 2018 and at the London Enterprise Digital Summit in June 2018 to launch a trial balloon. I talked about the gig mindset, how I saw it, and how I wanted to explore it further. At both conferences there was strong interest and lots of questions. Dozens of people in both conferences came up to me afterwards, volunteering their own stories and offering to help with the research. That was my true wakeup call!

“You’re the first person to understand how I feel at work. Sometimes I’m so discouraged I think I should quit.”

Convinced that the gig mindset inside organizations was a topic that deserved exploring, I defined a few goals:

  • How does the gig mindset differ from a traditional approach to work?
  • Is it just a question of nuance, of degree, or are there real, meaningful differences?
  • What does it mean for people and their individual development?
  • Does it build resilience, trigger innovation, create problems and disorder?
  • What impact does the gig mindset have on organizations? Does it build resilience, and trigger innovation? Does it create disorder and increase risk?

My next step was to create an Advisory Board, as I’ve always done for my research projects, and get things moving. Here’s how the research took place.

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