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Perpetual beta: Turning careers into consumables?

Perpetual beta: Turning careers into consumables?

By Abhijit Bhaduri

In the tech industry the people who have started a product line have rarely been the ones who have won the race. Archie was the first search engine but they lost the race to Google. Kodak invented the digital camera but had to make way for more nimble competitors who saw the digital camera as the future. The leaders of Kodak looked at the resolution of the awkward contraption called the digital camera and said that while the resolution was terrific (it was all of 0.01 megapixels) but it was a bit slow since it took 23 seconds to record the digital photograph. The company whose name was synonymous with photography went bankrupt in January 2012. Nokia and Blackberry bowed out of the mobile handset race. They could not visualize a phone without a keyboard – Apple could.

Big companies are continuously taking over each other with decreasing life-span and stripping careers | Picture Courtesy:

Big companies are continuously taking over each other with decreasing life-span of all | Picture Courtesy: GetResponse

Life spans of firms are getting shorter

The wisdom of all the management consultants and thinkers has not been able to increase the longevity of firms. The average lifespan of an S&P company dropped by almost 50 years in the last hundred years. Firms lived for almost seven decades in the 1920s. Today the firms die before they complete their second decade. On an average a S&P company is now being replaced every two weeks. Richard Foster, an economist from Yale estimates that 75 percent of the S&P 500 firms will be replaced by new firms by 2027.

We are living longer

Humans on the other hand are living longer thanks to advances in medicine. The apps on your smartphone will remind you to exercise, drink water and stay healthier. Those who are now in their twenties have a 50% chance of living to be hundred. People will have to work for almost seven decades on an average.

The fastest growing digital companies employ very few

When organizations die they leave people stranded. Besides the new-age companies are all asset light and employ very few. The largest hotel chains like Hyatt and Marriott are struggling to compete with the new kid on the block. They have a million listings. Neither Hyatt not Marriott has a million rooms listed. Airbnb runs a 30-billion-dollar enterprise with less than 3000 employees.

The overall employment (and entry level salaries) in Indian IT firms has remained constant over the last few years.

One Facebook engineer manages 26,000 servers (as compared to 300-500 servers managed by most other companies). The overall employment (and entry level salaries) in Indian IT firms has remained constant over the last few years.

These changes will need us to view work, leisure and retirement in new ways. As routine work gets outsourced to machines, humans will have a chance to do work that will be creative and deal with situations that have no precedence.

People are becoming healthier and fitter in this age of perpetual beta but careers are getting converted into consumables | Picture Courtesy: Stay Fit

People are becoming healthier and fitter in this age of perpetual beta | Picture Courtesy: Stay Fit

Durable to Consumable Careers

Careers used to be like consumer durables. People learned for twenty to twenty-five years and then used the education over a thirty to forty years. Doing the odd training program once every few years was good enough to stay current. Doing a training program was like getting the fridge or washing machine serviced occasionally. Degrees ensured employment for a lifetime. The employee’s identity was defined by the employer’s brand.

Rapid obsolescence of knowledge is drastically lowering the shelf life of a degree.

In the digital world, careers will be more like consumables. Employment is getting replaced by employability. That means staying current. In one of the conferences where I was speaking I met several participants who had spent their own money to attend the conference. They did not want to depend on their employer.

When degrees no longer assure the employer of the proficiency and employability of a fresh graduate, they have no choice but to look for expertise and not degrees. In the digital world every skill or talent will be available for hire by the hour. From drivers and maids (check out and to top notch consultants (check out all kinds of expertise is available from a global pool of In a pay-per-use model for talent. LinkedIn has anyway created a boundary-less marketplace for talent.

The opportunities for the expert are limitless. No wonder people are investing in staying current without waiting for the training department to send them to a course once every few years. A participant summarised it for me. He said, “Only the top leaders are nominated to attend courses on strategic thinking. I do not want to depend on the training department to be nominated. I am paying for it myself”.

Perpetual Beta careers have new rules

The past will no longer be a guide to the future. Educational institutes are not changing fast enough to keep pace. It will need people who have the curiosity to stay tuned to “weak signals” and the humility to learn anything from anyone. The future belongs to the curious learner.

Abhijit Bhaduri works as the Chief Learning Officer for the Wipro group.
The article was originally published on Abhijit Bhaduri.
Featured Image Credits: Amper Music
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