The End of Jobs: Money, Meaning and Freedom without the 9-to-5 (Book Review)

Are you enjoying that "job" of yours? Are you where you want to be? Or would you rather be hanging out with a bunch of globe-trotting entrepreneurs at an Irish bar in Bangkok, that are running their 6- and 7-figure web-based businesses from wherever they want? 

Taylor Pearson's 21st-century entrepreneurship manifesto The End of Jobs: Money, Meaning and Freedom Without the 9-to-5 takes a look at the how the rapidly-changing face of technology and globalization have created a significant paradigm shift in wealth creation, and will undoubtedly have you asking yourself some of these questions.

Given that I just finished reading and digesting Seth Godin's Linchpin right before this, it's only appropriate to kick this off with one of Pearson's big draws from that book. I feel the next couple lines capture the essence behind the title The End of Jobs most concisely:

In his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, Seth Godin defines a linchpin as:

[A]n individual who can walk into chaos and create order, someone who can invent, connect, create, and make things happen.

Pearson borrows this definition and in his own words, simplifies it a bit:

Entrepreneurship is connecting, creating, and inventing systems - be they businesses, people, ideas, or processes.

A job is the act of following the operating system someone else created.
 Taylor Pearson

Taylor Pearson

Pearson is a process-focused/-obsessed entrepreneur, pulling from examples like Eli Goldratt's "Theory of Constraints" in manufacturing, to the limiting factors of health when looking at exercise, sleep, and the consumption of Starbucks scones.  In his inaugural book, Pearson takes an unapologetic look at the speed at which technology is evolving, the increase in global communication & access to talent, and how credentials have become commoditized. Pearson sets the tone early that while these factors combined are "squeezing" the middle class and threatening (if not destroying all together) the traditional construct of the American Dream. I almost feel bad for his friends Max, Julian, and Marie, whom he cites as examples of individuals following conventional career paths of accounting, law, and medicine, while pointing to the large amounts of time and money it takes to gain the credentials for these roles.

On the flip-side, these paradigm shifts have also created a tremendous opportunity to build location-independent opportunity that won't be around forever. At this moment in time, entrepreneurship is more accessible (and even less-risky) than it's ever been. To summarize the book into one sentence, The End of Jobs discusses the history, technologies, and economic shifts that got us to this "entrepreneurial economy," explores in detail the demoncratization of resources and emergence of new markets that are currently creating new opportunities, and finishes by focusing on the result - the money, meaning, and freedom - that come from making the leap from "job" to "entrepreneur" sooner rather than later.

Whether you're an entrepreneur, a "wantrepreneur," or someone working a 9-to-5 at a Fortune 500 company, I like and agree with the majority of Pearson's points made throughout the book, as the economic shifts and ever-expanding opportunities described are worth noting for anyone that is building their career. While it would be wrong to say that any entrepreneurial endeavor is "safe" (Taylor is careful to describe them as "safer" from cover-to-cover), his analysis of the "silent risk" associated with a tradition job - such as role commoditization, process consolidation, and eventual outsourcing - should not be downplayed by anyone that is comfortable in their immediate job. And although Pearson is not an economist, his view of the evolution of economies - moving from agricultural to industrial to information to entrepreneurial economies - is in alignment with the commoditization of information and on-going consolidation of traditional jobs.

That's quite a bit of theory so far, isn't it? Fortunately, The End of Jobs provides a healthy does of tactical advice throughout the 2nd half of the book. While the internet may be the backbone of many location-independent businesses and the reason an entrepreneur can run a small company with a virtual team in Bali, Canada, and Eastern Europe, Pearson does a nice job of incorporating the opportunities that exist across the sharing economy, SasS, and manufacturing as well. I suspect many readers of the book will fall into the camp of aspiring entrepreneurs, and Pearson describes in detail 2 potential paths of getting there: the stair step method and apprenticeships, that latter of which could (and in my opinion, should) also be applied to established large corporations.

My only concern with the book is its statement that entrepreneurship is becoming less-risky. Not to say that's not true - the accessibility of tools like Wordpress have obviously given anyone with an internet connection the opportunity to capitalize on opportunities while virtually eliminating up-front capital costs - but when it's that accessible and the risk is minimized, does that not also start to commoditize entrepreneurship? Over time, more than likely, but the trends that Pearson discusses in this book - from the accessibility of new tools to the continued creation of new markets - I'd say we're just at the beginning of that runway.

Overall, The End of Jobs is a must-read for any aspiring entrepreneur, whether they are looking to build a business solo through the help of mentors and apprenticeships, or jumping on with a Silicon Valley-based startup. For everyone else, it can serve as a good "checkpoint" for where we are in the global entrepreneurial lifecycle. For those of you looking for the Spark Notes version, I've pulled some of my favorite quotes and excerpts from the books below, and encourage you to comment, agree, or disagree with any of my thoughts. Whether you are on-board with Taylor or not, we're at an exciting junction for entrepreneurship, and it will be fun for all of us (and likely profitable for some of us) as it continues to unfold.

Memorable Quotes, Solid Points, and Random Thoughts:

  • "The best way to improve conditions is for individuals with a strong moral compass to acquire power and build better systems." As location-independent entrepreneurs create companies that utilize the lower-cost yet high-quality talent pool in regions like South America, Eastern Europe, and The Philippines, I was happy to see this comment about keeping exploitation vs. smart utilization in perspective. Large companies have been doing it for years, and now smaller, "micro-multinationals" can also take advantage.
  • Pearson provides a history lesson by looking at the economic shifts over the past 8 centuries, moving from agricultural to industrial to information economies, as we enter the next - the entrepreneurial - economy. Back to his earlier point on credentials "even as the cost of college and graduate school increases, the value is decreasing." Investing in abundant resources like information and knowledge may not be your best bet, especially when the time is right to invest in a scarce one.
  • "Welcome to Extremistan. Don't be a turkey." Schools and the job market of the 20th century have been bluntly labeled as Mediocristan, a world of bell curves and being able to make safe decision. With the onset of globalization, careers once considered "safe" are being commoditized, bell curves have shifted to Pareto distributions, where those willing to take the "risks" of moving toward entrepreneurship and a life in "Extremistan" are heavily rewarded.
  • Safe jobs have silent risk, entrepreneurial positions have ongoing feedback.
  • The Long Tail. Pearson cites Wired writer Chris Anderson's concept of the "Long Tail" and the 3 forces that are making entrepreneurship more accessible: 1.) The Democratization of the Tools of Production (product creation costs are decreasing); 2.) The Democratization of Distribution (everyone is a media company); and 3.) New Markets are Revealed Everyday. This is best summarized by the following quote: "The internet made it possible to start a business just by being clever and ambitious."
  • "The democratization of the tools of production means it's easier to make something. The creation of new markets means there are more and more people to sell those things to, and the democratization of distribution means they are getting easier and easier to reach. Just as jobs are more competitive and threatened than ever, entrepreneurship has become more accessible."
  • So how do you get into this type of entrepreneurship? "In short, you need an entrepreneurial network and an entrepreneurial track record."
  • Pearson discusses 2 primary methods for entering entrepreneurship: 1.) the stairstep method, where you build up an idea and a product, and gradually make the transition from a full-time job to an entrepreneurial venture, or 2.) taking an apprenticeship. While Pearson provides a full the 2-way benefits of apprenticeships and their return to the workspace, his thought process is something that any Fortune 500 should begin considering as well: "why not rework the equation to plan on people being there for two to five years instead of twenty to fifty?"
  • "While a high-paying job in finance may get you [lots of money] and a beach bum lifestyle may get you [lots of time], it was only entrepreneurs that had both money and time."
  • Amidst all of the state-of-the-work-landscape content, Pearson brings up an important point of gratitude for all readers to consider: whether an entrepreneur or not, the resources that we have at our disposal today allow us to all be "Freer than John D. [Rockafeller]." From the ability to travel the world, access information, and share our apartments via services like AirBnB, the level of freedom we all have far exceeds that of the millionaires of 100 years ago. "A level of freedom that cost him millions to create can be created today for a few hundred." Pearson later spends a portion of the book discussing gratitude, and that positive impacts it has on one's life, focus, and productivity. If you've utilized the sharing economy in any way, shape, or form, or have jumped around to over 10+ countries in your lifetime, this is a good moment to let that gratitude take some immediate effect...
  • "Great work - the kind of work that will create wealth in our lives and the lives of others is not the product of obligation - is the product of freedom."
  • "If you look at someone five years ahead of you professionally, like looking down the hallway at an office, is that someone whose life you want?" The "hallway test" isn't a new concept, but one that is worth mentioning over and over if your putting your heart and soul into your career.
  • "Democracy expanded the power to choose our leader. Corporations expanded our power to choose our employers. Entrepreneurship expands your power to design your life."