Independent contractors (freelance journalists, software programmers, gardeners, etc.) wake up knowing that before sunset they must:

  1. re-prove themselves to clients; and
  2. learn a new wrinkle to up the odds of survival.

The self-employed are not alone. I contend that everyone—bellhop, receptionist, human resources professional, computer scientist, or chief executive officer had best achieve the mindset of an independent contractor.

AN INDEPENDENT MINDSET

People do realize that job security is gone, but many don’t realize what it’s been replaced by.

The driving force of a career must come from the individual, not the organization. Every position must be created from scratch, a far cry from filling a set job description. Given the reality of today’s entrepreneurial economy, there are few jobs awaiting any of us out there. Instead, most good jobs are co-created. Jobs are joint ventures (with an employer) in problem solving. They are strategies to solve pressing problems in organizations.

SUCCEED SERVING YOUR “CUSTOMERS”

You must do something concrete, finite and measurable in the eyes of internal and external customers and your teammates.

Teammates are growing ever more important, since it’s mostly your network of peers that gives you word-of-mouth credibility, on or off a payroll, and determines whether you’re recruited for new projects. Then, you must look ahead toward inventing or signing up for the next project, or joint venture.

EDUCATE YOURSELF

You can’t ignore the requirements to move horizontally and pick up new skills. Careers are continuing education. Again, the shift is monumental. How many have historically chosen a job based on whether or not it provides an attractive “learning community?”

IF YOU’RE THE BOSS

Pretend you are leaving the company in six months with no replacement, overhaul your organization, and train your people to take over your job. Then find a new way to add value yourself. Be prepared to repeat the cycle, over and over again (maybe with different employers), until you retire.

ORGANIZATIONAL DESIGN

“Think independent” also has a place in overall organization design. Corporate architects might imagine companies as collections of independent contractors. One manager, at an aging monolith of an organization says the lumbering firm is dealing with “the impediment of structure” by trying to make everyone an entrepreneur-that is, “turning the whole company into a type of franchise organization in which there is a more direct economic connection between tasks and rewards.” Contrast the mindset of the independent contractor with this common experience:

Following the last-minute change of plans, I phoned a hotel one morning for a reservation. I was disconnected, put on hold, etc. Finally, I reached a person at the front desk. He flatly declared he couldn’t help me. When I asked “Why?” (calmly), he responded (calmly), “I’m not a receptionist.” Nor is he long in the world of the employed.

Dave Inglett is an independent career management specialist.

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