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Designing a New Operating System for Work

Source |medium .com  |  BY:Marina Gorbis

The battles between Uber and taxi companies and the 1099 vs. W-2 debateare just the first signs of the upheaval emerging with the rise of the on-demand economy. We are at the beginning of an historic transformation in the nature of work and structure of American jobs. A host of technologies — from automation to digital platforms for coordination of tasks, from Lyft to Gigwalk to HourlyNerd — are reinventing not just what people do to earn a living but at a much deeper level how we organize to create value. For the new class of on-demand or platform workers, there are no career ladders to climb and often no human bosses holding you accountable. Your “manager” might even be an algorithm that breaks down jobs into individual tasks and automatically routes them to the best qualified and available “gig worker.”

Today’s emerging platforms and ways of working may seem new and alien, but let’s remember that the way we work, the way we organize ourselves to create value, is not preordained.

In fact, wage labor, the idea that we sell our time for money, is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Wage labor is only about 300 years old, a blink of an eye in our human history. Before wage labor, we produced, traded, and invented things, but we did so locally and on a small scale. With the rise of connective technologies — from railroads, cars, telegraph, telephones, and, eventually, the Internet — we rapidly scaled up production. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase pointed out in his seminal 1937 paper “The Nature of the Firm,” large organizations came to dominate our production landscape because they’re highly efficient mechanisms for producing at scale while minimizing the transaction costs of planning and coordinating activities beyond local geographies and small markets.

So in that sense, large organizations are a kind of technology, a technology for scaling up economic activities while minimizing costs of doing so. You could think of it as an operating system for work that’s been running for a century. And now we’re creating a new operating system, based on always-on Internet, mobile devices, social media, sensors and geolocation technologies. But this new operating system for coordinating human activities and creating new kinds of value could also be riddled with


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