Live around creative people and never be bored – and be ready for surprises. I was surprised by a friend’s creativity that produced something fun and useful, and that is going to change. He gave me a sign, one with my name on it that I can use as a roving member of the Gig Economy. Some people imagine living in a community of conventional thinking, conventional activities, and conventional expectations. Bah! Shudder. For me, life is more fun and feels more valuable when people play.
Joe is not a member of the Gig Economy. He’s been in management of a tech firm, which means he knows the ways of the corporate world. Now his family runs a collection of businesses selling art, crafts, art supplies, office supplies, art printing services, design services, business printing services, and more – while every member of the family is an accomplished artist. It’s easier to simply use their business name of Fine Balance Imaging + Printing. (Maybe not exactly that, but close enough.) Visiting their business is like dropping into a playground for creatives and entrepreneurs. I drop by because they’ve sold and printed my photos, helped me with my books, and generally helped me with my various businesses. That last part is why they know I’m busy in the Gig Economy. They’re so aware of the new nature of business that they created a workspace for folks like me. Brainstorming there is fun, and they get some of the neatest and newest toys, er, tools.
A couple of years ago, a new kind of laser cutter was created thanks to a crowdfunding campaign. Joe raised the money, ordered one, and then waiting over a year for delivery. Some of the things people are making with the machine are marvelous. I felt humbled because I saw the potential, saw what others were creating, and found my ideas didn’t quite fit. That was until this week. Earlier this week I created a design that won’t be revealed yet because it needs tweaking, lots of tweaking. It has the potential to be fun, and accidentally possibly profitable. Surprise!
Yesterday, after talking with Joe, I got an email. In less than a half an hour, he’d thought of an idea, designed it, developed it, and had the machine create it. Thirty minutes and there it is, a simple yet useful sign for my times. It is a sign that I can set on a coffeehouse table that tells me people who I am and what I do. That may sound bold, but it solves a simple and embarrassing aspect of life in the Gig Economy, meeting with new people. Surprise, my sign is a sign.
Working clients in the Gig Economy can be like going on a blind date. They may be able to guess who they are trying to meet, but people don’t always look like their tiny icon from emails and Facebook posts. A sign that says “Tom Trimbath” removes the awkward moment. That is useful enough, and then Joe added a few other bits that made the sign even more useful. In addition to my name there’s also a list of my skills and talents, as well as a way to contact me. (He got the info from my bio, another good reason to have an online presence.)
We’ve already come up with improvements for both of our designs, but hey, I got one of the first prototypes. Very cool.
Watching mainstream ads and the news can seem surreal from the perspective of the island. Islands are not in the main stream of anything, sometimes on purpose. It is one reason why every island creates a unique identity. On the mainland, neighborhoods overlap and blend. Islands have distinct and non-negotiable borders. Pick your lifestyle, pick the island to match.
The unique nature of living on Whidbey Island is obvious whenever I take real estate classes. Classes are created for the typical student, not for the outliers. I’ve heard strategies for making houses stand out and making agents stand out. It makes sense in massive developments. Every home is unique, but in a development of houses built from similar plans, it takes extra effort to differentiate each house. That may be hard, but at least each sale is more likely to be familiar and similar to another. In one class, most of the students didn’t believe the stories we told about how individual artists’ homes can be. Every sale is a custom sale, which also means more work, more research, and more double-checking. Most houses don’t come equipped with foundries, outhouses, or innovative unregulated architecture. Wealthier homes (usually not the artists, but sometimes…) are custom designed for people who don’t expect to compromise. Every home is a surprise. For many buyers that may be a negative, but for the right buyer that can be an immense positive.
We’ve entered an era when old rules are quickly being eclipsed and replaced. Some may hold onto old notions but the trends seem to be unstoppable in: auto autos, AI assistants, new fuel versus old fuel, new power distribution versus old power centers, diversification, and social action. It is also true in personal finance. On balance, the number of jobs created in the recovery from the Great Recession equals the number of jobs created in the Gig Economy. Old workers are surprised by new rules, and finding ways to stand out becomes more important. Old rules about careers, long-term mortgages, technology upgrades, and institutional stability are fading fast. A thirty year mortgage made sense when a job meant quietly arriving at work for thirty years and returning to an address that didn’t change while only having to learn a few new skills along the way. Surprises are now the norm, whether they are welcome or not.
Now, a business can be built with funds from crowds. Glowforge raised almost a million dollars a day for a month during its campaign. Now that the machines are being delivered, hundreds or thousands of new small businesses can be created. Joe and I came up with designs for the fun of it; and looking at the results we realize they could be businesses, too. (And he did his in fifteen minutes. How long would it take to create a working prototype twenty years ago?) Creative ideas aren’t as reliable as conventional ideas, normally; but these aren’t normal times. I don’t know if Joe’s sign design will catch on, though the three people I showed it to all smiled and came up with yet more ideas. I don’t know if my design for playfully improving laptop security will do more than make me smile, but it’s worth playing with – even if all it does is make smiles happen.
We can mourn the passing of the past or cheer the arrival of the future. The arrival of the future is inevitable. I hope to cheer its surprises and maybe add a few of mine. In the meantime, I think I’ll be glad I found a sign.