For the last year, the GuildQuality team has been building a new product called Crew. Unlike our core offering (which is for companies—specifically remodelers, homebuilders, and home improvement contractors), we’re building Crew for all the people who work in the field—skilled laborers and trades.
Our plan is to give every person working in our industry a free profile with which they can post pictures of their work, share their skills, and check in to job sites. Importantly, they can also endorse others and receive endorsements, and show up in location and skill-based searches.
While Crew is certainly a service that homeowners might be interested in, we intend to focus on serving professionals, i.e. general contractors who are always seeking talented workers and the skilled trades who are looking for work opportunities.
To give you a better idea of what Crew looks like, check out my own profile. Interested in finding a carpenter in Atlanta? Or a painter near Washington, DC? Try searching on Crew. And very soon you’ll be able to post jobs and respond to job postings.
The skilled labor challenges in our industry are painfully acute right now, and we’re working to ease that pain by shining a spotlight on the work of the best skilled laborers and trades out there. Moreover, by highlighting their great work, we can make it more obvious to ambitious young people that a rewarding career awaits them in construction.
In 2007, I engaged Andy Fleming, a business coach/therapist/guru/sage/seeker/learner to help me carry my game to the next level. I learned a great deal working with Andy, and I reflect on one of his lessons almost daily.
Andy can’t talk without reinforcing his points by sketching in his note pad, and I clearly remember the first time he shared with me a Venn diagram similar to the one above: three circles, each containing a question.
What are you good at?
What do you enjoy?
What needs doing?
I try to spend a healthy amount of time where those three circles overlap. Clearly, 100% of my time doesn’t make it into the sweet spot. Today, as an example, I paid taxes. I also invest a lot of time in getting better at things that need doing, which I find to be an enjoyable exercise.
If you are a part of an empowered work environment, or seek to cultivate empowerment in your business, I encourage you to check out James Scott’s new book, Two Cheers for Anarchism. It’s an astonishingly (and perhaps unintentionally) relevant business book for people who seek to foster decentralization, freedom, openness, and accountability within their businesses. From the fourth chapter:
…static conditions are the exception rather than the rule. …the larger the repertoire of skills a worker has, and the greater her capacity to add to that repertoire, the more adaptive she is likely to be to an unpredictable task environment and, by extension, the more adaptable an institution composed of such adaptable individuals is likely to be.
When we’re speaking with prospective employees about joining the GuildQuality team, we look for three characteristics: Friendliness, Commitment, and Resourcefulness. Friendliness helps us to get along and makes it easier to provide great service for our clients. A committed team engenders trust. And resourcefulness reinforces and cultivates our organization’s adaptability.
Contrast the organization filled with adaptable people to an organization oriented around specialization (aka Fordism). I’m beginning to think that specialization brings only short-term benefit to organizations and workers, constrains the options of the specialized worker, and hampers the flexibility and nimbleness of the company as a whole. In order to be flexible, the company with specialized workers must either be able to quickly retrain or repurpose employees or they must inevitably fire people en masse. In order to be retrained or repurposed, workers must be open to change and willing to adapt. If a worker has prospered from doing the same thing over and over again for several years, she may find it difficult to change, no matter how much encouragement she receives from her organization. As a result, companies confronted with changing landscapes must fire their specialized workers. Firing people then makes it harder to hire the people they actually need, which in turn hampers the long-term health of the organization.
In contrast, a worker with broad skills and willingness and interest in cultivating new skills will always be able to make a living and enjoy her work.
An important note: A specialized person is not the same as a person who has specialties. In order to prosper, people need to develop specialties without shedding their adaptability. The Valve employee handbook refers to these people as “T-shaped.” Companies filled with T-shaped workers are more likely to prosper over the long haul while providing each worker a fulfilling environment in which to continue their cultivation of skills.
Many great companies offer some pretty compelling enticements to join their teams. For a long time, we’ve seen perks like great health benefits, team happy hours, and lunches or breakfasts. More recently, employers have started offering unlimited vacation and 20% time. The trend is toward treating employees like creative, responsible adults. This is great, and I hope to see it continue.
Why is this happening? Speaking personally, we seek to offer this sort of work environment at GuildQuality because I want the people in my life to be in constant pursuit of self-actualization. Entrepreneurs seek to make the world into their image of how it should be, so those who value freedom and respect responsibility seek to bring freedom and responsibility to their workplaces.
But that’s not the only reason. More practically, businesses need great people, and great people want to work in great environments, on great projects, with other great people, where they feel they’re having a great impact. As a result, businesses compete for employees by creating as positive a work environment as possible.
Entrepreneurs, for all their quirks, aren’t so different from employees. They, too, want freedom. They want to work with great people. They want have a positive impact. They want to spend as little time as possible on administrivia and bureaucracy. They want to spend as much time as possible being creative and bringing their ideas to life.
Imagine, then, that industries are like employers for entrepreneurs. The best employees are selectively choosing where they’ll work. They ask themselves questions like,
Where will I have the freedom to be creative?
Where will I be rewarded?
Where will I get to work with wonderful people?
Where will I be able to have an impact?
And where do people want to work now? The internet. And why? Because they have no restrictions on their freedom or opportunity.
Unfortunately, we can’t eat the internet. The internet can’t heal us, nor can it shelter us from the elements. So if we’d like to start seeing real innovation — like the kind Tyler Cowen argues we’ve lost in The Great Stagnation — then as a culture, we have two choices:
1) We could aggressively regulate and corporatize the internet, so that all the profits from that industry would concentrate among only a few really big businesses, and all the time spent being creative and innovating would be consumed by time spent prostrating before bureaucrats for permission and favors. That would make entering the internet industry as distasteful a prospect as it is for other industries, thereby pushing more talented people toward industries that feed, heal, or shelter people.
2) We could strip the drag from the other industries.
Imagine what the built environment would look like if technology’s greatest entrepreneurs pursued a career in real estate development. They wouldn’t, of course, because this is too common a story.
Can you imagine people like Sergey, Larry, Steve, and Bill suffering impediments to their creativity? Of course not. As a result, we can’t dwell in the neighborhoods and homes they build. Nor can we be healed by the procedures they invent, or eat the foods they grow or serve.