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Accomplices, 3D-printers and (unwanted) freedom

The collaborative consumers

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Work in progress, a congress organized by the Hamburg creative society, went into round two on march 1st. "Strategies for the working world of tomorrow,” was the mantra for the long, demanding and very educational weekend at Kampnagel. The event was filled with interesting talks, heated debates and a very involved audience. 9 hours, 5 speeches and 3 panels later, Deskmag is now ready to sum it up for you.

Cooperating, whether it's with people you don’t like, accomplices, collaborators, the ubiquitous 3D-printer, detours to freedom (that you didn’t want in the first place) and the overuse of the word “creativity”, is an inevitable part of life. Those are a few examples of the topics tackled at this year’s Work in Progress conference, so now let’s put them in order…

Freedom vs. liberation

We can all agree that the number of active freelancers is rising steadily. On the one hand, it gives you more freedom, a bigger scope for decision-making, and the power to influence your way of work and life. But, as with everything, there’s also another side to this newfound freedom.

There are a lot of freelancers out there that didn’t actually choose to be self-employed. We could say that they are entrepreneurs by circumstance. At one point in time these circumstantial freelancers were employed, had health insurance, a pension plan, vacation allowance and everything else. Once they are cut-loose, they must face all of the bureaucratic odds and ends by themselves.

Big companies usually decide to set their employees free as a way to reduce their own costs. Henceforth, freelance collaborators keep doing the same job. Sure, they can work from home now, wear flannel and sneakers all day, but all of the security is gone. No more sick-leave, no more paid holidays. Don’t get us wrong, they still get time off, often taking a compulsory break every eight weeks so nobody will suspect fictitious self-employment.

Working freelance is not for everybody and in a lot of cases we have to question the altruistic motives behind this so-called freedom. Yet, they’re not all like that, and those who are entrepreneurs by conviction do exist. They are the ones who choose to freelance because they want to be their own boss, and have the ability to decide when, where, for how much and for whom to work. They even want to plan their own retirement arrangements. Besides, there are no certainties in life anyway, and obligatory insurance won't change that.

Complicity and collaboration

You can’t really get a lot done on your own in todays working world, but the possibilities of collaborating with others come in many shapes and sizes. We are now going to have a look at relationships between unlikely strangers and complicities.

You don’t always get the chance to pick who you want to work with. Sometimes you end up in a team with people you don’t know or particularly like, but not to worry, this is actually good for you. According to Richard Sennett, diverse teams are the better when it comes to fueling creativity. In fact, working together is not so hard as long as you observe some ground rules:

-       Listen to your coworkers, hear what is not said, and agree to disagree: complete resolution is not the goal.

-       Use the subjunctive voice, thus leaving space for interpretation: ambiguity invites people to participate

-       Set an informal frame and let your mind wander a bit: rules that are too strict inhibit creativity

-       Empathy rather than sympathy, don’t identify yourself with the other: solidarity enforces uniformity and kills  creativity

Complicity is another, very intense, form of cooperation. You should avoid making the mistake of confusing acquaintances with friends. This is mainly because accomplices will disappear from your life, just as quickly as they entered, once the work is done and they usually leave no trace of ever having existed. Acquaintances find each other without searching, and they synchronize in their dissimilarity: disguise as loners, making a decision, or a plan that they execute together. We are not talking about the criminal kind of accomplices, but instead the good, innovative and productive kind.

The biggest difference between complicity and other forms of cooperation, is that it requires a high level of trust. You can work in a team of people you don’t trust, but they can’t be your accomplices. Complicities involve fighting an opponent, who is unaware of their existence. They have a shared goal that benefits all of those who are involved.

Share and swap

This is where the 3D-printer comes in. DIY culture is the next big thing. All you need is a little plastic, plus the little marvel we call the 3D-printer, and you can print out pretty much anything you want.

But the thing that is really special about this new machine, is the fact that it is an open source product. The construction plans are available for everyone, because shared knowledge equals more knowledge. The question is though, how to make money with technology that is free, and the answer to that is yet to come. Patience is key.

Yet open source technology is not limited to the printer. This movement goes so much further. Open design, creative commons, fablabs and the whole maker community operate on the same level. The currency that is being traded is not money, but rather attention. Attention is becoming the most valuable good in the digital age we live in. You no longer sell things, you sell ideas and services.

A similar movement to the one of the 3D-printer, is that of collaborative consumption. We all have loads and loads of things lying around that we hardly ever use. The goal is to create access rather than property, and thus counteract the consumption craze of the western world.

Detours to success and economic anxiety

Go to school, study hard, focus, have a career, get rich, retire. You won’t find a lot of résumés that read like this anymore. More and more CVs are showing many fractions and detours nowadays. On the other hand, when we have found a CV like this, it is more often the case with women, because we take into consideration the incredible responsibility of raising a family.

Just because you go to school doesn’t mean that you’re going to end up working in that field. You study to be a lawyer, work as a photographer today, and might be an organic farmer in the future. Many people see this as some sort of failure, but every step you take is important for your personal development and for the person you are today, even if they go sideways and backwards, instead of straight forward.

Naturally, not everyone whose curriculum shows certain changes has taken these steps voluntarily, especially if you look beyond the margins of the academic elite. You will find that many people have had to reposition themselves professionally due to an unstable economy.

Having anxiety about the future might lead you to realign your career plans. Anxiety may be the catalyst, but it takes a lot of guts to take the necessary steps to leave your old career behind when you realize that it’s a dead-end job.

This was just an overview of the topics discussed at this year’s Work in Progress conference. It would be presumptuous and virtually impossible to try and convey the full content in one article. We are still unsure exactly what the future will look like, but it is our responsibility to shape it, and we are taking the first steps in the right direction. We’re looking forward to the next round of Work in Progress in 2014.

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