• Heidi Fung

The future of work hinges on reinventing this crucial founder relationship

Updated: Jun 29

Originally published in Entrepreneur Magazine on 05/24/22

"Work" in 2022 is not the "work" of yesteryear. Technology and the pandemic have changed not only the landscape (that is, how and where we work), but also behaviors and attitudes about it. One example of this is how we share crucial, from-the-trenches business knowledge in order to prime new leaders to be successful.

In the past, the keys to building a successful business were held by an elite few. Historically, knowledge was passed down, and employees leaned on that knowledge as they gained experience and worked their way to the top. Today, because entrepreneurship has truly taken hold, and an increasing number of people have branched out to start their own companies, the act of passing down knowledge and expertise has been taken over by expensive consulting firms. Or, it remains locked among those Ivy League or an elite percent of executives at the top of large, established brands.

New technology makes it easy to start a business, but…

So, while technology like Stripe payments, Wix no-code website design and Shopify ecommerce storefronts have made it easier for entrepreneurs to set up their businesses from an infrastructure perspective, a profitable business requires more than a beautiful shop front.

The fact is, knowledge and experience required for success is a critical piece of the puzzle that is unavailable to many new business leaders. To get it, they must either call in friendly favors from their professional network or spend thousands that they don't have on a pricey consulting firm or agency.

Knowledge-wealth inequality

Entrepreneurs are inherently disconnected from the millions of people who could help them be successful. This "knowledge-wealth inequality" conundrum plaguing new business leaders is certainly a difficult hurdle to overcome. But while these business leaders are casting about for expertise, there's a revolution brewing among the high-end "knowledge keepers."

Indeed, an existential crisis is emerging among workers in general, fueling "The Great Resignation," in which 4.4 million of them quit their jobs last year. For these workers, months of pandemic-induced heavy workloads underpin a re-evaluation of their work-life balance, with many questioning the "meaning" of work and whether or not it enriches their lives. Many high-end workers fall into this category: They determine that their well-paying jobs and linear career paths at big companies are no longer fulfilling. The problem is that, as they leave the workforce, their rich, experiential wealth of knowledge goes with them, all but disappearing from the economy. And as a result, knowledge-wealth is now concentrated among those who can afford to pay exorbitant salaries or high-priced consulting firms.

What if seasoned leaders could transfer their knowledge directly?

But rather than pulling out of the workforce, what if these disillusioned high-end workers could share their expertise and knowledge in a meaningful, uplifting way that provides a feeling of greater purpose? What if we could bring the two sides together — the new business leaders seeking knowledge, and the high-end knowledge keepers — in a way that's cost-effective and frictionless?

The answers to these questions bring us to a reinvention of the founder/business leader-advisor relationship that enables a culture of change, resulting in greater business success (and personal happiness on both sides). Companies that figure out how to hire these experienced superstars (without long RFP processes or piles of contractor contracts) will continue to grow. And workers who figure out how to sell their expertise will be able to find meaningful and impactful work from people who value a few hours of their time. Connecting the two in a seamless and frictionless way is the foundation for a new model of knowledge and expertise acquisition and marks the end of knowledge-wealth inequality.

This new model not only connects work and labor, it also supports interdisciplinary collaboration so that general expertise can be used across contexts, and a broader set of people can benefit from knowledge-sharing. The concept is explored further in David Epstein's book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. In it, Epstein writes that a rapidly changing world demands "conceptual reasoning skills that can connect new ideas and work across contexts … great rewards will accrue to those who can take conceptual knowledge from one problem or domain and apply it in an entirely new one."

The bottom line is this: The democratization of knowledge and expertise gives new leaders a fighting chance, while also presenting new opportunities for the knowledge keepers to give back and enrich their work life. In a model that connects business leaders with experts, no knowledge is wasted or lost. Everyone wins, and knowledge-wealth inequality ceases to exist.

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