Explaining Southern California's economy

Can 'pollinators' save companies from stagnation?

Surfing the Web at Starbucks

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Patrick Hanlon runs a branding agency called THINKTOPIA. We've traded thoughts in the past, and I think we may be soon trading some new ones regarding this post at Forbes. Patrick explains why "pollinators" — gypsy-esque workers who move from company to company, like bees, bringing tidbits of insight, innovation, and business culture with them — can drive corporate innovation.

Big companies, even ones with a background in innovation, are up against a classic problem. As they grow larger and more dominant (think: Google), they tend to tap out their ability to grow rapidly (think: Microsoft). They then fall into defensive actions to preserve what some investors call the "moat" around their competitive advantages. As the company focuses less on innovation and more on preservation, it can get "disrupted" by a more nimble rival or an upstart.

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Meet Sara Horowitz, labor entrepreneur

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be blogging about the changing nature of work and the emergence of the freelance or "gig" economy, as some call it. A 1999 MacArthur "genius" grant recipient founder of Freelancers Union, Sara Horowitz, is way ahead of me. We talked for a little while yesterday, and I'll be sharing some of what she had to say after I've sifted through the conversation.

One concept she landed on, and that she makes reference to in the video above (taken from BigThink), is "labor entrpreneurship." Horowitz pointed out to me that labor unions used to be engaged a lot of entrpreneurial activity, including building worker housing and starting banks, before they became more dependent on coportations to provide what they need.

This idea jumped out at me because I've been exploring the possilbility that unions can re-invent themselves by providing solutions and partnering with management rather than relying on a postwar tradition — real or imagined — of confrontation. Stay tuned for more.

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Freelance Nation: Differing views on the 'gig' economy

Whenever times get tough, you often hear about how laid-off workers took advantage of their involuntary freedom to get entrepreneurial and start businesses. You also hear about folks who lost their jobs but found themselves. The SoCal economy is struggling with joblessness that's much higher than the national rate — 12.4 percent in L.A. County versus 9.1 in the U.S. — so you might expect the entrepreneur story to be running hot here.

But you have to be careful about these things. There are definitely arguments on both sides. At the Atlantic, Sara Horowitz is kicking off a series on the freelance surge and how it could transform work. She's not holding back:

Jobs no longer provide the protections and security that workers used to expect. The basics ­ such as health insurance, protection from unpaid wages, a retirement plan, and unemployment insurance ­ are out of reach for one-third of working Americans. Independent workers are forced to seek them elsewhere, and if they can't find or afford them, then they go without. Our current support system is based on a traditional employment model, where one worker must be tethered to one employer to receive those benefits. Given that fewer and fewer of us are working this way, it's time to build a new support system that allows for the flexible and mobile way that people are working.

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