If you have ever completed a values exercise to discover what you love, you will no doubt have been faced with the spectre of “How do I monetise what I love doing?”
I faced this question while teaching in high school. I was in pain and knew I had to go, but where? I saw entire industries toppling all around me. The publishing industry was a mere shell of its former glory. The education sector was pushing out teachers, or throwing them crumbs.
The idea of marking assignments while trying to get a piece of paper (PhD) that I didn’t really want felt like I was about to dive off a cliff into a pile of shit.
I designed online courses for a few years – a definite growth area - but as with most jobs, there was very little room for creativity. It was mostly copying and pasting. Budget constraints made sure that the courses were repetitive. I felt sorry for the students.
There were a lot of things I loved about teaching in high school and university, but there were far too many things I didn’t. After a few very painful years, I learnt what I didn't like, and what I would do even if I wasn’t paid. It was in plain sight the whole time.
Knowing what I loved doing was easy when compared to answering the question, “How do I monetise what I love doing?” - that was the challenge.
There I was, faced with not only how am I going to make money doing what I love but also, how do I make money without a job. It looked impossible.
Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Wired magazine says it is challenging questions like these that are the seed of innovation. They badly want to be answered, but there is no clear answer.
And not having immediate answers is what caused me so much pain. I wanted the answer to be there in great, big letters. GO DO THIS AND IT WILL BE ALL OKAY.
But I would later learn that it is the big, juicy questions that help us imagine a better future. In fact, without the discomfort, I wouldn’t stretch myself. And it is this stretching that helps us answer our biggest questions.
This is a conundrum that my mother didn’t have to face. She worked in textile and automobile factories. That was of course when Australia still had a large manufacturing industry. She worked on an assembly line until she had children and then opted to be a stay-at-home mum. It was normal.
I asked her about my dilemma and she, being old school, said that it is best to stay in a job, no matter how terrible. Life was about suffering, and you are best to stay safe and secure, albeit while suffering. I didn’t mention it again. It would be a dilemma that I would need to solve on my own.
Fortunately, things were changing.
I started to follow creative entrepreneurs and listening to what they had say. Tim Ferris, Elizabeth Gilbert early on, but then Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal and Taylor Pearson, an author-entrepreneur.
Each of these creatives were clearly NOT in jobs and were making a very decent living through doing what they loved. They freely shared what they were up to and how they got to where they were. They didn’t sugar coat it. It was a lot of hard work but hard work they would do anyway.
Every writer and artist that I came across would repeat this. They would say, sure, there is a tonne of uncertainty and chaos but it is a necessary part of the creative process. When we have order and certainty, we have boredom and Groundhog Day.
This is the key message of Kelly’s The Inevitable, a book on future technologies and how the world will look. He points out that, rather than heading towards a utopia or dystopia, we’re headed towards a “protopia” – a world where we will be perpetual newbies, constantly learning new skills but most of all, creating a world that we want to live in.
This idea has been echoed by many other creative entrepreneurs. Technology is giving individuals the opportunity to create work that is their own. Rather than be limited by the demands of a company or institution, in the future decentralised world, we will be “free agents” – people who use technology to create work that reflects our true nature.
We will specialise in creating experiences, something that robots cannot do. Creatives are perfectly poised for this type of environment. Robots can do a lot of things that require repetition and order, but when it comes to making art (writing, drawing, singing, designing, and everything else that requires creativity), robots can’t do it.
In fact, robots aren’t distinct, unique beings who have idiosyncratic ways of looking at the world. They can’t express the human condition in a heart-wrenching poem or song. They can’t draw or design images that depict what it really means to love or lose someone. The beings of Westworld are still way, way off.
It is the people who use technology, whether as a tool to create or as a tool to promote their work, that will be successful. They will use existing resources, such as website tools and techniques, add the wonders of Google’s constantly improving Artificial Intelligence (AI), to create a platform that provides their customers with something more meaningful than what was there before.
Through the power of Google’s algorithms and massive databases, we will make our work better.
We can personalise what we have to offer to our True Fans. We can deliver what Kelly calls “generatives” – personalised copies and services, in-person events, and access to things that can’t be easily copied. They are distinct and therefore valuable.
The following outlines Kelly's 8 ways to monetise what you love:
This type of future combines play and work, and as Kelly adds, it is this conflation that is the greatest thing to come out of the Internet.
Future work = Play + Work
But what about rampant, unadulterated copying. How can we be original when the moment we put our ideas up in the cloud, someone else is copying it and palming it off as their own?
Inevitably, massive copying is here to stay. People will always copy what other people are doing. We are natural born copycats, and the Internet helps us excel at this age-old habit. This is a challenge, yes, but it will certainly keep us on our toes. The key will be learning new skills and techniques to always stay ahead of the game. To create things and experiences that are scarce and valuable, something that reveals only what you can do.
What all this means for you and me, is that we are no longer forced to stay in a job – to suppress ourselves in order to just make an income. We are free from the constraints of the past, and technology, if we use it wisely, can help us create a better future, both for ourselves but most of all, for each other.
The gold will only come through asking good questions, as I did when I started on my journey. I didn’t know how valuable those questions would be, and how they still drive me. Those questions are now taking me to the edge of what is known in 2017 and what has yet to become.
I have depicted below what I see an ideal day for a creative in the future. How do you imagine your future? Here is a direct link for a free copy of this poster.
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