A Conversation with David Nordfors About a People-Centered Economy (PCE)

PCI has been exploring partnering with the i4j Innovation for Jobs Foundation that Vint Cerf also chairs. This article highlights perspectives from i4j on what a people-centered economy might look like in parallel to efforts towards a more people-centered Internet globally.
By Miguel Peromingo

When I ask David Nordfors what he thinks are the current game changers in the new world of work, he answers that the present model of the labour market and the global economy is running into troubles. 

David is a founding member of the i4j Innovation for Jobs Foundation, a Silicon-Valley-based think tank and community of thought leaders that he co-chairs with Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet. 

The central thesis of i4j is the People Centered Economy or PCE for short.

The gig economy – more of the same

“Today, the choice of people and skills is far wider than it used to be when the labour market model aroused and when employers not only searched for talent, but also trained their own people. 

Still, increasing progression of technology and globalisation expands opportunities to commoditize work and push down prices on labour, making it more difficult for people to earn a living.” 

The gig economy is a prime example of this. Platforms and peer-to-peer services are paying people below minimum wage, skipping social benefits and exposing gig workers to the consequences of a tough price competition between services like Uber and Lyft. 

It’s neither good for these businesses in the long run, because getting rid of their commitments to workers and relying on predictable machines instead of unpredictable people allows them to operate on thinner margins, thus lowering the price of their service. 

The competition between them will force them to operate on minimal profit margins, taking the money out of the business at the end of the day, unless it results in a monopoly where the winner takes all as overarching super platform. 

This explains what we are seeing today: products and services are getting cheaper while people are struggling to find good jobs and the growth rate of the world economy is slowing down. 

Technology has made it too easy to lower labour costs and the old model of the labour market and the economy is not designed for this. 

Market forces in this old economy keep on bringing forth a cohort of unhappy people in jobs that do not pay enough and underuse skills. 

A large part of the challenge is that people do not understand what is going on because the economy seems so complicated and the knowledge of innovation forces such as AI are hardly understood by the general public.

The Copernican shift

So what does David propose to change this? 

He suggests that nothing less than a Copernican revolution is needed, one where we stop accepting very complicated orbitals to keep pretending that the sun is circling around the earth instead of switching to the easy view of putting the sun in the middle of a solar system.

A core idea of i4j is to move from a task-centred view of the economy, which is driven by fastidious cost-efficiency to a more obvious people-centred view, which is driven by putting the focus on the individual and raising the value of people. 

Today we have a lot of good innovation for spending more efficiently, but very little innovation for earning better and no useful innovation for what people need most of all: earning a better livelihood in more meaningful ways. 

In a people-centered economy entrepreneurs will be competing for offering the masses better ways of earning their living by finding, or tailoring jobs that fit each individual’s unique profile of skills, talents and passions, matching them in teams with people that inspire each other. 

This creates much more value than trying to shape people to fit quickly changing job slots. This innovates for the earner, not for the spender and would break the downward spiral of cost-saving – having everybody earn more and share more equally.

Coolabilities matter

This approach needs entrepreneurs who believe and multiply the idea of creating better ways of earning and help provide education that people find meaningful and that can be used in a value-driven labour market. 

I4j is getting a community of investors around the table to do exactly that: The flagship project coolabilities, for instance, encourages employers and job seekers to focus on their useful skills and values, and try out approaches to implement a people-based economy. 

Coolabilities are the strengths that co-occur with disabilities and are often neglected. Autistic people, for example, can be highly qualified for quality engineering and accountancy, because they can have the autistic coolabilities of managing detail to perfection.

They can create a lot of value if they are given the chance to work in an innovative ecosystem that disrupts views of people with disabilities and the image of a labour market where people must struggle to fit available slots. Like this, all people can create value for each other. In the people-centered economy the market competes for making that happen. In the present task-centered economy, there is no incentive for it and human ability is laid to waste.

Economies and thus labour markets where innovation makes people need, want, value and help each other, are in David’s view the way to go in the future:

“I make myself more valuable by making you more valuable is the recipe for good business and a strong economy”, he tags the vision and adds that such an approach would also neutralize the anxious discussion about robots taking jobs, because human skills would generate tasks rather than wait for the leftover exercises of machines.

I4j’s first book Disrupting Unemployment”, raised the questions of innovation on the job market. It suggested an economy where innovation gives people great jobs in a middle-class society. The book, in a 2018-update version, can be obtained at Amazon.

David and Vint present their ideas in depth in their new book, “The People Centered Economy – the new ecosystem for work”, which will be released during the autumn. 

Next to the i4j cofounders it gathers a great group of co-writers such as Allen Blue of LinkedIn, Jim Clifton of Gallup, VR Ferose of SAP and Jason Palmer of New Markets Venture Partners.

The conference that comes with the book launch will be held in Silicon Valley on October 26, 2018.

Check out the i4j website and the flagship project coolabilities.


This article was first published here.


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