NFTs and the Tokenization of Work

What crypto creators tell us about the future of work

Hi, I’m Andy Spence and this is Workforce Futurist Newsletter about the rapidly changing world of work. If you are not currently subscribing then please do for regular posts like this and longer essays direct to your inbox twice a month.

Thanks to all the new subscribers – especially Diego, Lara and Rupert!

Welcome to the first day of spring, meteorologically speaking - enjoy the daffodils.

In this article, I will cover what tokens might tell us about the future of work, some interesting developments in the gig economy, and a new publishing platform owned by its writers.

Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Token Holder

Christie’s became the first major auction house to offer a standalone NFT (Non-Fungible Token) work of art.

The vast, pixelated work called “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” is by an artist known as Beeple, his collection of 20 works recently sold for $3.5m.

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are unique, digital items with blockchain-managed ownership. Examples include collectibles, game items, digital art, event tickets, domain names, crypto kitties, essays (see below), and even socks.

As Jesse Walden explains, NFTs make it possible for creators to retain ownership of their content, without limiting the propagation of their files across the internet. They offer creators a viable alternative to platform-driven monetization.

According to Olive Allen, a visual artist and crypto art pioneer, who created the image in this article.

I did that [first] drop. I priced it. I determined scarcity myself. After me, people were doing the same thing.

What might tokens in the art-world mean for the future of work?

The Crypto Creators vs The Global Workforce

Some have suggested that the so called creator economy is the future of work, and this way of facilitating ownership rights for assets will be a catalyst. Packy McCormick explains how NFTs work, and their role in the rise of the solo corporation.

On the face of it, this looks far fetched.

The global labour force might be about 3.4 billion people.

Those working independently in the creative industries is relatively tiny.

Then there are those who work, but are not in the formal labour force - the unpaid workers, the livestreamers, content creators, playbourers, and independent shopkeepers, as I described in Unleashing The Decentralized Workforce.

So crypto creators are a small subset of a small subset of a subset.

However, the way creators are making a living and selling directly to customers could be a model of how other industries work in the future.

The Tokenization of Work

We are now seeing platforms making it easier for people to earn income.

From Shopify for solo shopkeepers, to WurkNow for oil-rig workers, Dumpling, allowing people to set up their own supermarket delivery business, and, Braintrust, which is a user-owned talent network.

I made the case for tokenized user-owned digital work platforms a few years ago. As new platforms and technology develops, the principles remain the same. New technology will enable a major shift in how we rethink work. This includes decentralized finance, tokenization, digital credentials and peer-to-peer platforms.

Although the crypto creatives only make up a small part of the economy, and global workforce, they illustrate how technology will lead to disintermediation between buyers and sellers.

In the broader supply of work tasks, this will reduce the need for intermediaries, making the relationship between employer and worker more direct and transactions smoother and more efficient. Many will make the transition from working as an employee, to working off a platform, to running their own solo company.

My research with Don Tapscott and the Blockchain Research Institute provides a critique of how the staffing and technology industry uses our career data. It describes how blockchain technology enables and the implications for careers and ‘the firm’ (Spoiler Alert – it shrinks).

As work unbundles, it will rebundle in interesting ways, enabling new work ecosystems of workers. The creator economy narrative is all about enabling individuals to flourish – but the real story will be the amazing new teams that form.

As more people choose to leave, or have to leave, the formal labour force, they will need these platforms for income. We are not all going to sell our art at Christies, but some of us might make a living without the need for a boss.

If you know anyone in your network who might enjoy this newsletter then please share.


Building A Better Platform Economy

Uber drivers must be treated as workers rather than self-employed, the UK's Supreme Court has ruled.

Journalists in the financial broadsheets celebrated a dagger in the heart of the illegal gig economy. If they were to ask their Deliveroo or Doordash delivery drivers who bring hot dinners to their front door, the situation is more nuanced.

Many gig workers don’t want to be an employee, with the fixed hours and obligatory boss. This is from one of the drivers,

a disaster for thousands of Uber drivers….many will be out of work completely, so that remaining drivers get a bit of holiday pay…

Ensuring all workers have good work, is primarily a government responsibility. 

As Matthew Taylor, from the RSA says…

the courts are doing the work the Government has failed to do in clarifying and tightening the criteria for self-employment.

There is exploitation in the platform economy that regulators need to fix.

Rather than throwing our empty food cartons at an easy target, let’s build something better? Mariana Mazzucato and colleagues outline some ideas for a fairer, more effective platform economy in their article.

Mirror - The Community-Owned Publishing Platform

Talking of journalists, the gig economy and crypto (I should be on 📻) - a community-owned and operated publishing platform called Mirror has been launched.

I mentioned last month how John Palmer crowdfunded his essay and raised $13k.

The Mirror community votes for writers to be invited to the platform, who then hold $Write tokens in the platform. It is hoped the tokens will appreciate in value as the publication grows on a ‘monumental scale’.

The first leaderboard includes SeedClub, Jill Carlson, Li Jin, Adam Ludwin and Eric Hu. I am looking forward to reading their essays on the Mirror platform.

For fun, I will throw my token into the ring for Round 2.

Watch this space. Get voting and get writing!

LinkedIn building a Freelancer Platform with Payments

In the last year, there have been some beneficiaries of the pandemic, look at the share-prices of Zoom or Atlassian providing software to enable working from home.

However the share price of freelancer platforms Upwork and Fiverr have shot up by many multiples more. The demand for decent freelancers has soared in the last year and will continue into the next wave of industry restructuring.

In my last article, I outlined how Microsoft was consolidating its Workforce Tech offerings, with the launch of Viva. Now LinkedIn (owned by Microsoft) will be making a big move into the gig economy.

According to reports, Microsoft plans to cash-in on its Database of Weird Networking, voluntarily populated by 740 million users with their valuable career data. The platform will be called Marketplace, and include a digital wallet for payments.

On the subject of LinkedIn, this article made me chuckle, from Fadeke Adegbuyi, How the professional platform makes networking weird.

Scribe Spotlight

Abhijit Bhaduri writes Sketchnotes on Leadership, Talent and Culture.

As the ex-Chief Learning Officer for Wipro, and published novelist, Abhijit has a visual flair for explaining global talent trends.  Recommended reading from Abhijit includes Shopify, Advisors, Beginners, Raj Chetty

Cat of the Week 🐱

This week, it has to be a collectible CryptoKittie!

Founder Cat #84 (one of the first 100 CryptoKitties ever created) sold for 33.76 ETH this week (worth about $45k last time I looked)

This is not investment advice – always seek advice from your moggy.

Thanks for reading – do get in touch if you have any comments.

The image is by the artist Olive Allen, you can see more of her artwork here.