The Patchwork Principle: A New Employment Strategy for the 21st Century

job interview Career myopia is an epidemic that has plagued the landscape of the American work force for generations. The big picture has been lost in a fuzzy haze as the field of vision has narrowed and the imaginations of the myopic masses have atrophied. Our work force has been fixated on surviving instead of thriving for generations, until recently.

As massive unemployment has carried out a shock and awe campaign against the American work force, an alarming number of people remain unemployed or underemployed. They are becoming acutely aware of how tenuous the promise of job security really is and, in growing numbers, are awakening to the fact that the so-called job security typically associated with a 9-to-5 job is a smoke-and-mirrors proposition.

As the blinders have come off, people are increasingly demanding more personal satisfaction from their careers. This paradigm shift away from the traditional, subservient model of employment and toward the independence that entrepreneurship offers is a growing trend; most notably, freelancers are entering the work force en masse.

In fact, Sara Horowitz, founder of the Freelancer's Union, recently reported in The Atlantic that "close to one-third of the country's work force is comprised of independent workers." However, even within this freelance industry, unhappiness is tangible; media mogul Tina Brown characterizes this "gigger" malaise as "the penny ante slog."

However, a new career strategy is emerging in stark contrast to Gigonomics that addresses the two most salient demands of the 21st century worker: quality of life and job security. The Patchwork Principle (TPP) is a formula that combines happiness and economic stability in equal measure. The fundamental premise is that small jobs yield big payoffs. These short-term, part-time, temporary gigs and consultancies present unique opportunities. Newly empowered employees can enjoy a sense of autonomy, complexity, and flexibility. But perhaps most important to the currently shell-shocked work force is the benefit of unlimited opportunity.

The patchworker is a new kind of employee working quite differently than the traditional freelancer. First, patchworkers are highly selective about the work they choose to accept because quality of life, dubbed lifestyle design, is paramount. Second and perhaps most notably, patchworking is the art and science of fishing for new, mostly unadvertised leads and pitching them to prospective employers. The competition in these situations is practically non-existent and the odds of landing the work are certainly in favor of the person pitching the solution. Patchworkers offer potential employers an immediate and practical solution to existing problems or present new ideas and an implementation plan.

This approach is generally well received by employers who are already receptive to the notion of outsourcing. It favors employers because job descriptions of previously costly full-time positions can easily be dissected and the core functions rationed among temporary workers, consultants and other transient employee types, which are much more cost-effective alternatives in the long-term. This trend is a boon for patchworkers who are the ideal candidates for many of the available positions based on availability and flexibility among other factors.

Much like consultancies, as one job builds on the next, referrals increase over time and momentum begins to take hold and generate a steady stream of income with less and less fishing and pitching required. The result is a liberated, new career lifestyle hallmarked by freedom and choice, happiness and revenue. The patchworker enjoys a mosaic of interesting and meaningful small jobs that may vary in any number of ways including required skill sets, appointment types and rates of pay. Unlike consultancies, the jobs do not necessarily remain within the same field of expertise, presenting an opportunity for patchworkers to utilize multiple skill sets, sample new areas of interest, develop new skill sets without risk, and respond to the changing marketplace rapidly and easily. And perhaps most notably, the inherent design of The Patchwork Principle is stable and insulated from sudden and total job loss, due to the array of employers contributing to the patchworker's bottom line.

Beyond what makes good sense from a business perspective is what these jobs all share in common -- a commitment to the patchworker's core lifestyle design priorities. These small jobs shape to fit the unique personal priorities of the patchworker such as time, money and relationships, which are those uncompromisable fundamentals that account for a satisfying quality of life uniquely defined by the individual.

Gone is the myopic haze in which employees were formerly trapped. Patchworking is a deliberate way of working and living. It is a career lifestyle with the big picture in sharp focus. This can be summed up with a simple phrase, the first of eleven guiding beliefs of The Patchwork Principle: "Work on purpose."


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Monica Vandeventer

I love this post. We are doing exactly this. We are arranging our life to be able to travel the world with our family and have been rethinking everything.
I really appreciate the distinction you made between the consultant and patchworker. I feel like we are the ultimate entrepreneur because we seek out needs and find ways to fill them. It is great to be able to reinvent yourself and use a virety of skills like you mentioned. It is extremely fulfilling and flexible. I wouldn't change it for anything.
I wrote 2 posts inspired by this lifestyle and your article on our blog www.FamilyTrek.org -Our Quest to Work Less, Live More and Travel the World with Our Family-
http://www.familytrek.org/making-work-work-for-you/
http://www.familytrek.org/achieving-the-family-travel-lifestyle-patchwork-income/
Thank you for so very articulating this awesome option to the 9-5 grind!

February 24 2012 at 1:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Welcome Susan

Loved your book too! Your approach is so helpful and gives me hope for a new adventure in employment. Thanks!

April 05 2011 at 12:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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