May 4, 2021

Orchestrating the Freelance Economy

Matt Coatney, CTO at HBR Consulting, interviewed by host Trond Arne Undheim, futurist, investor, and author.
In this conversation, we talked about the book Matt Coatney co-authored, The Human Cloud: How Today's Changemakers Use Artificial Intelligence an...

Matt Coatney, CTO at HBR Consulting, interviewed by host Trond Arne Undheim, futurist, investor, and author.

In this conversation, we talked about the book Matt Coatney co-authored, The Human Cloud: How Today's Changemakers Use Artificial Intelligence and the Freelance Economy to Transform Work. From routinized, repetitive assembly line work towards project oriented work--in all sectors. Enablers--AI, globalization, cloud platforms, shadow IT. Limitations-structure, regulations, organizational blockers. Future outlook: orchestration as the key human skill, industry- and task-specific cloud collaboration platforms.

My takeaway is that the freelancer economy is all about orchestrating people and technologies at a distance. This is not easy. As more and more intense and complex project oriented work takes place outside the remits of the traditional workplace, team, leadership and management skills need to increase in magnitude and quality. The sweet spot is where the enabling technology meets the challenges of human connection and productivity. The experimentation and the debate will only intensify in the years to come.

Having listened to this episode, check out HBR Consulting as well as Matt Coatney's online profile:

Thanks for listening. If you liked the show, subscribe at or in your preferred podcast player, and rate us with five stars.

If you like this topic, you may enjoy other episodes of Futurized, such as episode 49 Living the Future of Work, episode 41 episode 41 The Future of Work or episode 78 The Next Generation Marketplaces.

Futurized—preparing YOU to deal with disruption.


Orchestrating Freelance_mixdown

Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:00:00] Futurized goes beneath the trends to track the underlying forces of disruption in tech policy, business models, social dynamics, and the environment. I'm your host Trond Arne Undheim, futurist and author. In episode 93 of the podcast, topic is orchestrating the freelancer economy. Our guest is Matt  Coatney, CTO at HBR and consultant.

[00:00:25] In this conversation, we talked about the book that  Matt Coatney coauthored called the human cloud. How today's change makers use artificial intelligence and the freelance economy to transform work from routinized repetitive assembly line work towards project oriented work in all sectors enablers, AI globalization cloud platforms, and shadow IT.

[00:00:49] Limitations include structure regulations, organizational blockers. We talked about the future outlook, where orchestration is the key. Human skill industry and task specific cloud collaboration platforms matter as well. How are you today? I'm

[00:01:08] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:01:08] doing well. Good afternoon. Good to see you again. You

[00:01:11] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:01:11] likewise.

[00:01:12] Well, look, I'm looking forward to having a discussion about the freelancer economy. You you've written a book about it. You've been in business for a good number of years. I've been looking into your career path here. You seem to have been inside of a kind of business publishing houses and doing life science.

[00:01:34] It lots of consulting towards you know, last few years deeply embedded in technology, but from a multiple set of angles. That's a,

[00:01:44] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:01:44] that's a polite way of saying it. My, my career has been a bit of a, a wayward journey, but always with a thread around how technology can help people. And I've spent a lot of time in that capacity in different industries to your point, really looking at how AI in particular, but all kinds of technology can help.

[00:02:03] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:02:03] Right. Right, right. So we'll, we'll get to that. But I guess this is part of what the, your, your book human cloud is about technology needs to fit into all these business context. You can't just know a lot about technology. That's, that's

[00:02:19] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:02:19] partly what this is about, right? Yeah. I spent my my first couple of years in industry building software and, and loved that.

[00:02:26] Loved the creative action of doing that. But it was rather disheartening because we spent all of this time building really sophisticated tools and, and just really excited about it and then watching it fall flat in the marketplace. So it really started, that was what pivoted me more toward this how technology fits in from a user's perspective and from a business perspective.

[00:02:47]That's that's what really excites me. Right? How do we make it work for people?

[00:02:53] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:02:53] Yes, that is the point. Isn't it? You know? So in terms of this freelancer track that we'll get to in a second, that's, that's a whole other story, right? Because now not only do you have to make it work, but you have to make it work from, from a different context where you're at least from the freelancer's perspective, but certainly from the company's perspective, not seeing all the, all the moving parts, but look, I wanted to.

[00:03:18] To take this a little earlier and back into sort of your career, if you're mining, you know, if you're mining for why you took this Mandering path, you studied and very early on, got exposed to sort of life science and you were in kind of the bio world. What was it that pulled you over more into the enterprise general enterprise it world and yeah.

[00:03:44] Yeah.

[00:03:46] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:03:46] Good, good question. Part of it was just happenstance to say it was a well-defined path as a bit, being a bit generous to my, my younger self. A lot of it was following opportunity and. What I enjoy most is working on really complicated systems and really like digging into some really intellectual media stuff.

[00:04:06] And twenty-five years ago, when I entered industry, you had to really go up market to find that you had to go into these research organizations that were investing millions and millions of dollars on cutting edge technology. But as I've grown and as we've. Matured as a, as a technology technological world I found that I was able to meet that same kind of intellectual stimulation, curiosity, downmarket, right?

[00:04:29] To your point, working within enterprises, more traditional businesses because they've begun to have access to these kind of, of tools and, and capabilities in a way that only the richest of organizations had 25 years ago. And that's been really, it's been neat to be able to take. Techniques that we leveraged in a really, really clever way and take that sort of downmarket into a traditional enterprise.

[00:04:56] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:04:56] Another little tidbit that I wanted to cover is so you went to Ohio state and a lot of your career has been in Ohio. Give me, give me, give me a sense of how you think about it in Ohio.

[00:05:07] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:05:07] Sure, sure. Absolutely. Well,

[00:05:09] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:05:09] I'm like a dumb question, but maybe it's

[00:05:12] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:05:12] a good, it's a good question. Well, it, it speaks to, it speaks to that prior point.

[00:05:15] So, you know, Ohio is, is one of those States it's actually quite populous and has a lot going on. But if you're, if you're on the East coast or West coast, it's sort of all blurs together as one big Midwestern blur. But you know, I've been fortunate that I've been exposed to and worked with organizations across the country, as well as across the world.

[00:05:34]Being able to call Ohio home has been great. There is a lot that actually happens here that I think is unbeknownst to the larger audience, but there's quite a bit of innovation. Some of the fortune 500 companies, you know, your Proctor and Gamble's, and Kroger's of the world are based here, a thriving university system.

[00:05:50]But it's, it's more nuanced, right? We don't necessarily create a lot of noise or, or do a lot of marketing around it, but there's quite a bit of innovation going on here. If you know where to look.

[00:06:00] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:06:00] Yeah, I guess that's partly why I was asking because you know, I, I do know that a lot of fortune five hundreds, you know, are congregating around.

[00:06:09]Well, I guess you've been in sort of between Dayton, Cincinnati, the different different parts. But I was also interested in if there is a Heartland take on it.

[00:06:17]Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:06:17] Heartline E Hm. You know, I think that I go back to, you know, Mark Zuckerberg was, was

[00:06:26] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:06:26] well, because there is a Silicon Valley take certainly.

[00:06:28] And there claim there is a take there's a

[00:06:31] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:06:31] take. Yeah. I think, I think for all HIO it's it's how do you, how do you build things for the long-term? How do you, how do you make it last? And there's a lot of focus in. Sort of Silicon Valley about that rapid growth and that exponential trajectory and things of that nature.

[00:06:46]But a lot of that can be flash pan and sort of be gone in an instant where we're thinking about how do you build systems, capabilities businesses that scale well thoughtfully and, and have longevity. So I think that's been important, you know, that's been the Heartland take. I have seen having worked with some of the organizations out on the East and West coast.

[00:07:07] Hmm.

[00:07:08] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:07:08] Well you know, maybe this was an unfair question, but I wanted to do it just because, you know, we're talking about the orchestrating, the freelancer and freelance economy here, and, and you know, whether you're a freelancer or not, when you do work from Ohio and, you know, obviously even if the company actually.

[00:07:26] Is headquartered there. You certainly have clients that are elsewhere. I mean, that's just a fact of life. So I was wondering, you know, in terms of what we're going to get into now, which is this greater facilitation for freelance, which technology arguably has, has brought us. If there was a particular preparation for that, you know, given that Ohio that, you know, if you do run global operations from Ohio, you kind of had to think about this.

[00:07:52] Not just last year with a pandemic, but this would have had to be part of the planning already.

[00:07:58] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:07:58] That's exactly right. And, and it, it cuts both ways. So I think for, for organizations that are in we'll call them high rent districts, right? Your Silicon Valley, New York Tokyo, other other places you have to be thinking about even before last year, how can you access talent that is sitting in lower cost regions in a seamless way?

[00:08:20] That goes beyond traditional outsourcing. And so how can you pull in experts that live in Ohio or in Illinois or wherever they live? How can you pull them into your fabric and work with them in an effective way? And our organizations and, and sort of structures and policies. Haven't always made that easy.

[00:08:37]And then conversely right, if you're in, if you're in Ohio, you're in the Midwest, how are you tapping into talent that, you know, it. For instance, AI is a good example. I've been helping a startup try to source a it director that knows about artificial intelligence and knows about AWS and cloud.

[00:08:56] That's a very short list in Ohio, but if you broaden that and look at the rest of the country, the rest of the world the list is longer. So, so it cuts both ways. And I think that, you know, as I've thought about it COVID has helped accelerate. What was a trend to begin with, which is breaking down these barriers at least geographically to start thinking about how we source a team for what we need and not for where they are.

[00:09:20] Hmm. Not, not profound. Right. But certainly we've seen, we've always thought that, that I heard, I heard a good quote it's it's 2020 is what we expected to happen just 10 years earlier.

[00:09:33] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:09:33] Hmm. Well, tell them, tell us about this journey, because you know, you wrote a book on the human cloud on how basically makers and I'd love to hear who you consider change makers you know, are using AI and, and the freelance economy to transform work.

[00:09:49] And, and I guess the workplace, how, how do you explain this history? And when did it start and, and, you know, just give us like a short sort of historical timeline here.

[00:10:00] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:10:00] Sure. Absolutely. And. First off the book for me was, was my own freelance experience. So a quick Genesis of, of how the book came to be was I had done, I've been dabbling in freelancing really as a way to scratch my creative itches.

[00:10:13] So it's more about, you know, I I'm a corporate executive now. I certainly don't want for things in the traditional sense. But what I do look for is his ability to do things like creative writing Talking as a thought leader, as an expert in, in these various topics. And so I actually did a freelance project with someone where I helped them write a it was a report on the state of AI and that happened to be my eventual coauthor.

[00:10:38] So we, we met, I supported them and worked on, did some ghost writing for him that sort of blossomed into a friendship. And then he said, well, why don't we why don't we write a book because I've got one that's pretty much. Already done where his, where his famous last words it was, it was nowhere near done.

[00:10:53] But we, we got together started pitching to public publishers and ultimately landed with Harper Collins which we've been thrilled about. But from a, you know, it was my experience sort of tasting what freelance is like. I've learned a lot over the last couple of years from him. He is more of a freelance expert, has been really been foundational in building the systems around.

[00:11:13] How freelancers work in an enterprise. You know, for me, I think that the, when I, when I think about this, right, and you think about a changemaker really what that means is, is just someone that is focused on delivering value. That's their metric. That's what they do too. Make their Mark in the world to be successful, to drive a business.

[00:11:32] And yeah, that has, now that hasn't changed. Right? I think about my success in my corporate career has largely been because that's been my focus, that's been, my area of expertise is growing value within organized organizations and businesses and demonstrating that, and that begets the next role and the next role That's the same that, you know, freelancers aren't new and solo practitioners, whatever you would like to call them people that sort of hung out their shingle over the past several decades, the same concept, but what is different?

[00:12:05] And this is, this is really our central conceit, right? Is that what is different now? Is that the tools that you have at your disposal, whether you're a corporation or a freelancer to be. Effective and to generate that 10 X value that you're looking for, there's so much more you can work with now than there was 20, 30 years ago.


[00:12:23] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:12:23] that's that's yeah, that's interesting. Right? Because I was looking into this actually in, I guess in many ways, but in my PhD a long time ago. And you know, if you, if you go more than 10 years back, if you go 20 years back, there was also this moment, you know, around the first internet craze where everybody said.

[00:12:43] This is coming now. Right? And there were books about the freelance economy, all of that stuff. And yes, there was freelancing, but that kind of freelancing was the odd job. And it was like writing what you're talking about. And, you know, please explain, but you're talking about deeper and higher level and higher hierarchical type of knowledge.

[00:13:08]Which are making bigger and bigger impacts in incorporations. You're not saying, well, you were, you were using an example before hiring an executive, which is something you would not really think of. Even back in 99 when I was writing about these things, no one was truly saying they were saying actually, but they didn't really believe it.

[00:13:25] They didn't just do what I found out. They didn't really believe that you could sit on an Island. You could maybe somewhat run the company, but you certainly couldn't get a job as. A C-level executive, right. You know, fresh off the boat from some other company, you can, you can't convince people that I'm going to sit on this Island and do this job.

[00:13:45] Right. So what

[00:13:45] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:13:45] has changed? What has changed? Yeah. And, and you're right. I mean, I think when we used to think about freelancing and I used to think about freelancing back in the early two thousands, it was up, I'm going to get someone to build a website, great. To get someone to design a logo for me you know, these types of activities.

[00:14:00] And now we're seeing accountants, lawyers, executives, very, very high echelon type of work being brought in as freelancers and supporting a career as a freelancer. You know, one of the things we talk about that, that I think fundamentally changed take technology and all the other stuff off the plate.

[00:14:18]We, we talk about something called portable merit, meaning. It used to be that your credentials were your resume. It was a title of a company. It was your longevity there and your role and not much else, maybe your network, maybe people that knew you and could vouch for you. Now with the, this notion of sort of social media professional brand portfolios, more and more people are having basically that stamp of here's, what I've done.

[00:14:45] Be very visible in the world and very obvious. You've got peer reviews coming in, people comp you know, complimenting your work, writing recommendations on a link or Upwork. So all of this, all of this is giving a, the ability to walk into a new role with a list of accomplishments. That's, that's real and tangible, and people can it's that building that trust, right?

[00:15:07] It's that, that trust relationship that you're walking in with that was so hard to do when it was geographically isolated and sort of individual.

[00:15:15]Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:15:15] Network. So, but, so that could be many things it's content, but it could also be software. I mean, on GitHub you're you could theoretically have, you know, your, your code base basically,

[00:15:26] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:15:26] which that's right.

[00:15:27] Yeah. Yeah. And designers, we see designers having live portfolios that are very interactive. That was hard to do when, you know, it took a long time or you had to be a web developer to stand something like that up. So it's that, that barrier to entry that lessening of friction for that type is just one example.

[00:15:45] Right? Then there's obviously technology platforms and, you know, corporate mores and things like that that have evolved as well.

[00:15:53] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:15:53] So let's deepen this focus more on the enablers because there surely are still some limitations, which we'll, we'll cover a little bit as well. And I know you care about both, but in terms of these enablers, so the technological part.

[00:16:04]I guess in a loose sense we have covered already. So, but w what is that? What is that? Is it the cloud more generally the fact that there are these computing platforms where you can host your work, your content, I guess the, the resume platforms, you know, most famously LinkedIn, I guess, but also many, many other more niche places where designers congregate and write and do more than just hang on social media.

[00:16:29] They actually share their professional. Lives and lasting things that they have created which of these. Things, you know, was available even just 10 years ago. That matters today. I guess if you go to kind of resume platforms, there were several of them even, even just 10, 15 years ago, but their importance has, has taken on a new meaning.

[00:16:50] Now, what, what are some of the other types of software you would put into kind of this necessary category to, to really have what we have today? Show

[00:16:59] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:16:59] economy? Yeah, the, the branding aspect is a key one, right? That's our, our. You know, our virtual resume to get in the door. But, but what I have found that's really helped is the variety and sophistication of tools that help with collaboration.

[00:17:15] And I don't mean to use such a trite sort of over overly generic term. But what I mean specifically is, you know, 10, 15 years ago, If you wanted to work with someone that was outside of your organization, it was basically email, maybe Dropbox, you know, few other techniques like that, but nothing that was really, I call it sophisticated.

[00:17:36] And today we have all the tools that we're using day in and day out being a virtual world now zoom and Google docs and drive and, and teams and Slack. And you, you name it right? And that it means something having been in multiple organizations where we either had those tools or not. The, the level of flexibility of work, particularly as we start pivoting more toward project based and episodic work, as opposed to just coming in and doing the same role day in and day out, the more we do that kind of work, the real need for teams to come together and share is critical.

[00:18:12] And, and again, 15 years ago, that was really, it was actually really hard to do just tactically. It was difficult to get basic work done.

[00:18:21] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:18:21] Yeah. Yeah. And there's two things here though. Cause you talk about it as the freelance economy, but of course the larger discussion which COVID has brought is everyone in a sense is a freelancer to their own company.

[00:18:34] Now, you know, in the sense that, you know, the tools you're using. As an regular employee, trying to work virtually are fairly similar to what a freelancer, you know, slightly less. So perhaps there were some systems that our freelancer will not have access to today, but largely those are the, those are the gating challenges and the sort of the cybersecurity challenges of, of companies these days.

[00:19:00] They're not. Foundational challenges because you can give access rights and things. And I, I want you to just talk a little bit about that because as an enabler, It's easy to sort of just imagine that this is endless and it's like, there, there are no limitations. Talk to me, I guess a little bit about, so you were doing some research on who these freelancers are.

[00:19:20] I I'm imagining and, and kind of globalization's role in this, you know, are, is it really the fact that beyond kind of the logos and the design work, are we increasingly in America, in corporations taking in work force from. In a freelance workforce from around the world to do core core

[00:19:38] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:19:38] business. We, we are, and I'll give a couple of examples, some from the book, some, some nod but you, you touch on a piece there.

[00:19:46] That's, that's really critical. And Matt and I riff on this quite a bit. We don't view freelance and corporate as two separate to your 0.2, separate and distinct entities. They. They are more and more becoming commingled and the techniques that you can use in one flavor of organization work, whether you're a freelancer and company of one, all the way up to a company of, you know, 50,000, the techniques and things that help you become a change maker that helped you orchestrate and add value that's across the board.

[00:20:17]It's just how you apply it. Maybe it's subtly different. But, but to your point, what we've seen. With freelancers and, and corporations is the, the. Level of the individual and the type of work, the longevity of the arrangement. These are increasing. We have seen, we had a good example where there was a industrial company back in the Midwest.

[00:20:38] So this would have been in Wisconsin. I believe that was looking for an app developer to build some virtual reality capabilities into their app. This is a traditional like hundred year old vehicle manufacturer. They could not find talent, not just in the Midwest. They actually couldn't find. Right skillset.

[00:20:54] They were looking for in the U S at all. So they ended up working with a developer in Japan and you know, more close to home. I was prior to my current role, I worked as at a data analytics startup, and one of our core developers was also based in Japan made for interesting company meetings.

[00:21:08] But, but it, it was happening in reality. And, you know, we see particularly in smaller organizations where. Where hiring say a full-time accountant, doesn't always make sense. Leveraging a freelance platform, like a pero to bring in a high-level professional. Lawyers are, you know, there's still many large law firms and there are some there's value in that and what they bring, but there are some lawyers that are choosing a different lifestyle and becoming freelancers as well.

[00:21:37] That's another model that has been working well in certain types of law. So we, we are, we're seeing a good number of examples where, where it's becoming more of the fabric of how a corporation operates as opposed to a one-off.

[00:21:49] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:21:49] So that brings me on the technology side though, to the fact that. You know, it all depends.

[00:21:54] I guess, how technology evolves as well. There's now kind of the low code, no code movement where, you know, things are becoming more hot pluggable and, you know, arguably you can use advanced technology with less of the foundational engineering skills than you used to. And you can build advanced applications if you have the right tools.

[00:22:16] But still like you you're, you know, you have artificial intelligence in your book title, I guess, for these kinds of applications. At that level of applying technology, is it still a realistic, I mean, can you really hire a CTO as a freelancer? Over over time. Is that still a smart, you know, is that now a smart move?

[00:22:37]And, and, you know, at the highest level of technology, is that also becoming easier or is there still a barrier there? You know, if we're sort of moving a little bit more to some limitations?

[00:22:50] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:22:50] Sure. Yeah, it it's It's nuanced. I wouldn't say there's a, there's an easy or obvious answer there. I, I often when I'm advising businesses talk to them about what are you solving for, and if you're solving for something that is episodic you know, you don't need someone sitting in a seat, 40, 50, 60 hours a week.

[00:23:10] And, and something that you can bring in periodically, is it a skill set that you wouldn't be able to afford? Because it's in such hot demand like AI Or is it something that's going to be sort of once and done, you're building something out and then you don't need to maintain it. Right? Those are good examples of, of reasons you would bring someone in as a freelancer versus hiring.

[00:23:28] So you have to think through what's your outcome, what are you prioritizing? And you know, I would say for instance, right, a seat, a freelance CTO That's a virtual seat for virtual CIO, virtual CSO, these types of roles. They work for smaller organizations that can't afford yet. Right. Startups often we'll do this.

[00:23:47] So it depends. It depends on the model. I do think particularly with artificial intelligence and any of those, like advanced, you know, mobile cloud, et cetera, they're in such hot demand that. Unless it is your core competency and you want to build that as an organic function, you're much better off bringing in third parties to help you with that.

[00:24:06] It, it may be more expensive in the short-term, but it's going to be less expensive in the long run.

[00:24:11] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:24:11] I, well, I see your point there. I mean, it just depends what, what skills you have around you. So clearly that that makes for a, you know, If you are in a, in an area where those skills are either in high demand or there virtually non-existent, you know, this actually brings you on par a little bit with, with businesses that are located elsewhere.

[00:24:31] But what about some of the other limitations in terms of, I mean, my, the first thing that comes to mind, and I know we'll talk about structure in a moment, but you know, it's just regular sort of teamwork. I mean, to the extent you're hiring a leader, you're also hiring someone that's going to shepherd a team.

[00:24:46] That's going to drive the social dimension perhaps and the cohesion team cohesion forward. Where are we with that? Is, is Slack sufficient right now to create a company culture around the tech team?

[00:24:58] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:24:58] No, no, it's not. I know there are, you know, there are organizations that have gone completely virtual and have been for some time and can build a strong.

[00:25:09] Company culture, but it is, it is difficult. It is difficult. There, you have to be very cognizant of and spend a lot more effort thinking about and articulating culture in a virtual environment or a freelance sort of loose team environment than if everybody's under the same roof. Right. Where, where we are social animals.

[00:25:31] And we rely on a lot of cues that we miss. In a digital environment and that makes it harder to build trust. So again, there's, there's, there is definitely a, I think a psychological impediment there. There are also, I think, just structural impediments to your point. From an organization to build to build a culture or deliver on a product.

[00:25:55]There's a lot that goes into that and, and some of the tactical work can be done very transactionally, you know, with the, you know, I'm going to give you this task over Slack, or I'm going to assign a task to you on a JIRA board or whatever, and you'll get a, you'll get that back. But if you're talking strategy, design, roadmaps, things of that nature, you still have to come together as a team.

[00:26:17]I do find there, there is a, there is a model that's somewhere between a full-time traditional employee and a. Transactional freelancer. And I've heard it referred to, I think Reed Hoffman mentioned that to it as a tour of duty. So it's like like in the military, you're, you're sort of enlisting for, or joining for a few years.

[00:26:37] Do you set mission? You go, you execute on that. So you have longevity, you have, and that connectivity with the organization you're driving that value. But then at the end of that stint, you say, okay, Do we want to do another stint together? W what else can I help you with? And if, if not, then there's a amicable parting of ways, but it's not this institutional full-time, and it's not this transactional freelancer it's somewhere in between.

[00:27:04] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:27:04] It's interesting. You point that out. I was I was going to bring in another. I guess something in between an enabler and the limitation, but you know, if you have robotic process automation into this mix, or you think about how technology in and of itself could become your freelancer where are we there?

[00:27:21] I mean, some tasks, arguably at some point are freelance will by machines structures. Yes,

[00:27:28] in

[00:27:29] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:27:29] a certain sense, that's right. We call the, we call the book, the human cloud, but it's really, we talk about two clouds. We talk about the human cloud and the machine cloud. And it's that, that latter one, which is what you're referring to, where artificial intelligence or technology automation in general can, can do relatively routinized tasks and what we're finding.

[00:27:48] And this, this is one of those other trends that have really start to take shape over the last 10 years or so. Technology has been able to do more humanlike activities well enough to justify outsourcing that to, to assist them. And, you know, there's, we talk in the book about calendaring, email automation, marketing automation, social media management, things of that nature, which are fairly formulaic at least to get you started.

[00:28:15] And, and we're finding that we're finding technology starting to supplant. Roles that would have traditionally been done by humans. And we stress this isn't, this isn't AI coming for jobs, right? These are individual discreet tasks that make, might make up part of a person. But we are nowhere near having AI that is smarter enough to Intuit what you're looking for.

[00:28:34] Go do an entire job off on its own and then come back and say, here you are, right. There's still very much a people component.

[00:28:41] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:28:41] Yeah. Yeah. I want to get to the sort of the future part of this soon, but let's just dive in deeper into the limitations in terms of structure and regulation. So we've talked about some of the organizational blockers surely some people aren't as comfortable as others with this.

[00:28:57] I mean, COVID has probably desensitized some people just out of necessity, but at least generally before this point in time one blocker to adoption of freelancers or virtual work was simply that the leadership didn't want it were uncomfortable with not seeing work being performed in front of their eyes.

[00:29:18] Right. Where is that part going? The actual uncomfortable nature of something you cannot, I guess, control is,

[00:29:29] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:29:29] yeah, it.

[00:29:31] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:29:31] Or maybe it's an illusion, right? Because you can track work pretty detailed on a, on a screen as well. That's true

[00:29:38] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:29:38] too. That's true too. I think I come back to that trust element because it is so key what I have found and, and we went through it in my current organization and a number of our clients went through as well.

[00:29:50]There was an initial, how are we going to know if they're doing work? If they're not. Here in the office and I'm not tracking, how do I know they're actually working? And to your point, the output, what we create the value we're generating is what matters. So if you're still seeing that output, you're still seeing what you need and it's, it's high quality, frankly.

[00:30:07] You don't care if they're doing it at three in the morning on their couch, or if they're sitting at a desk from eight to five. So there, there is that element of, of, of output that is key. I do think we will rebound a bit, right. As, as. Hopefully we get to the other side of COVID, you'll see organizations coming back to the office.

[00:30:25]I don't think it's going to rebound all the way though. There'll be more flexible. They'll be willing to have people work from home periodically. There'll be open to hiring remote well roles. I think there'll be open to hiring freelancers as well, but and you know, if we want to dive into it, there's a number of structural impediments to the actual act of bringing a freelancer into an organization that, that do need attention.

[00:30:45]Because without that. Yeah, bringing a freelancer on taking three weeks to onboard a freelancer to do an eight hour task is not effective. So we need to get better at what that looks like.

[00:30:59] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:30:59] Right. And well, you know, I mean, I'm, I'm hiring some freelancers right now. And one of the issues of course, is, you know, what access are you going to give them?

[00:31:06]Are they going to sign all the usual NDAs and stuff that you signed for employees? If not, then what's the accountability for stuff gone wrong. You know, how deep access are you going to give them? If you don't give them access at all, then are you really just kind of reduplicating cause you're organizing and you're spending a lot of time.

[00:31:26] Organizing the work and you might as well have perhaps done it yourself. So right there, there is that aspect. Is that, how would that get easier over time? Is that also just more clever product ideas to get that done? Or is it more regulatory?

[00:31:41] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:31:41] I think it's, I think it's both certainly on the product side, right?

[00:31:44] You think about something like portable healthcare, universal healthcare, the same would apply for a lot of the HR checks that while each company says they're unique for what they do there, like 90% similar to every other organization, it's an NDA it's background checks. It's you know, United system access.

[00:32:01] It's these kinds of routinize things. Can you simply just package that up and say no matter. Who you hire, you're onboarding them through our platform. And therefore you have these assurances that they've met. All they've checked all those boxes before you actually had to bring them on. Right. And that's, if you think about freelance, like agencies, design agencies, or I'm sorry, design agencies or things like that, or or contractor companies, you know, Robert half or something, that's what they do.

[00:32:28]But that's a large. Organization and of itself, if you can supplant that with just technology, with an onboarding platform that would streamline things, but we definitely need to solve particularly here in the U S I was talking with someone from Scandinavia and it's a different set of problems there, but here we need to solve the healthcare portability challenge.

[00:32:47]We need to solve the self-employment tax challenges and some of these other things that are really. From a regulatory perspective limit or punish individual contributors.

[00:33:01] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:33:01] Right? Well, that's a massive issue as you know, in Europe with contract workers and whether it is in transportation, mobility side of things, or generally it's been a, you know, a perennial issue around freelancers because it's the social safety net.

[00:33:15] You know, it was built with a completely different framework in mind. So that's for sure. If we move a little towards, towards the future, then we have call this episode something around orchestration and you have some thoughts about that. What is really the, the role of humans and especially non freelancers.

[00:33:34] Then in contrast to all of the tasks that freelancers are. Perhaps going to take over and, and what's the pure role of a human in, in, in, you know, against all the technology,

[00:33:49] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:33:49] right? Yeah. And it's, it's something, it's, it's a thought experiment. I've gone through many times in terms of saying, what is the end?

[00:33:55] You know, what's the end game for us as, as people, as creative beings, when so much of what we. Hold on as our identity and say, so uniquely humid is being bested by, by machines, right? It went from creativity,

[00:34:10] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:34:10] I might say. Right? Right. I'm there. Plenty of what we would have called creative tasks five years ago, where the early ideation stage.

[00:34:20] Coming up with alternatives coming up with suggestions, whether it is x-ray images or anything, it's not just classification anymore. It is true suggestions.

[00:34:29] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:34:29] It is. It is. It is. And it it's, it's scary and it's scary in some ways, right? To think that what we hold. So dear is, is at risk. I tend to look at it.

[00:34:39] More as a balanced view. And this is not a new, right. This is not a new argument or discussion. It's just been accelerating. What I think makes us, what I do think makes us is that that orchestration it's, it's being the conductor and it's, it's the entrepreneurial spirit. It's our creativity and stitching things together in new ways and, and making things happen in the world, right.

[00:35:00] It goes back to that change maker. How do we, how do we add value? Faster better than we ourselves could do a year ago than, than the competition could do five years ago. Right. How do we continue to level up there? And that's where, when we think about freelancing and the tapestry of skills that are now available there, and we'll continue to grow, and we think about AI and the techniques and tasks that it's able to accomplish.

[00:35:28] A conductor, right. Is stitching all those together to add even more value. And we use a, we use an example in the book around the journalist, right there, a journalist to your point, around creative endeavors, you could say, Oh, computers can write a really clever, you know, let's say it's a sports it's a game summary or something like that.

[00:35:47] Really clever, very pronounced that analogies and things like that, that you would never know a computer wrote it. So there's been a lot of prognosticating that journal journalists are, are dead, right? Journalism is dead. There's different set of arguments on the challenges faced there. But if we just look at the writing, a journalist today is still going to create that final piece, but they're going to leverage perhaps a freelancer to do the initial research and interviews.

[00:36:11] They're going to leverage a computer to do some of the editing and, and additionally research. They're going to stitch that all together. They might use a computer system. To do a B testing and validate which title or which language is better received by readers. So there's, there's all of these tasks that come together, but the journalist is still that mini CEO that, that CEO of one, that's driving all of this to a solution.

[00:36:37] And that's, you know, that's what we see. That's what I see the people that I've, I've coached and have been successful in careers, in variety of different industries and roles. It's all about how you. Basically act as that entrepreneur, you act as that CEO, if you have that mindset, you're able to continue to adapt as more and more tasks that we pride ourselves in begin to get routinized.

[00:37:02] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:37:02] Well, so, so that brings me to the question. What kinds of skills should you have? I mean, I have kids, you know, how, how should they train. How should I train? How do you, how do you maintain your relevance? So you're fighting machines, you're fighting other people. You're fighting people fighting. I mean, in the sense that there's people all around the world gunning for your job.

[00:37:24] And many of them are clever. Many of them are. On markets started becoming more and more transparent, but, but let's just say that we have this orchestration idea and that that is for now fairly human and unique. Even just to be a good conductor. Like, you know, if you actually are talking about a music conductor, there are very few institutes, you know, there's one in Finland.

[00:37:50] That's like really renowned. There's, you know, a couple in London or you can't go anywhere to, to learn to be a great conductor. Even if you graduated from those places that doesn't make you a car on right off the bat. Right? Some people never become the Koreans of their generation. Yeah. So it's a tall order

[00:38:10] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:38:10] to be as can all order.

[00:38:12] It is a tall order. I think the answer is similar for both. I'll start with those entering, entering the workforce, earning in college, you know, they ask, should I go get a computer science degree? Should I become a software developer? And I say, no, no, not necessarily. I mean, if that's what your passion is, go for it.

[00:38:26] But but no, it's, it's less about that. The degree that you have and more about the set of skills and experiences that you build. And it, it comes back to, you know, it's trite, but true being an, being a lifelong learner. So really continuing to adapt, to learn, to read, understand what the trends are.

[00:38:45] That's that's number one. Because if you're standing still, you're falling behind in today's world at an ever quicker pace. But it's, it's mostly, and we give a number of examples or, or areas that we recommend in the book for anybody it's soft skills for the most part. So it's it's communication.

[00:39:03] It's psychology. It's understanding how people work. It's project management, right. Oregon, not two point. Organizing all of this takes a lot of effort and if you're not disciplined in how you do so there's a lot of inefficiencies and, and missed opportunities analytical skills so that you understand the data you're getting and how you work with it.

[00:39:21] So there's, there's these, all of these items that are much, again, you're not going to find them in most classrooms, for sure. Certainly not universities. But they're things that you could learn. Independently you can learn working with and being exposed to solid people in those environments and, and finding a good coach or mentor, honestly, that that's made a huge difference for me.

[00:39:41] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:39:41] Yeah. Well, I think to that point, it's a bit of building a portfolio in a certain sense. Right. You have to seek out. Experiences perhaps that are challenging you and diversity of people and the challenges, and then kind of just create your own mashup for lack of words, you know, and that, that is your skill set after a while.

[00:40:05] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:40:05] Yes, it is an incidentally what I did in my own career, but by happy accident, that was not a. Yeah, that was not planned, but, but it's served well. And I think those that I've seen that have been non-traditional that have followed, you know, it's, instead of, it's not a career ladder anymore, it's a career jungle gym.

[00:40:22] You're sort of moving up down sideways, maybe hopping over to a completely different set of equipment. Because it's that variety and challenge that really do prepare you for the word that we're world that we're heading into.

[00:40:34] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:40:34] Hm. Is it an exciting world or is it a scary world that we're heading into from this perspective of the human cloud orchestration?

[00:40:43] Is it should it be something to, to fear?

[00:40:46]Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:40:46] I worry that it's, I worry that it's getting that there's more of a gap. There said to your point, the people that are our winners, if you want to qualify it that way, but people that do well in this new environment, the world is bright for them, right?

[00:41:00] Because it's harder and harder to do that, but that's leaving a lot of people behind. So I think we need to really get back so that societal, cultural and government view is how do we provide new safeguards to ensure that that gap does not become insurmountable? How do we create opportunities? How do we get people into the marketplace?

[00:41:21] How do we fight systemic racism and sexism and things like that to allow people the opportunity to give them the systems. But all that set I'm overall optimistic about where we're heading, because we keep leveling up what we're able to contribute to the world. And that's pretty exciting. And that's

[00:41:40] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:41:40] where I've been thinking.

[00:41:41] I've been thinking, you know, some of this has to do with digital, just because it's a platform that then gives you access to a lot of these skills, whether they be soft skills or technology skills, like Is there a set of sort of digital rights more than just, you know, N pronounced at the UN level, but truly digital rights that each individual across this world really should have so that they can have the opportunity to level up.

[00:42:04] I mean, it's, these are really. We're going to perhaps become questions. True questions too, to answer because there, right. If you have a decade or, you know, God forbid two decades lead time on another person, because you grew up somewhere where you had internet and you were fiddling with whatever it is, whether it was Fortnite or a project-based management systems, and we're doing freelancing.

[00:42:29] There's, you're learning, you're learning and catching up with 20 years like that, eh, is hard.

[00:42:36] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:42:36] I, I, I think that has, I think that has to be part of the answer given the way our society is evolving, where everything is becoming digital. And we've seen that today. Right. So I think there has to be that. I don't think that's sufficient though.

[00:42:49]You know, I'm mindful that you can have all of that, but you grow up in a, in a. Tough environment or, you know, have to have to go to work early because you're supporting your family. These are things that become very difficult to, to solve for, and, and there's not a technology software or otherwise that helps with that.

[00:43:07] So it really, you know, continuing to fix some of the societal issues that we particularly have here in the U S among other places is critical. But yeah, I, I think, you know, and I, when we look yeah, at the freelance space, for instance I've been fortunate to work with people, you know, as far flung, as, you know, South America, the Philippines Pakistan and other places, and have been really to your point, similarly, impressed and a little nervous about the quality of skill and energy that a lot of these world markets bring.

[00:43:37] And that's, you know, that's always been the promise of, of. Freelance and outsourcing, but I'm starting to see it actually as a reality. Right. And the people that I work with and the quality of work that they do well,

[00:43:47] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:43:47] fully that, that is a good thing. That's kind of counteracting some of these worries that we all have, right.

[00:43:52] Because if you, if you cancel some of the limitations of geography, then at least from a meritocratic standpoint or art, some other types of people and expertise that get a bigger chance, you know, to divide out of the global cake. But yeah. But even, you know, close to home in, in every city across America, there's going to be places that don't have that.

[00:44:16] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:44:16] That's right. That's right. That's right. So it's not, it's not I think people in the U S think of it as a, as a world problem or a not us problem, but and come to, come to the Midwest, come to some of the, you know, the lower income areas and. In Ohio, West, Virginia, and otherwise. And you see, they're still people that don't have reliable internet connection.

[00:44:35]You know, don't have access to education, don't have access to healthy food you know, food deserts and, and the likes. So there's definitely opportunities for us all and that CMI for those that do well and do well in the, in the technological economy, you know, remember that, remember the opportunities that you had and help, help find ways to, to improve the situation for the next generation.

[00:44:56] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:44:56] Maybe we need some sort of massive mentor system. Everybody should have their own mentor, I guess, a world-class mentor somewhere else that just tries to solve stuff for you.

[00:45:07] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:45:07] I love it. Yeah. It makes all the difference for those that haven't had a mentor. Go, try to go find one. There. They really have been, it's been instrumental.

[00:45:15] I can name a few in my career that have been the difference between sitting here now and then probably doing the same thing I was doing 15 years ago.

[00:45:23] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:45:23] Yeah. Well, the power of mentorship and the power of orchestration. I, for one I'm fascinated by this orchestration thinking here and I guess I'll go learn more because you, you can never become good enough at orchestration.

[00:45:38]Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:45:38] Great. Great. Now, same, I'm always learning CYA. I have subscribed to that as well. And my wife teases me. I read I read mostly business books, biographies and things of that nature. So she always sort of rolls her eyes at me, but that's yeah, Holly always learning. It's a good, good mantra.

[00:45:55] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:45:55] All right.

[00:45:55] Well, next conversation. We'll, we'll talk some literature then. Matt. All right. Well, it was fascinating to hear about this best of luck with the human cloud and let's stay in touch and, you know, we should cover this topic. I, I'd be curious to hear what our conversation is like in the next decade.

[00:46:10] Matt Coatney, CTO, HBR (Guest): [00:46:10] Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. Very fascinated to see how this all, all unfolds. None of us have the answers so excited to see what happens.

[00:46:18] Trond Arne Undheim, Host: [00:46:18] Likewise, have a great day. Thanks. John, take care. You had just listened to episode 93 of the futurize podcast with host through an honor in home futurist and author. The topic was orchestrating the freelancer economy in this conversation.

[00:46:35] We talked about the book that Matt Kourtney coauthored called. The human cloud, how today's Changemakers use artificial intelligence and the freelance economy to transform work from root nice repetitive assembly line work towards project oriented work. Yeah, all sectors. The enablers include AI globalization cloud platforms and shadow it.

[00:46:56] The limitations include the structure regulations and organizational blockers. The future outlook will mean that orchestration is the key human skill. Although industry and task specific cloud collaborations platforms matter as well. My takeaway is that the freelance, the economy is all about orchestrating people and technologies at a distance.

[00:47:19] This is not easy as more and more intense and complex project oriented work takes place outside the remits of the traditional workplace team leadership and management skills need to increase in magnitude and quality. The sweet spot is where the enabling technology meets the challenges of human connection and productivity.

[00:47:40] The experimentation and the debate will only intensify in the years to come. Thanks for listening. If you like it, it's the show or in your preferred podcast player and rate us with five stars. If you like this topic, you may enjoy other episodes of futurize such as episode 49, living the future of work episode 41, the future of work or episode 78.

[00:48:07] The next generation marketplaces. Futurizing preparing you to deal with disruption.


Matt CoatneyProfile Photo

Matt Coatney

Chief Technology Officer, HBR Consulting

Matt serves as chief technology officer, IT Managed Services, within the Managed Services business at HBR Consulting (HBR), where he leads strategy, delivery and operations for the IT needs of law firms, legal services providers and corporate law departments. He and his team integrate industry-leading providers of public cloud, private cloud infrastructure, security, service management and applications to deliver capabilities efficiently and at scale.

Matt has over 20 years of experience bringing advanced technologies to market in a variety of domains, including legal, technology, content and life sciences. Prior to joining HBR, Matt was vice president of sales and services at Exaptive, director of business relations at WilmerHale and director of architecture and integration for LexisNexis’s Lexis Search Advantage. Early in his career, he developed advanced analytics software for pharmaceutical and biotechnology research.

Matt writes and frequently speaks on business and advanced technologies. His work includes keynote and TEDx talks, international conferences, webinars, books, and technical journals. He obtained a master’s degree in computer science and a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the Ohio State University.