How do you make your living? For most of us the answer involves helping to either make or sell a product or service. That’s pretty much how capitalism works. But in the burgeoning internet economy of the not so new millennium, products and services don’t always look like they used to. Take Chris Brogan, for example – his product is trust, and he manufactures it using his powerful personality coupled with an exceptional grasp of social media.
For 16 years, Chris had a regular job in the telecommunications industry. And by regular I mean he spent an hour working and 7 hours finding ways to fill his time so he could look busy and keep getting paid. In his words “I’d go to work, futz around, wait for people to need something, work on a few projects, and mostly dream about the future. I could get my entire day job done in about 48 minutes on most days, leaving me with hours of free time and no one really caring much about what I did, because I was more like a “burst of use” kind of employee. They needed me more as a living encyclopedia most days than they needed my day to day functions.”
It’s one of the ironies of the working world – not every job is optimized for a 40 hour, Monday to Friday work week. But that’s what’s normal, so that’s what companies ask people to do whether it’s efficient or not. Chris spent quite a while in telecomm, and by his own admission he thought he was completely happy. But when he transitioned into doing PodCamp and then managing events, he knew he’d found something special and immediately dropped everything else to pursue that path.
“I had lots of roles from software deployment engineering to project management. I loved all of it, but when I ran off to join the circus and run events and the like, I knew that I’d found my calling. I love the business of media and education.”
It wasn’t what he thought he’d be doing when he was growing up. In fact like a lot of kids he expected to write comic books and see the world. So far he hasn’t added a comic book to his list of accomplishments, but with four bestsellers and a thriving speaking business, he’s living life the way he wants to and he’s been to almost every corner of the world both physically and virtually.
His current working processes are radically different from how he operated in the corporate world, at least in part because of the lessons he learned being part of the ecosystem.
“I thought (and still believe) that there are so many inefficiencies in the system. We waste far too much time, and we work really hard to stay within a rigid structure instead of finding the path to flexibly deliver the most value when it’s needed. I feel that most corporate structures work in spite of themselves, not because they’re great ideas. But when you talk with leadership about untangling business structures, they freeze up.”
In fact one of the reasons Chris is so successful working his own way is because he has focused on the people – the human factor that drives so many aspects of business and leadership. His current company, Human Business Works is all about helping people build successful businesses through client centered relationships. That’s a long way from managing software projects but it’s exactly the way that Chris wants to manage his working life.
The transition from being a cog in the corporate machine to this new life/work consolidation didn’t happen overnight. Like any process of substantial change, it took several years for Chris to figure out what was not working and then decide he was ready for something new. “I suppose my unrest started around 2005 or so, and I left in the fall of 2006, so that’s not too terrible. It’s not like every day was paradise up until then, but I couldn’t really see a vision of what else I should do, and so I hung on for a longer while than I should have.”
In fact Chris strongly advocates taking a responsible path to managing a life change. In describing a transition that was not exactly glamorous, he says “I didn’t do any of the things the cool kids did. I just went from one role to another. But I’ll say that what I really did was lay out the tough groundwork of content and community that gave people a reason to want to know more about me. That’s what really made this work better. And I always point out to people to never just quit and hope you make money. Find revenue before you make any work shifts.”
And making the transition from the corporate world to working in a way that feels much more authentic doesn’t in any sense mean that Chris has stopped working or stopped earning income. In fact it’s the challenge of being successful, of generating revenue, and of helping others do the same that drives him to focus on his endeavors these days. He loves the flexibility that this model brings both to his own work and to the people he works with.
“I love that it’s built around effectiveness, and that my team is virtually situated so we can work wherever there’s wi-fi. I love that I’m able to work closely with professionals who want to work the way they want to work, only better, and that my courses and material reach deeper than my speeches used to manage. I love that I’m responsible for my revenue. I love that I have the challenge of feeding all the mouths and figuring out how to earn even more so that we can try and grow in some of the painful ways that very small companies must grow.”