I can’t get no satisfaction*

oh yes its freeI recently happened upon a repeat of a programme called The Next Greatest Generation?  broadcast by the BBC in 2013. It was part of the TED Radio Hour, a series originally on America’s NPR, which explores some of the fascinating ideas covered by a range of speakers on the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) stage.  In The Next Greatest Generation? reporter and radio host Guy Raz hears from the ‘Millennials’ – people born between 1981-2000 – searching to define themselves and their generation.

One of the Millennials – Charlie Hoehn – was promoting the concept of ‘free work’. He saw it as a smarter way of building your CV and developing your network than the largely menial and frequently dead-end internship route or the dispiriting cycle of endless job applications.

The premise of Hoehn’s free work concept is to:

  1. focus on the subjects, the people, the businesses that really inspire and interest you
  2. make speculative approaches offering your help, for free, to deliver an identified value-add.

Most entrepreneurs are smart enough to recognise this as a win/win opportunity and free work resulted in Hoehn receiving offers of interesting and paid project work that would otherwise never have come his way.

As Guy Raz was reviewing these TED Talks and talking to the Millennial presenters he came to the inevitable conclusion that money as a career motivator is quite a long way down the priorities list for this generation.

I was interested in Hoehn’s free work promo, particularly as I have recently been told about a rather less positive experience of pro bono work.

Being between roles, with time on his hands and a desire to get to know his local business community, a friend offered his services to a young organisation that is working to develop a specialist capability and community. He was invited to write an engagement strategy and a promotional feature for their website.  The first was quite a tough ask from a standing start but he believed his draft could be developed further by someone more informed without too much effort. The second item he turned around in 24 hours so it would have been a hot-off-the-press news story.

Apart from a grateful acknowledgement of receipt, (received only after he had sent a follow-up enquiry about next steps), he has no idea what happened to either piece.

He told me that he’d enjoyed doing the work and was not unhappy with the outputs. However, with no insight into what, if anything, happened to his work, his job satisfaction and desire to contribute any further to that organisation dwindled to zero.

It did make me think that, if you are not paying for a service or product, perhaps you, almost inevitably, place a low value on it.

In the same way that: “What gets measured, gets done”, it’s also likely that: “Only that which requires payment, is valued”.


*When considering this as a headline for this blog post, I wondered whether I could be sued by The Stones for copyright infringement.  Obviously I could be but I understand that such a suit would be unlikely to succeed.  I found the legal argument around this scenario an interesting read.


About madeleinekavanagh

Internal comms specialist with a career spanning advertising, car sales and management consulting. My greatest legacy (so far) - my son!
This entry was posted in 21st century workplace, career opportunities, Employee Engagement, Millennials, TED Talks and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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