12/07/2012 09:02 am ET Updated Feb 06, 2013

What Will You Work For?

Throughout our research as a fund, we've noticed a trend. The way people sustain themselves is shifting. As the middle class shrinks, one income stream is no longer enough to support a family. In fact, companies' lifespans are shortening, and stable, full-time positions are in short supply. People today take jobs for 3-5 years before their positions change or become obsolete.

A Kauffman Foundation report called 'Jobless Entrepreneurship' found that the number of business that hire employees has declined since the 2008, even though entrepreneurship has increased. This is indicative of what's been coined the gig economy. Freelancers now account for 1 in 3 workers in the U.S., while big companies like Apple employ fewer workers as manufacturing heads abroad.

Companies like Etsy, Airbnb, Skillshare, TaskRabbit and Kickstarter have enabled people to navigate this shifting landscape and even capitalize on a passion they may not have otherwise. While these companies are relatively new, the sector has shown rapid growth. So if more people are self-employed, or making extra money through gigs, what does the future of work look like?

IDEO and Collaborative Fund are trying to answer this question by imagining ways people might sustain themselves in the near future. In a design provocation titled "WillWorkFor," we highlighted some of the businesses already reshaping our definition of work, and encouraged people to talk about what they value in work.

We found that of this potentially alarming trend, people have emerged self-reliant. Some to survive and others by choice. Individuals and communities are asking meaningful questions about whom they will work for, where to spend money and where to spend their time. From artisanal experiments to wild daydreams to viable new business models, passion has come to the foreground of our professional lives.

Values-based companies, and those that allow us to profit from latent potential, will have an important role to play in an increasingly informed economy. We see a chance to remake global institutions as platforms for mentoring, stewardship, and apprenticeship. We see the future in farming and data analytics, in digital prototypes and new energy, in family networks and in education. We see the future in communities that create and support creation.