Pursuing a career is now just as likely to involve creating your own business as it is to involve working for somebody else - but what does this mean for work and education?
It was once possible to acquire a suitable diploma, join a reputable company, and then steadily raise through the ranks until retirement. However, this type of career planning is going to be very rare indeed in the future.
People who enter employment today will need to be prepared for some dramatic switches - not just from one employer to another, but even new sectors and new modes of work. Those who take a long hard look at the realities of modern work might be tempted to switch to independence earlier rather than later and start their own company.
Being an entrepreneur is exciting, giving you greater control over your own destiny and often a more direct link between hard work and rewards.
However, as we all know, there is a flip side to this.
Starting your own business comes with risks, stress, short nights, setbacks, and most importantly: uncertainty. The chances that your first attempt will succeed are relatively small, so this option is not for the faint hearted. Those who might lack an entrepreneurial personality, or who feel that their responsibilities prevent them from taking considerable financial risks, will still prefer employment.
Of course, companies will always need good, reliable, and talented employees. But the days that the success of a corporation was measured in the number of staff members are almost gone.
What every business needs now are 'intrapreneurs'. These are the employees that drive commercial success.
Intrapreneurs are 'inside' entrepreneurs who are employed by the business and use their talent for the good of the enterprise. In return, they get a salary and probably a range of bonuses as incentives. The intrapreneur thus benefits from some level of security.
The modern company's commercial success - and even the viability of a not-for-profit organisation - heavily depends on having enough talented intrapreneurs. Typically, a company would pay a decent basic salary every month, plus a piece of the success; meanwhile, intrapreneurs might have done better financially if they would have worked for themselves, but they may prefer or need a higher level of security.
The easiest way to describe the difference between an entrepreneur and intrapreneur is that the first takes commercial risks by putting his or her own wallet on the table, whilst the second takes commercial risks with someone else's wallet.
Interestingly, intrapreneurs can be commercially much more successful than entrepreneurs. The reason is that anxiety about risking one's own money can be an inhibitor, blurring judgement about risks and opportunities. An intrapreneur tends to be much more confident in making commercial decisions because there is a certain level of detachment. The drive to succeed is probably the same, but the intrapreneur is likely to approach commercial decisions and opportunities with a higher level of rationality.
Another form of entrepreneur is less common, but my prediction is that in our society this will become the dominant form. This is the "extrapreneur", who is a blend of both the intrapreneur and entrepreneur.
He or she is not employed, nor do they work purely for their own account. Instead, there is a contract with the mother organisation that gives mutual reassurances. Typically, the mother organisation has outsourced work to a preferred company, and both sides guarantee a minimum level of trade. This construction is more common than one might think - in some countries, even public services have handed off activities to extrapreneurs.
The advantage for the extrapreneur is having a reasonably sound safety net. The business might grow or shrink, but at least one client is likely to be there for the long run. For companies, the big advantage is not having to employ someone but still guaranteeing delivery of specific services or products.
Price-wise, these services or products are normally at a lower average price than in the free market, but the costs are a bit higher than when delivered in-house. The employer and extrapreneur split the difference in exchange for mutual guarantees and security, and both sides have the advantage of being much more flexible.
In ideal circumstances, the extrapreneur can represent the best of the worlds of intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs.
Therefore, our society can be expected to see a growing number of extrapreneurs potentially taking over all but the very core functions of an organisation.
Finally, how effective is our education in preparing students for a career as entrepreneur, intrapreneur, or extrapreneur? Some courses add a module about entrepreneurship to the curriculum; but this is the equivalent of adding a module in art history and assuming that it will turn students into talented artists.
Like art, entrepreneurship is not so much something to be taught; rather, it is a quite common talent or attitude that can be developed. Though there is a need for some basic skills and knowledge, the most effective development of entrepreneurship is through guided experience.
There are only a limited number of colleges in the world that have embraced this educational challenge, yet this is likely to be the biggest requirement for our prosperity. Even more importantly, being able to develop entrepreneurialism at an early stage of life might very well be one of the most useful contributions that colleges can make to the future of their graduates.