Unleash The Freelancers: The Human Cloud [Book Review]

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If you take a look at the business section of a bookstore, two colors dominate: orange and blue. Anecdotally speaking, books that teach you a specific subject are orange. On the other hand, blue books present new ideas and ways of thinking. The Human Cloud is blue, and lives up to the anecdotal title of an “ideas book.” 

In my review of the book, I cover:

  • My general thoughts about the direction and ideas presented in the book.
  • Some of my favorite quotes throughout the book.
  • What I think freelancers can get out of the book.
  • A concern I have. 
  • My final recommendation.

You can buy The Human Cloud on Amazon.

Without further ado, let’s dive in. 

A change is coming: Welcome to The Human Cloud

The Human Cloud presents the concept of change. Not just that the working world is changing, but that it’s irrevocably changing. We aren’t – and can’t – go back. 

The old world was the 9-5, Monday to Friday office life. While this created security for employees, it also created glut. Organizations got too big for their britches and started to become wildly inefficient. Suddenly, big goliaths were unable or unwilling to change. When technological innovation rapidly improved, many of the advantages large corporations had (namely: scale) became irrelevant. Hot startups rode quick coattails to multi-billion dollar valuations. Individuals could earn 2-3x more working as solopreneurs and freelancers rather than employees. 

This brings me to my first favorite quote in the book:

“Technology slashed the defining advantage of large companies: being large.”

Technology, the Matthews argue (both authors are named Matthew), was the catalyst from the old world to the new world. 

And what is the new world, you may ask? 

The new world is one of outcome focus and location freedom. Instead of work being about a specific location, it’s about an outcome. You build solutions for customers. Or internal efficiency. Or anything else you can dream up. But everyone focuses on, and rallies around, building the darn thing. 

Which brings up another question: who is “everyone”? 

So many books about the future of work decry the end of full-time employment, the rise of unprotected and proletariat-level individual freelancers, and in general the doom of Western civilization. It’s almost quaint. 

A refreshing take

I like The Human Cloud’s refreshing take: it’s not all doomsday. It’s just a very, very big shift. Employment is not dead, say the Matthews. Instead, it’s going to look different. A full-time employee is more likely to play connector and project manager than execution-focused worker. If you need a specific task done, get a freelancer (the book shows just how marvellously easy it is, if you know how to draft up a good project plan). 

Another topic The Human Cloud takes a great approach to is AI. One of the Matthews is an AI expert with years of experience – both professional and passion-driven – with technological change. The book dives into an in-depth analysis of how AI works and what it’s likely to do to the working world – but is written in a fantastically accessible way. You do NOT have to be an AI expert to grasp the concepts shared here. The authors do a great job of chopping down haughty technical concepts into simple business-outcome focused explanations. It reminds me a lot of Prediction Machines by Ajay Agrawal, another fantastic book on the topic of AI. 

Unleash the freelancers

“One of the skills of a freelancer is extreme ownership.” 

Another favorite quote of mine, I think it perfectly encapsulates how the Matthews think about freelancers. It’s aligned to my own vision, admittedly, which is that freelancing is a business. To the Matthews, freelancers are in the business of ownership. Not ownership of all their clients or their businesses. But ownership over their deliverables. 

The new world described above – of freelancers doing the execution and full-time employees jockeying the projects – cannot work without both types of people playing their part. Employees need to connect the dots. But freelancers need to own their outcomes. 

This ownership mentality extends into scaling opportunities for freelancers as well. It’s not just about services (though many freelancers make fantastic money doing just that). There’s also a great opportunity for freelancers to launch their own products – indeed turning their one-person shop into a roster of products and services. In some cases, the freelancer becomes the employer and builds their own small business run on the same principles large businesses would follow in this new world. 

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What freelancers get from The Human Cloud

Reading the book as a freelancer myself, I found myself nodding along to many of the concepts and stories. The Matthews detail a lot of nasty scenarios that might cause someone to leave a job and start freelancing, including a horrible story from one person whose boss wouldn’t leave her along to care for a sick family member – even though she was already on leave. But these stories, while comforting, were not necessarily insightful. More that I felt corroborated in my own story, but not that I learned anything new. 

Where I learned something new was in the analysis of enterprises. 

A whole section of the book is dedicated to the challenges that enterprises face when trying to hire freelancers. From legal, to compliance, to project management and more. As much as the world was not built for freelancers (and freelancers are now revolting because of it), the enterprise world was not built to manage freelancers either. And you can’t entirely blame them for that. 

What I appreciated was the book’s ability to detail exactly what the enterprise concerns were. It helped me think about how I might need to augment my sales approach (or, more realistically, my freelance contracts approach) to make it easy for enterprises to do business with me. I frequently tell people the way to sell more is to simply make it easy for people to give you their money. This section of the book was a welcome lesson for making it easy for enterprises to give me their money.

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One other part of the book really caught my eye. It was a call to responsibility. Unlike other books on entrepreneurship that extol the virtues of charity but otherwise tell you to ignore the world, this book asks you to be a citizen of the world. It asks you to pay attention to local policies, global issues, and see how you can play your part. It’s not saying everyone needs to become an activist. Far from it. But it is asking people to think about the second and third order effects of the things they do have control over, and act accordingly. 

A cause for concern

On one hand, the Matthews shared examples of how freelancers built successful businesses. They were making plenty of money and had more location freedom than ever. Then when talking about corporations and enterprises being part of The Human Cloud, it was always a matter of saving money by not needing bloated staffs and using cheap freelance talent.

That dichotomy felt weird to me. Freelancers often charge more than employees for individual tasks, as they should because they don’t have the same kind of relationship employees do. So why are we talking about corporations saving all this money and hiring cheap talent? It didn’t quite jive with the stories of individual freelancers making more than they did in their full-time jobs. 

The answer came in the middle: both things are true. Freelancers can productize their work and make more for individual tasks. And companies can save money because they benefit from a faster time to value. So it’s less about pitting employees against freelancers and more that more value can be created when people can act faster. The bloated organizations were held back in the form of speed, not really in the form of dollars. 

The final word on The Human Cloud

The Human Cloud is a book worth reading for all freelancers. It provides just the right depth of business insight, big-thinky-idea insight, and a primer on how technology plays into everything. 

I recommend it.

Read Next: 18 Simple Ways To Be More Productive As A Freelancer

Header image courtesy The Human Cloud