In his speeches, President Macron repeatedly refers to the concepts of “ability” and “enablement”. The idea of working to improve each person’s freedom and ability to act is a political issue that also directly affects management practices and corporate history.
Many people in France have adopted the status of “self-employed entrepreneur” (auto-entrepreneur) in an attempt to escape from the restrictive conditions of salaried employment. By choosing to be self-employed, they are trying to guarantee, and even expand, their ability to act in order to increase their individuality. It is more about developing their ego than about genuine economic ambition – we could use the term “egopreneurs”.
An evolution in labour-related social change
In the 20th century, modern societies used control and cooperation-based regulations to institutionalise companies. As well as providing a cohesive approach to working practices, these regulations also suppress collective action by establishing a system with which to control individuals. Businesses have essentially developed by creating an organisation-environment to facilitate this cooperation/control dialectic.
The 21st century, on the other hand, favours individuation rather than the stable institutionalisation of a common social contract. It is important to differentiate between the concepts of individuation and individualisation. Individuation represents the possibility of distinguishing oneself from others, without necessarily isolating oneself from the collective.
This idea, initially proposed by Durkheim, Jung and Simondon, continues to be developed today by Cynthia Fleury with the notion of irreplaceability. Individuals use their experiences to render themselves irreplaceable, and then demand unique conditions of life in order to successfully adopt individuation as their way of life. For Alain Touraine, this has even led to the disappearance of the notion of society, or to the emergence of a liquid world as proposed by Zygmunt Bauman.
As early as 1990, Giorgio Agamben (drawing on Spinoza) had observed the empowerment of the subject against collective constraints. Neither particular, nor universal, “the individual who comes” searches for his or her individuation, forms a community without presuppositions or conditions of belonging and pursues concern for the self as the ultimate goal. The individual seeks a qualified form of life (one’s own way of living), as opposed to a bare life (the mere fact of existing). The concept of multitude was also reintroduced to describe this social change.
Organisations, both as totalities and, above all, as collections of individuals, are more concerned with pursuing their own autonomy than with forming a unified social body (while nevertheless being a constituent part of society). These changes once again lead to the empowerment of the individual in his or her interaction with corporations, and to the rejection of the existing hierarchy and subordination contract.
The notion of workplace tasks has receded, and the relationship of belonging to the company has weakened to the benefit of other participation criteria such as enablement. This fact is illustrated by the emergence of collaborative relationships, which are at the heart of associations, as proposed by Roger Sue. Organisations that favour the individual’s commitment to the corporate strategy rather than basing their effectiveness on control are another example of this social change.
With the singularisation of peoples’ working and private lives, we are moving from externally imposed environments and economic activities to individual-based “intrapreneurship”. We are now in the era of the “egopreneurs”, who are replacing the existing hierarchy with a legitimacy based on abilities, singular performance, and individual skills.
From “self-employed entrepreneur” to egopreneur
Companies are contingent, historical objects. They are dependent on the economic and social conditions in which they operate. In parallel, management, like the entrepreneur, is also subject to this condition of historicity. As a result, work conditions are also subject to these socio-historical changes – social provisions, managerial practices and strategic constraints in particular.
At the same time, we are witnessing the internalisation of management practices: while previously reserved for specialists, everyone is now a management and strategy expert. This theory is put forward by Gary Hamel in his book The end of management. Management practices are ubiquitous in companies because management ideology has been inverted: each person manages him or herself without waiting for external encouragement.
We are moving from a collaborative approach to an approach where everyone acts for themselves. Each person sets his or her own strategic objectives. This implies a change in the “style” of professional activities. For Marielle Macé, a style of living is a quest for individuation. Every life is a choice of being: individuals choose their “style of living” and their own singularity of existence. We have moved from employee to colleague, from colleague to resource, from resource to talent, and from talent to the self-concerned entrepreneur: the very figure of the individual in the workplace has changed in character, and not merely with the arrival of new generations.
Therefore, although the “self-employed entrepreneur” is a popular legal form, its success also reveals the ideological move towards a renewed focus on individuation. We are witnessing the emergence of the “egopreneur”: egopreneurs manage their careers as well as their individuation and experiences, they capitalise on their skills and, above all, apply their strategies inwards to guide and build their abilities via their very existence.
If this is the end of management, it is above all the end of a subordinate style of management and the beginning of the management of a multitude of egopreneurs who are attempting to develop and maintain their own capabilities. Companies are increasingly becoming mere crossing points, offering an enablement context conducive to developing each person’s individuation.
I have been working as a strategic consultant for ten years before switching to an academic career. My research aims at exploring cognition in the workplace, strategy and collective intelligence. I also work on cognitive sciences in organizations and Activity Theory as well as on language in ideation making. I teach business history, strategic thinking and strategic change to both Master in science and executive participants.