While assisting the management at Intel in the late 1980s, William Bridges made a startling discovery. Rarely did the word "jobs" come up. Rather, the point of reference was "tasks" that needed to be assigned. Bridges thereafter began to study the changing nature of work in the larger economy, which led to the 1994 publication of his book JobShift. It quickly became a highly celebrated handbook for a world of employment transition. Bridges today runs a consulting firm, William Bridges&Associates, located in Mill Valley, Calif. The most recent of his nine books, Creating You&Co., offers further advice for creating and managing a 21st-century career.

In JobShift you claimed that every job in today's economy is temporary. How so?

That people who are employed in what they think of as full-time, long-term jobs are in reality hired by their organization to work as long as they offer value. So these are actually temporary jobs.

So it's a bit of a trick to help us rethink the nature of hired labor.

Sure, but most people still think of work in ways shaped by the Industrial Revolution and its mass labor force. For the last several generations most people came to think of work as a solid arrangement, as a career.

And now we're returning to a pre-industrial concept of work?

That's right, although communications technology changes everything. So it's a little misleading to say that we're going back, because it's back to the future.

How exactly does communications technology alter the job landscape?

The craft system was very specific to a locale. If you were a stellar shoemaker in London, somebody would have to travel from Paris to get a pair of your shoes. There was no way you would serve a clientele that you couldn't reach in person. Today, of course, that's all different. New technologies also make it possible for fairly complicated operations to be divided up in space and time and linked together. It used to be terribly expensive for two different parties to cooperate in building something. They would have to move the product from one site to the other. But now, you have Boeing putting together the 777 with an online design—no paper—that all parties, such as overseas manufacturers who contract a wing, can access.

One would think such trends would lead to higher levels of unemployment, yet our unemployment rate has stayed low in the United States over the last couple of decades. Why?

I really don't know, and I don't think anybody else does either. The shift of work into services and into information technology certainly plays no small part. You don't have to relocate everybody like in the days when people were sharecroppers growing cotton in the South and they went to Detroit to work in the auto plants. That was called a migration. We don't have the same kind of migration going on today. The service economy has picked up an awful lot of people. The cynical way to say it is we've created a bunch of hamburger flippers. But it's a much more complicated process than that. Many futurists predicted that the shift toward information technology was going to lead to gross unemployment, to the end of work. It hasn't worked that way.

Does technology create as many opportunities for jobs as it displaces?

A lot of problems arise with the advent of communications technology: matters of freedom and censorship, intellectual property rights, and access for the disenfranchised who don't know how to operate in this new age. These are very legitimate problems, but killed opportunity is not one of them. Change doesn't kill opportunity. It relocates it. So dealing with a rapidly changing environment requires finding where opportunity exists, because what has disappeared in the old economy is going to pop up in a new place.