Agent Nation: How
America's New Independent
Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live
by Daniel H. Pink
Small Groups Big Impact:
Free Agent Nation
Copyright 2001 by Daniel H. Pink. All rights reserved.
Reproduced here with permission of the author.
made at Netpreneur events and recorded here reflect solely the views
of the speakers and have not been reviewed or researched for
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day, entrepreneurs, free agents, and individual business owners face
challenges that they cannot discuss with their clients, their
employees, or their families. So
where do they turn? To
their peers. With peers, they can establish a level of trust that allows
them to talk openly and intimately about what's going on. Developing a support system, which includes peer-to-peer
groups, is critical to the sanity of sole entrepreneurs."
--Larry Kesslin (New York, New York)
Vic's Restaurant sits on a sliver of a street in what
passes for downtown in San Carlos, California, a cozy city
twenty-five miles north of San Jose.
Vic's isn't fancy. Its
cuisine isn't memorable. (The
most exotic dish on the burger-and pasta-packed menu: crispy onion
petals with ranch dressing.") But on the third Thursday of
every month, the back room of this restaurant off Silicon Valley's
El Camino Real becomes a staging ground for one of the most
fascinating and revolutionary developments in Free Agent Nation.
Work even a few months as a free agent--and whether you re a
home-based brownie entrepreneur or a freelance C+ + programmer, your
friends and family likely will pepper you with the same questions.
Don't You get lonely? Don't
You miss the water cooler? Don't
you feel isolated? The
first part of the answer, of course, is yes.
Free agents sometimes do feel lonely and isolated; they do
occasionally long for a conversation around the corroded coffeepot
in the employee break room. But
the second part of their answer is often a surprise.
They don't stay
isolated. Instead of laboring in loneliness, free agents across America
are inventing an array of new groups to replace the workplace
communities many have left behind.
That's what's happening at Vic's.
About two dozen women have gathered on this April evening to
talk business and trade stories.
The women are all free agents--one runs a training
microbusiness with her husband, another is an education consultant,
a third is a marketing strategist who says she's "between
start-ups." They've come to Vic's tonight for the same reasons
they show up every month--to network, to find new clients, and
simply to get out of the house.
Born in 1998 as the Self-Employed Women's Network--and
rechristened the following year as Women Independent Consultants
(WIC)--this group is what I call a Free Agent Nation Club, or F.A.N.
Club. It helps members
find new gigs and new customers, but it also offers them a forum to
discuss issues close to their hearts with people who understand what
work is like when you're a pilot instead of a passenger.
WIC members sit at long tables arranged in a large square.
The conversation is easy, the conversationalists relaxed.
The women take turns. They
offer advice. They
listen. The session has the flavor of a graduate seminar, a chamber
of commerce meeting, and an encounter group--all blended into an
utterly new form. Becoming
a WIC member costs $ 1 00 a year, not a bad deal since it buys ten
dinners at Vic's and is tax deductible.
WIC has eighty paid members--and another two hundred on its
free e-mail list. At
each monthly gathering, the group brings in a speaker--an expert who
discusses how to negotiate contracts, how to deliver a knockout
presentation, or how to price their services.
But whatever is on the agenda, the broader purpose remains
the same: to offer and receive business advice--and to break the
isolation that often accompanies life beyond the water cooler.
"My monthly meeting is something I look forward
to," WIC member Elaine Starling told me.
"I count down the days!
It's fun to see my monthly friends again, meet new attendees,
and learn something. WIC
is an opportunity to mingle with people who understand what I do.
We face the same challenges and are often competitors, yet we
all benefit from sharing ideas, concerns, challenges, solutions,
opportunities--even goals and aspirations.
I get so pumped after a WIC meeting that my husband wishes
we'd have one every week!"
Small, self-organized, decentralized groups like WIC are
flourishing in every realm of American life.
Princeton University sociologist Robert Wuthnow estimates
that "four out of every ten Americans belong to a small group
that meets regularly and provides caring and support for its
members."' Alcoholics Anonymous, a self-described
"informal society" begun in 1935, now has more than fifty
thousand groups with nearly 1.2 million members.
Book clubs have become a national phenomenon: In 1990, for
example, only one Barnes & Noble store had its own book group;
today, nearly all of Barnes & Noble's more than nine hundred
stores have at least one in-store book club."
And independent religious small groups, in which people meet
to pray and discuss faith outside the auspices of institutional
denominations, are surging. The
U.S. has some 300,000 religious congregations, but as many as four million
religious small groups.
But the world of work is where small groups might produce
their deepest influence. F.A.N.
clubs and other clusters of independent workers are mushrooming
throughout Free Agent Nation. Their
bond is the horizontal loyalty I described in Chapter 5.
Their purpose is both hardheaded and softhearted.
Because they're decentralized, ad hoc, and self-organized,
they have eluded much notice. But
their impact is enormous. These
groups challenge the popular notion that America is fragmenting,
that community is collapsing--and that the rise of the independent
worker only makes matters worse.
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Copyright 2001 by Daniel H. Pink. All rights reserved. Reproduced here
with permission of the author.