Agent Nation: How
America's New Independent
Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live
by Daniel H. Pink
Copyright 2001 by Daniel H. Pink.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced here with permission of the author.
page two of
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a blazingly sunny August ' afternoon, amid the soaring crimson rocks
of northern New Mexico, the Ghost Ranch Alliance has convened.
At the entrance to an adobe building, a hand-lettered sign on
butcher block paper reads, HELLO AND WELCOME TO GLOBAL, SHARING
RETREAT II. Inside,
twenty-four cross-cultural trainers and consultants--most of them
independent workers, all of them independent spirits--sit in a
circle for the first session of this three-day event.
About fifty people, representing fifteen nationalities and
toting six kids, have come here at the behest of Jeremy Solomons, a
forty-year-old Englishman and Oxford graduate transplanted to the
Solomons assembles this group once a year at the Ghost Ranch,
a rustic Abiquiu, New Mexico, retreat where Georgia O'Keeffe once
spent her summers. The
people sitting on card table chairs and wearing their summer camp
best-- T-shirts, shorts, and sandals--tell what's happened since
they last met: business they've landed, clients they've lost, and
what's changed in their family life.
Later they'll break into smaller groups to talk about
marketing, pricing, and referrals--or attend small seminars on
stress management or “The New Europe.”
While some schmooze, others cook dinner for four dozen in
huge vats and gigantic serving trays.
Tonight, they're having baked ziti--tomorrow, a Pakistani
feast. Later they'll
play a rousing game of “Intercultural Bingo."
Welcome to a commune for capitalists, one of the many
varieties of F.A.N. Clubs that free agents are assembling.
Solomons told me that the idea for the Ghost Ranch Alliance
and its annual Global Sharing Retreat was born of isolation.
He'd worked for large institutions like J.P. Morgan and the
World Bank before declaring free agency.
But after a few years on his own--he advises international
business executives on global leadership and runs training programs
for their companies--Solomons grew weary.
"I figured if I'm isolated and want to spend more time
with others without going to a ten-thousand-person conference where
you feel even more isolated, let's see if other people would have
the same idea as me." So he e-mailed several dozen friends,
colleagues, friends of colleagues, and colleagues of friends to
"see if they wanted to spend three days together, to relax,
share ideas, and just 'be' for a while instead of doing."
The first year, 1998, fifty-five people attended.
They powwowed, cooked meals together, swapped ideas and
business cards, and then returned to their own free agent lives. But they stayed connected through regular e-mail and phone
calls. Now the Ghost
Ranch Alliance meets every August.
The agenda is fluid. ']'lie
rules are nonexistent. Yearly
turnover is about 50 percent. And
what happens afterward is almost as important as what happens in the
shadow of these red rocks. When
someone needs a partner on a large project, lie calls a fellow
"GRAmmy." When someone has a client she can't take on, she
often refers that client to someone else in the group.
Members get commissions for these referrals, but how much is
up to the person who receives the business.
They're obligated to pay only what they think the referral is
worth. No set
Percentages, no prescribed formula, no explicit requirement to hand
over even a dime. “The
minute you start building a fixed relationship," Solomons says,
"you're breaking the trust."
On the final day of the meeting I attended, the members voted
on whether to formalize their arrangement, and create a more
official organization. Thc
vote was nearly unanimous: thumbs-down.
Nearly everyone preferred remaining what they call "a
“We decided to work with each other on an ad hoc basis,”
Solomons told me on a dusty road leading from the Ghost Ranch
conference center. “We
don't want to create another corporate structure.”
“We're focused on results, but even more we're focused on
relationships. The only
way for all Of us to Succeed is if we're out there marketing for
each other. That's what
this helps us do." But even more important, he says, “This is
just a great way of keeping in touch.”
F.A.N. Clubs are one part board of directors, another part
group therapy. They
combine the search for clients with the quest for meaning, the urge
for authenticity with the need for sociability. They emerge from self-interest, but endure through trust.
Their forms vary. Some, like Ghost Ranch, meet once a year.
Some, like WIC, meet once a month.
Others meet by telephone.
Yet all confirm what author and consultant Terri Lonier told
me once and what remains essential for understanding how free agency
solo," she said, "is not working alone."
The only thing harder than counting free agents is tabulating
the ad hoc groups of them that have sprouted in every industry and
region. There's no National Association of F.A.N. Clubs in downtown
Washington, D.C., recording their numbers or crafting their bylaws.
There's no central office where every club must register.
Like so many of the operational elements of Free Agent
Nation, F.A.N. Clubs are self-organized.
Nobody is in charge, because everybody is in charge.
Yet for all their modern blossoms, F.A.N. Clubs have roots
that stretch to colonial America.
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Copyright 2001 by Daniel H. Pink. All rights reserved. Reproduced
here with permission of the author.