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Excerpted from
Free 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.

Chapter 7 (con't)

page two of six  | previous page

F.A.N. Clubs

On 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 American Southwest.

            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 loose alliance."

            “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 flourishes.  "Working 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.


Page two of six  | Next page

Copyright 2001 by Daniel H. Pink. All rights reserved. Reproduced here
with permission of the author.


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