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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 three of six  | previous page

            In the fall of 1727, well before the birth of both Free Agent Nation and the American nation, twenty-one-year-old Benjamin Franklin convened the first meeting of a dozen friends and associates who would meet every week for the next thirty years.  As Franklin described it in his autobiography, "I had form'd most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the JUNTO.” Franklin's Junto, which he also called the Club of the Leather Aprons, met each Friday night in a room above a Philadelphia alehouse (the thirteen colonies' answer to Vic's). joining Franklin were several fellow printers, a shoemaker, a cabinetmaker, a self-taught mathematician, a surveyor, a silversmith, a cobbler, and a scrivener--free agents all--who gathered to talk current events, offer political opinions and business advice, and find ways to educate and assist each other.  At most meetings, Franklin would assign one member to write an essay about some hot topic--which the writer would read at the next meeting and which the group would debate “in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire for victory.”  While Franklin kept his group small, exclusive, and mostly secret--the Junto never had more than twelve members--he encouraged his colleagues to form spin-off groups.  They tried, with varying success, giving rise to similar clubs with names like the Vine, the Union, and the Band.

            In the days before formal education, learning came not from teachers or textbooks but from one's social network.  Franklin--a soapboiler's son who attended school only from age eight to age ten, and entered the workforce when he turned thirteen--called the Junto "the best school of philosophy, morality, and politics that then existed in the province." Since there were almost no bookshops south of Boston then and colonists had to order most books from London, Junto members pooled all their own books and traded them among themselves.  This book-pooling cooperative gave Franklin the idea of a "subscription library," which he launched in 1730 and which eventually became the first public library in America."

            "It was part mutual aid society, part social fraternity, part academy," Franklin biographer Esmond Wright said of the Junto.  Its "motivation was self-improvement, the 'wish to do good' that would also bring them advantages, or even profit." In both spirit and execution, Franklin's Junto was the forerunner of groups like WIC and Ghost Ranch Alliance.

            Juntos are not a F.A.N. Clubs' only precursor.  Another emerged in the 1960s, spilling from the pen of one of the country's first success gurus, Napoleon Hill.  In his odd but long-lived book Think and Grow Rich, Hill advocated what he called the Master Mind--a collection of people an aspiring businessman would put together to help him and his mates think and grow rich.  "Perhaps you may need much more specialized knowledge than you have the ability or the inclination to acquire," Hill told his readers, "and if this should be true, you may bridge your weakness through the aid of your ‘Master Mind’ group."

            As Hill further explained, “Economic advantages may be created by any person who surrounds himself with the advice, counsel, and personal cooperation of a group of men who are willing to lend him wholehearted aid, in a spirit of perfect harmony.  This form of cooperative alliance has been the basis of nearly every great fortune.  Your understanding of this great truth may definitely determine your financial status." Master Mind groups still flourish (though not, as Hill assumed, limited to businessmen). Lonier has been part of' one for more than live years.  Every two weeks, she and three colleagues hold a conference call to discuss their microbusinesses, exchange tips, and counsel one another.

            F.A.N. Clubs, whether Master Mind groups or some other form, are not easy to sustain.  Interest wanes.  Personalities clash.  For several years, a Washington, D.C., group of home-based workers met each month at an Uno's Pizza in northwest Washington.  For a time, the group--called Home Alone--had about a hundred members.  But after a few years, people stopped coming, the leaders stopped leading, and the organization drifted into oblivion.  Marilyn Zelinsky of Fairfield, Connecticut, started a F.A.N. Club in her suburban town--but summer break made it hard for the mothers who were members to participate, and the group withered.  Later, Zelinsky grew so isolated working alone that she returned to a traditional job after five years as a free agent.

            Yet for all their difficulties, F.A.N. Clubs serve a crucial purpose.  Even though Lonier's group sees each other in person just a few times a year, they all understand the value of these sessions.  "I have a lot of great friends," says David Garfinkel, the free agent copywriter we met in Chapter 6 and who is part of Lonier's Master Mind.  "But they haven't chosen this path.  No matter how kindhearted they are, they just can't cheer you on.  They're on a different emotional frequency."

            Erika Tauber, 67, is twenty years older than Garfinkel, lives three thousand miles away, but operates on the same emotional frequency.  Tauber is a member of Women Entrepreneurs Homebased, a F.A.N. club in Belmont, Massachusetts, outside Boston.  On the first Monday of every month ("except when it's a snow day or a major holiday," marketing consultant Tauber explains), twenty-five or so women meet in the Belmont Public Library, a local synagogue, or the town's Armenian Church.  All the women run their own home-based businesses--and the format of their meeting is similar to that of the others I've described.  Women Entrepreneurs Homebased is an amazingly eclectic group: The youngest member is in her twenties, the oldest in her seventies.  And the micropreneurs run the gamut--including a lawyer, a computer animator, an architect, and a chef.  But its goals are the same as most F.A.N. Clubs: The women offer one another advice, connections, and sometimes simply a set of ears.

            Some members also form four- or five-woman Accountability Groups that meet between the official sessions.  These subclusters, says Tauber, serve as a "focus group or sounding board." And as the name suggests, they reinforce that important element of the free agent work ethic--putting yourself on the line.  The women make promises out loud to the other members--for example, to finish a brochure, to confront a client about an unpaid bill, or to make ten cold calls--because public exposure often activates peer pressure's benevolent gases.  "It's easier to break a promise to yourself than to others who are sitting there with you," Tauber says.  "When you have told three or four other people you'll do something, you will do it." (This is also the principle behind the microfinancing initiatives I'll discuss in Chapter 18.)

            Tauber, who's been a micropreneur since 1979, says her group formed in response to the old boy network--which didn't have room for free agents, particularly the female variety.

            “But we create a nonthreatening, supportive environment,” she says.  “Women aren't ashamed to say 'It's been a rough year for me.' Men are more loath to open themselves up in that way."

            Women-only or women-predominantly are among the most common types of F.A.N. Clubs.  There's Second Shift, a group of working mothers in Chappaqua, New York; MOMents, a working mother support group in suburban Chicago; the Wednesday Morning Group, which meets in Chevy Chase, Maryland; Lawyers at Home, a group of attorney moms who meet each month in Washington, D.C.; and the Homebased Businesswomen's Network in Danvers, Massachusetts.

            But whatever the gender of the members, the industries in which they work, or the communities where they live, F.A.N. Clubs tend to follow a similar structure and philosophy.  They're tailored to individual needs.  They depend on horizontal loyalty and reciprocity. They aim to deepen both human connection and professional connections.  And in contrast to labor unions, PTAs, or other giant, older groups whose ranks are thinning, F.A.N. Clubs succeed precisely because they have no central authority.  That's one reason why those who use the decline of large established groups to support their claim that community is disappearing have it wrong.  Community hasn't disappeared.  You just have to look for it in the right places.  Indeed, this free agent style of forging community is quintessentially American, something Alexis de Tocqueville discovered and remarked upon during his visit to America 170 years ago: "The art of association ... [is] ... the mother of action, studied and applied by all."

[continued]

Page three of six  | Next page


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

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