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.
three of six | previous
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
F.A.N. Clubs, whether Master Mind groups or some other form,
are not easy to sustain. Interest
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
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
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
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."
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Copyright 2001 by Daniel H. Pink. All rights reserved. Reproduced
here with permission of the author.