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.
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and Alumni Associations
F.A.N. Clubs are the most prevalent ad hoc work group, but
they're not the only new communities of independent workers the free
agent economy has spawned. Confederations
are akin to the partnerships formed by lawyers and accountants, but
they're more laid-back and usually fixed by informal agreements
rather than written contracts.
Entreprenetworks operate like a Rotary crossbred with
Alcoholics Anonymous. And
alumni associations are groups of' people who've all graduated not
from the same college, but from the same company.
Whitney Vosburgh has a business card.
So does Ellen Mann. In fact, they've got the same business
card. On one side of
the card is Vosburgh's name--along with his address and phone number
in Berkeley, California. On
the other side is Mann's name--along with her address and phone
number in Oakland. And
at the top of both sides is a logo for WE Communications.
WE Communications doesn't have its own address or Web site.
In the eyes of the law, it doesn't even exist.
It's an informal collaboration between free agents that I
call a confederation. In
their marketing confederation, Vosburgh handles the images, Mann
takes care of the text. His side of the business card labels him "Creative
Director--Art." She's "Creative Director--Words."
Sometimes they work together, sometimes they don't.
Their affiliation rests on the generate principles of' an
informal pact rather than the specific provisions of a twenty-page
Like F.A.N. Clubs, confederations are abound in Free Agent
Nation. And they're
growing in the same ad hoc, self-organized fashion.
There are no world headquarters, monthly newsletters, or
annual conferences keeping it all together.
Yet free agents are forming confederations in droves--often
with similar structures and underlying ideals.
The hub of one such confederation is a mod apartment in Half
Moon Bay, California, home of' Brian Gruber, directing principal of
Principals.com. For fifteen years, the Brooklyn-born Gruber was a
hard-charging cable TV marketing executive.
He worked in the United States at such organizations as TCI
and C-SPAN--and in Australia for Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
But at age forty Gruber felt something was amiss.
"I basically had this realization that I had been
unhappy in my work life ever since I got out of college," he
told me one afternoon in November as a storm pelted his apartment
“At a certain point, I thought to myself, ‘What's
happening here?' I'm using an alarm clock to wake myself, shock
myself up in the morning. I'm
rushing through the morning, driving in rush hour traffic, wearing a
noose around my neck in the form of a tie and suit.
I'm going into a poorly ventilated building with fluorescent
lighting and breathing other people ; s toxins.
I'm doing things I don't necessarily want to do, sometimes
working for psychos under intense stress.
I would look around me and see ten, twenty, or thirty years
more of it--and say, ‘What's the fruit of this?’”
Even worse, his marriage had crumbled and he'd been diagnosed
with an underactive thyroid, a condition that left him flatout
exhausted. So he left Australia, moved back to the United States, and
spent a year climbing back onto his feet.
He knew that when he worked again, he'd want to do it his
And the best way, he figured, was by starting a
confederation--though he didn't call it that.
Instead, he called it a "connected marketing team"
and named it Principals.com. Principals.com
is a virtual community of fifteen people who work in eleven
disciplines ranging from brand strategy, to public relations,
design, and market research. Each
person has his or her own microbusiness, and they come together only
when necessary. But
when Gruber brings these people together, Principals.com can deliver
what he calls "custom-built marketing teams." Some
clients, for example, might need only two people from Principals.com--say,
a strategic planner like Dana Christensen and a brand strategist
like Richard Carter. Other
clients may need as many as ten people.
"So the promise to the client," says Gruber,
"is that we'll deliver exactly the right talent in exactly the
right quantity, at exactly the right time."
Gruber says this approach allows him to do better work for a
lower price than traditional ad agencies or marketing firms.
"No mahogany conference rooms, no perky personal
assistants, no fees for layers of bureaucracy," boasts the
Principals.com Web site. In
ad agencies or large law firms, the name partners often pitch the
business, but low-level copywriters, junior associates, and other
faceless minions do the actual work.
In Gruber's confederation, everybody is, well, a principal.
"We all come together based on the mission and the
opportunity, not based on the fact that we all work in an agency and
need more billable hours.
"Everyone is part of this connected marketing team, but
they have their own identities and are principals of their own
companies. They know
how to collaborate, and can work in a different kind of structure
where there is no hierarchy," Gruber says. "Everyone on the team is a peer." The peers each
kick in a small amount for stationery and Principals.com business
cards. And when
somebody brings in business for the others, he or she gets 7 percent
of the fee.
But what's perhaps most intriguing is that this agreement has
no formal contract. "There's
no legal structure," Gruber says.
"At first, we wondered how we would protect ourselves. A corporation was out. A
partnership was out. We
looked at it and ultimately decided there should be no legal
relationship between the principals.
The idea is simply that everyone has a moral commitment that
when the call comes, you make it a priority because you want this to
succeed." The bonds of Principals.com are informal, flexible, and
impermanent rather than tight, rigid, and legally prescribed.
The right mix between individual freedom and group power is
the secret to confederations. "We're
like the Justice League of America," Gruber jokes.
"We've got these different superheroes and different
superpowers, and we come together when the world is threatened. Then after we achieve the mission, we disperse to do our own
Page four of six |
Copyright 2001 by Daniel H. Pink. All rights reserved. Reproduced
here with permission of the author.