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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 four of six  | previous page

Confederations, Entreprenetworks,
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.

            Confederations

            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 partnership agreement.

            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 windows.

            “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 way.

            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 stuff."

[continued]

Page four of six  | Next page


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

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