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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Free agent Virginia Klamon, whom we met briefly in Chapter 4,
talks about Arthur Andersen the way some people describe law school. Here's what Klamon tells college seniors considering a job at
the Big Five consulting firm: Go for a couple or three years, as
long as you can take it, and then you’ll be set.
The professional education you'll get there will be superb.
Klamon worked at Andersen after graduating from St. Louis
University, and says she learned more from her two and a half years
as a systems implementation and development specialist than from her
entire undergraduate education.
Most of her fellow free agents share such sentiments.
If I had a dollar for every time an independent worker told
me something like, "I learned more from that first job than I
did in all my years in school," I could have financed my entire
trip through Free Agent Nation.
Call it the universitification of the corporation.
While companies design “corporate campuses" and
establish homegrown education institutions such as Motorola
University, Dell University and SunU, individual workers are
treating companies like college.
They think of' them as places to gain knowledge, snag a
credential, and make connections.
And not surprisingly, this new approach has hatched a new
entity: the corporate alumni group.
When Klamon and tier husband (whom she met while both were
Andersen employees) relocated to the Pacific Northwest, she landed a
job at a Seattle hospital thanks to another ex-Andersen employee who
knew about the opening and recommended her for the job.
When Klamon declared free agency after a stint at the
hospital, she got some of her first gigs by tapping other former
Andersenians. For her,
the only thing more valuable than being an Andersen employee was
being an Andersen alum.
Traditional college alumni groups are remarkable things when
you stop and consider them. Each
year, alumni feel such fierce devotion to their alma maters that
they donate billions of dollars to them--even though they left these
institutions years ago and originally paid to attend.
Corporate alumni networks tap related sentiments.
They exist not because of ex-employees' allegiance to the
corporate mother ship, but because of their allegiance to others who
did time at the same place. Once
again, horizontal loyalty is the bond.
The connections they forge while working in traditional jobs
help free agents find new clients and customers--as well as keep up
with industry gossip and information--when they venture on their
Some alumni clusters, like Andersen's, are informal--but
others have more formal arrangements.
The Microsoft Alumni Network, for instance, has 2,500 members
who pay a $100 annual fee. "Thanks
to the network, teams that worked together at Microsoft have formed
virtual teams to work on new projects," Katharine Mieszkowski
reported in Fast Company. Most
alumni groups compile directories of former employees, which help
those who have become free agents land new projects or locate
partners for existing projects.
Some groups publish job listings--an attempt to formalize the
networking arrangements that led to Klamon's hospital job.
Many also have e-mail discussion lists and social get-togethers--which
have the added benefit of helping free agents overcome isolation.
McKinsey & Co., another giant consulting company, has an
alumni program that it describes as "one of the world's most
dynamic professional networks." Its Web site has a separate
Alumni Center for the 8,500 people who once clocked in at McKinsey,
and the company publishes a regular newsletter of alumni news.
The Web site of Morgan Alumni--the seven-hundred-member
association of onetime employees of J.P. Morgan--includes links to
alumni's solo enterprises and start-up companies along with recipes
for Senegalese soup, Norwegian cake, and other favorites from the
company cafeteria. Another
potent cluster of ex-employees is the group 85 Broads, an alumni
association of women who once worked for Goldman-Sachs, whose
headquarters is located at the New York City address 85 Broad
Street. And, natch,
there's an Internet company--Corporatealumni.com--to help you find
an alumni group or start your own.
Alumni networks seem most prevalent in the high-tech world,
where employee turnover is intense and free agency is the reigning
ethic. I've come across
AXLE (the Association of eX-Lotus Employees), ExPaq (former Compaq
Computer employees), and networks for Oracle, Prodigy, and Netscape.
Even though the individuals no longer work in nearby
cubicles, and often live in far-flung places, they remain united--a
One free agent who left Symantec, a California computer and
Internet security company, to go solo, and who asked that I not use
his name, put it best: "The nice part of working at Symantec
was that everybody left. Now
we've got this great network of people we know at all these other
emergence of F.A.N. Clubs, confederations, entreprenetworks, and
alumni associations is one of the most important developments
underway in America's independent workforce.
These self-fashioned groups call into question the claim that
free agency frays social ties or fractures community, and instead
suggest that free agency is merely redefining those things--that
Tocqueville's "art of association" is no less robust in
the twenty-first century than it was in the nineteenth.
Free agents may be bowling alone, but they're not going it
alone. In Chapter 5, we
saw that loyalty hasn't disappeared; it has simply changed from
vertical to horizontal. The
same is true for community. In
Free Agent Nation, community isn't dead. It's different.
of six | END
Copyright 2001 by Daniel H. Pink. All rights reserved. Reproduced
here with permission of the author.