Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Liveby Daniel H. Pink
Ever since the dawn of the industrial revolution, it has been the organizing principle of society -- people are what they do, defined by their corporate labels. But the modern corporation has begun its death march. There are 25 million free agents -- entrepreneurs, independent contractors, free-lancers, and temps. In this landmark book, trend-watcher Daniel H. Pink shows why those numbers are growing exponentially. He tells readers who free agents are, how they will impact the economy, and why the laws must be rethought to accommodate the new paradigm. He also asks what happens when life no longer revolves around the job, when people are not tethered to a single location or identity. The answers will surprise all.
Pink explains that the American working economy for several generations had a single, human emblem -- the "Organization Man," so dubbed after the 1956 book of the same name by William H. Whyte, Jr. The label described what was then the quintessence of work in America - an individual (nearly always male) who ignored or buried his own identity and goals in the service of a large organization, which rewarded his self-denial with a regular paycheck and job security. Organization Men abided by what Whyte named a Social Ethic, a secular theology that placed the organization at the center of the universe, and defined entrepreneurs as "selfish type[s], motivated by greed."
Beginning in the 1980s, conditions and attitudes changed. Companies that had formed the bedrock of American work began winnowing their work forces in response to economic stimuli, corporate restructuring, and technology that could do people's work for less money. Pink writes that the social contract of job security was broken; the Organization Man was relegated to the annals of history. What replaced him as the archetype of work in America is the free agent - the independent worker who operates on his or her own terms, untethered to a large organization, serving multiple clients and customers instead of a single boss.
Pink explains that free agency has already begun overturning many of today's central assumptions about American work and life, among them the following:
- Loyalty is dead. It's not dead; it's different. Instead of up-and-down loyalty that runs from individual to institution, free agents practice side-to-side loyalty - an allegiance to clients, colleagues, teams, projects and industries.
- The work force is adrift, operating without a broad social contract. The implicit employment promise that reigned in the days of the Organization Man has disappeared, replaced by a new one that trades talent for opportunity.
- The free-agent economy makes workers less secure. As free agents compile a diverse portfolio of clients, customers and projects, they often find themselves in a more secure position than traditional workers.
- Parents must try to balance work and family. Corporate and government efforts to be more "family-friendly" offer a one-size-fits-all approach to the work/family balance. Free agents tend to erase the boundaries between the two, blending, rather than balancing.
- "Empowerment" and "retention" are wise strategies for corporate managers. These concepts are built on the fact that organizations hold all the power. In a free-agent economy, organizations need individuals more than individuals need organizations, which can inspire and challenge people, but cannot "empower" or "retain" them.
- Rampant individualism is fraying our social fabric. Critics claim our common culture is corroding, and the free agent economy is speeding the problem. In actuality, it may be providing a solution, mending bonds and repairing our concepts of community.
Through his experience and research, Pink has found that most free agents are at least approximations of one of three basic free agent species - soloists, temps and "microbusinesses."
Pink writes that the most common variety of free agent is the soloist - someone who works for him- or herself, generally alone, moving from project to project, selling his or her services. Over the years, soloists were termed "freelancers" in the cultural vernacular; "independent contractors" in legal vernacular; and any one of a dozen or more terms for self-employed soloists.
If soloists are free agents by design, Pink explains that temps are often free agents by default. Many of the 3.5 million workers in the temp population would rather have a "permanent" job with a company, but coldly efficient corporations, temp agencies looking after their own interests, and the temps' own lack of ambition or ability conspire to pin them to the bottom of the economic ladder.
Erupting across the Free Agent Nation is a blaze of enterprises that are smaller than the typical "small business" - sometimes consisting of only two or three people. Pink explains that these microbusinesses are a growing force - more than half of American companies today have fewer than five employees.
While many pundits bemoan the loss of a sense of community in the business world (and elsewhere), Pink writes that free agents are, as a result of and in response to their independence, finding ways to create their own communities, with their own infrastructure, and their own network of professionals whose business it is to make their lives and work easier. He writes that it is in part due to these things that the Free Agent Nation continues to grow, not just in numbers, but also in richness and depth of community.
Why Soundview Likes This Book
Free Agent Nation delves into a current trend that has transformed the way people think about work and working, and captures a fresh perspective on the transformational effects that entrepreneurship is having on the modern working world. Managers, business owners, and anyone thinking of becoming a free agent will want to understand this powerful new demographic and its impact on the business landscape. Copyright (c) 2002 Soundview Executive Book Summaries
- Grand Central Publishing
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- Hachette Digital, Inc.
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Read an Excerpt
CHAPTER 1THE CRUX: In the second half of the twentieth century, the key to understanding America's social and economic life was the Organization Man. In the first half of the twentyfirst century, the new emblematic figure is the free agentthe independent worker who operates on his or her own terms, untethered to a large organization, serving multiple clients and customers instead of a single boss. The rise of free agency shatters many ironclad premises about work, life, and business in America from how companies should operate, to how we structure our health care, retirement, and education systems, to which values guide our lives. To truly understand the new economy, you must first understand the free agent.
THE FACTOID: The largest private employer in the U.S. is not Detroit's General Motors or Ford, or even Seattle's Microsoft or Amazon.com, but Milwaukee's Manpower Inc., a temp agency.
THE QUOTE: "This book is about the free agent. If the term is vague, it is because I can think of no other way to describe the people I am talking about. They are free from the bonds of a large institution, and agents of their own futures. They are the new archetypes of work in America."
THE WORD:Tailorism. The free agent's approach to work; descendant of Taylorism, Frederick Winslow Taylor's One Best Way method of mass production. Under Tailorism, free agents fashion their work lives to suit their own needs and desires instead of accepting the uniform values, rules, and structure of a traditional job. Opposite of the One Size Fits All ethic of the Organization Man era. (Synonym: My Size Fits Me).
Copyright (c) 2001 by Daniel H. Pink
What People are Saying About This
(Nancy Evans, Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief, ivillage.com)
Ought to be on the reading list of anybody who runs a business. It’s rare to encounter a smart book that is this fun or a fun book that is this smart.
Free Agent Nation is the shape of things to come in the Internet Century…
Will turn your notion of a "career" upside-down…might even set you free. It's the defining book on the untethered workforce.
(Seth Godin, author of Unleashing the Idea Virus)
(Alan Webber, founding editor, Fast Company magazine)
(Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence)
The declaration of independence for the self-employed. Read this book if you want to understand and profit from the new self-reliance.
(Thomas Petzinger, Jr., chairman LaunchCyte LLC, author of The New Pioneers, and former “Front Lines” columnist, Wall Street Journal.)
(Terri Lonier, author of Working Solo and founder of SOHO Summit)
For baby boomers, it's the new corporate bible…
Bound to be one of the decade's most important books…
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