The Entrepreneurial Free Agent and Dejobbed Small Business R&D Lab
Free Agent Pundit Dan Pink and Small Business Futurists Jim Salmons and Timlynn Babitsky spot trends affecting the free agent community
Context: Sunday, 11 June 2000, Capitol City Brewpub, Washington, D.C., the day after the Congressional Small Business Summit. Hotter than blazes and wet with humidity, it's a perfect setting for cool refreshment and thoughtful reflection.
Dan Pink is the leading freelance journalist chronicling the rise of free agency in the workplace and society at large. He is widely recognized as one of the most knowledgeable participant/observers in/of the Free Agent movement.
Dan is Master of his domain at Free Agent Nation website, the "everything's always free for free agents" on-line resource. He writes extensively for print and on-line publications including Fast Company, Inc., The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, George, and Salon.
When he isn't sneaking out to brewpubs to meet with small business futurists, Dan Pink is locked in a D.C. brownstone garret finishing up his much anticipated book chronicling the rise of Free Agency -- available now.
We invite you to enjoy our interview of Dan from start to finish or to pop around from topic to topic by clicking on the questions below:
Sohodojo: Let's start with an easy one. How's the book going?
Dan Pink: It's going slowly, but it's going forward. And, I'm actually very close to completion. I'm excited about having the book come out early next year.
Sohodojo: What's the official title?
Dan Pink: "Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live"
Sohodojo: When did you start writing this book and how has it changed since you started?
Dan Pink: It's hard to say because I write in a kind of a non-linear way. So what I consider writing, some people might consider screwing off. I guess the biggest change, well I don't know how much the book has changed because the book doesn't exist before you start it. So, inevitably as it comes into formation it changes because it's coming into formation. I guess the way my thinking has changed has been recognizing how incredible is the texture and breadth of what this means for work and life in America. No matter what area of life you go into, you can find a way that the metaphor and free agents are transforming that aspect of life.
For example, I mean right here, you guys are in this restaurant, and a lot of restaurants and places like Starbucks and so forth are essentially right now as they are for us, in the commercial real estate business. I mean this booth is essentially an office suite that you've rented for an hour and a half to have our meeting.
So here's something that's existed for a long time the restaurant business and independent workers are transforming the way we use that. Certainly true of Starbucks where I did a number of my interviews, often on tape recorder as you are doing now, often with music playing in the background. So I now have the world's largest collection of bootleg Starbucks' music.
To answer your question, I guess the richness and the texture and the breadth is what really strikes me and as a writer gratifies me.
Sohodojo: How many folks did you talk to?
Dan Pink: In the hundreds.
Sohodojo: Like everywhere, big and little towns?
Dan Pink: Yeah, pretty much. I don't have an exact count, once I hit 200 I said, " I don't count any more." In terms of how many interviews I did I'd have to go back and count, I think we went to over half the states in the US to do the interviews.
Sohodojo: Was there a particular region that was left untouched?
Dan Pink: You know, in retrospect I wish I had done more. I did rather little in the Southeast. But most other areas I think, were pretty well covered.
Sohodojo: How did you find your people?
Dan Pink: E-mail. One degree of separation. I used different kinds of reporting techniques that I experimented with. In some places I let the people at Fast Company, company of friends in those areas, help me out. Other times people who had e-mailed me about stories I had done heard from me a year later, "say, I notice you're in Minneapolis, want to have coffee?"
Being the ever greedy reporter I'd always ask whoever was willing to talk to me for a couple more contacts. Usually, one or two degrees of separation. Trying always to get a mix of people, industries, genders, races. Very few people who are one degree of separation from me, very, very, very few people. I want two or three, so the more diverse cross section is what you get. And the book will be a reasonable price too.
Sohodojo: Who's the publisher?
Dan Pink: Warner Books. In hardback first, then probably soft cover.
Dan Pink: I think that a lot of those distinctions don't really matter that much. And I think that the boundaries, and the vocabulary that we add to describe how the economy works is growing a little out-dated. I mean, is a two-person operation a small business, probably. A two-person operation, are they free-agents, probably. So do some so called 'big' businesses rely on free agents? Yeah.
I just think that part of what's going on, part of the value of terms like "nanocorp" and "free agent" is that we need a new vocabulary to describe this new world of business. We're relying on terms of like 'old English' to describe the modern world. And the terms are a little bit creaky. They're not quite right and people have this dissonance when they use those terms.
You know the world is not really divided between big business and small business. We really know that the fundamental unit of the economy is not the business, but the individual. And so, how individuals come together, how they collaborate, is really a more useful way of looking at how the economy works than old English distinctions between small business, big business. If that makes sense.
Sohodojo: Yes it does especially to us because this is where we're thinking too.
Dan Pink: I even have a little bit in the book, I'll give you a sneak preview, a little bit of a glossary of some of the new terms, including "nanocorp" that have bubbled up because in any kind of new realm, you need that new vocabulary to describe what's going on.
So, 'SOHO' for instance, and 'SOHO' is a new term, but 'SOHO' has given way to 'SONO' - Small Office, No Office - people who are totally, totally mobile.
I have one which I think is a pretty interesting transformation in families and within households of couples, probably like you guys, who each have an office in the home. I call that 'HOHO' - His Office Her Office. You're actually going to have more, I don't want to call them HOHO households because that would be HOHOHOs, but I think you have more HOHO families now, which is a very big change. And it forces you to rethink what are the boundaries between work and home and so forth. The other thing I like about HOHOs is that it works for same sex couples too. One of the things I think the book will do is help invite some of this new vocabulary. Which you guys are doing a great job in helping invent.
Sohodojo: It's not only about how you relate to work, but there's a movement as the employment world changes that's reflected in the approach to 'portfolio' like kinds of involvements. Where you have multiple concurrent involvements instead of saying I'm on a major project and that's the only thing I'm doing for the next eighteen months.
Dan Pink: People will fashion the work style that's best for them. So in some cases it could be the serial employment of six months here, six months here, 18 months there, while other people have more of a portfolio. The beautiful thing is that it is not a one-size-fits-all form of work as existed in most of this country for much of the 20th Century.
Dan Pink: I had lot of different ages. I'm actually very interested, in fact I have a separate chapter on this, but I don't use the term 'third-ager'. It's not a bad term, "third agers," because I think that's a very fascinating topic. I think that "old age" is not what it used to be. If you're 60 today, my god, you're not old at all. You've got a lot left in you.
And there's some interesting demographic things too about an upcoming labor shortage, especially the demographic cohort following the baby boomers. It's very, very small. So when the baby boomers leave the workforce, you're gong to have, for the first time in Western history, a declining number of people who are "of working age."
But to me what happens then is you define what constitutes "working age." Because the whole idea of 'working age' is itself a modern invention. Retirement was essentially unknown until 100 years ago. And so I think that 'retirement' is going to mean something new. So I am fascinated by what's going to happen with free agency in the 60 plus crowd. Or, what might be the 60 to 120 crowd.
Sohodojo: If you see Modern Maturity magazine put out by AARP, there are all kinds of incredible pieces on doing business, getting involved, doing web sites; they're becoming very, very popular in that arena.
Dan Pink: And it's an enormous resource for companies, this incredible population of talent and experience out there. I think the Internet is gong to be an astounding resource for "third-agers." It could be a massive hiring call for '60 plus' free agents. Do you feel like working part of the year, not working part of the year. I'm with you, I think this is a totally interesting topic. I think that for young people, it's trite by now, but somebody who's 25 years old doesn't expect to be working at the same company the rest of her life.
Sohodojo: I think one of the interesting things about that whole dynamic is that there's the potential of the re-emergence of valuation of wisdom as opposed to skill.
Dan Pink: That's an interesting point.
Sohodojo: There's been such a focus on "gee you're not worth anything if you don't have the latest skills." Well, it's a whole lot more valuable too, to also have failed ten times every way that things can go bad.
Dan Pink: I agree with you. I think that some of the tech sector failure is that the wisdom never has been there.
Sohodojo: You can get some interesting team dynamics when you have some young hot-skilled kids with no experience and you've got a seasoned sage.
Dan Pink: Yeah, It's an interesting mix. It's an interesting mix for organizations and clusters of people that come together, because you do have the mix of sharp skills and ferocious energy along with perspective, wisdom, battle scars. That's a pretty potent combination.
I think you're right, that you will see that sort of, I don't want to call it skill set, but those sort of attributes much more highly prized, much more highly valued. Those are the kinds of things you can't go to training for. You can't get "Microsoft certified wisdom."