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The Entrepreneurial Free Agent and Dejobbed Small Business R&D Lab
Rants and Raves #13
Collaboration: The Foundation of Entrepreneurial Free Agency
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Table of Contents

  1. Around the dojo...
    • Snow hits the dojo... a 'Brand You' lesson
    • SBR Webring Leaps Forward
    • SBIR 2000 - Sohodojo submits E-lancing XML proposal

  2. Collaboration: The Foundation of Entrepreneurial Free Agency
    • Seeds of a New Fire, Foundation of a New Community
    • The Three Planes of Entrepreneurial Free Agency
    • A Real World Example - Collaboration in Action
    • How to be a Better Collaborator

  3. What do YOU think? Three quick questions to go...
    • What you were thinking last issue
    • What do you think? This week's Big Three...

Around the dojo...

"May you live in interesting times!" -- an ancient curse in one place; a blessing in another. At the dojo, things have gotten more and more interesting since the turn of this New Century.

Welcome to Sohodojo,
--Jim Salmons and Timlynn Babitsky--
Hosts, sohodojo

Snow hits the dojo... a 'Brand You' lesson

Raleigh may be in a 'mild' climate zone but you can't tell it by us. With four measurable snowfalls in a two-week stretch in January, the latest a record 22 inches, we've had a lot of Winter to enjoy in a very short time. Yesterday, one week after the Big Snow, a road crew finally appeared to plow the snow-turned-ice on the street in front of the dojo.

Not long ago, our friends at ForkInTheHead asked readers of their excellent newsletter how they promote their businesses off-line -- by TV, radio, newsprint or other? The question got us thinking about the "other" category.

How DO you promote your on-line business off-line when your advertising budget is measured only in "sweat" and "chutzpa?" The answer is: You get visible! You get vocal! You get creative!

sohodojo mobile Take, for example, the 'dojo-mobile' just after the first of our series of snowfalls.

Every time we drive around town, we're "catching eyeballs" for the dojo.

And if you noticed the More Fun: Less Stuff window sticker, take a moment to visit the Center for a New American Dream really is a matter of priorities and values.

What does your license plate say? Does it point to the name of your business? Are your bumper stickers Brand You pointers to the issues you care about?

For an extra $20 per year in many places, you can register your car for a "vanity" license plate. For even less you can add strategic bumper stickers or create your own. The payback comes in your rear-view mirror - capture attention and then you've got their interest.

How do you use your car to help promote your business? If you use it creatively, running errands becomes a marketing opportunity.

SBR Webring Leaps Forward

Since January 1, five audacious business owners have joined Sohodojo's Webring of Small Business Revolutionaries to shake things up in this New Millennium.

  • James E. Schneider, LL.M. Incorporated publishes a daily newsletter, The Taxman86 Speaks that has some of the best tax and legal information available for SOHO businesses on or off line. Jim is an avid small business revolutionary. He can show you how to take advantage of your legal rights to tax savings.

  • Manning, Lewis & Assoc.,Inc., fires up your entrepreneurial passion. Jack makes sure that everything on his site -- articles, ebooks, ezine, affiliates and useful links -- gives you the confidence to just go out and "do it." Check out The Netrepreneur's Niche, e-zine for some solid inspiration!

  • OnLime, Ltd., produces "Sociometry" -- excellent software for keeping track of your elastic networks of collaboration relationships and the interpersonal dynamics of your WOW business ventures.

  • Paige Enterprises specializes in online investing, bookkeeping, and financial services for business start-ups. If you are considering on-line investing, don't click that button until you've done your homework at Paige's "You're No Broker" investing education pages.

  • Vision2Lead: Salmons & Associates helps business managers, community leaders and entrepreneurs to identify visions, clarify goals, and to develop and implement forward-thinking strategies. If you are a not-for-profit organization or business, stop here first.

SBIR 2000 - Sohodojo submits E-lancing XML proposal

With all the hub-bub about the dojo (a.k.a., the holidays), we didn't think we'd make the January 12th deadline for a proposal submission under the U.S. Department of Commerce's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program for FY 2000. But thanks to superhuman determination, Timlynn pulled together our proposal, XML for Business Modeling and Workflow for Entrepreneurial Free Agents (E-Lancers), and got it into Fed Ex just before the drop-dead deadline!

Regular Rants and Raves readers know that Sohodojo hosts a technical R&D SIG (Special Interest Group) working on 'role-based executable business modeling' technologies. Our SBIR 2000 proposal is one way to fund this community-based work, as our proposal abstract explains:

    Thomas Malone, Director of MIT's Initiative on 'Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century', characterizes the emerging economic and worklife model as the 'E-Lance economy'. This fundamental transformation of the relationship between 'worker' and corporate organization will be built on a redefinition of work from the conventional career-based 'employee' to that of the worker as 'free agent', the 'electronic freelancer' or 'E-lancer'. When such free agent work is performed under a conventional contract labor agreement, the E-lancer is a web-enabled, contemporary version of the 'temp' worker.

    A proportion of this E-lance community, however, is interested in 'entrepreneurial free agency' through the creation of dejobbed virtual companies collectively owned and operated by 'elastic networks' of E-lancers. Sohodojo is home of the 'nanocorp' (an entrepreneurial free agency business model) and a community of entrepreneurial free agents. Sohodojo hosts a Special Interest Group of researchers and developers working on 'Role-Based Executable Business Model' technologies, the software infrastructure of Malone's E-lance economy. Our Phase 1 grant will significantly accelerate the design and development of Open Source, server-side, XML-based frameworks which address business development and workflow management for e-lancing small business rather than the conventional application of workflow to Industrial era business process automation.

We proposed to develop role-based EBM frameworks to support The Nanocorp Game, a web-based collaborative learning environment where free agents can explore the entrepreneurial side of free agency. This learning environment will serve, too, as a 'sandbox' for Sohodojo framework developers as they iteratively design, develop and test various role-based executable business model technologies.

"What does this have to do with me? I don't need what I don't understand," you say? Not true if you intend to be a long-term, successful entrepreneurial free agent (a nanocorp with subsidiary holdings in various dejobbed virtual companies, for example).

Free agent 'job security' will come not from your talent, as Dan Pink recently speculated, but from your collaboration skills! If you don't yet see how collaboration skills can be more important than talent to the long-haul free agent, read on.

Note: If you'd like to help design and build such an environment, join our R&D SIG. Your interest in software to support the entrepreneurial free agent is more important than your technical skills. We are platform and programming language independent, although we have a preference for Open Source technologies.

Don't let some mega-corp decide what 'product offerings' to make available to you as a customer in the emerging free agent market. Join us as we do it by ourselves, for ourselves. You know the only way to get what we really need is to do it ourselves.

Collaboration: The Foundation of Entrepreneurial Free Agency

In his January newsletter, Dan Pink solicited the opinions of his large and growing readership of free agents. (Did you give Dan a piece of your mind yet? Grab an on-line copy, then let him know what you think.) For his upcoming book on free agency, Dan is soliciting our voices about what is the work ethic and social contract in today's workplace. It used to be "loyalty for security" among the job-oriented. What is the basis for our relationships in the increasingly transient workplace?

Dan insightfully speculates that the new Free Agent Nation social contract is "talent for opportunity." We agree if we are talking about the contract professional component of the free agent community. And, yes, this is the dimension of the free agent marketplace that has VC money and Internet Speed start-ups chasing our headcount.

But this is also the segment of our community that burns brightest and so, burns shortest. Being a high-ticket Road Warrior selling your talent for the chance to make hay while the sun shines is not a sustainable replacement for the 'loyalty for security' career model. It is not sustainable in terms of your health, nor is it sustainable in terms of your inner sense of purpose, connectedness and well-being.

Seeds of a New Fire, Foundation of a New Community

These things -- our renewed sense of purpose, connectedness and the desire to align our values with what we do for economic gain --these are the seeds of the entrepreneurial free agent, an emerging 'fuzzy zone' where contract professional overlaps conventional entrepreneurial small business.

The Internet enables a new breed of concurrent entrepreneurial free agent. We sell our talents on the mean streets of Contract Employment Avenue when we have to, but we are homesteading a new neighborhood of peer relationships and shared visions that finds expression in a web of collaborative ventures.

We spontaneously create entrepreneurial ventures among ourselves, and we are willing to sacrifice our 'going rate' for a chance to work deeply with an interesting conventional small business. We are likely to care more about who we work with and what we are doing than how much we are making. We share risks with our clients and partners by taking ownership stakes as part of our project compensation packages

When we get it right, we get to spend all our time in this self-reliant neighborhood. Being a good neighbor in this part of the New Economy is much more about interpersonal and collaboration skills than it is about talent. There's a bumper crop of folks with talent these days. The trick is finding that elastic network of collaborators that consistently produce results which are greater than the sum of the parts... what Tom Peters calls WOW projects.

The Three Planes of Entrepreneurial Free Agency

It may help to understand the importance of collaboration skills for the entrepreneurial free agent if you think about your Worklife experience as playing out on three planes:

  • Strategy and Vision plane
  • Actor plane
  • Role plane

Worklife experience - three planes

Your effectiveness in each of these planes determines your overall success as an entrepreneurial free agent or collaborative small businessperson.

We won't dwell on the Strategy and Vision plane at this time since it has little to do with understanding the distinction between talent and collaboration skills. This is the plane where we develop the ideas that drive and justify our actions in the other planes.

The Role plane is perhaps the most familiar to us as this is the space where organizational and workflow dynamics are found. Organizations are formed as persistent collections of people working together for a shared, common purpose. In the 'loyalty-for-security' world that is fading away, these affiliations were 'jobs' and we thought of ourselves as having a 'career'.

But as Industrial era corporations downsize and out-source, these long-term affiliations are increasingly replaced by contract-based temporary employment relationships. The 'slots' to be filled by humans on this plane, which is dominated by organizational and workflow dynamics, are more appropriately thought of as 'roles' to be played by actors.

A stage actor plays many roles in a lifetime. The fortunate, talented ones being so busy as to play more than one role at a time as they affiliate with different production companies. In the same way, our increasingly transient Worklife affiliations are much more about playing many different roles in many organizations. And like the busy actor, our talent in playing a specific role determines our success in 'landing the part'.

If we were all emotionless robots or otherwise mechanical players of these roles within organizations, Worklife would be nothing more than a string of 'plug and play' relationships played out on the Role plane where organizations and workflow are found. But we all know about 'office politics'. How often do we hear of a movie production schedule skewered by a talented prima donna actor whose antics bring the activity on the set to a screeching halt until this one person is ready to perform?

This realm, where interpersonal and collaboration dynamics live, is the Actor plane.

When your strategic vision is little more than, "I want to fill a string of project positions that make me tons of money," your Worklife is focused on the Role plane. Your talent gets you in and your 'teaming' skills determine how effective you are at coping with the interpersonal dynamics among project members. For the contract professional free agent, interpersonal and collaboration skills are an adjunct to your talent at filling various roles within organizations' workflows.

But priorities are significantly different for the entrepreneurial free agent. For us, survival and success skills are much more to be found in the interplay of the personalities working together on a project. Indeed, the interplay between folks who enjoy working together and who consistently produce results which are 'greater than the sum of the parts' are very likely to generate new organizations and workflows on the Role plane... that is, our success at collaborating drives our organizational affiliations and role involvements.

A Real World Example - Collaboration in Action

Let's turn to a Real World example. To do so, we'll lay a little story over the Three Planes picture.

Jim and Timlynn, doing business as Sohodojo, identify three 'cool folks' that have a web-based business which complements the mission and objectives of Sohodojo. That's the five nodes you see in the 'stick and ball' graph shown in the Actor plane of the Three Planes picture.

Through a series of communications, an informal collaboration develops. No money has changed hands, no contracts define the obligations and responsibilities. We are 'sniffing each other out'... do we like these people, do we share values, can we work together, are they as passionate about their work as we are about ours?

Over time and through exploratory interactions, we each answer these questions and further collaborative discussions develop. A tentative plan to launch a third organization develops. This third organization represents a strategic partnership between our organizations. This new organization will define a new collection of roles and workflows among these five collaborating free agents... we are, as Tom Malone would put it, an elastic network of e-lancers.

As we communicate our strategy and vision and verbally prototype the business objectives and workflow requirements of this new collaborative venture, other subtle bits of information are transmitted. Buried in a communication about strategy, vision and implementation issues about workflow, a comment warns that an explosive dynamic among our prospective collaborators might result in their little elastic network coming apart.

If the only thing that mattered was talent and our ability to fill the role-based slots in the workflows of our distinct business organizations, we would lose this exciting opportunity then and there. Everything we all worked for could easily fall apart due to the typical pressure-cooker dynamics of entrepreneurial activity (which are now moving at Internet Speeds). These interpersonal crises play out in the Actor plane of your free agent and collaborative small business experience.

Large enterprises are not subject to the same debilitating dynamics of this relationship-oriented plane of experience. Large organizations can fire and hire their way out of such bumps. Teams get reshuffled, a 'bad seed' gets reassigned.

In our example case, as soon as we heard about the 'bump', we went into crisis management mode. If we didn't take action, the WOW opportunity we were all contemplating would be lost forever.

A quick assessment of the situation revealed that our elastic network, as represented by the 'stick and ball' graph in the Actor plane of our picture, had a dangerous cutpoint configuration. If a key relationship was lost, the whole would be lost.

A quick series of phone calls, a few individual and group e-mails to surface and facilitate the resolution of issues and the crisis was resolved. We can now get back to collaborating on our WOW project.

Our success at recognizing, assessing and responding to this situation had very little to do with our talent in performing the roles in the workflows of our operational relationships. It had everything to do with us being savvy collaborators.

Our goal, keeping our friends together in their business, was as much about our self-interest as it was about our empathizing with their situation and wanting to help them weather the storm of entrepreneurial life at Internet Speeds.

How to be a Better Collaborator

Some folks are just naturally effective at interpersonal dynamics and collaboration... then there are the rest of us. We have to work at it.

If you, like us, believe that collaboration skills are an essential part of your entrepreneurial skills mix, you will want to run right out to buy and read Michael Schrage's outstanding book, No More Teams: Mastering the Dynamics of Creative Collaboration.

No TeamsSchrage's important book is immensely readable and absolutely full of provocative ideas about working together in business. You will find yourself turning to it again and again for timely insights and practical advice. This latest edition is much expanded from the book's original publication as Shared Minds.

In addition to an extensive bibliography on collaboration dynamics in management theory and collaborative technology development, you'll find lots of practical advice in the new One Minute Collaborator and other appendices which bring this important book's content to life in your everyday experience.

Make No More Teams the first book you add this year to your entrepreneurial free agent or collaborating small businessperson's personal library. We know some folks who are glad we read it. Hedge your bets and do the same. Don't let the opportunities you gain by way of your talents, be lost due to an inability to collaborate.

What do YOU think? Three quick questions to go...

OK! Here's your chance to give us a piece of your mind!

With each issue of Rants and Raves, we include a mini-survey of three timely and topical questions that you can sound off about. The results of each mini-poll are reported in the following week's newsletter.

What were you thinking last issue?

Most of us were thinking holidays and New Years, so we didn't ask questions. Thanks to everyone who sent us best wishes and "go get 'em tigers."

This week's Quick Three... What do you think?

Our polling process is simple, but effective. Simply follow these steps and give us a piece of your mind:

  1. Select all text starting at '------Start copy here------' through '------End copy here------' and do a COPY to put the questions on your editor's clipboard.
  2. Paste your questions from the clipboard into your pollster reply message.
  3. Put an 'X' on the line in front of the BEST answer for each of this week's questions, or fill in the blank, and send them back to us.

We respect your privacy. Totally. Nobody gets access to ANY information you provide us for any reason. Period. Your participation in our community dialog is crucial to helping improve Sohodojo.

------Start copy here------

A. Do you have a white board (or chalkboard) in your home office or small business workspace?
_____ Yes
_____ No
_____ I have one but don't really use it
_____ other: ___________________________

B. What's your current software of choice for collaboration with colleagues?

C. What do YOU think is more important for free-agent or small business "opportunity security"?
_____ talent
_____ collaboration skills
_____ other: ___________________________

D: If I could tell Jim and Timlynn a thing or two, it would be:

------End copy here------

( Click and paste, respond and send.)

As always, thanks for reading this issue of Sohodojo's Rants and Raves newsletter,
    --Jim Salmons and Timlynn Babitsky--
    Hosts, Sohodojo

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