Global Crisis/Innovation Blog

Free Agent Nation: What to Do if you Can’t Find a Job

By Shlomo Maital




 I am encountering growing numbers of smart, experienced, talented people who just cannot get a job.   And the longer they are out of work, the tougher it gets.  Some companies won’t even interview those out of work for a year or more, on the grounds their human capital has disintegrated.

  In his new book Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working For Yourself, author Daniel Pink points out that a new form of employment is evolving rapidly, almost unnoticed, which he calls “free agentry”.  Now, these are not just  ‘temps’, a much-maligned and exploitative form of employment. Pink notes America’s largest employer is in fact Manpower, an agency that supplies ‘temps’.  Many ‘temps’ would really like a full-time job and just can’t get one.

  The three types of free agents are: 1. Solos, 2. Temps, and 3. Microbusinesses.

1. Solos: There are 33 m. Americans who are self-employed, and most are ‘soloists’ because they prefer it.  These solo businesses employ one person, or are teams of up to 4 or 5, and ‘sell’ their knowledge.  They comprise 26 % of all employment, up from 22% in 1998.  Solos prefer it and indeed earn 15 % more than those in comparable jobs.

2. Temps:  There are 3.5 temps in America who would rather have a permanent full-time job.  If you add them to the unemployment figures, the 9 % unemployment rate looks a whole lot worse.  Even governments exploit temps, who have little or no benefits.   There is need for real legislation in this area to protect their rights. In a bad job market, they are being scalped.

3.  Micro Businesses:  These are real small businesses, employing 2-3, and they comprise a half of all U.S. companies.  The Internet and IT have greatly reduced the size a business needs in order to be viable. 

   Pink says that free agents make meaning in four ways:  They have much more freedom; they have strong accountability (if you employ yourself, you are accountable for your own success); they create authentic value (you are only as viable as your next value-creating offering); and they define success by their own criteria, not by any P&L.

   What is happening now, Pink says, is that groups of free agents are organizing social networks, to help and support one another.  These are ‘fan clubs’, confederations, or ‘entreprenetworks’, facilitated sessions to offer mutual assistance.  There are also growing numbers of matchmakers, who bring free agents together with those who need them,  and also mentors and coaches, who assist free agents and dissolve their loneliness.   We are even beginning to see free agent IPO’s, as individuals issue stock on…themselves.  Free agents even issue their own bonds.  An example?  David Bowie, rock star, who sold $55 m. worth of David Bowie bonds, 15 year bonds paying 7.9 per cent and graded AAA by Moody’s. 

    In the age of the Knowledge Revolution, those who have knowledge can offer it, on their own, without signing away their lives and their souls to big corporations whose values they reject.   And even if you’re looking for a job actively – in the meantime, why not become a free agent?  Who knows, you might love it so much you’ll be one forever.