The Editor's Page -- Free-Agent Foofaraw

Author's prediction of wholesale workplace revolution strains credibility.

Pardon me for being a bit skeptical about many of the claims in Free Agent Nation (2001, Warner Books) by Daniel H. Pink, a quintessential free agent himself after leaving full-time employment as former Vice President Al Gore's speech writer. The book is among a new genre of published works that promise to reveal the future -- in this case to show us "How America's New Independent Workers are Transforming the Way We Live." These books identify current trends, project them into the future, and declare a revolution in the making, or even more urgently, a "tectonic shift" that's happening right now! Under your noses! Perhaps I'm a bit jaded, being on the receiving end of so many manifestos (as they're often called on book jacket reviews) that breathlessly announce the Next Workplace Revolution, Management Strategy, etc. Even Pink self-consciously anticipates readers' skepticism, assuring us in the last sentence of the first chapter that "Free agency is the real (his italics) new economy." But must executives read this book now? I have to answer: It can wait. It's not that many of the points Pink makes aren't valid -- certainly, like many of its genre the book contains enough reasonable statements that leave the reader nodding in agreement. More people are unable to find personal fulfillment from work within corporate confines; more women are starting their own businesses; many retirees find fulfillment working independently as consultants, freelancers, etc. But many of the predictions strain credibility: the end of high school as we know it; the end of employer-based health insurance; the beginning of "Individual Public Offerings," in which "upper-echelon" free agents sell stock in themselves. The predictions may come true, but probably some time after the long-anticipated paperless office is achieved. Pink anticipates those of us who do not wholly jump on his free-agent bandwagon, dismissing us, as most revolutionaries do, by name-calling. We're "old-economy." We're a "delegation of doomsayers" for whom free agency is a threat. We're fearful of change. We hold "cherished notions about how people should behave, how companies must operate, and how economies flourish. But like it or not, celebrate it or excoriate it, Free Agent Nation isn't going away." It isn't as simple as that. I certainly agree that there is a group of workers in America who will thrive as free agents. But there are others -- many of them smart, highly qualified, and sought-after employees -- who want the security of a job and a paycheck with worker-sponsored health insurance. Executives interested in attracting and retaining employees -- free agent or traditional -- already know that. Patricia Panchak is IW's Editor-In-Chief. She is based in Cleveland.

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