Free Agent Nation, Part I

December 2007

I am now fully 11 weeks into my first project. I think it would be accurate to say that I am just now getting the hang of things and reaching a comfort zone where I would honestly say that I am being useful and productive without an tedious amount of guidance and hand-holding from people who know more about the project and work than I do.

Is this a good way to do things?

In other, more specific words: Why would it ever be a good idea for a client to bring someone on to a project when that person has never done anything like it before?

The short answer is that it’s not, certainly not from the client’s perspective. (“Client” here can be a very generic term for anyone that is paying someone to do what they do.)

But does it make sense to bite the bullet and specialize? Learn a skill or an industry or a software package and know it inside and out? Be doing the same thing when you’re 50?

It’s a bit of a tradeoff, from your perspective. Specialization means you’re in higher demand (if you can find the people that need your specialty). It also means that if your specialty goes out of demand (or you can’t find your demand), you’re up a creek. The investment that you made of your time, energy, and money to specialize just went belly-up. You also could be facing the incredibly boring prospect of knowing one thing really really well. (This last point is probably more of a value judgment).

In my stumblings around the internet I came across a book called “Free Agent Nation,” by Daniel Pink. I’m hoping to get my hands on a copy of it, precisely because of musings I’ve been having like the ones above. Hopefully it will have some insight into these ideas.

I would also like to know - if everyone’s a free agent, what makes a consultant special or different? Maybe not much…