In 1997, a young man quit his job to become a writer. In January 1998, an article he wrote entitled Free Agent Nation appeared in a young magazine called Fast Company, and a career was launched.
That article proved viable demand, and led to a book deal. The interesting intersection here is that another young man who had quit his job to become a writer was featured in the book version of Free Agent Nation, and that young man was me.
Oh yeah … the first guy’s name is Daniel Pink. He’s written five provocative books, including three long-running New York Times bestsellers: A Whole New Mind, Drive, and To Sell is Human.
So, there was no other choice for my first guest on Unemployable. Fortunately, Dan said yes.
In this episode Dan Pink and I discuss:
- The current state of free agent nation
- Why free agency is a privilege for the talented
- How the predictions Dan made in A Whole New Mind benefit you
- Why the threat of job extinction may be overblown
- Why “selling yourself” is not sleazy if done correctly
The Show Notes
Dan Pink on the State of Free Agent Nation in 2015 (And Beyond)
Dan Pink: I'm Daniel Pink. I've written five books about work and management and human behavior. And I'm unemployable.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they’re just not inclined to take one — and that’s putting it gently. If you’re a freelancer or solopreneur, Unemployable is the place to get actionable advice for growing your business, improving your processes, and enjoying greater freedom day to day. To get the full experience, register at no charge at Unemployable.com. You’ll get access to upcoming webinars and more. That’s Unemployable.com.
Brian Clark: Hey, Everyone, welcome to another episode of Unemployable. This is our very first interview episode, and it could be no other person than this gentleman we have today. And if he would have told me no, he would have seen me cry and that's just not cool.
Dan Pink is the author of five best-selling business books that have sold over 2 million copies worldwide. That's pretty impressive, Dan. He's also the host of the National Geographic Channel Program, Crowd Control.
Dan has an interesting story. He actually served as an aid to Secretary of Labor Robert Reich after graduating from law school. He did not practice — smart man. Then he was chief speech writer for Vice President Al Gore. In 1997, for some inexplicable reason, he quit his job like all of us and went out on his own. And then shortly thereafter, he published an article in Fast Company Magazine called Free Agent Nation. This came out in January of 1998.
I don't remember exactly the timing, but I was about to or already had just quit my cushy law firm job and was out on my own. And there were no social networks back then, but I was fascinated by Dan's work. At that point, he hadn't written any books. He'd written the article, so I think I emailed him and I was probably wildly pontificating about all these lofty ideas. He was more interested in the fact that I was a solo attorney who got clients with an email newsletter. And that's how I ended up being featured in my first book, which was Free Agent Nation.
Since that time, Dan has written several other amazing works that have had a lot of influence on me. Also, since that time, I've tricked at least 15 other people into featuring me in their books, so I don't have to write one myself.
Dan, how are you?
Dan Pink: I'm good, thanks for having me on as the inaugural guest on this, what is certain to be an epic program.
How It All Started
Brian Clark: Yes. Again, it's funny because I had this in mind all along, because who else in many ways? But I actually got a review over at iTunes. And the guy said, “Dan Pink would be proud.” I was like, “Wow, that's a little foreshadowing there.”
Free Agent Nation, an article that started it all. You know what I was thinking? You're probably familiar with the whole lean startup stuff and minimum viable products and everything. That article was your minimum viable product. It was a runaway hit. Did you have the book deal after the article or was it already in the works?
Dan Pink: You know what? It's funny you say that. I’ve never thought about it in that way. No, I didn't have a book deal then. The story of it is actually very simple.
I, as you mentioned, was working in politics, couldn't take it anymore and just quit. And what I wanted to do was write under my own byline. So I left my job, my wife kept her job and her health insurance. And I said, “Okay, what am I going to write about?” And I said, “It seems like there are other people doing this thing.”
So, I wrote about it for Fast Company and the article led to the book deal.
Brian Clark: Yeah, that's what I was thinking. That's kind of fascinating, because you tested the market and it responded accordingly.
Dan Pink: Again, the idea that that was the plan all along…
Brian Clark: Oh no. I know it was on accident, but still it's interesting to think about.
Dan Pink: Yeah, exactly. I wish I were that strategic – I’m not.
Was Free Agent Nation Ahead of Its Time?
Brian Clark: Exactly. That was the thing I hadn't recalled, that it was very personal to you. You had just taken the plunge yourself, and yet everything you wrote in that book is coming true. My first question though: do you think it was ahead of its time?
Dan Pink: Hm. I mean, I'm probably not the right person to ask about that, but I actually do. I think that there is a lot in that book that is — it was pretty spot on. I might have been (like this ain’t politics) slightly ahead of the voters. And if you look at the numbers, the sales numbers, that book has a very steady hold on fifth place in sales.
Brian Clark: Huh, interesting. Yet it was still the catalyst for the entire body of work really to a certain extent. I mean, you're always touching on themes, but looking at them from different directions it seems.
Dan Pink: Yeah, basically for the books, I'm just following my own interest, really following my own curiosity. I think that the book market, like other kinds of media markets, you can't game it. You can't psych it out.
I think what you have to do as a creator, whether it's, again, a podcast or whether it is a television program or a book or anything like that, is you have to do something that you really believe in, that you think is great. Put it out there and see what happens.
I think that's basically the only way to approach things. If you try to game the market saying, “Oh, the market is ready for this kind of thing, so I'm going to craft it to meet that,” you’re probably going to fall on your face.
Brian Clark: It's the same thing with free content. How many times have I thought this was a homerun and it went nowhere? And then, I throw one out there that I think is filler and it takes off. You just don't know.
What Is the Current State of the Free Agent Nation?
Brian Clark: So, you cannot really go by a newsstand or surf the web without seeing Fast Company still talking about the future of work. O'Reilly is talking a lot about the changing nature of the firm in a vast reduction of size, as network effects replace the efficiencies of transaction cost and scale and all that – robotics, algorithms.
Where do you see the state of Free Agent Nation now? Are you scared for people or are you encouraged?
Dan Pink: I'm probably somewhere in the middle. Again, I think it's a fascinating topic. I've been lucky enough to have been writing about it for almost two decades now, amazingly enough, for a guy as young as I am.
I think talking about all of this like, “Are you concerned or are you heartened in terms of free agency, in terms of the form of employment?” I think is a little bit of a head fake. I don't think, and I've never said anywhere that we're all going to be freelancers, we're all going to be self-employed, that the job is going away. What I did say is, and still continue to believe, is that this alternative form of employment, whether it's by choice or by necessity, where you’re working for yourself is becoming much more common, and I think much more representative of work and all of its facets.
So, to some extent, it really doesn't matter whether I get a W2 or whether I get a 1099. What's really going on is that people (you and I and everybody else) much more of the risk of work, of life is on our shoulders now directly, rather than being absorbed by the company.
I think one of the most telling things, as ruminating as it sounds, is the trend in pensions. My father had a defined benefit pension. He worked, when he left his job, he got, and my mother continues to get, a check every month. Our generation doesn't have defined benefit pensions, we have 401ks. It's up to you to save money for your retirement.
Same thing is happening in healthcare, same thing is happening with education, same thing is happening with finding your next gig. More and more, the risk is on individual shoulders. It doesn't really matter whether you're a 1099 or a W2.
Now, I think the big issue here is: do you have skills that are in demand or do you not? That's the big issue. If you have skills that are in demand, you're going to be fine. And to some extent, you have a choice about whether you're going to be a 1099 person or whether you're going to be a W2 person. You're going to be fine.
If you don't have skills that are in demand, then I think that you are and will continue to be in a world of hurt. Being a W2 person might mitigate that a little bit, but it's not really the main issue. The main issue really is: are you offering the marketplace things that are in demand or are you not? That's the divide.
The Role of Freedom and Autonomy
Brian Clark: Yeah, and that brings to mind A Whole New Mind, which was your 2005 book. Again, 10 years ago, but you called it. Because, again, you read any of these articles, they'll say, “The only people who’ll have jobs in the future will be creative and be able to manage complex social interactions and be highly conceptual and innovative.” And I'm like, “That's exactly what you said in A Whole New Mind,” which was interesting.
But the more interesting thing to me, based on what you just said, a lot of the press is coming at this from, “Okay, you'll be safe, you'll be able to have a job.” With that type of person, which is basically this audience, all of the people who are making it out there on their own generally fall into that profile.
So, do we get to a point where those people don't want jobs? As the workforce reduces and we shift to this partial Hollywood model, let's say, wouldn't the best talent say, “Why would I take a job?”
Dan Pink: Yeah, I think there's a lot of truth to that. I think that a lot of people, again, who have these skills that are in demand are going to say, “Why should I attach my fortunes to one entity when I can spread my risk across multiple clients and customers, and then also actually lead a life that is more satisfying and fulfilling?” And that's also a really important thing.
To write Free Agent Nation, as you know, directly I went out and interviewed hundreds of people around the United States who were doing this. And to my surprise, it turned out to be less of an economic story and more of a psychology story. It was more about people yearning for having a sense of autonomy and being true to themselves and having some freedom and control over their lives than it was about the inexorable forces.
That said, I do think that a lot of the chatter right now about robots and automation is strongly misplaced. I think it's way, way, way too alarmist.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it is interesting though, because from that day in Austin where we met for the interview and I introduced you to Migos for the first time, I remember that. I don't remember anything else from back then.
It was always about freedom to me. When I left I was like, “If I have to be a bartender in Austin and I just can't pull anything else off, okay.” There was something about it being on my own terms more than the amount of money or the actual role. And honestly, sitting here today, it's this same thing. How do you choose what you do next? Well, it's nice to have a choice.
Dan Pink: Yeah, I mean, obviously people need some level of security. And I think that's really the battle that's going on here, is that you have a lot of people in this country who feel a deep, deep sense of insecurity. It basically has to do, again, with the labor market — that their skills are not highly valued, are not strongly in demand. And that's a big, big problem. That's a problem not only for them, it's a problem for all of us. And it's a problem that I think that our politicians, our policy makers aren't addressing adequately.
So, if you have skills that are in demand, because you knew you had a fallback plan of some kind, you could always go back and be a lawyer. You can seek that degree of freedom, because you at least have the expectation of a baseline level of security. If you don't have that baseline expectation of some amount of security, it's a much, much dicier world.
This, to me, is the big worry. To me, the dark vision of the future of American work isn't that we're going to have legions of unemployed people, because robots are going to be doing everything and we're going to be these servants to our robot masters. I think that's very, very unlikely.
I think the more likely scenario, which is also I think a very dark scenario, is that we're going to have a slice of people who are going to be doing cool, interesting, high concept sorts of jobs, and then everybody else is going to be doing their laundry, driving them around in Uber cars and serving them. And then you basically have a country that is like Brazil used to be, where you have this elite enclave at the top and everybody else either serving those elite at the top or completely left out of the economy.
That, to me, is a much more plausible dystopian scenario than these alarmist things about robots and automation.
Asia, Automation and Abundance
Brian Clark: So, you mentioned Uber, and I was discussing this in an episode a few back. That if you took Uber and replaced the entire taxi industry with it, you would effectively see 200,000 jobs displaced by an app. And this is, again, what dispatchers and middle management used to have to do to connect is being handled by the network. And to me, that disruption of the traditional company and the scaling down, thanks to technology, is going to happen way before a robot takes your job.
Dan Pink: Yeah, I think that's right.
I wrote about this in A Whole New Mind. My argument in A Whole New Mind was that I had three As: Asia, Automation and Abundance. That those three forces were going to make certain kinds of skills, these routine, logical, linear, algorithmic “left brain” skills, and we’re going to make those essentially commodities. The reason for that is that you can outsource certain kinds of white collar work, routine, algorithmic, white collar work. You put it on a spec sheet, send it to the Philippines, people can do it for less. That's Asia.
Automation is basically, for a lot of things, TurboTax can do what a basic accountant can do for a significant fraction of the cost. Or, as you're suggesting, the Uber app can do what a dispatcher used to do essentially for free.
Then, abundance was essentially that in spite of all of these dark visions of what's going on out there, the degree of material well-being in this country is just staggering — deep, deep, deep, deep, deep into the middle class. And so, as we become more satisfied materially, there's a higher premium on iterating something new – “I’m giving the world something it didn't know it was missing.”
Again, these three forces were going to make logical, linear SAT spreadsheet kinds of abilities necessary, but not sufficient. And these other kinds of abilities, more right brain abilities — artistry, empathy, inventiveness, conceptual thinking, big picture thinking — were going to make those skills the ones that are in demand. I can see that happening.
Leap of Faith
Dan Pink: I think the mistake that people are making in the analysis, you see it in “The end of jobs” and widespread unemployment, is that if you know anything about economic history, we've had these projections before and they've always been wrong.
There's something in economics called the Lump of Labor Fallacy. And the lump of labor fallacy holds the fallacy, the mistake is that there's basically a finite number of jobs and once any of them are eliminated, then you're going to have inherently fewer jobs.
We’ve always believed that. When people left the farm for the factory, the view was, “Oh, only a certain number of people could work in a factory, not everyone's going to want to do that. There's not going to be enough demand.” And it turned out to be flatly wrong.
As recently as the late 1960s, you had this panel that Lyndon Johnson assembled, this blue ribbon Washington panel of labor economists who said that by the year 2000 — again, which is not 15 years in the past — we're going to have widespread unemployment, because these newfangled computers are going to put everyone out of work.
The problem is that that's not how economies work. They're much more dynamic than that. That labor isn't a lump, it's something more dynamic. And in any given moment in history, there's a kind of a poverty of imagination in the present.
So, those guys who were projecting these dark visions all those years ago, they had no idea that there would be jobs for search engine optimizers or massage therapists or Uber drivers or social media consultants. My view is that the same thing is going to happen now, that we have no idea what kinds of jobs there are going to be in 10 years or 20 years. But history has shown that there's a pretty good likelihood there's going to be something.
I'm always skeptical of anybody who makes a claim, “This time is different,” because it rarely is. The trouble is that it's a leap of faith that we're taking right now, because we don't know what those are going to be. What those new jobs, new ways of working are going to be.
I think about my own kids. I've got a kid going off to college this fall. I’ve got another kid in high school, another kid in middle school. And when I think about their work lives, my guess is that when you’ll have me back for the 20-year anniversary of this show, if I were to go forward in time and you ask me like, “What are your kids doing for a living?” My guess is that my kids will be doing things that we probably don't even have the vocabulary for right now in industries that might not exist.
That if you were to tell me what they're doing, it would sound like gobbledygook in the same way that if you said to somebody 10 years ago, “Oh yeah, my son is a Twitter consultant,” or, “My daughter is an Uber driver,” or, “My two twins are search engine optimizers.” 20 years ago, it wouldn't have made any sense. Now, again, I want to recognize it's a leap of faith, but that's always been the trajectory.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it's going to be interesting to see. But I think, and I agree with you, I am not as sold on the idea that we're going to have massive amounts of people without employment at all. And if that happens, that would be a very radical political situation that we would need to deal with. I mean, we'd effectively have to overhaul society and we know how resistant this country is to doing anything really. That would be a mess.
Dan Pink: And we could be on the edge of that. There is talk now in the popular public policy chatter about inequality. But the inequality is basically coming from the fact that to survive today, you need a certain set of fairly high-level skills. Not everybody has those, largely because of circumstance, not because of their own sort of inequalities. And we don't really have the mechanisms in this country to do that at a broad level.
The Hollywood Model
Brian Clark: Yeah. I want to point one thing out that’s interesting into the next section. You mentioned we did not have 10 years ago the conception of the Uber driver, but the Uber driver is not a job. Unless the courts step in further.
Dan Pink: No, it’s a 1099.
Brian Clark: Yeah, exactly. So, the projections on how much the network effects are going to shift permanent workers into in-demand workers, which is fancy code language for “freelancer” or “independent contractor,” that I feel is a bit on more solid ground.
I think we're seeing it happening both by choice, but by choice on both sides of the equation. And what I'm wondering is do we ever get to this kind of entertainment/sports model where the true talent wouldn't take a job or even if they do, everyone knows they're leaving in six months.
It's just this temporary gig type thing — highest dollar, do a project, move on to the next one just like film, production, television, whatever the case may be.
Dan Pink: I don't know. It's a great question and I'm not sure. Let's take the entertainment industry. You do have this Hollywood model. Let’s take the film industry. When it comes to actual film production, you do have the kind of model that you're talking about where talented people come together for a particular clearly defined project. They do the project, the project then disbands, people then go off to another project together. I think that is already becoming a much more common form of getting work done.
That said, the film industry still employs plenty of people. I mean, the people working in studios, they're employees, they're not freelancers.
Brian Clark: No, it's the level down. The production aspect of it.
Dan Pink: Yeah, so production is that way. But even if you go out into certain aspects of production, let's take editing, or if you go with the other aspects of the business.
Let's take public relations. So, you're promoting the movie, then it's not only individual freelance public relations people, but it's also public relations firms that have employees and all that.
I think there's kind of a peaceful coexistence between the two ways of working between this freelance approach and this more traditional kind of job. I don't think that the traditional job is going to become extinct. I think there's a logic to people organizing themselves in firms that I think there are economies of scale and there are advantages when you have very good processes and systems. So, I don't think that firms as we know them or jobs as we know them are going to disappear. I just think it's going to become a peaceful coexistence.
You see this really, Brian, at the unit of one also. One of the big changes since I wrote that book all those years ago was this: that when people left corporate America to go to Free Agent Nation, back then, it was not political but quasi-political. Because basically what you were doing is you were renouncing your citizenship in corporate America, because you probably weren't going to go back. And if you wanted to go back, it actually might've been pretty hard, because you were a weirdo who quit and went out on his or her own.
Now, what you see over and over again, and I'm sure you've seen this in your network of people, people will go out on their own, be self-employed for eight years, go back and work at a company for four years. It's like the border between the United States and Canada. It's like people go back and forth. Maybe they have kind of dual passports. One in Free Agent Nation, one in corporate America. And so, that's, generally in terms of the form of employment, how I think that things are going to shake out.
Again, as I said before, my concern is that whether you're a W2 or a 1099, I do think that because of automation, especially because of Asia, there are some kinds of skills that used to allow you to have a solid middle class standard of living that are no longer valuable. And that's the problem we ought to be addressing.
The New World of Work
Brian Clark: Yeah, it's interesting. Hollywood in a way is a networked ecosystem. And then the Internet is allowing different versions of networked business ecosystems for this whole on-demand concept or the idea that I could run a company, a team of 62 people virtually (they're all over the world), do eight figures in annual revenue. Again, I don't even know if you would have believed that if I told you that in that cafe in Austin, but we hired the right person for the job post-geographically.
So, there's just so much fascinating stuff. And the only reason I believe, because I think everyone in my company is essentially unemployable, but we give them the ability to function. I get asked by traditional CEOs, “How do you manage your people?” I don't, I hire the right people and they do their job, which I always have nightmares about having to try to scale that culture up. But maybe that's a reason not to.
It's just fascinating to me.
And I just know one thing, that the idea of a resume and a job interview being the “marketing” that we do as workers, whether 1099, W2, what have you, has changed. I think your newest book, To Sell is Human was not really a book for salespeople. It's for all of us, because we're all in the business of persuasion one way or another. And I don't think there's anywhere more pronounced than in the new world of work.
Dan Pink: Amen. I think your point is very well taken about job interviews and resumes. Let’s say job interviews. For instance, if you look at the research, job interviews have absolutely no predictive value. Job interviews are one of the most gargantuan wastes of times that companies do. There is essentially no evidence that a traditional job interview, the kind of job interviews that we've done both as interviewers and interviewees, there's virtually no evidence that those have much predictive power on how somebody's going to perform.
To me, job interviews are, as they're currently constituted, sort of the workplace equivalent of TSA. It’s like a little ritual that we all go through that makes everybody feel better, but doesn't actually have a material effect on our safety or well-being. There is some evidence actually though that certain kinds of interviews, structured interviews, actually can be fairly useful.
But, go back to your Hollywood example. The idea of a resume, I think, is becoming a little bit obsolete, because in Hollywood, people, I guess, they have resumes. But they have what's on IMDB. What they also have is they have a reel, they have a body of work. And I think that that's what is…
Brian Clark: It’s like a marketing portfolio.
Dan Pink: It's a portfolio, exactly. It’s a portfolio, it's a body of work. It's not a static list of credentials.
I think that's something that individuals are slowly coming around to, even though you see on Twitter, “Oh, we're having a resume writing session.” It's kind of a waste, because basically people, if they're interested in hiring you again as a freelancer, as an employee, they're going to go online. They're going to say (it's not going to be IMDB unless you're in the movie business or TV business), but they're going to go, “Hey, what's that person say on LinkedIn? What does their website say?”
So, they're going to know your credentials, they're going to know your overall background. What they really want to know is: what’s your body of work? And I think that's an adjustment that a lot of people need to make.
The High Road in Marketing Yourself
Dan Pink: The other thing, as you said, which I agree with completely, is that as we become a little bit more itinerant in the way that we work, we have to become better at selling ourselves. And if you remember way back when, the old days of Fast Company, I think it was two issues before that Free Agent Nation issue. There was an issue, huge cover, modeled after a box of Tide by Tom Peters called The Brand Called You. And that was like just this revolutionary thing. There were some people who were appalled by that idea. “You're a brand? That's offensive.”
Now, you say, “Your personal brand.” It's completely uninteresting.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s just become a part of the thing.
Dan Pink: I do think that some people who are uncomfortable with the idea that they are a brand, that they do have to market, that they do have to sell. A goal of that book To Sell is Human is to look at some of the evidence, look at some of the social science to give people ways to sell effectively without being a complete sleazebag. Because today, because of certain other conditions in the market, being a complete sleazebag is a very, very bad idea in terms of pragmatism, not only in terms of ethics.
Brian Clark: Yeah, and of course, we're preaching to people — share what you know, develop content, all of this kind of stuff. And that's really at the heart… you gave the keynote at our last conference, which was all about that. And yet, you came at it from being generous and helpful, that is selling. It just doesn't seem like it and it doesn't make you feel sleazy either.
Dan Pink: No, I mean, in some ways, that's what you're doing. Content marketing is very much in line with what both the social science and market conditions tell us are effective for moving other people, which is being an expert, curating information, serving others. That's the way that things are rolling today. And I think some people are completely comfortable with it. Other people less so.
Brian Clark: Yeah. It was in a recent Fast Company article that mentioned that however the numbers end up shaking out, everyone is going to have to be a little more proactive about that.
Getting your name out there, staying top of mind, whether you're working for formerly huge companies who are now merely big as an on-demand person, or you're going out and seeking other types of clients — you just can't escape it. If you're not marketing you or your tiny business, such as the case may be, you're actually worse off than a lot of other people who may be still hanging on in the world of traditional employment.
Dan Pink: I guess I can understand people's resistance to this. But I don't have a lot of sympathy for it, because if you are a great designer, then it's sort of presumptuous of you to say, “I'm just going to sit in my office and wait for people to come to me, because my excellence will become widely known through some magic force.” If you really care about what you're doing, if you believe in what you're doing, I actually think you have an obligation to talk about it, to tell others about it.
In the world that we live in now, again, contrasting it back to 1998, it's so easy to find information. It's so easy for people who have been wronged to talk back. In many ways, when it comes to selling or marketing or persuasion of any sort, the low road isn't an option anymore.
If I do something, if I commit an act of sleazebagery, try to get some kind of short-term gain, I might get that short-term gain. But if I wrong somebody, not only should I feel ashamed of myself at a moral level, I should feel ashamed of myself for being an idiot, because the person who's been wronged can take to Facebook, can take to Twitter, can do whatever to say, “Hey, that guy Pink is a complete sleazebag. Don't do any business with him.”
Brian Clark: Yeah, the network giveth, the network taketh away. You need to put your best foot forward. That's an amazing point to end on, actually.
I'm going to link up all the books. I've read every single one of them. They've helped me at each successive stage of my own journey. So, if you haven't read any one of Dan's books…
Dan Pink: You should be ashamed of yourself.
Brian Clark: You should be ashamed of yourself, because that's sleazebagery. No, but for certain, the latest book, To Sell is Human, if you have any reticence whatsoever about what selling actually is, I think you'll come away from that saying, “I can do this.” And number two, “I should do this.” This is just being a helpful, useful person.
Brian Clark: Dan, what's the next book? I don't know if you know, but if you know, you’ve got to tell me.
Dan Pink: I don't know.
Brian Clark: Ever so anticlimactic.
Dan Pink: Here's the thing, I’ve got a bunch of ideas. I’m vetting them.
One of the things, I mean, if there's anything about this world that you and I are in and many of your listeners are in, is that I really do think that the bar for any kind of creative work, any kind of entertainment media work, I think the bar is higher than it's ever been. There are so many choices that people have. There are so many different options that people have. You see this in the television business, in the podcasting business, in the book business, wherever.
So, I really think that there's a very high bar. You have to produce something that is really, truly excellent, that is different and meaningful and awesome. I have a lot of ideas, and as I vet the ideas, I'm finding that many of them are not as awesome as they seemed when I wrote the idea in my idea book. And that's something I want to know now before I go out and try to create it and make people pay for it.
Brian Clark: Absolutely. I go through the same process. I mean, the wastebasket has to be full before you come away with the thing. That's been my experience.
Dan Pink: I'm a firm believer in that. The only way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas. And you have to be willing to come up with ideas and test them out and have them not work. And instead of being ashamed, “Oh crap, I can't believe it. I feel so bad.” It's like, “Wow, I learned something from that and I'm so glad that it didn't work.”
That's why even now, having been in this business for a long time, I still write fairly lengthy book proposals before I try to go out and pitch a book. And the reason for that is that writing a book proposal helps me vet the idea and see whether there's something there.
A few years ago, several years ago, I had what I thought was a great idea for a book. I had a hard time getting the proposal done, so I sent my family away. My in-laws live in New Mexico. I sent my wife and our three kids to New Mexico. “Get out of here for two weeks. I'll write this proposal, crank it out, we’ll be ready to go.”
About 10 days into it, I called my wife and I said, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Good news, you can come home. Bad news, the reason you can come home is that I discovered in the last 10 days in trying to write this proposal, this is not a book.”
So, it's a little bit deflating. But, on the other hand, you always have to ask yourself, “Compared to what?” It would've been far less deflating if I’d gone in in a glib way to a publisher, pitched the book, and then discovered, after signing a contract and having a deadline, that this thing was a piece of garbage.
Brian Clark: Yeah, I think you've just helped a lot of people right now. Because I sometimes run into people who just think that you have the idea and that's the thing and you work it and it works and that's it. And then, “No, it just doesn't.”
Dan Pink: Yeah, I'll take it full circle. I'll take this conversation full circle, because I never really thought about it this way truly. But you mentioned the Free Agent article as an MVP, a minimally viable product. I think that's actually a great way for content creators to think about things.
Many times people come to me and say, “I've got this great idea for a book.” Many times my recommendation to them is to say, “Why don't you try it as an article first?” Because that's a test of the market definitely. But it's also a test of yourself. Do you really care that deeply about it to spend the next two or three years of your life working on it? Do you have enough to say? I find a lot of books should have been articles rather than books. They don't really have enough to say.
So, I think again, for your listeners, we come back to these old certainties, I think, which is that the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas. Instead of putting all your chips on one square, do small tests, small bets, small experiments, minimal viable products. Learn from the market, learn from what people tell you. Iterate, iterate, iterate and deliver your readers, your listeners, your viewers something awesome in the end.
Brian Clark: A man after my own heart. Dan, thank you so much for taking time out today to be the first guest. Anything you want to tell us? We don't know what the new book is yet. You don't want to leave your office, I know that.
Dan Pink: No, I hate leaving my office.
Brian Clark: I guess we're just going to have to sign off then. You've got nothing to pitch.
Dan Pink: Sign up for my newsletter at Danpink.com. It's free of advertising, free of charge. Again, it's my own little way of offering up some MVP, some small things that I'm working on. Just articles I'm reading that are getting me thinking. So, I guess that's the one thing I'll pitch, a free newsletter at Danpink.com.
Brian Clark: Excellent. We will link that up as well.
All right, Everyone, thanks for joining us. I hope you've enjoyed this as much as I have. We're talking to Seth Godin in the next episode. So, that would be one and two of my two favorite business authors and friends, so join us.
Have a great week. Keep going.