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Big Ideas

A Manifesto For Free Radicals: Less Paperwork, Less Waiting, More Action

We demand freedom, we do work that is rewarding, we make stuff often, and we fail often. We are the Free Radicals, a new kind of 21st-century professional.


In chemistry, the term “free radical” is used to describe molecules with unpaired electrons, those that may have a positive, negative, or zero charge. They are hard to pin down, and as a result their possibilities are endless. They can prove wildly destructive or instrumental, depending on context.

I‘ve been thinking about the emergence of a new type of 21st-century professional. I call them “free radicals” because they take their careers into their own hands and put the world to work for them. The commoditization of once-pricey resources like business management services (now in the cloud) and everything open-source is the wind at their backs.Free Radicals are resilient, self-reliant, and extremely potent. You’ll find them working solo, in small teams, or within large companies. They’re everywhere, and they’re crafting the future.

Who Are the Free Radicals? A Manifesto.

We do work that is, first and foremost, intrinsically rewarding. But, when we make an impact, we expect extrinsic validation: We don’t create solely for ourselves, we want to make a real and lasting impact in the world around us.

We demand freedom, whether we work within companies or on our own, to run experiments, participate in multiple projects at once, and move our ideas forward. We thrive on flexibility and are most productive when we feel fully engaged.

We make stuff often, and therefore, we fail often. Ultimately, we strive for little failures that help us course-correct along the way, and we view every failure as a learning opportunity, part of our experiential education.

We have little tolerance for the friction of bureaucracy, old-boy-networks, and antiquated business practices. As often as possible, we question “standard operating procedure” and assert ourselves. But even when we can’t, we don’t surrender to the friction of the status quo. Instead, we find clever ways (and hacks) around it.

We don’t create solely for ourselves, we want to make a real and lasting impact in the world around us.

We expect to be fully utilized and constantly optimized, regardless of whether we’re working in a startup or a large organization. When our contributions and learning plateau, we leave. But when we’re leveraging a large company’s resources to make an impact in something we care about, we are thrilled! We want to always be doing our best work and making the greatest impact we can.

We consider “open source” technology, API’s, and the vast collective knowledge of the Internet to be our personal arsenal. Wikipedia, Quora, and open communities for designers, developers, and thinkers were built by us and for us. Whenever possible, we leverage collective knowledge to help us make better decisions for ourselves and our clients. We also contribute to these open resources with a “pay it forward” mentality.

We believe that “networking” is sharing. People listen to (and follow) us because of our discernment and curatorial instinct. As we share our creations as well as what fascinates us, we authentically build a community of supporters that give us feedback, encouragement, and lead us to new opportunities. For this reason and more, we often (though, not always) opt for transparency over privacy.

We believe in meritocracy and the power of online networks and peer communities to advance our ability to do what we love, and do well by doing it. We view competition as a positive motivator rather than a threat, because we want the best idea – and the best execution – to triumph.

We make a great living doing what we love. We consider ourselves as both artisans and businesses. In many cases, we are our own accounting department, Madison Avenue marketing agency, business development manager, negotiator, and salesperson. We spend the necessary energy to invest in ourselves as businesses – leveraging the best tools and knowledge (most of which are free and online) to run ourselves as a modern-day enterprise.

In the past, those with Free Radical tendencies were described as either “freelancers,” if they worked alone, or “mavericks,” if they worked in an organization. The stereotype was that of a lone ranger that shuns responsibility. Today, Free Radicals are emerging as extremely capable leaders across industries. Sure, they’re authoring their own professional lives with great authority, but they are doing so with a deep appreciation for collaboration and shared resources.

In large corporations, I find Free Radicals questioning the norms and building a reputation as honest and action-oriented individuals; they’re trading antiquated (and opaque) information-sharing processes for the ease and transparency of Google Apps, they’re leveraging social media to gain market insights faster (and more cheaply) than the research department, and they’re always pushing for more freedom and progressive work practices that value meaningful creation over meaningless face time.

With less friction and fewer obstacles than ever before, Free Radicals are becoming masterful stewards of their ideas in the 21st century, and as such they are one of our greatest assets. Are you ready to take the reins?

Do the principles of “Free Radical-ism” ring true for you?

More Posts by Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

Comments (92)
  • dougtoft

    Beautiful. Brought tears to my eyes.

  • Adam Axon

    Wow, you just pretty much captured in one single post, what I’ve been trying to capture in terms of defining myself for the last twelve months! Love it, thank you! 

  • Bob Leckridge

    Fabulous! Totally recognise this and I love your use of the chemical term – I love to be free, and I love to radical! 

  • Scott Belsky

    Thanks Adam, this one has been brewing for a while…

  • Brian Driggs

    Absolutely. Here’s to doing things that matter and stepping over, around, or on the status quo. 

  • crking

    WOW! I’m moved… and motivated! No joke. I fully identify with this. Very well written, too. Thanks Scott, for such a thoughtful article/manifesto!

  • tdhurst

    Chest bumps, high fives and hugs all around.

    I’m tired of waiting for people to do unnecessary things that don’t matter, but I’m happy to help and teach people as I go along.

    I know it’s scary, but nothing new is going to be easy.

  • erwin hines

    This is great 

  • Grace

    Wow, this is just beautiful. You’ve captured pretty much who I am, who we are. Thank you!

  • Antonia

    Great article, Scott.  Especially the part about leaving at a point that some would name “the peak, when you can finally take it easy(er) and enjoy the fruits of your labor” and for the free souls on a mission it is actually the sign that all that could be contributed in that particular field is given and there is no more room for (mutual) growth, so the moving on is the right thing to do which enables further development, contribution, action, feeling one is doing something that makes sense and is improving the quality of many lives.

  • Jonathan Patterson

    “I’m tired of waiting for people to do unnecessary things that don’t matter” Couldn’t have said it better if I tried. So good.

  • work for a living

    stupid propaganda, if only you knew what real professionals do for people. You are the types that bulldoze everyone else to get your own way, leaving people with real talent lost in your wake. jealousy and lameness are your adjectives.

  • Cranky

    the free radicals are out in the street trying to make the world a better place, not self absorbed commercial artists.

  • jayanti

    My partner has created the term free radical already several years ago for himself. We are working on projects for free radicals for it’s hard for many of them to find their way in the old system. We would like to come in contact with other people who recognise themselves in the profile. Together we can support each other and become dolphins in the play of creation.
    Jayantivdmeer@gmail.com

  • Jborz5

    Amen! I just left my job NYC, moved to Malaysia and I’m a free radical! Best thing I’ve ever done.

  • Jeff Goins

    excellent

  • Lorraine Siew

    Welcome to Malaysia! 🙂

  • Rps

    I am a free radical, thank you!

  • David Belden

    Scott,

    This is a wonderful description of what must happen for people to thrive in today’s organizations. I am circulating this article to my clients to encourage them to focus on hiring and supporting the “conceptual workers” that Dan Pink describes so well.

  • David Belden

    Scott,

    This is a wonderful description of what must happen for people to thrive in today’s organizations. I am circulating this article to my clients to encourage them to focus on hiring and supporting the “conceptual workers” that Dan Pink describes so well.

  • Kelly K

    Exciting times! We at OKAHANDJA 90 subscribe to your manifesto! Read ours here: http://o90.tumblr.com/manifest…. 

  • Danrocha

    Sounds Like a great model.
    Dan R.

  • Cassie Rhea

    Totally rad article, Scott!! Free Radical – this definitely resonates with me 🙂 Thank you!

  • Dan

    Sure, though, as a ‘free radical’ we wouldn’t subscribe to any aspirational lists of criteria that are more about massaging the ego of readers than providing any meaningful statements of intent.

    I daresay that if you read this and feel some of it ‘resonates’ – you’re not the kind of people the author is describing.

  • Kgradilla

    Lots of good!! take a look of our manifiesto!
    http://www.geekgirl.mx

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