Start-Up of You: Odds and Ends

A few odds and ends:

– We were pleased to see a favorable review of the book in The Economist. Check it out:

“IF YOU start me up. If you start me up I’ll never stop”. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards probably did not have career advice in mind when they wrote these lyrics. But thinking like a start-up seems to be an excellent way for workers to prosper in a world in which the notion of a job for life has been consigned to the scrapheap. By being on the lookout for new opportunities all the time, changing course if markets shift and tapping professional contacts for advice and leads, people can avoid ending up on the slush pile themselves.

– A particularly rewarding outcome of the project for us has been the thousands of people who have shared their stories about what they now do differently in their career. We’ve featured some of the Reader Stories on the book site. Read the stories and get inspired to enact change in your own career…

– I’ll be speaking in Milan next week (and elsewhere in Italy) and Toronto the week after. You can buy a ticket to the Toronto gig here; email me for info on Italy.

– The Start-Up of You LinkedIn Group has been vibrant, and there are several interesting threads. You can join the community for free. Here are a few recent threads:

– The trailer for the book has over 710,000 views. Reid also recorded about a dozen short video clips about investing in yourself that you can watch as a playlist at YouTube.

Sentence of the Day

The most highlighted sentence from the Kindle version of The Start-Up of You is:

The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.

I did have a feeling that sentence was a winner when we wrote the book, but in the electronic age it’s interesting to be able to see data around it.

I should note that there is a rich-get-richer effect with highlights on the Kindle. Unless you turn it off, as a reader you begin to automatically see flags on the sentences that other readers have most underlined. This no doubt influences you to highlight the same.

Steve Jobs Focused on Network Intelligence

I read Adam Lashinky’s new book Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired–And Secretive–Company Really Works on my flight to Doha, and I picked up a bunch of nuggets. Here’s one section that jumped out:

An unsung attribute of Steve Jobs that Apple also will miss is his role as a masterful networker and gatherer of information…He furiously worked the phones, calling up people he’d heard were worthy and requesting a meeting. No one turned down the chance to meet with Jobs, of course, and he used the opportunity to soak up information. His uncanny insight into trends in business and technology weren’t a fluke. Jobs worked hard for his market intelligence.

It follows with a story of Jobs hearing that Lytro was a cool company, calling the company’s CEO and inviting the Lytro CEO over to his house to discuss cameras and product design. According to the Forbes cover piece on Dropbox, Jobs did something similar with the founders of Dropbox. And surely countless other entrepreneurs.

Some of these conversations are of course driven with M&A in mind, but I follow Lashinsky’s point that much of this is Jobs’s instinct to always be pulling intelligence from his network about what’s happening in the world in order to be a more effective and informed professional.

Jobs took advantage of the density of Silicon Valley. He could summon the best young entrepreneurs, like Drew Houston, to his office on a day’s notice. He went on walks with Mark Zuckerberg. This is probably one reason he evangelized the region so much–increased density equals increased network intelligence for those living in the density.

Jobs was tapping networks inside Silicon Valley but outside of Apple corporate–and this was crucial. Lashinsky writes, “The rest of the crew at Apple is either too busy to schmooze or was always discouraged by Jobs from doing it, lest they get too big for their britches or too distracted from their Apple work.” Jobs once said he didn’t want to let exec Scott Forstall “out of the office” — which is great if someone needs to just put their head down and execute, but tunnel vision is not super helpful for fresh ideation.

Lashinksy asks who at Apple will be gathering this outside-the-company network intel with Jobs gone. It’s a good question. Meanwhile, we can all be asking ourselves a similar question in our careers: How are we pulling network intelligence from diverse sources in order to be better at the job we already have or to find a new opportunity? That’s a key theme of The Start-up of You.

Free Webcast Thursday Night

This Thursday March 29th at 6:30 PM pacific time — join Reid Hoffman and me for a live, free webcast to discuss the Start-Up of You and hear us answer your questions related to careers and the future of work. You should join the webcast if you’ve read the book or are thinking about reading it.

There’s a limited number of spots, so be sure to click here and then click “Register” to claim your spot. (If you’ve already submitted contact info on a Wufoo form via another blog, no need to do anything more.)

Look forward to talking to you on Thursday evening.

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At SXSW the other week, an artist drew an illustration of our presentation as we were talking. I’ve pasted it below. Click to enlarge. I’m amazed it was done in real time.

Build On Your *Underlying* Strengths When Adapting

Play to your strengths. It’s common advice, and it makes sense. People go farther by figuring out what naturally comes easy and organizing their activities accordingly, instead of working overtime to compensate for weaknesses. The problem is that when people think about making career moves they often interpret “strengths” in a narrow industry context.

For example, say you’ve spent a decade in finance. You’ve developed serious experience, expertise, and industry connections. If you’re trying to build on your strengths, the right next career move would be to leverage these abilities into some other job in finance.

Yet, you might not like finance. You may not be thriving. Perhaps your calling is elsewhere. But because you want to leverage the soft assets you’ve built up over time, you stick with it. This is how many people end up working the same industry for years on end. In part, they were “building on their strengths.”

In the book, we talk about why evaluating your existing assets–of which strengths are one part–cannot be done in isolation. You should think about them in the context of your aspirations, and in the context of what people will pay for. All these things change over time.

If your aspirations or values are shifting, and you want to pivot to Plan B, better to think about your underlying strengths and focus on the transferable qualities of your most recent experiences. Project management is project management. Relationship building is relationship building. Some expertise is context specific. But not all of it is. Zoom out and think about the more universal characteristics of what you’re good at. Then match that to the market realities.

We feature James Gaines in the book, who pivoted from head honcho at Time Magazine (where he interviewed dozens of heads of state) to running a digital media startup. He saw his strength as “telling good stories”–not being editor of a print magazine. Storytelling was the underlying strength that enabled the pivot out of print journalism.

Bottom Line: You can still build on your strengths even if you are adapting your career into new industries, geographies, networks.

Appearing on Charlie Rose

Reid and I were on the Charlie Rose Show last week talking about The Start-Up of You and other topics. Here’s the 11 min interview.

It was Reid’s third time on the show; my first.

As a longtime viewer of Charlie’s show, it was wild to be in the actual studio–so quiet and dark, and somewhat intimidating. Equally cool was being able to wait in the green room with James Fallows, Robert Caro, and Jon Meacham–idols, them all–who were taping a segment for President’s Day after us.

Random related memory: The last time I was in a big-show green room was the Fox News studios in 2007 for Neil Cavuto’s show. Newt Gingrich was sitting next to me getting his makeup done. The stylist asked him if he’d ever run for president again, and everyone in the room laughed, thinking it an absurd proposition. (Or at least that was why I laughed.) The point is that green rooms, I’ve learned, are where the action is…and never underestimate Newt.

A Couple Weeks After Liftoff…

There are at least two ways to take measure of a book: by the critical response and by how it’s faring commercially.

To the content itself, we’ve been happy with the early reactions / reviews to The Start-Up of You. A few quick highlights:

  • Barnes & Noble says, “This unconventional, refreshing approach enables workers to take charge of their own futures in rational ways.”
  • Wade Roush at Xconomy says that the discussion of first, second, and third degree connections makes it ”guaranteed you’ll come out with some new ideas for using LinkedIn.”
  • The economist Arnold Kling says, “The book is not a commercial for Linked-in. Nowhere does it say, ‘Join Linked-in, and get connected to as many people as possible.’ On the contrary, they suggest only carefully circumscribed uses for weak ties. They make a stronger case for deeper relationships.” Arnold also comments on ABZ Planning.
  • Los Angeles Times / Financial Times review: “…Ultimately it is the optimism of Silicon Valley that infuses this book: There is still hope for those striving to break into the charmed circle.”
  • Kirkus says the “largely referential text overflows with relevant source material, guided ‘invest-in-yourself’ encouragement and sage industry-insider smarts.”
  • NPR excerpts a good part of Chapter 1 about the new world of work.
  • At Forbes.com, Seven Ways and Why To Treat Your Career Like a Startup. A good summation.

Folks like Mark Cuban, Sanjay Gupta, Arianna Huffington, Kevin Rose, and others have all been tweeting nice things about the book, too.

Commercially, we were thrilled that the book debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and stood atop the Wall Street Journal non-fiction list in its first week as well. It’s nice to have brisk sales out of the gate; it’s in part a testament to the urgency of the moment for a book on this topic.

But there’s still plenty to do to get the book in front of all of those who could benefit from it. Thanks in advance for spreading the word, giving it as a gift to others, etc. And feel free to email me if you want to do a bulk order, set up an event, or explore other ideas.

Individual Competitiveness –> National Competitiveness

Most of the talk about American national competitiveness takes place at a policy level: immigration reform, education, tax rates, manufacturing policy, etc. There’s plenty that can be done in Washington D.C. and in state capitols to improve the environment for innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic growth.

But one premise of the Start-Up of You is that as an individual professional you can’t rely on anyone else to train you or elevate you. Whatever programs or policies Washington implements — presuming they’re beneficial — won’t affect you for some time. You have to take control of your own career.

This isn’t to say there aren’t policy ideas that naturally extend from the book. It’s that the book’s primary message is about individual empowerment–about making yourself more competitive, even if your country as a whole may not be.

Of course, when people talk about the national competitiveness of a country, they’re really talking about the national competitiveness of each of its professionals, so the micro does become the macro over time.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times recently did a Q&A with Reid and me that’s posted on Amazon.com. Here’s one part of the exchange:

Tom: Is China going to eat America’s lunch?

Reid and Ben: National competitiveness is really a reflection of the individual competitiveness of its citizens. The question for each American is, “Is a professional in China going to eat your lunch?” Some will be competitive, and some will not. And the distinction is not set in stone. Just look at Detroit. All of us need to have a plan for investing in ourselves every day.

You can find the whole thing over at Amazon.

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Much more soon, but a few odds and ends in the meantime…

  • Prefer audiobooks? You can get the audio CDs or Audible version. Although a voice actor reads the book, at the end of the recording there’s a special conversation between Reid and me discussing the project.
  • UK people can buy the book here. Spanish, Italian, and Japanese coming soon, with other languages after that.
  • Already read the book? Leave a comment on this post or email me if the book made you think differently or take action in your career. I’d love to feature your story.
  • Making plans for South by Southwest in Austin, TX? Be sure to block off 11 AM – 12 PM on Saturday, March 10th, for our featured session at the Interactive festival.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit in All of Us

View the official video trailer for the book:

The book ships today. Here’s the Amazon link. Here’s the B&N link.

Notes from Books About Jobs and Work

Highlights from a recent stack of books I’ve been reading.

From The Coming Jobs War by Jim Clifton:

Of the 7 billion people on Earth, there are 5 billion adults aged 15 and older. Of these 5 billion, 3 billion tell Gallup they work or want to work. Most of these people need a full-time formal job. The problem is that there are currently only 1.2 billion full-time, formal jobs in the world. This is a potentially devastating global shortfall of about 1.8 billion good jobs. It means that global unemployment for those seeking a formal good job with a paycheck and 30+ hours of steady work approaches a staggering 50%, with 10% wanting part-time work…Until rather recently in human evolution, explorers were looking for new hunting grounds, cropland, territories, passageways, and natural resources. But now, the explorers are seeking something else.

From Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford:

We are experiencing a genuine crisis of confidence in our most prestigious institutions and professions. This presents an opportunity to reconsider basic assumptions. The question of what a good job looks like — of what sort of work is both secure and worthy of being honored — is more open now than it has been for a long time. Wall Street in particular has lost its luster as a destination for smart and ambitious young people. Out of the current confusion of ideals and confounding of career hopes, a calm recognition may yet emerge that productive labor is the foundation of all prosperity.

From Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, sound advice on how to fuel job growth:

Eliminate or reduce the massive home mortgage subsidy. This costs over $130 billion per year, which would do much more for growth if allocated to research or education. While home ownership has many laudable benefits, it likely reduces labor mobility and economic flexibility, which conflicts with the economy’s increased need for flexibility.

From Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It by Don Peck

Arguably the most important economic trend in the United States over the past couple of generations has been the ever-more-distinct sorting of Americans into winners and losers, and the slow hollowing of the middle class….

Women’s growing success in the classroom and workforce is of course a cause for celebration. But the failure of many men to adapt to a postindustrial economy is worrying. The economy appears to be evolving in a way that is ill-suited to many men—at least outside the economy’s upper echelons. Men’s struggles are hardly evident in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street. But they’re hard to miss in foundering blue-collar and low-end service communities across the country.