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.

Fortune Excerpt on Networks and Relationships

This week’s Fortune magazine contains two articles of note! The first is a lengthy excerpt from The Start-Up of You. The second is a brief profile/introduction of Reid.

The brief profile ends by mentioning the book:

In 2009, Hoffman joined venture firm Greylock, where he runs a seed fund and helps manage a portfolio of nearly 100 companies, including Groupon (GRPN), Tumblr, and AirBnb. With LinkedIn’s IPO and other investments, Hoffman is worth some $1.5 billion. Now comes his book, The Start-Up of You, in which he shares tips on building a great career. Paramount among them: being an authentic networker. After all, Hoffman has 800 Facebook friends and 2,579 LinkedIn connections, and sits on six corporate and four nonprofit boards. At meetings he spreads out no fewer than five screens — iPads, Androids — to keep up with contacts. That skill has helped Hoffman recruit to Greylock such web stars as former Mozilla CEO John Lilly. Hoffman now believes that the defining principle of the web’s next innovation cycle is data. “We are generating a massive amount,” he says. “What are we inventing?” It’s one of the first questions he asks everyone he meets. The other: “How can I help you?”

The funny thing is, “authentic networker” is oxymoronic to some. The cynical view of “networkers” is that they are by definition not very authentic. We prefer the term “relationship-building” and talk more about building “networks.” As it relates to authenticity, there’s also the challenge of trying too hard–obvious attempts at sincerity leave us cold. This made writing about the topic particularly challenging for us: in the very act of writing analytically and prescriptively about how networks work and how you should deploy them in your career, it’s hard not to come off as overly calculating–exactly what we’re saying not to be.

The reality is that unless the process of bonding and allying with others comes off as effortlessly as tying your shoes, which is to say, unless allying and helping really *is* what you want to be doing, the collaborative mind-set will fail, and so, ultimately, will the relationship.

All that being said, check out the excerpt for an introduction to some of the network themes we address in the book. In the full chapter, we go deeper on each of these points, and expand into other topics.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting a bit more on networks here on my personal blog, over at the Startup of You blog, and leading discussions in the LinkedIn Group, which I encourage you to join and participate in. The book is about much more than networks, but it is an excellent theme to start with!

The Jammed Career Escalator: Old Premises, New Realities

Centuries of immigrants risked everything to come to America with the belief that if they worked hard, they would enjoy a better life than their parents had. Since the country’s birth, each generation of Americans has generally made more money, been better educated, and enjoyed a higher standard of living than the generation that came before it. This expectation of lockstep increases in prosperity had become part of the American Dream.

For the last sixty or so years, the job market for educated workers worked like an escalator. After graduating from college, you landed an entry-level job at the bottom of the escalator at an IBM or a GE or a Goldman Sachs. There you were groomed and mentored, receiving training and professional development from your employer. As you gained experience, you were whisked up the organizational hierarchy, clearing room for the ambitious young graduates who followed to fill the same entry-level positions. So long as you played nice, you moved steadily up the escalator, and each step brought with it more power, income, and job security. Eventually, around age sixty-five, you stepped off the escalator, allowing those middle-ranked employees to fill the same senior positions you just vacated. You, meanwhile, coasted into a comfortable retirement financed by a company pension and government-funded Social Security.

People didn’t assume all of this necessarily happened automatically. But there was a sense that if you were basically competent, put forth a good effort, and weren’t unlucky, the strong winds at your back would eventually shoot you to the top. For the most part this was a justified expectation.

But now that escalator is jammed at every level. Many young people, even the most highly educated, are stuck at the bottom, underemployed, or jobless, as Ronald Brownstein noted in the Atlantic. At the same time, men and women in their sixties and seventies, with empty pensions and a government safety net that looks like Swiss cheese, are staying in or rejoining the workforce in record numbers. At best, this keeps middle-aged workers stuck in promotionless limbo; at worst, it squeezes them out in order to make room for more senior talent. Today, it’s hard for the young to get on the escalator, it’s hard for the middle-aged to ascend, and it’s hard for anyone over sixty to get off. “Rather than advancing in smooth procession, everyone is stepping on everybody else,” Brownstein says. (I’ll address why it got jammed in a future post.)

What’s replaced the career escalator? There’s no single metaphor that universally describes the 21st century career journey. For those who lack globally competitive skills (and yet who are simultaneously overqualified for low-skill labor), the current environment feels like slogging through a tar pit. For people with the relevant skills, the journey is like a vast ocean voyage: unpredictable waves, multiple routes to arrive at a destination, the need to keep investing in your vessel lest it capsize, the allies who form an armada around you to cross perilous straits. A recent Fast Company cover story called the winners of the post-escalator job market “Generation Flux,” a reference to their ability to acquire new skills, adapt to change, and reinvent themselves.

Whatever you call the current climate, the point is that the old premises of the career escalator have given way to new realities, and with new realities come new rules. The new rules are ones entrepreneurs have mastered for years and they are the inspiration behind The Start-Up of You.

Old Premises, New Realities

Old: Ready, Aim, Fire…Retire
New: Almost-Ready, Aim, Fire, Aim, Fire, Aim, Fire

Classic career strategy is Ready, Aim, Fire. Ready is mental, introspective (e.g. pondering “what am I passionate about?”). Aim refers to crafting a long-term career plan. Fire means executing on the plan. Ready-aim-fire (and then retire) no longer works. You can’t plan your life or career like you used to. These days, the better approach is almost ready-aim-fire-aim-fire-aim-fire. Entrepreneurial career strategy involves learning while going, executing while planning, finishing while starting, aiming while firing. There are no clear start and finish points; no designated “ready” or “set” phase followed by a “go” phase. Still, despite the need for constant recalibration, you can be disciplined about how where you choose to direct your energies and how you choose to adapt to unpredictable changes.

Old: Be Loyal to Your Employer and They’ll Be Loyal to You
New: The Employer-Employee Pact is Over; Extend Loyalty to Your Network

LeBron James grew up in Ohio. He married his high school sweetheart from Akron. The Cleveland Cavaliers picked him first in the 2003 NBA draft. A couple years later, LeBron James was widely viewed as the greatest basketball player alive. In Ohio, he was God. (A giant billboard in Cleveland with his photo was headlined, “We Are All Witnesses.”) Yet even as he racked up accolades, the one thing he wanted more than any other–an NBA Championship–eluded him. In mid-2010 LeBron James announced that he was leaving Ohio. He said he was taking his talents to the Miami Heat, a team with a stronger supporting cast, because he wanted to “win now and in the future.” Ohio fans felt betrayed. Sure, he was technically a free agent. But what about loyalty? What about roots? To LeBron, a better career opportunity meant more than his loyalty to Cleveland. While this was a case of a superstar athlete abandoning his team and city, teams have initiated break-ups just as often. The New York Knicks traded away NBA-great Patrick Ewing, even though he had played a record 1,039 games in a Knick uniform.

Today, every young, talented professional is like LeBron. There used to be a long-term economic and psychological pact between the employee and employer–the mutual expectation that a job within the “family” culture of corporations like Ford or IBM guaranteed lifetime employment (and generous benefits once you retired). It’s been replaced by a performance-based, one-day contract that’s perpetually up for renewal by both employee and employer. If you want to keep working at a company, you have to prove your worth–or else they’ll show you to the door. These are competitive times. An organization can’t afford deadweight, regardless of a person’s seniority, loyalty, or prior competency. By the same token, if you are valuable and a company wants to keep you as an employee, it has to earn your loyalty: it has to offer a competitive salary, engaging opportunities, meaningful work–or else you’ll head to the door.

Old: Network Your Way to the Top
New: Build a Network of Allies and Looser Connections

Because loyalty is no longer flowing vertically from you to your employer and vice versa, direct your loyalty horizontally, as Dan Pink suggests, to your professional network–to friends, current and former colleagues, and allies who may work in different companies or industries. Those are the people with whom you want to maintain authentic lifelong connections even as you move from company to company.

We’re all now cynical about “networking.” Yet, despite our cynicism about networking in a self-serving, “what can you do for my career” sense, online social networks are huge. And one’s professional network still matters more than almost anything else. Building a valuable network of allies and weak ties is a different project than classic networking.

Old: It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know
New: The What-You-Know Comes From the Who-You-Know

When knowledge and information were scarce, you could distinguish yourself on the “what you know”–the knowledge and information you had in your head. When knowledge and information became abundant and free, business gurus re-emphasized the “who you know.” Anybody can Google information, they said, yet not everybody can have a vibrant network of relationships. In reality, both information and relationships matter, and they work in tandem. That’s because some important knowledge and information resides not on the internet but in the heads of the people you know. For example an experienced business veteran who knows the company you work for may be the best person to offer subjective insight on a financial dilemma (e.g. “How should I respond to the latest bid?”). Or a colleague at work may be the only person who could advise you on negotiating with your boss over a disputed point. People are frequently better founts of career intelligence than objective, static information sources.

Old: Search for Jobs When You’re Unemployed
New: Continually Search for and Generate Breakout Opportunities

Career strategy used to be a topic you discussed when you were looking for a job. But entrepreneurial professionals know they must always be investing in themselves. Instead of “job hunting” when they’re out of work, they’re continually on the look-out for “opportunities.”

Success begins with opportunities. Opportunities are like the snap to the quarterback in football. You still have to move the ball down the field; you still have to execute. But without a snap to the quarterback, there’s no touchdown. For a young lawyer, an opportunity could mean being assigned to work with the smartest partner in the firm. For an artist, it could be a last-minute offer (perhaps due to a cancellation) to exhibit at a prominent museum. For a student, it could mean being awarded a rare scholarship to travel and research.

Remarkable careers are punctuated by breakout opportunities. If you ask people of note to reflect on their career, you do not hear about a sequence of equally important jobs. Instead, they highlight specific breakout opportunities that led to unusual career growth. These killer opportunities didn’t fall into their lap; they knew how to spot and create them through a series of specific behaviors.

Old: Risk is Bad, Minimize Risk
New: Risk is Unavoidable; Proactively Take Intelligent Risk

Risk wasn’t a relevant concept in the days of the career escalator. The idea was to avoid risk, and avoid “high risk” career moves like freelancing. This is exactly opposite of how winners think today. Every opportunity contains downside risk. To effectively exploit opportunities, you have to be take on the right kind of risk, and manage it prudently. In so doing, you build resilience to the seismic industry and competitive changes that destroy professionals on a more brittle “low risk” path.

There is an entrepreneurial approach to intelligent risk taking, and you may be surprised at how different it is from the stereotyped bet-the-farm, throw caution to the wind approach that people tend to think of when they think of entrepreneurs.

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Don’t forget to pre-order the Start-Up of You before February 14th for free special offers!

When Talent Can Easily Find New Opportunity, How Do You Retain Talent?

Talent moves around more and more

Talent in Companies

There used to be a long-term economic and psychological pact between employee and employer that guaranteed lifetime employment in exchange for lifelong loyalty; this pact has been replaced by a performance-based, short-term contract that’s perpetually up for renewal by both sides.

As an individual professional, you aren’t wild about pledging lifelong loyalty to a single company because, thanks to LinkedIn and other services, you can more easily locate new opportunities and you can more easily be found by recruiters and companies. The grass is always greener on the other side; now it’s easier than ever to see that grass, and chase it. Companies, as a result, don’t want to invest in training and developing you in part because you’re not likely to commit years and years of your life to working there — you will have many different jobs in your lifetime.

In the Start-Up of You, we talk about how individual professionals should manage and invest in themselves in light of this more fluid relationship with employers.

But how should companies think about the implications of these expectations? How do companies think about HR and retention? If individuals live the Start-Up of You, it means that if you have 500 employees you do not have 500 individuals ready to be subservient and loyal for life; rather, you have 500 businesses-of-one who are leasing their talent to you at this point in time.

Instead of denying the job-hopping, opportunity-seeking ways of young talent today, it seems wiser for companies to face the reality and embrace it. Help employees develop transferrable skills. Help them build the start-up of themselves. And be very explicit with new hires about the expectations: “We expect you to give us a really strong tour of duty for 2-3 years. When you leave, we expect you to be part of our corporate alumni group. We want you to be part of our corporate alumni network. We want you to help recruit new employees. We want you to be lifelong ambassadors and evangelists for our products and services. But we know you’re super talented and will come upon many other career opportunities while you work here. We know your tenure at the company may not last more than a few years.”

Essentially, try to retain employees for as long as possible, but be frank about their likely brief tour of duty, and be clear that you expect them to be active corporate alumni members for the years after they leave the company.

Talent in Countries

Elites of troubled or poor countries ask themselves: “How we keep our brightest young here? How do we get them to build companies here, be part of the local workforce, and (re)build the local economy?” In Greece, this was the question elites in the country were thinking about. I just returned from a few days in Morocco–it was a huge topic of conversation there, too.

Usually, elder elites appeal to youth’s sense of nationalism / patriotism: “You’re Cypriot. This country raised you. Stay and help grow your country.” Or, as I suggested to some Greek entrepreneurs during my trip there, governments could appeal to the business opportunities associated with societal problems–many problems means there are many potential solutions. Trash collection has become impossible in Athens due to protests; perhaps the wealthy would pay for a private trash collection service?

But if they’re honest, older government officials and businesspeople know that for the average 18, 19, 20 year-old in Cyprus or Morocco there will, on average, be more professional opportunities abroad. Government officials fear that if they acknowledge this fact publicly, talented youth will flee. The problem is, they’re going to flee anyway, or at least try to, because they see the economic dynamism abroad. They watch MTV Cribs.

So here’s a radical view: government and business elites in certain poor/developing/troubled countries should explicitly tell their most talented youth to go abroad. Indeed, help them to do this–pay for it, even. As part of this, forge with them a new social contract. Have them sign a document stating their expectation to return after 5-10 years. When they return, they can share what they’ve learned abroad and infuse their native culture with the attitudes gleaned from the cultures in which they spent their 20’s. Plus, chances are they’ll be even more patriotic upon return. Spending time abroad can remind you how Moroccan, or American, or Greek you really are. You realize how many of your habits are cultural; you feel more affinity for your native culture.

The big difference, of course, between the company example and the country example I’ve mentioned is that once an employee leaves a company, he isn’t likely to return again later, whereas for countries, the point is the emigrant will one day return. But maybe this could be made parallel as well. Bain & Co. and McKinsey famously invite ex-employees back after they’ve gained additional experiences elsewhere.

Bottom Line: Talent seeks opportunity. With opportunity increasingly visible and accessible, talent is moving around more and more. Poor countries should relinquish the idea that they can hold onto all their best young people; instead, send a high profile number of them abroad, and get them to commit to return home later. Company executives, similarly, should relinquish the idea that employees will profess long-term loyalty to their corporation. Instead, they should be explicit with employees about signing up for a tour of duty for a period of time and, from then on, remaining an active ambassador and recruiter for the company as part of the corporate alumni group.

Pre-Order The Start-Up of You

Today, I’m finally ready to talk about a project I’ve been working on for a very long time!

I’m coauthor, with Reid Hoffman, of a new book titled The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, which comes out February 14, 2012.

What’s the book about? New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, in his column last summer previewing the book, captured some of the key themes:

Its subtitle could easily be: “Hey, recent graduates! Hey, 35-year-old midcareer professional! Here’s how you build your career today.”

Hoffman argues that professionals need an entirely new mind-set and skill set to compete. “The old paradigm of climb up a stable career ladder is dead and gone,” he said to me. “No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it’s now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.”

The strategies in this book will help you survive and thrive and achieve your boldest professional ambitions. The Start-Up of You empowers you to become the CEO of your career and take control of your future…no matter your profession or stage of career.

Intrigued? You should pre-order now on Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com.

 

To nudge you to pre-order now instead of waiting, we’re running a special promotion that expires in three weeks. Order the book before February 14th and you’ll get a free bookplate / sticker in the mail with Reid’s signature and my signature that you can adhere to your hardcover book.

Plus, we’re giving away 20 different books to one person (selected at random) who pre-orders our book now. It’s not random reading list; we’ve curated a list of 20 outstanding books on entrepreneurial career strategy, adaptation, network building, and opportunity creation. Your library will be much richer because of them.

Simply forward your email receipt to [email protected], and you’ll get the autographs in the mail for free and a chance to win the 20 additional books–again, totally free. (Full legalese about the contest here.)

We will not be running this promotion again. Thanks for your support! More soon…

Hard-to-Define Jobs Are More Secure

Generally, the harder it is to explain to someone you've just met at a cocktail party what it is you do on a day to day basis, the more interesting the work you're engaged in.

Arnold Kling applies a related rule of thumb to job security:

A job seeker is looking for… a well-defined job. But the trend seems to be that if a job can be defined, it can be automated or outsourced.

The marginal product of people who need well-defined jobs is declining. The marginal product of people who can thrive in less structured environments is increasing.

In other words, how easy is it to outline exactly what you must do day to day at work? The easier this task, the more at risk it is to being offshored or automated.