“A New Mindset and Skillset to Compete”

Thomas Friedman writes about the changing job market in America:

The rise in the unemployment rate last month to 9.2 percent has Democrats and Republicans reliably falling back on their respective cure-alls. It is evidence for liberals that we need more stimulus and for conservatives that we need more tax cuts to increase demand. I am sure there is truth in both, but I do not believe they are the whole story. I think something else, something new — something that will require our kids not so much to find their next job as to invent their next job — is also influencing today’s job market more than people realize.

And later in his column:

Whatever you may be thinking when you apply for a job today, you can be sure the employer is asking this: Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer? Can he or she help my company adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job for tomorrow? And can he or she adapt with all the change, so my company can adapt and export more into the fastest-growing global markets? In today’s hyperconnected world, more and more companies cannot and will not hire people who don’t fulfill those criteria.

But you would never know that from listening to the debate in Washington, where some Democrats still tend to talk about job creation as if it’s the 1960s and some Republicans as if it’s the 1980s. But this is not your parents’ job market.

This is precisely why LinkedIn’s founder, Reid Garrett Hoffman, one of the premier starter-uppers in Silicon Valley — besides co-founding LinkedIn, he is on the board of Zynga, was an early investor in Facebook and sits on the board of Mozilla — has a book coming out after New Year called “The Start-Up of You,” co-authored with Ben Casnocha. Its subtitle could easily be: “Hey, recent graduates! Hey, 35-year-old midcareer professional! Here’s how you build your career today.”

There'll be much more to say later in the year! But this sneak peek is relevant to the current moment, and Friedman nicely captures a few of the key ideas. If you want to pre-order the book (from an empty Amazon page), you can do so here.

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I'm on a semi-hiatus from blogging this summer; daily posting will return in the fall. Below are some random posts from the archives on many different topics.

9 comments on ““A New Mindset and Skillset to Compete”
  • Way to go, Ben! You know you’ve made it when you get name-dropped in one of the Walrus of Understanding’s columns!

    I’m looking forward to the book. I’m about halfway between “recent graduate” and “mid-career professional”, being 29 and trying to decide on a new direction and doing it mostly through various forms of tinkering, so I can see exactly where this is coming from. Though it will be interesting to see what you guys have to say that Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin and others haven’t already- and how your lessons can be applied to people in very different situations (like new graduates in China, who are even more pressed to try to figure out how to “invent” jobs, as ways into the corporate and party hierarchy are few, but opportunities for entrepreneurism are abundant.)

  • Wow. So that’s what you’re working on! Congrats – can’t wait to read it; sounds super relevant to today.

  • Hi Ben! I just read the article on NYT website,saw your name, and came here.
    It instantly made me a few years younger when we met in France ! And i can realize that the start-up of Ben will quite soon be a Ben,inc.
    All the best. Pierre C. from Gouvieux,France

  • In reading your blog (which is quite interesting – thanks for posting it) after having been referred from the NYT article, it strikes me that your postings have something of the self-help faith about them – both in the sense that you are finding help for yourself (what to do with my life? Should I become a doer or knower? How can I make the most of college? Entrepreneurship!) and for American/the world (what makes the economy grow? Entrepreneurship! How can I succeed at work? Act like an entrepreneur!). That there is hardly a negative word or criticism for entrepreneurship, or the economy and culture it produces, contributes to this impression.

    Why is “entrepreneurship” so central to your intellectual and personal formation, in the way you see the world (even the founding fathers are turned into entrepreneurs) and yourself? You seem to associate it with the endless process of self-creation, but yet there are many traditions – including, as you know, Mill – who are concerned with being endlessly self-creative, engaging with the world, etc, etc, and who yet don’t take business, or entrepreneurship, as their chief model. Why is it that you, in this particular time and place, find it such a compelling model through which to filter so much of the complexity of life? How much does it have to do with the fact that the veneration of the heroic start-up entrepreneur is currently one of the reigning ideologies of the day – the young titan showered with money and praised, as your new book appears to be heading, as the man of the future? It seems to me that one of the hallmarks of free thought is our ability to get a distanced and critical perspective on the present and its dominant beliefs.

    I hope these comments don’t sound harshly critical. In the world we are all lost and seeking our way, including me. These thoughts are offered in pursuit of the openness and thoughtfulness that you model in your blog.

  • Thanks for your thoughtful comment. It deserves a longer answer, later.
    For now, I'll say two things. First, my worldview is shaped by my personal
    experiences, and my personal experiences as an entrepreneur make
    entrepreneurship a natural prism through which to understand certain
    ideas. Of course it has its limitations; all frameworks do. But there's a
    reason athletes uses sports metaphors to talk about non-sports ideas. It's
    easier to use vocabulary and concepts we know well to talk about concepts
    we aspire to know well. And I agree that no one framework should be used
    exclusively. Second, you may be overstating the extent to which "start-up
    entrepreneurs" is one of the "reigning ideologies of the day." Open up an
    economics textbook, and you'll find amazingly little about
    entrepreneurship, even though new venture creation is one of the chief
    causes of economic growth and prosperity (and almost all real innovation).
    In terms of cultural attention, Wall Street financiers have long been the
    sexier examples in stories of titans. (And before that, the industrial
    barons of Chicago and elsewhere.) Is entrepreneurship trendy now? Yes. But
    it's a trend long overdue. And hopefully one that will find its place,
    over the long run, not only as a headline in economics textbooks but as a
    solid conceptual framework to think about a range of issues.

  • “But there’s a reason athletes uses sports metaphors to talk about non-sports ideas. It’s
    easier to use vocabulary and concepts we know well to talk about concepts we aspire to know well.”

    That is something is easier doesn’t make it better. I’d argue, for instance, that those professional athletes who look at the world predominantly from the angle of sports have an impoverished world view, though it is no doubt one that comes naturally to them. To the extent we are committed to really being life-long learners, looking at the world requires some sort of combination of trying out different perspectives and also the best perspective. (But finding out the best perspective is of course no easy matter!) An entrepreneurial perspective may be the best way to understand certain business problems, but may be more problematic the more we extend that perspective as our dominant one in answering questions more removed from that specialty. (You are obviously in a much better position than I to evaluate whether you do this. My sense was that “entrepreneurial” functions as a sort of talisman in your blog postings, but that very well could be misjudgment on my part.)

    As to whether I am overstating the cultural sway of entrepreneurship, you very well could be right. It is undoubtedly just one model among many that many people are devoted to today. Nonetheless, I think there is much continuity it what our culture worships in the entrepreneur as with the Wall St tycoon: both supposedly earn their gargantuan pay through their heroic feats of genius that help legitimize their fortunes. And both gain much of their cultural standing from the money they make. The danger, I think, is that when we use entrepreneurship as a key prism through which to inflect our view of the world – when we inflate entrepreneurship into a sort of key to all sorts of other problems – we cripple our quest to see how things really are, we fall sway to our culture’s prostration before money, celebrity, and economics. I think the comparison with Mill, Nietzsche, et al, here is instructive in that they generally avoided appropriating models directly from aspects of their dominant culture.

    I suppose these thoughts were in some ways raised by your musing on doing vs acting. There is a very real tension here. Most people are content to ape the beliefs they’ve internalized from their family, friends, religion, and culture, as well as to believe in those beliefs that most promote their own narrow interests. Working to escape the prisms that come easiest to us is one that requires enormous effort. I’m struck in reading blogs from the entrepreneurial community how much the emphasis is on constant learning. (It reminds me of the mantra, when I worked on Wall St, that everyone spat out to praise their miserable job: “I love my job because I learn something new every day. Because I work with the best.”) What much of this commentary almost never addresses is that not all learning is equal. That learning about, say, the inner workings of some industry is undoubtedly useful for making money, but a lot less intrinsically valuable than, say, reading the great works of philosophy, or thinking complex thoughts about society, art, etc. It seems to me that to be a true life-long learner is to put the preponderance of one’s time behind these latter endeavors rather than the former. Of course, being the thinker also has its costs.

  • "both supposedly earn their gargantuan pay through their heroic feats of
    genius that help legitimize their fortunes"

    Most entrepreneurs run small businesses — corner stores, delis, small
    technology firms, what have you. Even of those that aspire to start world
    changing tech companies, few survive more than a few years, let alone
    "earn gargantuan pay."

    What our culture worships in the entrepreneur is perceived self-reliance
    and creation of new products and services. The same cannot be said of Wall
    Street. So, I think they're different. And one is better / healthier.

  • Ben, enjoy your summer hiatus.

    Americans need to stop relying on having a “JOB”. With computers, inexpensive virtual assistants and cheap outsourcing there is no reason a half-way intelligent person can’t think of an idea and start their own small business. I haven’t had a “job” in decades. I have had several businesses. I have completely changed gears more than once. The last business venture I gave up was real estate investing when the bubble burst. No regrets, I just moved on to something else.

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