Monthly Archives: February 2012

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 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.


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.

Reading in Print vs. Electronic

Steven Johnson articulates my primary frustration when reading e-books: the inability to skim.

It’s a funny thing with print vs. ebooks; the digital age is supposed to be all about attention deficit disorder and hypertextual distractions, but ebooks lock you into reading them in a linear fashion more than print books do. It’s much easier to pick up a print book and flip through the pages, get a sense of the argument or structure, than it is with an ebook (or magazine.) It’s a very interesting interface challenge: I think it’s probably solvable, and I know many smart folks are working on it, but we don’t have a true solution yet.

On a related note, here’s Bob Sutton writing about some evidence that you comprehend / retain information better when reading off the printed page versus the screen. Though that advantage is narrowing as screens improve…

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.

Book Reviews From Our Book Giveaway

There’s only 24 hours left to pre-order the Start-up of You and in return get a free bookplate and the chance to win 20 other books that we recommend. In this post, I wanted to highlight a few of the books we’re giving away.

Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making
By Gary Klein

One of my favorite books of 2010. Klein opens each chapter with a set of statements describing conventional wisdom on the topic of the chapter: decision making, uncertainty, risk, adaptation, heuristics and biases. Then he proceeds to show why conventional wisdom is wrong. Unlike many books on decision-making, Klein assumes that when making decisions you have incomplete information and high levels of uncertainty—in other words, he assumes you live in the real world, not an academic lab. 

Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd
By Youngme Moon

Moon argues that to have a true competitive advantage in today’s business world means that a company must be fundamentally different from the outset. It can’t bolt on differentiators after the fact. An eloquent exploration of one part of competitive advantage.

Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives
By Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler

Drawing on extensive (if not completely proven) research, social scientists Christakis and Fowler argue that connections up to three degrees away from us have a profound effect on our mind and body. Christakis and Fowler say that we are very much the company we keep–out to the third degree.

Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career
By Herminia Ibarra

This is a great book on career reinvention and transition. A professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, Ibarra tells the stories of men and women who pivoted into new industries. She observes how difficult it is to shed your old identity and create a new one. She stresses the importance of experimentation. And she hammers home the idea that there is no “one true self ” that can be conclusively discovered. Here’s my post on the LinkedIn Group about a recent article by Herminia.

Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed
By Michael D. Eisner with Aaron Cohen

Eisner, former CEO of Disney, writes about ten notable partnerships. Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken are featured in the book, as are Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, Bill Gates and Melinda Gates, and others. These inspiring and well-told stories show the power of lasting professional alliances.

Intrigued by any of these books? Buy the Start-Up of You now and you may just get all of them in the mail — for free!

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.