Speaking at San Quentin Prison

I spoke this week to a bunch of inmates serving very long sentences at San Quentin prison, which houses the largest death row in America. They had all read The Start-up of You. It was a very rich experience for me, and I wrote about it on Linkedin. Check it out.

Network Literacy in the Networked Age

Reid recently published an essay on LinkedIn about network literacy, which develops and expands upon the idea which we first articulated in The Start-Up of You. Essay included below. – BC

It’s said that when architects walk through an office, they see ceiling ornamentation, light sources, building acoustics. When psychologists walk through an office, they see unresolved father issues and avoidant personality disorders. When I walk through an office, I see networks. I know that makes me sound like the kid from The Sixth Sense. But I don’t see dead people. I see networks.

When you truly see networks, it changes the way you plan and strategize. You move differently.

Take job hunting. The Networked Age has radically changed this activity, and yet when you ask people how they look for a job, a surprising number continue to say they “search the job listings.” That’s the Information Age approach! In the Networked Age, you should look for people with connections to companies you’re interested in, trace the best path from those connections to people who can share useful intelligence, and then ask for introductions to those people.

Or consider investing. In my work at Greylock Partners, I don’t form an investment theory and then go search for a startup that fits this theory. Nor do I purchase ad space in the Yellow Pages and hope that talented entrepreneurs let their fingers do the walking until they find me. Again, those are Information Age approaches.

The Networked Age approach? I focus on being a great ally to my network, and developing strong relationships where the information flow is highly reciprocal. I put myself at as many key intersections in my networks as I can. As a result, my network inevitably ends up connecting me with great entrepreneurs and great investments.

A decade ago, John Battelle stressed the importance of “search literacy.” What he meant was that people who were skilled at using Google to find information had an edge over those who had yet to acquire this aptitude. In the Information Age, if you couldn’t make sense of an increasingly information-rich world through effective search capabilities, you’d be culturally marginalized, just like a person who couldn’t read street signs.

Now, those who can conceptualize and understand networks – both online and off – have an edge in today’s fast-paced and hyper-competitive landscape, where the speed with which we can make informed decisions is critical. To wit, the subtitle of my forthcoming book is “Managing Talent in the Networked Age” — I think the networked age changes everything.

I like to use the word “literacy” in this context because it suggests a fundamental skill, a capability you must possess in order to effectively navigate the world. An illiterate person, a person who can’t read street signs or complete job applications, has limited opportunities compared to others who possess these skills. A literate person moves freely and capably through the world.

So how do you know when you’re network-literate? I think in terms of three levels that signify ascending competency:

Apprentice: Using network technology

Journeyman: Establishing a network identity

Master: Utilizing network intelligence

Apprentice: Using network technology

At this most basic level of network literacy, you’re part of some networks. You have a Facebook profile, a LinkedIn profile, etc. You’re using these networks to keep in touch with people you know, and on occasion, you may even use them to facilitate new connections.

While you may not be completely fluent yet, you understand that Facebook is more than just a place to announce what you had for lunch – it’s a place to strengthen personal relationships. Similarly, you know that LinkedIn is more than just a repository for your digital resume. You use phrases and keywords with deliberate intention, to maximize your discoverability by the kinds of people you want to be found by.

In the case of my own LinkedIn profile, for example, my headline isn’t “Executive Chairman of LinkedIn.” It’s “Entrepreneur. Product Strategist. Investor.” That’s because my LinkedIn profile is targeted primarily to entrepreneurs who might want financing from me.

(You’d be surprised at how many people simply use their current job title as the headline of their LinkedIn profile. This isn’t wrong per se. But ultimately the headline on your LinkedIn headline is the first thing many people will see about you in a professional context – so it’s an excellent place to choicefully craft your network identity. And your network identity is larger – or at least it should be larger — than your current position and company affiliation.)

Another way to make yourself more findable by the kinds of people you want to be found by are to join the same LinkedIn groups that they’re participating in, or to follow relevant companies and individuals within the domain of your industry. Once you start thinking in terms of how the people you want to be found by might in fact find you – and tailoring your profile to maximize such potential discoveries – you have begun to think in a network-literate way.


Journeyman: Establishing a network identity

Once upon a time, we exercised unchecked authority over our identities, verbally air-brushing our resumes into highly idealized portraits of ourselves, carefully vetting the references we chose to vouch for us. In the Networked Age, however, we’re all visibly and enduringly enmeshed in networks – even the so-called “self-made man” is a highly annotated specimen, with readily apparent links to the colleagues, mentors, institutions, and other entities that have helped shape the contours of his identity.

Indeed, we’re all the sum of an ongoing conversation that we initiate and propel, but which colleagues, customers, and even competitors contribute to as well. And while we once relied upon the broad strokes of resumes to define us, now we’re often judged by far more granular, network-derived metrics of influence and authority: Who retweets our tweets? Who comments on our Medium posts? Who shows up on LinkedIn as a 1 degree connection?

In the Networked Age, your professional identity expands well beyond your job title and the company you work for. You’re not just “you” anymore. You’re also who you know, how they know you, what they know about you, who they know, and so on. At the Journeyman level, this way of thinking is becoming second nature to you. You understand that your identity is multivariate, distributed, and partially out of your control – your network helps shape your identity too.

Increasing your network literacy also means understanding other people’s network identities. Tell me the name of a person, and I’ll think of the network around them. I always see a person as part of a larger web of relationships. When I met Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s current CEO, I’d already had conversations with many of my own trusted colleagues about him. I had relationships with people that he had relationships with, and these strong points of network connectivity gave me a clear signal about Jeff and the kinds of people he trusted and valued most. I had a network portrait of him. And based on that portrait, I knew I wanted to build a strong relationship with him.


Master: Utilizing network intelligence

Spend five minutes watching your LinkedIn feed or Twitter timeline, and it’s clear that information proliferates even faster in the Networked Age than it did in the Information Age. Consequently, the ability to extract the right information at the right time is more crucial than ever. Search literacy is an important starting point, but in today’s high-velocity world, network literacy is increasingly crucial too.

In the Information Age, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and eventually Google were typically people’s “first reads,” i.e., their default sources of new information and intelligence. Now, if you’re fully network-literate, your networks are your first reads – because you’ve consciously built up pipelines of people who reliably deliver information that is highly significant and relevant to you.

There is a whole “dark net” of critical-edge information that hasn’t made it into newspapers and blogs, information that exists only in people’s heads. In the past, such information was difficult to access for all but the best-connected and most persistent individuals. Now, it’s often just a few keystrokes away.

And if you’re fully network literate, you’ve taken the time to understand the information flows within any given network. You know who the news breakers are. You know the thought leaders, the critics, and skeptics within a particular domain. You’re familiar with their preferred sources and biases.

While platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter certainly qualify as information Costcos, one-stop shopping for data en masse, the quality of your connections – and the strength of the relationships you have with them — generally matters more than the quantity. Ten extremely informed individuals who are happy to share what they know with you when you engage them can tell you a lot more than a thousand people you only know in the most superficial way.

But remember, using networks well is always a two-way street. People who exhibit the highest levels of network literacy know that the more relevant, high-quality information you share with others, the more such information you’re likely to receive. To be truly network literate is to always be thinking of how you can add value to the networks you’re a part of, and to make it a priority to turn connections into relationships, and relationships into alliances.

What Do You See When You Enter a Room?

These days, it’s not just Internet entrepreneurs who should see networks everywhere they look. When architects walk into a room, they should see networks. When psychologists walk into a room, they should see networks. In the Networked Age, we’re all like the little kid from The Sixth Sense. If you’re not seeing networks when you enter a room, you might want to check your pulse.

The New Employer-Employee Compact

Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 7.03.26 PMI’m delighted to share our new article in this month’s Harvard Business Review titled: Tours of Duty: The New Employer-Employee Compact. Here’s the all-on-one-page web version, here’s the social-enabled web version, here it is in PDF form with the graphical layout from the print magazine.

In the time since The Start-Up of You was published, Reid and I have been asked about the book’s implications on managers at larger organizations. How should great leaders recruit, train, and retain entrepreneurial people into their company — the kind of proactive people who read Start-Up of You to mange their career?

That’s the question we sought to address in the article, first by describing the new compact that now defines the overall relationship between employer and employee, and then by enumerating the compact’s three key features. We think it’s a critical perspective for CEOs, senior managers, and HR execs everywhere when developing a 21st century talent strategy.

If you’re a manager, check out the article and let me know what you think. There’ll be much more to come on this theme.


Sign up for a special live webcast on June 6th, 2013 for an event happening on the LinkedIn campus featuring Reid, our HBR editor Justin Fox, and a few senior HR execs, discussing the themes of the article. We’d love to have you.


On a personal note, it was a special pleasure to team up with my longtime partner-in-crime, Chris Yeh, who co-authored the article with Reid and me. (Photo credit: Fredrik Broden)

Status and Power Drive Social Dynamics in Business


An excerpt from The Start-Up of You, as featured on LinkedIn.

If you want to maintain relationships with busy, powerful people, you have to pay special attention to the role of status. Status refers to a person’s power, prestige, and rank within a given social setting at a given moment in time. There is no one pecking order in life; status is relative and dynamic. David Geffen is high status in the entertainment world, for example, but perhaps comparatively less so if Steven Spielberg is in the room. Likewise, Brad Pitt is high-status, but put him in a room full of software engineers when the project at hand involves coding, and his status is irrelevant. The President of the United States is often referred to as the most powerful man in the world, yet there are things Bill Gates can do that the president cannot, and still other things that Oprah Winfrey can do that Gates cannot. A person’s status depends on the circumstances and on who’s around.

You won’t read about status in most business and career books. It is a topic often dodged in favor of bromides like “Treat people with respect” or “Be considerate of the other person’s time.” Good advice, but not the whole story. The business world is rife with power jostling, gamesmanship, and status signaling, like it or not. It’s especially important to understand these dynamics when you work with people more powerful than you.

Before Robert Greene became a bestselling author, he worked for an agency in Hollywood that sold human-interest stories to magazines, film producers, and publishers. His job was to find the stories. A competitive person, Greene wanted to be the best, and sure enough, as he recalls, he was finding more stories that got turned into magazine articles, books, and movies than anyone else in his office.

One day, Greene’s supervisor took him aside and told him that she wasn’t very happy with him. She was not specific, but she made it clear that something just wasn’t working. Greene was befuddled. He was producing lots of stories that were being sold—wasn’t that the point? There was something else. He wondered if he was not communicating well. Perhaps it was just an interpersonal issue. So he focused more on engaging her, communicating, and being likeable. He met with his boss to go over his process and his thinking. But nothing changed—except for his ongoing success at finding really good stories to sell. Later, during a staff meeting, the tensions boiled over, and the supervisor interrupted the meeting and told Greene he had an attitude problem. No more detail, just that he wasn’t being a good listener and had a bad attitude.

A few weeks later, after being tortured by the vague criticisms despite his solid work performance, Greene quit. A job that should have been a stellar professional success had turned into a nightmare. Over the course of the next several weeks, he reflected on what had gone wrong with his boss.

He had assumed that what mattered was doing a great job and showing everyone how talented he was. While doing a great job was certainly necessary, he concluded it was not enough. What he failed to recognize was how his personal talents might make his boss look diminished in the eyes of others. He failed to navigate the status dynamics around him; failed to account for the insecurities, status anxieties, and egos of everyone else. He failed to build relationships with the people above him and below him on the totem pole. And ultimately, he paid the price with his job.

Everyone Is Equal, and Yet Everyone Is Not Equal

All men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, rights guaranteed regardless of gender, race, or religion. If a man commits a crime, he may lose his liberty but not his basic human rights such as food and humane living conditions (at least in enlightened societies, anyway). No one is more human than the next person. If you breathe, you deserve basic dignity. Period.

But in other ways, people are not equal. We do not live in an egalitarian society. People make different choices. Good luck falls on some more than others. Compare two men who work in finance, wear a suit and tie every day, and live in New York City. On the surface they may seem to be equal in status, but in reality one person will always be (and be perceived as) relatively more accomplished, powerful, rich, intelligent, busy, or famous than the other.

Status differences—both real and perceived—bear on how you are expected to act in different social situations. The following scenarios show how inappropriate power moves can offend someone of equal or higher status, and how to avoid making them.

Example #1: You email the vice president in charge of hiring at a company you want to work for. You send your résumé and propose to meet at a coffee shop near your house.

Analysis: A meeting should usually be made more convenient for the higher status person. That means at the time and location best for him or her. When corresponding with higher-status people, propose to meet “in or near your office.”

Example #2: You show up late to a meeting with a fellow product manager.

AnalysisTardiness is the classic power move because it says, “My time is more valuable than yours, so it’s okay for you to wait for me.” To be sure, we’ve all been late due to circumstances out of our control, so it’s not always a reliable signal. But usually it says something. Think about it: Would you allow yourself to be late to a meeting with Barack Obama? Certainly not.

Example #3: You and your coworker are both marketing assistants at your company. He mentions he’s working on a sales proposal. You proactively say, “I’d be more than happy to take a look and tell you how it could be improved.”

Analysis: Sounds harmless? Usually it is harmless. But be careful. When you make the unsolicited offer to tell someone how they can improve, you’re implying that you are able to see flaws in his work that he cannot see, and that he ought to be happy to accept your feedback. If the other person sees himself as your peer, he may not view you as someone who should be telling him how to improve, and may be resentful rather than appreciative.


Remember, even if you aren’t trying to signal you are more powerful, an inadvertent power move is still a power move, and it can irritate decision makers you’d rather impress.

The conclusion is not to suck up to people of higher status. Slavishly affirming everything an important person says is unimpressive, to say nothing of dishonest. Nor is the answer to disrespect people of lower status or to flaunt superiority. Presenting yourself as a Big Deal repels people below you, who won’t feel inspired or loyal. It also repels people above you, who will interpret your braggadocio as insecurity. Rather, the point is that some people require a bit more finesse. If you want to build a relationship with someone of higher status, know that you are supposed to be accommodating.

The social terrain at the highest levels of power and influence can be treacherous. If you wish to cultivate and strengthen ties with your boss, boss’s boss, top officials, or other people in high places, think about how the power imbalance affects your expected social behavior. A little bit of conscientiousness in this department goes a long way.

Career Advice for New Grads

Graduating this spring or know someone who is? Check out this new Start-Up of You inspired slideshow from our team — it captures some key career insights for new grads in a very visually appealing way.