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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.