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Sunday
Apr012012

A Career Book I Wish I'd Written

Early last week a client recommended that I read a brand new book on career development entitled "the start-up of YOU," co-authored by Linkedin founder Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, a young entrepreneur and author. I think the book is fantastic - it not only articulates the same primary philosophies that undergird my career work, but also recommends a large number of strategies and tactics that I have promoted over the two plus years that I've been posting.  Today I am going to outline the key points in the book and then, in two weeks, contrast it with another book that a client recently recommended entitled "Career Warfare" by Daniel D'Allesandro, chairman and CEO of John Hancock - a book which, while containing a number of useful suggestions, is founded on a view of career, competition, and success much farther afield from my own (and, I think, far less generally applicable than "the start-up of YOU").  Next week I will be tracking my own career path through the lens that "the start-up of YOU" holds up, a sort of case study that proves the veracity and value of their approach.

If I had to summarize the book's premise in one sentence I might go to the conclusion of an earlier post of mine: you can't figure out a new career; you need to experience your way into one through networking, research, and experimentation, sometimes boldly.  At the end of each chapter the authors suggest small steps that can be taken (another of my foundational career coaching principles - "Take Small Steps Consistently") to help you move forward.

The book agrees with my contention that, for the majority of people, developing long-range (i.e. ten year) programs is an anachronistic way of approaching career planning (notable exceptions would be those heading for careers in medicine, education, engineering, and to some degree government service).  He recommends thinking broadly of three paths (A, B, and Z) which I'll describe further below.  

The book's first chapter outlines the premise that humans are. at heart, entrepreneurs; that evolution has genetically programmed us to be resourceful survivors, and hence our species' success.  As the world changes at a faster and faster pace we need to tap into these entrepreneurial assets to thrive.

The second chapter, entitled "Develop a Competitive Advantage," suggests that we take stock of three principal factors: our assets, our aspirations and values, and market realities, to point the way towards maximum career opportunity.  Importantly, he emphasizes that assets are not simply experience. It's what that experience has enabled you to do, and thus defines what you bring to the table (for those who have worked with me, the headline idea of your resume).

In Chapter 3 plans A, B, and Z are defined: "Plan A is what you're doing right now.  It's your current implementation of your competitive advantage...within Plan A you make minor adjustments as you learn.  Plan B is what you pivot to when you need to change either your goal or the route for getting there.  Plan Z is the fallback "worst case scenario" position".

Chapter 4 is about the all-important skill of networking.  As might be expected from the co-founder of the world's most powerful professional networking tool, Linkedin, Hoffman provides an easy-to-grasp framework for the concept of networking and the gradations within it, along with many valuable tips on how to network more effectively.  What struck me most in this chapter was how he quantified the "multiplier effect" of networking (an effect I have long discussed and diagrammed for my clients).  For example, when I went to check my "network statistics" on my Linkedin home page I discovered that I had almost 75 THOUSAND second degree connections: friends of friends.  And, amazingly, almost FIVE MILLION third degree connections (connections in which the total of the 4 people in the chain know either you or the person with whom you're looking to connect).

Chapter 5, "Pursue Breakout Opportunities" is an in-depth look at ways to, as I phrase it, "move the (career) ball forward." I think a better title for the chapter would have been "Create Breakout Opportunities," as it is packed with suggestions on initiating actions that can lead to opportunity.  It also places great emphasis on investing in yourself: acquiring new skills and setting aside resources (time and money) to investigate and network into new knowledge and ideas.

Chapter 6, "Take Intelligent Risks," provides a comforting framework in which to think about risk-taking.

Chapter 7, "Who You Know Is What You Know" goes further into networking and provides extremely valuable suggestions on the way to initiate conversations and phrase questions that will help you maximize the value of the people you know.  This chapter also emphasizes one of my primary recommended career-oriented mind-sets: WIN/WIN.  Think of how you can help others, and not just about how they can help you.

The book's conclusion: "The vast majority of professionals do not grasp what it means to run a career like a start-up venture; we believe implementing the strategies discussed in these pages will give you an edge.  But think of them as guidelines, not rules of nature.  Sometimes in order to make something work, you will drive over the guardrail of one of these rules.  One of the key messages we hope you've taken away...is that you are changing, the people around you are changing, and the broader world is changing - so it's inevitable (your) playbook will evolve and adapt....The trick is to never stop starting.  The start-up is you."

 

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