So much change: education, jobs and careers along with related transition between them. Authors Reid and Ben (R&B) suggest that to navigate in the new world of work, we tap into our inner entrepreneur and adopt the start-up mindset along with the its necessary skills. Basically, it's our job as individuals to take responsibility for our work and career and sail our own ship.
B & R devote the first chapter to setting up the change and where we are today. They liken the demise of Detroit to where our careers could be now or are going to. And then they describe the Silicone Valley way:
Take intelligent and bold risks to accomplish something great. Build a network of alliances to help you with intelligence, resources and collective action. Pivot to breakout opporunity.
The Silicone Valley way is the essence of the entreprenuerial way. The lads suggest applying it to our career. And the rest of the book is about just that.
Develop a Competitve Advantage
In order to survive and thrive, we need to be able to stand out from every Tom, Dick and Sally. The way to do that is found at the nexus of our, assets, aspirations / values and market realities.
Assets - We have two types. Hard and soft.
- Hard - Our money and physical possesions
- Soft - Our knowledge, connections, skills, brand, strengths, etc
Our asset mix is not set in stone. It's up to us to develop them.
Aspirations / Values
- Aspirations - Our deepest wishes, ideas and goals.
- Values - What is important in our life.
Our Pole Star - Like navigating by the North Star, our Pole Star is a combination of our aspirations and values and helps to keep us on track.
The authors talk about how our identity emerges as opposed to us digging inside to uncover some hidden and yet-to-be identified meaning. I love this part. Thinking about how way leads onto way, our aspirations are actually changed by our actions and experiences, according to the lads.
The Market Realities
This is being real. Are people willing to pay money and or attention for your products and services? We can have unlimited passion and we can be really, really good at something, but if the market isn't willing to pay we're going to have a problem.
P 40 - Reid digs informational interviews.
P 42 - Matt Cohler and the importance of being a wingman.
P 42 - LinkedIn's founding belief - Individuals should own and manage their identities.
Plan to Adapt
If you were to ask me about important books in my life, I say What Color is Your Parachute? ranks high on my list. R&B illustrate how the primary purpose of this and other career advice books doesn't work today as we sail in a sea of chaos. The primary message of Parachute and other similar books is to listen to your heart and follow your passion. Create a mission and then develop a long term plan for its implementation. A fine plan for the 1960 or 70's. Not today.
Today, survival and thrival depend on our ability to plan, move forward, read the environment, tinker / adjust, move forward, repeat. In other words, adapt.
ABZ Planning - R&B's methodology to adapting.
- Plan A - What you're doing now. You learn and iterate regularly.
- Plan B - What you pivot to change course.
- Plan Z - Your fallback position. If everything you're doing now falls apart, Plan Z is what you fallback to.
Learn - If business start-ups do not learn, they die. Simple as that. Same for you and your potential career.
Do - Arguably the heart and soul message of The Start-Up of You. The lads say, "...actions not plans, generate lessons that help you test your hypotheses against reality."
This is where Parachute takes the other fork in the river. As much as I love Dick Bolles and his teachings, I'm following R&B down their river channel*. Basically we can put great effort into planning our route, even build in contingencies. But once the ship gets into a part of the river that you had not anticipated, or realized that you were too far down the wrong channel, you're at a disadvantage.
If instead, you just Do, just sail down your channel, and learn / make adjustments as you go, you're in a far better position to reap the benefits of your chosen path (not to mention how much you learned along the way).
P 64 - Maintain an Identity Separate from Specific Employers - Precious, precious advice!
p 76 - Create your own personal career policy. Explore, discover, learn, develop and cultivate an interest outside of your day job. R&B look at this as what could evolve into your Plan B. I view this as something you do when Exploring.
It Takes a Network
What you are doing - what you should be doing - is establishing a diverse team of allies and advisors with whom you grow over time.
And if we need another way to view networking - cause of its association with sliminess, we've only to look at P 91: Build Genuine Relationships. The lads suggest we see the world from the other person's persepective and to think how we might be able to help and collaborate with them - as opposed to sizing up the other person and what we can get from them.
Our network consists of professional allies, weak ties and acquaintances.
Professional Ties - This is someone we go to for regular advice; share and collaborate on opportunities together and as an ally, someone we promote to others.
Weak Ties & Acquaintances - People who we don't spend that much time with but we do connect with them on occasion.
The fascinating subject of weak ties was covered by sociologist Mark Granovetter in a 1973 paper titled The Strength of Weak Ties. Malcolm Gladwell cited Granovetter's research in his book The Tipping Point.
Here's the thing about weak ties. If you have weak ties with people in your field, they are not particularly valuable. Why? Because you're likely to have access to the same knowledge, resources and connections that they have. Weak ties' value increases when they transcend your industry.
How many people can you stay effectively connected with? On P 108, R&B cite Robin Dunbar and the magic number of 150.
P 111 - The lads talk about six degrees of separation and both Stanley Milgram and Duncan Watts's related work. They say that connecting with people who are within three degrees of you is most effective. Based on Reid's affiliation with LinkedIn, I'd say they are speaking from experienece here.
The value and strength of your network are not represented in the number of contacts in your address book. What matters are your alliances, the strength and diversity of your trust connections, the freshness of the information flowing through your network, the breadth of your weak ties and the ease with which you can reach your second or third-degree connections.
In order to strengthen our network, we must do things for others. This is about sharing knowledge, wisdom and ideas in addition to connecting people who could be of value to each other. For further insight into this I recommend the most excellent book Give and Take by Adam Grant.
Pursue Breakout Opportunities
The first bit of advice in this chapter is to be curious. Next to integrity, curiosity is the most powerful trait one can have as an entrepreneur, student, employee or boss IMHO.
I am going to veer off of R&B's train of thought here for a second and inject my own. In doing so I will attempt to write the shortest self-help article, essay and or book in the history of the world. The topic: How can one articulate curiosity?
Okay, back to the lads and how to generate career opportunities...
Court serendipity and good randomness - Not only do we need to be alert and curious on our path of discovery, we need to actually be doing stuff. If we're not out there doing things, serendipity and random goodness cannot happen.
What are things? Industry events, conferences, chamber of commerce meetings, seminars, association events, school functions, career events and then of course the online world of Facebook, LinkedIn etc.
P 155 -R&B discuss Ben Franklin and his Junto. The thinking behind Ben's intention here is applicable to anyone wishing to move forward with a group. I get the feeling that his Junto was what a Chamber of Commerce could be if someone were to make the name / phrase a verb.
Characteristics of good networks:
- Has high quality individuals
- Shared experiences, interests and values
- Geographic commonality
- Strong ethos of sharing & cooperation
The chapter concludes with more B's. Be resilinet, be resourceful.
Take Intelligent Risks
In order to advance and grow we must take intelligent risks. R&B cite a study done by Zur Shapira in 1991. The professor asks about seven hundred executives how they think about risk. The common answer: Could they tolerate the outcome if the worst-case scenario happened?
Build in Resilience - A person who has been able to support himself over the years as a freelance writer is resilient. He has to hustle and work for stories, unlike a magazine staff editor who has worked for a magazine or two for a number of years. If an event happens, say like the editor loses his job, he's probably going to find a much harder time handling it and moving on that the freelancer.
R&B suggest building in resilience by being in motion, hustling, side projects and putting opportunity creating strategies into play.
Who You Know is What You Know
This might very well be one of the most impactful and efficient chapter titles in mankind.
Network Intelligence - This is the collection of knowledge, information, wisdom and ideas of people you know. The intelligence resides in your network. And it will stay there until you mine it.
If Standing Out in a Sea of Sameness were a university, I'd beg R&B to come guest lecture on this chapter. It is absolutely a vital component of our methodology.
Network literacy - Knowing how to conceptualize, access and benefit from the information flowing through your social network.
Ask really good questions - This is the secret to mining your network for intelligence. The lads suggest to:
- Converse, don't interrogate
- Adjust the lens
- Frame & prime
- Follow up & probe
Synthesize information into actionable intelligence - Working with network intelligence is a two-way street. Be an information curator and share it with your network.
My take on R&B's wrap-up is that it's one big verb. Do. Do the things they teach in this book. For a good sentence you need a noun and a verb. These are nouns: you, your network and your community. It's up to you to engage them with verbs.
One point the lads make in the end is that change is all around us. It's up to keep sharpening our skills, tapping into network intelligence, taking smart risk and to adapt as we move forward and continue to evolve.
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*Herminia Ibarra and her book Working Identity, sail this river channel as well.