Tom Friedman Interviews Reid and Ben about The Start-Up of You

February 19 2012 - posted by The Start-Up of You Team

An exclusive interview between New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and Reid and Ben over at is re-printed below.

Whatever you may be thinking when you apply for a job today, you can be sure your prospective employer is thinking this: Can this person add value every hour, every day–more than a worker in India, a robot, or a computer could? Can he or she help my company adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job for tomorrow? And can he or she adapt with all the change, so my company can adapt and export more into the fastest-growing global markets? In today’s hyper-connected world, more and more companies cannot and will not hire people who don’t fulfill those criteria. This is precisely why LinkedIn’s founder, Reid Garrett Hoffman, one of the premier starter-uppers in Silicon Valley–besides cofounding LinkedIn, he is on the board of Zynga, was an early investor in Facebook, and sits on the board of Mozilla–has written The Start-up of You, coauthored with Ben Casnocha. Its subtitle could easily be: “Hey, recent graduates! Hey, thirty-five-year-old midcareer professional! Here’s how you can build your career today.” Here is our brief chat about their book.

— Tom Friedman


Tom: You’re a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Why did you feel the need to offer this message?

Reid: As you write in That Used to Be Us, our country faces enormous challenges. The path to the American Dream has changed. We wanted to focus on what individual professionals can do to survive and thrive in a flat world. The premise of the book is that all of us are entrepreneurs of our own lives. We must act as CEO of our careers, take control of our professional future, and become globally competitive.

Tom: Really? Anyone can be an entrepreneur? Really? Even me?

Reid: Not only can anyone be an entrepreneur, but they must be. Even you, Tom! Not everyone should start companies, but everyone must be the entrepreneur of his or her own life. The skills people need to manage their careers are akin to the skills of entrepreneurs when they start and grow companies. For example, entrepreneurs can both be persistent on a plan and flexible when conditions change. They take intelligent risk. They build networks of allies and tap those networks for intelligence on what’s happening in the world. Silicon Valley’s most innovative entrepreneurs possess unique skills–you can learn them and apply them, no matter your profession.

Tom: Who is the target audience for this book?

Reid: Jeff Bezos says that at “it’s always day one.” This is a book for people just starting out, and it’s equally for people midflight in their career who need to reinvent, restart, or reimagine their career as if it were day one, as if they were in permanent beta. We think that’s most people, and eventually everyone.

Tom: What does it mean to be in “permanent beta?”

Reid and Ben: Technology companies sometimes keep the “beta” label on software for a time after the official launch to stress that the product is not finished, so much as ready for the next batch of improvements. For entrepreneurs, finished is an F-word. Great companies are always evolving. Finished ought to be an F-word for all of us. We are all works in progress. Each day presents an opportunity to learn more, do more, be more, grow more in our lives and careers. You will need to adapt and evolve forever–that’s permanent beta.

Tom: Why the urgency of The Start-up of You?

Reid and Ben: A billboard that once ran along the 101 highway in Silicon Valley summed it up pithily: “A million people can do your job. What makes you so special?” We wanted to give people tools to take control of their lives, without having to wait around for the government or a company to rescue them.

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.

In Startups and Life, You Need Plan A, B, and Z

February 15 2012 - posted by The Start-Up of You Team

That’s the title of a guest post by Reid published yesterday on TechCrunch.

He opens by noting the contradictory advice entrepreneurs receive, which parallels the career advice we all receive:

An entrepreneur receives lots of contradictory advice from really smart, experienced people. For example, you’ve probably been told to be both persistent and flexible; to have a clear vision you pursue relentlessly, and yet also to change your vision as the market changes. Simple, right?

This same tension pervades career advice. Some will tell you to think about where you want to be in ten years, work backwards, and construct a long-term career plan for realizing your ambitions. Others tell you that firm plans are like a straitjacket; they will blind you to unexpected breakout opportunities. It’s better, they say, to stay nimble and opportunistic.

Who’s right? Both are not only right, but critical. Entrepreneurs are flexibly persistent. The best entrepreneurs I’ve worked with engage in serious planning and strategy, but they do not set fixed plans.

Then he goes on to describe ABZ Planning:

Plan A is your current plan, your current thesis about how you can win in the marketplace.

Plan B is what you pivot to when you recognize that a new opportunity has more potential than the one you are working on.

Plan Z has two critical parts. First, identify how to measure when you’re tracking towards a worst-case scenario. Second, it’s the plan that tells you what to do should that happen.

It’s a great piece. We encourage you to read the whole thing over on TechCrunch.

Fortune Excerpt of The Start-Up of You

January 27 2012 - posted by The Start-Up of You Team

Fortune magazine has an excerpt from The Start-Up of You online and in the magazine. There’s also a brief introduction of Reid by Jessi Hempel. The excerpt is an abbreviated and condensed version of Chapter 4: “It Takes a Network.” We’ve included some excerpts of the excerpt below, but we encourage you to read the full article at

On how “networking” is generally thought of:

Old-school networkers are transactional. They pursue relationships thinking solely about what other people can do for them. Relationship builders, on the other hand, try to help others first. They don’t keep score. And they prioritize high-quality relationships over a large number of connections. The second ability is being able to think about how you can collaborate with and help the other person rather than thinking about what you can get. We’re not suggesting that you be so saintly that a self-interested thought never crosses your mind. What we’re saying is that your first move should always be to help. Dale Carnegie’s classic book on relationships, despite all its wisdom, has the unfortunate title How to Win Friends and Influence People. This makes Carnegie widely misunderstood. You don’t “win” a friend. A friend is not an asset you own; a friend is an ally, a collaborator.

On allies:

The best way to engage with new people is not by cold calling or by “networking” with strangers at cocktail parties, but by working with the people you already know. Of the many types of professional relationships, one of the most important is your close allies. Most professionals maintain 5-10 active alliances. An alliance is always an exchange, but not a transactional one. A transactional relationship is when your accountant files your tax returns and you pay him for his time. An alliance is when a co-worker needs last-minute help on Sunday night preparing for a Monday morning presentation, and even though you’re busy, you agree to go over to his house and help. You cooperate and sacrifice because you want to help a friend in need but also because you figure you’ll be able to call on him in the future when you are the one in a bind. That isn’t being selfish; it’s being human.

On the number of individuals you can maintain a relationship with:

Just as a digital camera cannot store an infinite number of photos and videos, you cannot maintain an infinite number of allies or acquaintances. The maximum number of relationships we can realistically manage—the number that can fit on the memory card, as it were—is described as Dunbar’s Number, after the evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar. In the early 1990s Dunbar studied the social connections within groups of monkeys and apes. There is indeed a limit to the number of relationships you can maintain, but a crucial qualifier is that there is not one blunt limit of 150; in fact, there are different limits for different types of relationships. Think back to the digital camera. Either you can take low-resolution photographs and store 100 of them in total, or you can take high-resolution photographs and store 40. In relationships, you may have only a few close buddies you see every day, yet you can stay in touch with many distant friends if you e-mail them only once or twice a year. But there’s a twist: You can actually maintain a much broader social network than the people you currently “know.” Your allies, weak ties, and the other people you know right now are your first-degree connections. But your friends know people you don’t know. These friends of friends are your second-degree connections. And those friends of friends have friends of their own—those are your third-degree connections. Think of your network of relationships in the same way: The best professional network is both narrow/deep (allies with whom you collaborate regularly) and wide/shallow (weak tie acquaintances who offer fresh information and ideas).

What are your thoughts on the excerpt?

We’ll dive into a range of specific topics related to networks and relationships in the two weeks ahead.

The Jammed Career Escalator: Old Premises, New Realities

January 24 2012 - posted by The Start-Up of You Team

Centuries of immigrants risked everything to come to America with the belief that if they worked hard, they would enjoy a better life than their parents had. Since the country’s birth, each generation of Americans has generally made more money, been better educated, and enjoyed a higher standard of living than the generation that came before it. This expectation of lockstep increases in prosperity had become part of the American Dream.

For the last sixty or so years, the job market for educated workers worked like an escalator. After graduating from college, you landed an entry-level job at the bottom of the escalator at an IBM or a GE or a Goldman Sachs. There you were groomed and mentored, receiving training and professional development from your employer. As you gained experience, you were whisked up the organizational hierarchy, clearing room for the ambitious young graduates who followed to fill the same entry-level positions. So long as you played nice, you moved steadily up the escalator, and each step brought with it more power, income, and job security. Eventually, around age sixty-five, you stepped off the escalator, allowing those middle-ranked employees to fill the same senior positions you just vacated. You, meanwhile, coasted into a comfortable retirement financed by a company pension and government-funded Social Security.

People didn’t assume all of this necessarily happened automatically. But there was a sense that if you were basically competent, put forth a good effort, and weren’t unlucky, the strong winds at your back would eventually shoot you to the top. For the most part this was a justified expectation.

But now that escalator is jammed at every level. Many young people, even the most highly educated, are stuck at the bottom, underemployed, or jobless, as Ronald Brownstein noted in the Atlantic. At the same time, men and women in their sixties and seventies, with empty pensions and a government safety net that looks like Swiss cheese, are staying in or rejoining the workforce in record numbers. At best, this keeps middle-aged workers stuck in promotionless limbo; at worst, it squeezes them out in order to make room for more senior talent. Today, it’s hard for the young to get on the escalator, it’s hard for the middle-aged to ascend, and it’s hard for anyone over sixty to get off. “Rather than advancing in smooth procession, everyone is stepping on everybody else,” Brownstein says. (I’ll address why it got jammed in a future post.)

What’s replaced the career escalator? There’s no single metaphor that universally describes the 21st century career journey. For those who lack globally competitive skills (and yet who are simultaneously overqualified for low-skill labor), the current environment feels like slogging through a tar pit. For people with the relevant skills, the journey is like a vast ocean voyage: unpredictable waves, multiple routes to arrive at a destination, the need to keep investing in your vessel lest it capsize, the allies who form an armada around you to cross perilous straits. A recent Fast Company cover story called the winners of the post-escalator job market “Generation Flux,” a reference to their ability to acquire new skills, adapt to change, and reinvent themselves.

Whatever you call the current climate, the point is that the old premises of the career escalator have given way to new realities, and with new realities come new rules. The new rules are ones entrepreneurs have mastered for years and they are the inspiration behind The Start-Up of You.

Old Premises, New Realities

Old: Ready, Aim, Fire…Retire
New: Almost-Ready, Aim, Fire, Aim, Fire, Aim, Fire

Classic career strategy is Ready, Aim, FireReady is mental, introspective (e.g. pondering “what am I passionate about?”). Aim refers to crafting a long-term career plan. Fire means executing on the plan. Ready-aim-fire (and then retire) no longer works. You can’t plan your life or career like you used to. These days, the better approach is almost ready-aim-fire-aim-fire-aim-fire. Entrepreneurial career strategy involves learning while going, executing while planning, finishing while starting, aiming while firing. There are no clear start and finish points; no designated “ready” or “set” phase followed by a “go” phase. Still, despite the need for constant recalibration, you can be disciplined about how where you choose to direct your energies and how you choose to adapt to unpredictable changes.

Old: Be Loyal to Your Employer and They’ll Be Loyal to You
New: The Employer-Employee Pact is Over; Extend Loyalty to Your Network

LeBron James grew up in Ohio. He married his high school sweetheart from Akron. The Cleveland Cavaliers picked him first in the 2003 NBA draft. A couple years later, LeBron James was widely viewed as the greatest basketball player alive. In Ohio, he was God. (A giant billboard in Cleveland with his photo was headlined, “We Are All Witnesses.”) Yet even as he racked up accolades, the one thing he wanted more than any other–an NBA Championship–eluded him. In mid-2010 LeBron James announced that he was leaving Ohio. He said he was taking his talents to the Miami Heat, a team with a stronger supporting cast, because he wanted to “win now and in the future.” Ohio fans felt betrayed. Sure, he was technically a free agent. But what about loyalty? What about roots? To LeBron, a better career opportunity meant more than his loyalty to Cleveland. While this was a case of a superstar athlete abandoning his team and city, teams have initiated break-ups just as often. The New York Knicks traded away NBA-great Patrick Ewing, even though he had played a record 1,039 games in a Knick uniform.

Today, every young, talented professional is like LeBron. There used to be a long-term economic and psychological pact between the employee and employer–the mutual expectation that a job within the “family” culture of corporations like Ford or IBM guaranteed lifetime employment (and generous benefits once you retired). It’s been replaced by a performance-based, one-day contract that’s perpetually up for renewal by both employee and employer. If you want to keep working at a company, you have to prove your worth–or else they’ll show you to the door. These are competitive times. An organization can’t afford deadweight, regardless of a person’s seniority, loyalty, or prior competency. By the same token, if you are valuable and a company wants to keep you as an employee, it has to earn your loyalty: it has to offer a competitive salary, engaging opportunities, meaningful work–or else you’ll head to the door.

Old: Network Your Way to the Top
New: Build a Network of Allies and Looser Connections

Because loyalty is no longer flowing vertically from you to your employer and vice versa, direct your loyalty horizontally, as Dan Pink suggests, to your professional network–to friends, current and former colleagues, and allies who may work in different companies or industries. Those are the people with whom you want to maintain authentic lifelong connections even as you move from company to company.

We’re all now cynical about “networking.” Yet, despite our cynicism about networking in a self-serving, “what can you do for my career” sense, online social networks are huge. And one’s professional network still matters more than almost anything else. Building a valuable network of allies and weak ties is a different project than classic networking.

Old: It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know
New: The What-You-Know Comes From the Who-You-Know

When knowledge and information were scarce, you could distinguish yourself on the “what you know”–the knowledge and information you had in your head. When knowledge and information became abundant and free, business gurus re-emphasized the “who you know.” Anybody can Google information, they said, yet not everybody can have a vibrant network of relationships. In reality, both information and relationships matter, and they work in tandem. That’s because some important knowledge and information resides not on the internet but in the heads of the people you know. For example an experienced business veteran who knows the company you work for may be the best person to offer subjective insight on a financial dilemma (e.g. “How should I respond to the latest bid?”). Or a colleague at work may be the only person who could advise you on negotiating with your boss over a disputed point. People are frequently better founts of career intelligence than objective, static information sources.

Old: Search for Jobs When You’re Unemployed
New: Continually Search for and Generate Breakout Opportunities

Career strategy used to be a topic you discussed when you were looking for a job. But entrepreneurial professionals know they must always be investing in themselves. Instead of “job hunting” when they’re out of work, they’re continually on the look-out for “opportunities.”

Success begins with opportunities. Opportunities are like the snap to the quarterback in football. You still have to move the ball down the field; you still have to execute. But without a snap to the quarterback, there’s no touchdown. For a young lawyer, an opportunity could mean being assigned to work with the smartest partner in the firm. For an artist, it could be a last-minute offer (perhaps due to a cancellation) to exhibit at a prominent museum. For a student, it could mean being awarded a rare scholarship to travel and research.

Remarkable careers are punctuated by breakout opportunities. If you ask people of note to reflect on their career, you do not hear about a sequence of equally important jobs. Instead, they highlight specific breakout opportunities that led to unusual career growth. These killer opportunities didn’t fall into their lap; they knew how to spot and create them through a series of specific behaviors.

Old: Risk is Bad, Minimize Risk
New: Risk is Unavoidable; Proactively Take Intelligent Risk

Risk wasn’t a relevant concept in the days of the career escalator. The idea was to avoid risk, and avoid “high risk” career moves like freelancing. This is exactly opposite of how winners think today. Every opportunity contains downside risk. To effectively exploit opportunities, you have to be take on the right kind of risk, and manage it prudently. In so doing, you build resilience to the seismic industry and competitive changes that destroy professionals on a more brittle “low risk” path.

There is an entrepreneurial approach to intelligent risk taking, and you may be surprised at how different it is from the stereotyped bet-the-farm, throw caution to the wind approach that people tend to think of when they think of entrepreneurs.


Don’t forget to pre-order the Start-Up of You before February 14th for free special offers!

Which old premises did we forget to list in this post? Let us know in the Group discussion thread.

Generation Flux

January 17 2012 - posted by The Start-Up of You Team

Fast Company’s cover piece this month, Generation Flux, is perfect background for why The Start-Up of You matters now. The subtitle of the article: “The future of business is pure chaos. Here’s how you can survive–and perhaps even thrive.” Robert Safian profiles several professionals who are building unique careers by thinking and acting entrepreneurially. In their embrace of change and uncertainty, he gives them a collective psychographic label: “Generation Flux.”

Safian writes:

What defines GenFlux is a mind-set that embraces instability, that tolerates–and even enjoys–recalibrating careers, business models, and assumptions. Not everyone will join Generation Flux, but to be successful, businesses and individuals will have to work at it. This is no simple task. The vast bulk of our institutions–educational, corporate, political–are not built for flux. Few traditional career tactics train us for an era where the most important skill is the ability to acquire new skills.

Anya Kamenetz, in a separate piece in the magazine titled The Four-Year Career, adds perspective on the constant job-hopper:

For the job seeker, then, telling an appealing story about your career’s twists and turns is now an essential aspect of self-marketing. But it’s also true that recruiters and managers at large companies are seeking out employees who like to move around. These are the very people who can lead companies toward new markets and ideas. “We’re seeing more and more jobs that simply didn’t exist five years ago but were created as a result of employees driving toward new goals and objectives,” says Chris Hoyt, a recruiting strategist at PepsiCo. Even at a corporate monolith like IBM, “career vitality” is a watchword. There, managers regularly encourage employees to broaden their capabilities, says Jim Spohrer, the director of services research at IBM’s Almaden Services Center. “We have a thousand job openings all over the world at a given time,” he adds. “We don’t want you to go down a corridor where you have limited opportunities down the road.”

Both articles are terrific, and you’re left feeling convinced that the old model of a solid career escalator no longer applies. (Something we’ll elaborate on ourselves in the weeks ahead.) But what’s the precise solution set for the new world? What specific strategies do each of us need to grasp and deploy in order to survive and thrive? Those are the questions we tackle in the book.

Kodak: “Perfect Products” Instead of Permanent Beta

January 15 2012 - posted by The Start-Up of You Team

The subtitle of the book is “Adapt to the Future, Invest In Yourself, and Transform Your Career.” And virtually every day, there’s a headline that reminds us why “adapting to the future” is so important. Whether it’s companies that fail to keep up with technological change, or workers who find themselves with antiquated (or offshorable) skills–a changing world and a changing competitive landscape means that just because a company or individual is successful and relevant today, doesn’t mean they will be successful and relevant a year from now.

In the book, we compare Blockbuster to Netflix. This week, The Economist covers the death of another once-great American company–Kodak–which has faded away like an old, sun-drenched photograph.

Here’s a key paragraph:

Another reason why Kodak was slow to change was that its executives “suffered from a mentality of perfect products, rather than the high-tech mindset of make it, launch it, fix it,” says Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School, who has advised the firm. Working in a one-company town did not help, either. Kodak’s bosses in Rochester seldom heard much criticism of the firm, she says. Even when Kodak decided to diversify, it took years to make its first acquisition. It created a widely admired venture-capital arm, but never made big enough bets to create breakthroughs, says Ms Kanter.

How can you–as a business of one–avoid the fate of Kodak? How can you apply that high-tech mindset of make it / launch it / fix it to your career?

That’s a question we’re going to explore in the weeks ahead.

“Finding a Job” vs. “Managing Your Career”

January 14 2012 - posted by The Start-Up of You Team

I was struck by David Hahn’s quote in this article that LinkedIn “welcomes anyone who thinks in terms of a career instead of a job.” There is quite a difference between the two, isn’t there?

Finding a job is a one-time thing. You do it, then you’re done. When people look for a job, they tend to reach out to their network, research new opportunities, update their professional profile, and bone up on skill development.

Managing your career involves doing a similar set of activities: Strengthening your network. Studying industry changes. Sizing up the competitive landscape. Looking for big new opportunities.

One key difference? Managing your career is an all-the-time thing. You do it to be better at the job you already have, and to be in a better competitive position when it comes time to change jobs in the future.

Because you do it all the time, when you think about your career, you can take a long-term view: you’re prepared to invest heavily in your soft assets, for example, instead of investing in your hard assets. When you think about a job, by comparison, it’s easy to get stuck in local maxima–that is, to over-optimize for what’s best right now without thinking about the long-term.

The quickest way to get practical about investing in your career is to play through this scenario: pretend you just got laid off. What are the next five things you do? Start doing those things now. As you get in the habit of investing yourself, you’ll begin to contextualize these immediate to-dos into a larger strategy.

Publishers Weekly Review

December 31 2011 - posted by The Start-Up of You Team

We were thrilled to see Publishers Weekly, a respected trade journal in the publishing industry, write this early review of the book:

LinkedIn cofounder and chairman Hoffman and entrepreneur Casnocha (My Start-Up Life) show how to adapt to the challenges of professional life and achieve career goals by behaving like an entrepreneur in this innovative approach to career management. Recognizing the similarities between business strategies employed by successful startups and career strategies used by top individuals, Hoffman began to ponder individuals as startup ventures and realized the importance of utilizing an entrepreneurial mindset to forge new careers. Given the new economic landscape, where young talent is stuck at the bottom of the employment ladder, retirement-age employees are staying on the job, and stalemated middle-aged workers are stalled in limbo, workers at all levels need to develop strategies to gain opportunities, improve their competitive edge, and expand their networks—in other words, obtain a startup mindset and skills. To do so, the authors show how to combine assets, aspirations, and market realities and adapt as needed, emphasizing the necessity of building real, lasting relationships and establishing a powerful professional network. With plenty of valuable guidance relevant to any career stage, this book will help readers not only survive professionally in times of uncertainty but stand out from the pack and flourish. Agent: Lisa DiMona, Lark Productions. (Feb.) [Emphases added]

Welcome to the Blog

December 16 2011 - posted by The Start-Up of You Team

Welcome to the Start-Up of You blog. In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll be posting about the career strategies in the book, news about events and speaking, reviews, information about translations, and much more.

Over at the LinkedIn group, we’ll be publishing additional links and hosting reader discussions.

Reid and I and all of us here working on the Start-up of You are looking forward to hosting and participating in these conversations. We believe there couldn’t be a more urgent time to be talking about the world of work, and about how each of us can survive and thrive amid the new challenges and opportunities.

Happy holidays!

— Ben

Tom Friedman on The Start-Up of You

November 10 2011 - posted by The Start-Up of You Team

In July, Tom Friedman, a columnist at the New York Times and author of the best-selling book The World Is Flat, wrote a column about The Start-Up of You in the context of the then released unemployment numbers. A couple excerpts:

…while many [employers] are hiring, they are increasingly picky. They are all looking for the same kind of people — people who not only have the critical thinking skills to do the value-adding jobs that technology can’t, but also people who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever.

Whatever you may be thinking when you apply for a job today, you can be sure the employer is asking this: Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer? Can he or she help my company adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job for tomorrow? And can he or she adapt with all the change, so my company can adapt and export more into the fastest-growing global markets? In today’s hyperconnected world, more and more companies cannot and will not hire people who don’t fulfill those criteria.

You can read the whole article, The Start-Up of You, on the New York Times website.