The Start-Up Of You

The Start-Up of You:  Invest In Yourself And Transform Your Career
By Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

Styled as a career development book, the central thesis of The Start-Up of You is that a successful career requires an entrepreneurial approach.

Authors Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, and Ben Casnocha, a young serial entrepreneur, assert that career advancement worked like an escalator in years past: you got an entry-level job, you were mentored and groomed, and as long as you did well enough and weren’t unlucky, you could expect steady advancement until roughly age 65, when you’d move off the escalator to enjoy a comfortable retirement funded by a pension and Social Security.

But now, “that elevator is jammed at every level.” Employers now expect their new hires to be ready to do the job right away. No more employer-guided professional development; employees today must train and invest in themselves. If this doesn’t sound familiar in the law firm context, you must have spent the last few years living under a rock. Some firms will train, even train well, but finding real mentors? That’s up to you. You must set your goals, and you must be prepared to invest your own time and money to position yourself to reach them.

Adaptation is the name of the game in this environment, and the entrepreneurial approach is the only one suitably flexible to thrive in today’s economy. As the authors explain,

Entrepreneurs…take stock of their assets, aspirations, and the market realities to develop a competitive advantage. They craft flexible, iterative plans. They build a network of relationships throughout their industry that outlives their start-up. They aggressively seek and create breakout opportunities that involve focused risk, and actively manage that risk. They tap their network for the business intelligence to navigate through tough challenges. And, they do these things from the moment they hatch that nascent idea to every day after that — even as the companies go from being run out of a garage to occupying floors of office space. To succeed professionally in today’s world, you need to adopt these same entrepreneurial strategies.

Follow the ideas, and you’ll likely be quite successful — using the incremental improvements of your Plan A until you can pivot to a more appealing Plan B, if both fall apart, you’ll have a predefined Plan Z that offers a failsafe backup tailored to your needs. The Start-Up of You is a good book for career development.

What I found exciting, though, is the degree to which the strategies for career advancement dovetail with strong approaches for business development. The authors urge you to balance your strengths, your goals, and market realities to develop a brand that sets your apart from your competitors. When you can give a satisfactory answer to the question why someone should retain you rather than others who practice in your field, you’ll have a competitive advantage over the others. This is true whether you’re being hired for a job or hired to represent a client.

The chapter It Takes a Network offers valuable tips on how to build a series of professional relationships that include close allies as well as weaker ties, all designed for mutual benefit. The authors offer tips and observations such as:

  • “Relationship builders, on the other hand, try to help other people first. They don’t keep score. They’re aware that many good deeds get reciprocated, but they’re not calculated about it. And they think about their relationships all the time, not just when they need something.”
  • “Relationship builders start by understanding how their existing relationships constitute a social network, and they meet new people through people they already know.”
  • “[A]s you meet your friends and new people, shift from asking yourself the very natural questions of ‘What’s in it for me?’ and ask instead, ‘What’s in it for us?'”

Not surprisingly, given that Hoffman is the co-founder of LinkedIn, he emphasizes the usefulness of a broad network composed of close allies and weak ties. Hoffman describes the research that led to the theory that we are all connected by six degrees of separation, the offers that it’s important to stick within three degrees of separation so that all introductions are brokered by intermediaries who know at least one of the two individuals being introduced. He makes persuasive points that may have you looking afresh at your LinkedIn account.

While the book’s themes aren’t truly fresh or groundbreaking, their applications may be, and their examples are instructive. If you doubt that your career success is entirely up to you, Hoffman and Casnocha will give you food for thought. If you’re ready to take on an entrepreneurial approach even if you work in a megafirm, the book will offer some useful pointers.

Ultimately, the value of the book depends on your starting point. If you already understand that you need to act as an entrepreneur no matter your professional setting, you’ll pick up some pointers and reminders that will be helpful. If this is a new concept to you, you need to buy the book right away.

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