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Monday, August 12, 2013

The Start-up of You: Say good-bye to conventional career planning, hello to permanent beta

Reid Hoffman, cofounder and chairman of LinkedIn, has not only co-created the world’s biggest social-media platform for professional networking.  He has also defined a new paradigm for professional development and success which he articulates in the 2012 book he co-authored with Ben Casnocha called “The Start-up of You” (Crown Business).

The book explains that, with unemployment rampant, job competition fierce, the career escalator jammed at every level, and creative disruption shaking every industry, traditional job security is a thing of the past.  Instead, the tasks of job hunting and career development-whether for seasoned professionals or for recent graduates--have become perpetual works in progress, requiring an agile mental state and skills fostering a state of permanent beta or continuous personal growth.

Chapter 3 of The Start-Up Of You explains why the bestselling career book of all time, What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles, is asking the wrong question for today:

“When it comes to charting a career plan, what you should be asking yourself is whether your parachute can keep you aloft in changing conditions.  The unfortunate truth is that in today’s career landscape, your parachute—no matter its color—may be shredded and tattered.  And if it isn’t that way already, it could get that way at any time.”

Additionally, Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Casnocha point out that:

“In his first chapter, Parachute author Richard Bolles writes, ‘It is important, before you enter the job hunt, to decide exactly what you are looking for—whether you call it your passion, or your purpose in life, or your mission.  …  Passion first, job-hunt later.’  After four decades in print, this is still the accepted wisdom today.  You see similar advice all over.  Habit number two of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is, ‘Begin with the end in mind’:  you should produce a personal mission statement that puts your goals in focus.'”

“The primary message of these books (of which there are more than 50 million copies in circulation) and countless others is to listen to your heart and follow your passion.  Find your true north by filling out worksheets or engaging in deep, thoughtful introspection.  Once you’ve got a mission in mind, these books urge, you’re supposed to develop a long-term plan for fulfilling it.  You’re supposed to craft detailed, specific goals.  You’re urged to figure out who you are and where you want to be in ten years, and then work backward to develop a roadmap for getting there.”

While Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Casnocha concede that for various reasons it’s important to have worthy aspirations, to be passionate about something, and to invest for the long term, their criticism of Mr. Bolles’s, Dr. Covey’s, and similar approaches is that they presume the world is static, whereas in today’s job market exactly the opposite is true: 

“Conventional career planning can work under conditions of relative stability, but in times of uncertainty and rapid change, it is severely limiting, if not dangerous,” they warn.  “You will change.  The environment around you will change.  Your allies and competitors will change.”

Especially in an environment of such shifting uncertainty, Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Casnocha doubt the feasibility of the type of fixed, accurate self-knowledge that Mr. Bolles and Dr. Covey promote:  “It’s unwise, no matter your stage of life, to try to pinpoint a single dream around which your existence revolves.” 

Additionally, the co-authors point out the harsh reality that “just because your heart comes alive at a calling doesn’t mean someone will pay you to do it.  If you can’t find someone who wants to employ you to pursue your dream job, or if you can’t financially sustain yourself—that is, earn a salary that allows you to live the lifestyle you prefer—then trying to turn your passion into a career doesn’t really get you very far.”

Their book not only represents a significant shift in conventional thinking.  It also goes on to describe the alternative practical strategies they believe are necessary for success in today’s job market, using Silicon Valley entrepreneurs as role models.