6 Keys to Manage your Career like a Start-up
This is about the new world of work. Everyone is an entrepreneur meaning you are responsible for your career. Here is a great quote from Mohamed Yunus "All human beings are entrepreneurs. When we were in the caves, we were all self-employed finding our food, feeding ourselves. That’s where human history began. As civilization came, we suppressed it. We became 'labor' because they stamped us, 'You are labor.' We forgot that we are entrepreneurs."
I have read a few books on managing careers but this one is very relevant to our current age. The book “The Start-up of You” was written by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. The authors say that with the death of traditional career paths you can no longer count on employer sponsored training to enhance your communication skills or expand your knowledge. It is now your job to train yourself. I think companies are still doing a lot in this area but still the onus is on the individual to take charge of their career. Just like an entrepreneur takes risks with the startup you need to treat yourself like a startup and deal with uncertainties, changes and constraints by employing entrepreneurial strategies.
You should adopt the principle of permanent beta which means never thinking you have arrived. Always be on the lookout for change and be prepared. The example of Reed Hastings is a case in point. He came up with the idea for Netflix after watching Apollo 13 in 1997 and since he returned the DVD late he had to pay a hefty fee. His simple thought was there has to be a better way and that’s how Netflix was born. He even wanted to partner with Blockbuster but they laughed him off. In 2010 Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy. Never be complacent.
You don’t need to better in everything. In life there are multiple gold medals. If you try to be the best at everything you will end up with nothing. The key question is what I should be doing with my life?
Here are 6 lessons I gleaned from the book with my take as well.
Assets – Understand your current assets. You already have a lot of strengths. There are soft assets like the knowledge and information in your brain, professional connections and the trust you have built with the, skills you have mastered, your reputation and personal brand which has to be managed and finally your strengths.
Hard assets are the cash in your wallet, the stocks you own, physical possessions like laptop. You can strengthen them by investing in yourself.
Aspiration and Values – Aspirations are your deepest wishes, ideas, goals and vision of the future regardless of the external world. Core values are what are important to your life, like knowledge, autonomy, money, integrity, power and mastery. Of course the throttle on a great career is with the individual. You can only go as far as your thinking. So think BIG about your career and you can be great in your career.
The Market Realities – The simple thing is never trying to learn a skill for which the market won’t pay. Understand the market realities and align everything to make yourself valuable in the market place. For example Dave Neelman who founded his airline Jet Blue and served as CEO for the first seven years made sure to fly in his airline at least once a week, worked the cabin and blogged about his experience. He said “Each week I fly on Jet Blue flights and talk to customers so I can find out how we can improve our airline.”
Plan to Adapt - In this section the usual adage like Begin with the end in mind and plan for everything is turned. In a chaotic world you have to be flexible and can’t be making 10 year plans. I like this advice be flexibly persistent. An example of Sheryl Sandberg is provided and how she was with the World Bank, then did a MBA, went to McKinsey for a year before working for Larry Summers as chief of staff. Only then she came into tech. She didn’t plan it but made the right moves at the right time by asking the right people like Eric Schmidt for advice. You never know what is in store so you have to be flexible and adaptable.
Here ABZ planning is introduced which is the antidote to what color is your parachute approach to career planning. Plan A is what you are doing right now. Plan B is what your pivot to when you need to change either your goal or route for getting there. Plan Z is the fallback position and it is your lifeboat. The key is to always be in the game no matter what happens. Always plan two steps ahead. For example if you want to be promoted in two years the time to plan for achieving it is now.
Networking is one of the fundamental keys to your success. Most of the job openings come from weak or dormant ties. Keep networking regularly and with the advent of social media this should not be tough. Keep building genuine relationships. Be the one who is the first to help when someone is in need. You can also share your learning and insights to your network. This is one way to keep your network engaged.
Pursue breakout opportunities –Here the example of George Clooney is provided. In 1982 he dreamed of becoming a movie star. Yet after 12 years he had only occasional appearances on B-list television shows. Then it changed in 1994 when got hold of an opportunity, grabbed it with both hands and it catapulted his career to unimaginable heights. Warner Bros. was producing a medical drama called ER and when one of Clooney’s friends showed him the script he knew it would be his breakout opportunity. He didn’t wait for ER producers to reach out. Instead he called the executive producer to let him know he will not let anyone else take this role. That’s how badly he wanted it. They invited him to audition and as they rest is history.
The key for this principle to work is to be curious as you should see opportunities where others see problems. One of the best opportunity generating strategies is to hustle. Another strategy is to budget time for randomness by deliberately created an unbroken space of time to do something out of your routine like reading a book or writing.
Take Intelligent Risks – There is a risk in everything and that’s why you need a Plan A, Plan B and Plan Z for your career. Most people overrate risk. As humans we are wired to avoid risk but pursuing discomfort is the only way to grow. Consider if you can tolerate if the worst possible thing happened with the risk. If yes take it and if not don’t take it. Another question you can ponder is what are the risks that I need to take in a few years? Warren Buffet says “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”
Finally everything is going to change in a few years. The only constant is change. So keep your network active, invest big time in your skill development, take calculated risks, and finally pursue breakout opportunities. Remember you are in charge of your career and you can manage it like a start-up.