The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career
Author: Hoffman, Reid
Notes by: Jacopo Perfetti.

1 All Humans Are Entrepreneurs
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All humans are entrepreneurs not because they should start companies but because the will to create is encoded in human DNA, and creation is the essence of entrepreneurship.
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we need to rediscover our entrepreneurial instincts and use them to forge new sorts of careers.
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society flourishes when people think entrepreneurially.
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For the last sixty or so years, the job market for educated workers worked like an escalator.
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But now that escalator is jammed at every level.
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With the death of traditional career paths, so goes the kind of traditional professional development previous generations enjoyed.
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it’s now your job to train and invest in yourself.
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There used to be a long - term pact between employee and employer
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this pact has been replaced by a performance - based, short - term contract that’s perpetually up for renewal by both sides.
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Professional loyalty now flows “horizontally” to and from your network rather than “vertically” to your boss, as Dan Pink has noted.
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two interrelated macro forces: globalization and technology.
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The rules have changed. “Ready, aim, fire” has been replaced by “Aim, fire, aim, fire, aim, fire.”
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What’s required now is an entrepreneurial mind - set.
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There are no guarantees or safety nets, so you take on a certain amount of risk.
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Entrepreneurs deal with these uncertainties, changes, and constraints head - on.
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There’s no better way to demonstrate the perils of failing to adapt the start - up of you mind - set than by looking back at an industry that once embodied the best of entrepreneurship: Detroit.
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During the boom years of the auto industry, the city of Detroit prospered.
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“This was Silicon Valley, man,”
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Then Detroit’s automakers lost their entrepreneurial spirit. The entrepreneurs became labor.
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Instead of listening to a customer base that wanted smaller,
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Instead of taking seriously new competition from Japan,
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Instead of trying to learn from their competitors ’ new methods of “lean manufacturing,”
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Instead of rewarding the best people in the organization and firing the worst,
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Easy success had transformed the American
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auto companies into risk - averse, nonmeritocratic, bloated bureaucracies.
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The auto industry’s collapse has left the Motor City
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Abandoned
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Detroit was once the symbol of progress,
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Now Detroit is the symbol of despair.
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Today more than ever, “‘ winners ’ have increasingly precarious positions.”
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The principles of Silicon Valley are the principles in this book. 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 a breakout opportunity.
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When a Hollywood executive once asked him during an on - stage interview whether he makes five - year strategic plans or three - year strategic plans, Reed said he does neither: three years is an eternity in Silicon Valley, and they can’t plan that far in advance. Instead, Netflix stays nimble and iterates, always in the test phase. We call this mind - set “permanent beta.”
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great companies are always evolving.
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We are all works in progress.
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Keeping your career in permanent beta forces you to acknowledge that you have bugs, that there’s new development to do on yourself,
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Andy Hargadon,
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“twenty years of experience” is really one year of experience repeated twenty times.
2 Develop a Competitive Advantage
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If you want to chart a course that differentiates you from other professionals in the marketplace, the first step is being able to complete the sentence, “A company hires me over other professionals because …”
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If you try to be the best at everything and better than everyone
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you’ll be the best at nothing and better than no one.
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Your competitive advantage is formed by the interplay of three different, ever - changing forces: your assets, your aspirations /
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values, and the market realities,
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the best way to learn about these things is by doing.
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Your Assets
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are what you have right now.
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You have two types of career assets to keep track of: soft and hard. Soft assets are
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things you can’t trade directly for money.
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Hard assets are what you’d typically list on a balance sheet:
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Often it’s when you come in contact with challenges
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other people find hard but you find easy that you know you’re in possession of a valuable soft asset.
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Usually, however, single assets in isolation don’t have much value. A competitive edge emerges when you combine different skills, experiences, and connections.
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Your Aspirations and Values
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Aspirations include your deepest wishes, ideas, goals, and vision of the future,
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includes your core values, or what’s important to you in life,
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Aspirations and values are both important pieces of your career competitive advantage quite simply because when you’re doing work you care about, you are able
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to work harder and better.
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Your identity doesn’t get found. It emerges.
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The Market Realities
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a product won’t make money if customers don’t want or need it,
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It’s often said that entrepreneurs are dreamers. True. But good entrepreneurs are also firmly grounded in what’s available and possible right now.
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In 1985, when Howard Schultz (current CEO of Starbucks) was preparing to launch coffee bars in America modeled after those already in Italy,
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They visited five hundred espresso bars in Milan and Verona to learn as much as they possibly could.
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from day one they focused on the needs of their customers and stakeholders.
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Marc Andreessen
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Markets that don’t exist don’t care how smart you are.
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The pieces need to fit together.
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Just because you’re good at something (assets) that you’re really passionate about (aspirations) doesn’t necessarily mean someone will pay you to do it (market realities).
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You should be able to fill in this sentence: “Because of my [skill / experience / strength], I can do [type of professional work] better than [specific types of other professionals in my industry].”
3 Plan to Adapt
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It’s important to have worthy aspirations. If you are passionate about something, you’ll have fun, stay committed, and achieve more.
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But
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today there are some huge problems with this approach to career planning.
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it presumes a static world,
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in times of uncertainty and rapid change, it is severely limiting,
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presumes that fixed, accurate self - knowledge can be easily attained.
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“What am I passionate about?” take time to work out, and the answers frequently change.
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just because your heart comes alive at a calling doesn’t mean someone will pay you to do it.
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Entrepreneurs are told they must be really persistent in fulfilling their vision, but also be ready to change their business based on market feedback.
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The successful ones do both. They are flexibly persistent: they start companies that are true to their values and vision, yet they remain flexible enough to adapt.
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Flickr
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Their original product, rolled out in 2002, was a multiplayer online game called Game Neverending.
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They decided to deviate from the original
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plan and focus exclusively on building the photo application and the photo - sharing community
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Go where there’s fast growth, because fast growth creates all opportunities,”
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Work in a market with natural momentum.
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Sheryl’s story contradicts the analogous assumption that massively successful people find their calling at an early age, devise a bulletproof life plan, and then follow it unwaveringly until attainment.
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“The reason I don’t have a plan is because if I have a plan I’m limited to today’s options,” she says. 3
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But most of us zig and zag our way through life.
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ABZ Planning is the antidote to the
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career planning. It is an adaptive approach to planning that promotes trial and error.
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no matter how old you are or at what stage, you will always be planning and adapting.
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Plan A is what you’re doing right now.
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Plan B is what you pivot to when you need to change either your goal or the route for getting there.
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Plan Z is the fallback position: your lifeboat.
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what’s your certain, reliable, stable plan if all your career plans go to hell or if you want to do a major life change?
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Make Plans Based on Your Competitive Advantage
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three puzzle pieces are always changing.
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All plans contain these sorts of assumptions ; good ones make them explicit so that you can track them over time.
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Prioritize Learning
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prioritize plans that offer the best chance at learning about yourself and the world.
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Learn by Doing
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practical knowledge is best developed by doing, not just thinking or planning.
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you don’t know what the best plan is until you try.
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Make Reversible, Small Bets
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Iterate bit by bit, learn experience by experience. Start with a trial period.
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Think Two Steps Ahead
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A goal that can
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be achieved in a single step is probably not very meaningful — or ambitious.
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Clayton Christensen
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“If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find [a] predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification.”
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Maintain an Identity Separate from Specific Employers
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Throwing your heart into something is great, but when any one thing becomes all that you stand for, you’re vulnerable to an identity crisis when you pivot to a Plan B.
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Start a personal blog and begin developing a public reputation and public portfolio of work that’s not tied to your employer.
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you’ll have a professional
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identity that you can carry with you as you shift jobs. You own yourself. It’s the start - up of you.
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Where to Pivot: To an Adjacent Niche, Something Different but Related
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The best Plan B is different but very much related to what you’re already doing.
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Pivot into an adjacent niche.
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How to Pivot: Start It on the Side
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Start learning a skill during the evenings and weekends. Start building relationships with people who work in an adjacent industry.
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take a “vocation vacation.” A company by the same name lets you test - drive dream jobs —
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PLAN Z: JUMP ON YOUR LIFEBOAT AND REGROUP
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The certainty of the Plan Z backstop is what enables you to be aggressive — not tentative — about Plans A and B. With a Plan Z, you’ll at least know you can tolerate failure.
4 It Takes a Network
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even if you do these things but do so alone — you’ll fall short.
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Very few start - ups are started by only one person.
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Venture capitalists invest in people as much as in ideas.
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on the belief that smart and adaptable people will maneuver their way to something that works.
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Vinod Khosla, cofounder of Sun Microsystems and a Silicon Valley investor, says, “The team you build is the company you build.”
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the word company is derived from the Latin cum and pane, which means “breaking bread together.”
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the people you spend time with shape who you are and who you become.
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The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.
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The nuanced version of the story of success is that both the individual and team matter. “I” vs. “We” is a false choice. It’s both.
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Think of it as IWe.
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there’s no team without the individual.
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Building a genuine relationship with another person depends on (at least) two things.
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The first is seeing the world from the other person’s perspective.
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understanding what’s going on in the heads of customers.
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Paul Graham, “deals with the most difficult problem in human experience: how to see things from other people’s point of view, instead of thinking only of yourself.”
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The second requirement is thinking about how you can help and collaborate with the other person rather than thinking about what you can get from him or her.
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shift from asking yourself the very natural question of “What’s in it for me?” and ask instead, “What’s in it for us?” All follows from that.
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According to the National Health and Social Life Survey, 70 percent of Americans meet their spouse through someone they know, while only 30 percent meet after a self - introduction.
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We’re going to focus on two types of relationships that matter in a professional context.
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The first is professional allies.
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Many people can maintain at most eight to ten strong professional alliances at any given point in time.
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The second type of relationship we’ll cover is weaker ties and acquaintances.
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are you friendly but not full - on friends?
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Professional Allies
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First, an ally is someone you consult regularly for advice. You trust his or her judgment. Second, you proactively share and collaborate on opportunities together.
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Third, you talk up an ally to other friends. You promote his or her brand. When an ally comes into conflict, you defend him, and stand up for his reputation.
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Physical proximity is actually one of the best predictors of the strength of a relationship, many studies show.
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An alliance is always an exchange, but not a transactional one.
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Weak Ties and Acquaintances:
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in 1973,
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Mark Granovetter asked a random sample of Boston professionals who had just switched jobs how they found their new job.
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the contacts who referred jobs were “weak ties.”
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“The Strength of Weak Ties”: The friends you don’t know very well are the ones who refer winning jobs.
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what is valuable is the breadth and reach of your network.
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The maximum number of relationships we can realistically manage —
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is described as Dunbar’s Number,
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humans should be able to maintain relationships with no more than roughly 150 people at a time.
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contrary to popular understanding of Dunbar’s Number, there is not one blunt limit. There are different limits for each type of relationship.
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Your Extended Social Network: Second - and Third - Degree Connections
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your friends know people you don’t know. These friends of friends are your second - degree connections.
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Your Network Is Bigger and More Powerful Than You Think
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It is a small world, after all. Small because it is so interconnected.
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Online social networks are converting the abstract idea of worldwide interconnectedness into something tangible and searchable.
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three degrees of separation is what matters.
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That’s how trust is preserved. If one additional degree of separation is added, a person in the middle of the chain will know neither You nor Sarah, and thus have no stake in making sure the introduction goes smoothly.
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A person with 170 connections on LinkedIn is actually at the center of a professional network that’s more than two million people strong.
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how do you actually reach that second - or third - degree connection?
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via an introduction
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The Best Professional Network: Cohesive and Diverse
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The best professional network is both narrow / deep (strong connections) and wide / shallow (bridge ties).
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there’s a big difference between being the most connected person and being the best connected person.
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Relationships are living, breathing things. Feed, nurture, and care about them: they grow. Neglect them: they die.
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Helping someone out means acknowledging that you are capable of helping.
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Everyone is capable of offering helpful support or constructive feedback.
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the best - connected professionals are ones who can really help their allies.
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To give helpful help you need to have a sense of your friend’s values and priorities so that your offer of help can be relevant and specific.
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Be a Bridge A good way to help people is to introduce them to people and experiences they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access.
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Here are some nonobvious things to keep in mind.
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You’re probably not nagging.
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Keep following up politely if you don’t get an answer —
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Until you hear “No,” you haven’t been turned down.
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Try to add value.
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If you’re worried about seeming too personal, couch your staying - in - touch as a mass action.
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One lunch is worth dozens of emails.
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Social media.
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If you want to maintain relationships with busy, powerful people, you have to pay special attention to the role of status.
5 Pursue Breakout Opportunities
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no start - up enjoys astronomical growth forever — at least not without continuing to find new breakthrough opportunities.
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you can develop habits of behavior and habits of thinking that increase the likelihood that you find yourself in the right place at the right time.
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Entrepreneurs brim with curiosity: they see opportunity where others see problems, because while others simply complain, entrepreneurs ask Why?
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By being in motion, you are spinning a web as wide and as tall as possible in order to catch any interesting opportunities that come your way.
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motion in literally any direction is unwise.
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As entrepreneur Bo Peabody says, “The best way to ensure that lucky things happen is to make sure a lot of things happen.”
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A company doesn’t offer you a job, people do.
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If you want to increase your opportunity flow, join and participate in as many of these groups and associations as possible.
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If you don’t know where to start, go to www.meetup.com.
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Scott Heiferman, Meetup’s CEO, says, “DIY is becoming DIO: do it ourselves. More people are turning to each other to make things happen.”
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What is it about this network that makes it such a uniquely rich source of opportunities?
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First, each individual is high - quality.
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Second, the gang has something in common —
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Third, there’s geographic density.
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Fourth, there’s a strong ethos of sharing and cooperation.
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Finally, the only thing better than joining groups is starting your own. Start your own mafia — your own group, meetup, or association
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When you have no resources, you create them. When you have no choice but to fight, you fight hard. When you have no choice but to create, you create.
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Caterina Fake, the cofounder of Flickr, says that the “less money you have, the fewer people and resources you have, the more creative you have to become.”
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Breakout opportunities come and go — if you don’t seize them, you lose them.
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great opportunities almost never fit your schedule.
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You may be tempted to “keep your options open” and continue to mull things over, as opposed to committing to the breakout you think you’ve identified or generated. That would be a mistake. “Keeping your options open” is frequently more of a risk than committing to a plan of action.
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As my dad once told me, making a decision reduces opportunities in the short run, but increases opportunities in the long run.
6 Take Intelligent Risks
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There’s competition for good opportunities. And because of that, if you can intelligently take on risk, you will find opportunities others miss.
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Risk is the flip side of every opportunity and career move.
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The constant presence of risk is why every career Plan A should be accompanied by a Plan B and Plan Z.
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Inaction is especially risky in a changing world that demands adaptation
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Most people overrate risk. At our core we humans are wired to avoid risk.
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Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson puts
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overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities, and underestimating resources
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Sticks get our attention a lot faster than carrots do. Psychologists call this negativity bias, and it pops up all the time in day - to - day life.
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Consider age and stage. What will the risks be to you in a few years?
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Pursue Opportunities Where Others Misperceive the Risk
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Warren Buffett has a mantra: “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” It’s a competitive edge for him.
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Many incredible companies, such as Microsoft and FedEx, were started in the depths of a recession. That so many entrepreneurs perceive recession timing as high - risk actually makes it lower - risk.
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The Volatility Paradox: Small Fires Prevent the Big Burn
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Taleb argues —
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that the less volatile the environment, the more destructive a black swan will be when it comes.
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Nonvolatile environments give only an illusion of stability: “Dictatorships that do not appear volatile, like, say, Syria or Saudi Arabia, face a larger risk of chaos than, say, Italy, as the latter has been in a state of continual political turmoil since the [Second World War].” 5 Ramo explains why: Italy is resilient to dangerous chaos because it has absorbed frequent attacks like “small, controlled burns in a forest, clearing away just enough underbrush to make [them] invulnerable to a larger fire.” These small burns strengthen the political system’s capacity to respond to unexpected crises.
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In the long run, though, low volatility leads to increased vulnerability, because it renders the system less resilient to unthinkable external shocks.
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Without frequent, contained risk taking, you are setting yourself up for a major dislocation at some point in the future. Inoculating yourself to big risks is like inoculating yourself against the flu virus. By injecting a small bit of flu into your body in the form of a vaccination, you make a big flu outbreak survivable. By introducing regular volatility into your career, you make surprise survivable. You gain the “ability to absorb shocks gracefully.”
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Remember: If you don’t find risk, risk will find you.
7 Who You Know Is What You Know
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Bill Gates wrote:
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How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose.”
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What will get you somewhere is being able to access the information you need, when you need it.
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Your network is an indispensable source of intelligence because people offer private observations and impressions that would never appear in a public place
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people offer personalized, contextualized advice.
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people can filter information you get from other sources.
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many people simply think better thoughts when in dialogue with others.
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network literacy: knowing how to conceptualize, access, and benefit from the information flowing through your social network.
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there are two basic ways to tap information from your network:
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(1) ask targeted questions to specific individuals in your network
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(2) cast the net more widely by querying a broad swath of your network all at once
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Technology makes the latter easy.
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Target Direct Questions to Specific Individuals
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We all have certain people we call upon for advice or information on certain topics or issues,
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sort the people you know into three (at times overlapping) categories:
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Domain experts. These are the pros, the people who really know the topic at hand.
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People who know you well. Your mother. Your childhood friend.
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Just really smart people.
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Here are some tips for asking better questions:
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Converse, don’t interrogate.
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Adjust the
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the difference between a wide - lens question and a narrow - lens question
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The wide - lens question may elicit a long rant
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On the other hand, the narrow question invites specific, often factual answers about the specific area of inquiry — and nothing else:
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Frame and prime.
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the way an issue is framed or primed influences how that question will be answered.
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Follow up and probe. It’s rare you’ll get a person’s best intelligence with a single question. Follow up and probe on qualifying words.
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Once you have gathered information, the next step is to analyze the validity, helpfulness, and relevance of what each person has said.
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Synthesis is the important final step. If you don’t step back and take in the big picture of all you’ve learned, it will feel like you’re worming your way through a cocktail party hearing bits and pieces of several different conversations but not able to make out anything of substance.
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good synthesis is what makes the whole worth more than the sum of the parts.
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Become a go - to person for other people in your network on certain topics.
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Invest in yourself, invest in your network, and invest in society. When you invest in all three, you have the best shot at reaching your highest professional potential. As important, you also have the best shot at changing the world.
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For life in permanent beta, the trick is to never stop starting.