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Book review: The Start-Up of You

This review first ran in the May 22nd edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Start-Up of You

By Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

Crown Business

$31

Showcasing our city’s start-up superheroes was one of the best suggestions to come out of this month’s Hamilton Economic Summit.

Recognizing our hometown innovators and entrepreneurs is a smart move on two fronts.

First, these are the folks who are taking big risks and working long hours to launch businesses, create jobs and build prosperity. They deserve a turn in the spotlight and a show of support.

Showcasing our start-up superheroes will also benefit the rest of us in our own careers. Even if we have no interest in launching a business, everyone needs to start thinking and acting like entrepreneurs. Our careers depend on it.

“To adapt to the challenges of professional life today, we need to rediscover our entrepreneurial instincts and use them to forge new sorts of careers,” say authors Ben Casnocha and Reid Hoffman, the cofounder and chairman of LinkedIn. “You need to think of yourself as an entrepreneur at the helm of at least one living, growing start-up venture: your career.”

Like an entrepreneur, you need to know how to deal with uncertainty, constant change and constraint.  You need to know how to take stock of your assets, aspirations and market realities to find your competitive advantage. You need to create flexible, iterative career plans.  You need to build networks of relationships to help you along the way. You need to aggressively seek out, capitalize on and create break-out opportunities. You need to take, and know how to manage, risks.

These entrepreneurial strategies are valuable no matter your career stage, according to Hoffman and Casnocha. “They are urgent whether you’re just out of college, a decade into the workforce and angling for that next big move, or launching a brand-new career later in life.”

We need to forever be a start-up in permanent beta. “Each day presents an opportunity to learn more, do more, be more, grow more in our lives and careers. Keeping your career in permanent beta forces you to acknowledge that you have bugs, that there’s new development to do on yourself.”

Hoffman and Casnocha recommend you embrace ABZ career planning. Plan A is what you’re doing today. Plan B is the career you pivot to when you need to change either your goal or the route for getting there. Plan B tends to be in the same ballpark and related field as your Plan A. And once you’ve moved to Plan B, that becomes your new Plan A and you need line up another Plan B.

Plan Z is your fallback position and lifeboat.  “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?”

With any luck, you’ll never need your Plan Z. But expect to move back and forth between Plan A and Plan B because, like any true entrepreneur, you’ll be quick to adjust, change course and capitalize on opportunities.

Gone are the days of guaranteed lifetime employment. The skills you have today will likely be redundant tomorrow. We’re all part of a global economy where technology is driving rapid change, creating, reinventing and killing off entire industries without a whole lot of advance warning.

And if that wasn’t enough to stoke your entrepreneurial spirit, know that there are lots of people who can and want to have your dream job. You need to outsmart and outhustle the competition.

“The gap is growing between those who know the new career rules and have the new skills of a global economy, and those who clutch to old ways of thinking and rely on commoditized skills,” say Hoffman and Casnocha. “The question is, which are you?”


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