Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
July 13, 2011 3:09 PM

Perpetual Start-Up

The majority of our world is filled with people who are concerned about their job.

The lucky ones are concerned about how they're going to reach the next plateau or get their full bonus at the end of the quarter, but there's a huge swath of people who are mostly just trying to get by. These people are punching the clock and trying to make ends meet. They're less concerned about where they're going and much more concerned about not being let go from their jobs tomorrow. Beyond that, there are many people who are unemployed and would welcome the kind of misery that those clock watchers are enduring. You know the saying, "the grass is always greener." 

If you look at the global job market, things are not pretty.

That was the crux of Thomas L. Friedman's column yesterday in The New York Times titled, The Start-Up of You. His premise? The job market is not going to get any better because the jobs of yesterday are gone and that the companies with the big valuations (he names Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, etc...) aren't looking for the types of workers that companies used to hire decades ago. Instead, these new companies are looking for smart engineers, but beyond that, it's all about, "people who not only have the critical thinking skills to do the value-adding jobs that technology can't, but also people who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever."

Forget the fact that big corporations have to think and act like lean start-ups, why don't more people think about their careers in the same vein?

Check this out: "Reid Garrett Hoffman, one of the premier starter-uppers in Silicon Valley -- besides co-founding LinkedIn, he is on the board of Zynga, was an early investor in Facebook and sits on the board of Mozilla -- has a book coming out after New Year called 'The Start-Up of You,' co-authored with Ben Casnocha. Its subtitle could easily be: 'Hey, recent graduates! Hey, 35-year-old midcareer professional! Here's how you build your career today.'" There is a secret to business today that few of the major corporation will readily admit: you can do a whole lot with very little. There are many viable companies that are made up of less than a handful of employees (check out InstaPaper's Marco Arment for glimpse of what this can look like). In Friedman's editorial, he makes it clearer: "You could easily fit all their employees together into the 20,000 seats in Madison Square Garden, and still have room for grandma. They just don't employ a lot of people, relative to their valuations, and while they're all hiring today, they are largely looking for talented engineers."

Get lean and start thinking like a start-up.

It's hard for people who have traditionally had a job to think like an entrepreneur, but it's more critical than ever. I often tell people that an entrepreneur is someone who is trying to create the future that doesn't yet exist, while a businessperson is someone who is trying to mitigate risk and minimize mistakes. If you take that analogy and apply it to how you're guiding your professional development, where do you net out? The most valuable players on any corporate team are not the ones who are mitigating risks, but the new breed is all about those who are adaptive, nimble, flexible and creative (in everything that they do). It's not going to be part of the standard job description either, it will be the baseline for those who thrive versus those that may just survive... maybe.

What would happen if you started to treat your own career like a lean start-up?

(side tangent: Start-Up Festival starts today and runs through to Friday. After reading Friedman's editorial, I'll be attending the sessions and looking at them with a whole new prism).

By Mitch Joel