Perpetual Start-Up

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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).


  1. Great piece, Mitch. I got out of ‘big company consulting’ precisely because of this reason. You and Friedman are spot-on.
    The danger lies with those who believe that “the old normal” is coming back. I don’t think that it is.

  2. That is the beauty of personal branding, its the opportunity to be the CEO of You Inc, whether that is a start up or more developed, you still have the process to be entrepreneurial. The danger is if you define your personal brand once and then stick with it, if you are not evolving you risk being left behind – again! Just my toonies worth.

  3. Great post Mitch. I think it takes a great amount of courage for people to see that they can (and must) create their own career paths. I just saw this video today which I thought touched on the power to continue to dream and create: Be Infectious-

    Thanks again for your podcasts which have finally given me a way to not hate washing the dishes.

  4. I decided to name this new reality (a little pompously) the New Strategy (with uppercase !) which features the audacious and intelligent use of social media for promotion and marketing.
    Thank you Mitch for all the inspiration.

  5. Great post Mitch. Education needs to do a far better job at preparing people for what lies ahead! It’s promising to see graduates taking proactive steps to seek out skills/knowledge they feel they need to thrive in the face of change. For people that you make mention of in the workforce, they need to seek relevant education that will help them develop a new mindset and strategy. BTW great to see you in Vancouver.
    Teg Brar – Personal Branding Edge

  6. Great post! Very motivating.
    Mitch, you made a very good point by recognizing how quickly technology/web companies, such as the one’s mentioned ( Twitter, Facebook…), change so quickly. Everyday, something is going on in these companies and it’s important that employees carry the same mentality.
    I’ll be sure to pass on this link to my peers.

  7. Maybe it is just because I was reading Linchpin last night, but it really sounds like we need to follow Seth’s advice and become indispensable. If we want to thrive, we need to present more than a history of jobs and an education – we need to demonstrate how we contribute.
    It is the point I was trying to make to some other accountants after they heard you speak in Calgary. They thought you didn’t understand our industry and that your presentation was just ‘interesting’ and had no relevance to their careers. In fact, your presentation called for actions that we all need to take. As Phil said above – the danger lies in thinking the old normal is coming back.

  8. Great piece, Mitch. To your point that the jobs of yesterday are gone. It has taken and will take many people a long while to realize that. Even in cubicle #456 in the 6th floor in Manhattan, you must think like a lean start-up. Collaboration is global, relationships are being formed along thought silos void of geographical limitations and we have to continue to drill down those rabbit holes. It’s not easy work, no one gets a living handed to them. With the continued explosion of the social web, let’s stop barking at each other for attention and pick up a phone. It’s time to do real collaboration and ignore our scores and rankings.

  9. Thanks Mitch for another timely, and intriguing post.
    Just had to share this because it seemed so appropriate, and maybe some folks in this community are familiar with the story already.
    DJ Waldow, formerly of Blue Sky Factory, is actively out job hunting- calling it his “Social Media Experiment: Finding a New Job” or codename ‘#ProjectAwesome’. Here’s the link –
    He’s certainly making a strong case for how important it is to express what you’re capable of in an interesting and creative way. On top of his slideshare resume, he’s even got a video montage featuring the likes of Jeremy Hanks, Chris Penn, Jason Falls, Chris Brogan, Ann Handley and more.
    I definitely found his project interesting to explore, and although I don’t know DJ personally, he sounds like a good guy. I wish him the best of luck and hell, maybe this comment will help his cause some!

  10. No disagreement here. The ones who would most benefit from this post are those who won’t read it. If they did, they’re prone to disagreeing or seeking guidance in making changes.
    I’ve been asked to give a short lesson on how to use Meetup. I will but wonder what mental blocks are preventing the puzzled from experimenting or doing a Google search to find the answer.

  11. Love this timely post. Going to go read Friedman’s article now (missed it).
    We have got to find ways to help people learn how to be more agile and adaptable. It is really a matter of survival in the 21st century!

  12. Jaime – Thanks for your kind words here and on my blog post. Means a lot. #ProjectAwesome has certainly been “interesting.” Ideally, it leads to my next gig!
    (Hi Mitch).

  13. Seth Godin has been all over this perspective for a very long time. Friedman & Co. are late to the game.

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