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Book Review: The Start-up of You

I read a lot of books about career advancement and leadership, and in an ongoing series I want to bring you reviews of my favorite books.  There are so many options for professional books out there, and I hope this can help you sort through the options and decide where to invest your time.

Today I’m reviewing The Start-up of You, by  Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha.

The Premise: This book is based on the concept that everyone should manage their career the way that they would manage a start-up. While we aren’t all going to be entrepreneurs, we can still benefit from the approaches of an entrepreneurial mindset.

Ideal Audience: This book is truly relevant for anyone who wants practical strategies and approaches for managing their career. It would be particularly useful for younger professionals at the beginning or middle of their careers since it includes many insights on successfully building and using your network as you establish yourself.

Main Lessons: There are many lessons that I will take away from this book, but the top three that will stay with me are:

1) Permanent beta- This is the idea that you are always evolving and improving. I have worked with (and interviewed) many people who think that they have achieved their goals or reached their professional peak.  That’s a dangerous way to think in a competitive job market where the top performers are constantly learning and improving. Permanent beta is a great way  to think about yourself as a product that is always improving.

2) A, B, Z paths-  The A path is the path that you are currently on; for example, your current job.  Plan B is a slight iteration on your Plan A, it might be a bigger role at your current company or a more desirable job in the same field.  You want to create a plan B that allows you to learn new skills, try something different, or build a broader range of experience.  When you pivot to your plan B, that becomes your new plan A and you restart the cycle of developing a plan B.  Your plan Z  is the worst-case scenario fall back plan.  For example, if you are applying to business school, your Plan A is your current job, your Plan B is going to graduate school, and your Plan Z might be taking some time off and living off your savings. Because there is risk involved in making career changes, the plan Z is there to be your fallback in case the risks you take do not pan out. One of the most valuable things about this ABZ strategy is that it forces you to evaluate where you are and categorize possible future options. Having the Plan Z means that you can take risks without worrying that you will leave yourself in an unmanageable situation.

3) I^We- Not surprisingly, since the co-author of this book founded LinkedIn, there is a lot of focus on the power of networking.  The concept of I^We demonstrates how many people you are connected to through your network. Interestingly, it is often the “weak ties” in our networks that provide the most value in terms of career advancement. Weak ties are acquaintances or people you know through a closer connection.  They expose you to new ideas and opportunities more than your close connections, since by virtue of their distance from you, they are exposed to different information.  I struggle with networking, because I always worry that networking imposes on others or that I am coming across as inauthentic.  This section offers useful practical advice about how to get over the fear of networking.  The biggest takeaway for me was to think about how to give something, they call them “gifts” of information or knowledge, to the people in your network so that when you engage with them it is a back and forth rather than a request.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. If you are interested but do not have the time to read it, there is an incredibly helpful executive summary on their website, thestartupofyou.com.