In keeping with our sharing items from our internally produced POV (Point of View) Dispatch newsletter, here is a book review by Jon Pittman.
Question: If you’re a smart, successful, famous, and highly networked Silicon Valley guy, when you write a book, will people buy it, read it, and say it’s good, even if almost every idea in the book has been expressed elsewhere, and recently at that?
The famous author in question is Reid Hoffman, the Founder of LinkedIn, the world’s leading professional social networking site, with 150 million members in 200 countries. He was also an early investor in Facebook, and is on the board of the gaming company Zynga.
His new book with Ben Casnocha, The Start Up of You, is about how we all need to think of our own personal, individual careers as "start-ups," because start-up mindsets and strategies are more adaptable in today’s rapidly and radically changing world than the "traditional" approach to careers.
The book is fine: it’s serviceably written, well-structured, and enjoyable enough to read--it’s just that most of the ideas can be traced back to a classic Fast Company article by Tom Peters’ entitled "A Brand Called You," which came out in 1997.
Some of the key ideas in both the article and the book include:
- We all have to think of ourselves as a brands/companies/start-ups, because the days of depending on a company (even a big, successful one) for long-term employment are gone for good;
- Many of the things that good brands/start-ups do--identifying competitive advantage, focusing on sales and marketing, building a network, etc.--are perfectly transferable to an individual career;
- Thinking like a brand/start up can help us be more exploratory, risk-taking, flexible, and adaptable than most people tend to be naturally.
These are all fine, and true, ideas, especially in today’s world of hyperconnectivity, social media, professional networks (like LinkedIn itself), global competition, innovation mania, and other forces that are churning the career and business waters all around us.
But again, and this is the caveat emptor, most people who are working today are already well aware of the need to do these things -- a fact that makes reading the book mostly an exercise in polite head-nodding, as in: "Yes, it’s all true...and yes, I've heard almost all of this before."
There are, of course, some good things about the book:
- Hoffman and Casnocha give the reader a ringside seat in Silicon Valley, via his successful track record as an entrepreneur, investor, and all around tech/biz-guru; and the stories and examples from the Valley are often interesting, and sometimes enlightening;
- For readers who still think of What Color is My Parachute? when they think about "books about careers," the ideas and strategies here could help them get more in-sync with the times;
- At the end of each chapter there are practical tips and exercises designed to help you put these ideas into practice immediately -- which is an aspect of business books rare enough these days to merit some kudos;
- And finally/unsurprisingly, Hoffman/Casnocha are at their best when talking about the fine art of networking; in these sections of the book his ideas are often original, counter-intuitive, and valuable.
Also, as discussed in our article in this issue about the value of creating influence networks, the growing necessity of connecting and staying connected with the right people, companies, and ideas in today's rapid-fire economy is so important that this undertone in the book could offer yet another reason for people to check it out.
For people who are kind of "new" to career building, circa 2012, and for people who think they might enjoy reading about the latest doings of Silicon Valley, written by a true player in that world, The Start Up of You could make for a good, and potentially valuable, read. But for anyone who reads at least a few business/technology/career books a year, they will be better served by passing on the book, and instead spending some time on LinkedIn, Hoffman's excellent professional networking site.
Networking is alive in the lab.