All Humans Are Entrepreneurs
All human beings are entrepreneurs. When we were in the caves, we were all self-employed... finding our food, feeding ourselves. That's where human history began. As civilization came, we suppressed it. We became "labor" because they stamped us, "You are labor." We forgot that we are entrepreneurs.
Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and microfinance pioneer
You were born an entrepreneur.
This doesn't mean you were born to start companies. In fact, most people shouldn't start companies. The long odds of success, combined with the constant emotional whiplash, makes starting a business the right path for only a small group of people.
All humans are entrepreneurs not because they should start companies but because the will to create is encoded in human DNA, and creation is the essence of entrepreneurship. As Yunus says, our ancestors in the caves had to feed themselves; they had to invent rules of living. They were founders of their own lives. In the centuries since then we forgot that we are entrepreneurs. We've been acting like labor.
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. Whether you're a lawyer or doctor or teacher or engineer or even a business owner, today you need to also think of yourself as an entrepreneur at the helm of at least one living, growing start-up venture: your career.
This book is not a job-hunting manual. You won't find tips and tricks on how to format your résumé or how to prepare for a job interview. What you will find are the start-up mind-sets and skill sets you need to adapt to the future. You'll find strategies that will help you expand the reach of your network, gain a competitive edge, and land better professional opportunities.
Your future success depends on understanding and developing these entrepreneurial strategies. More broadly, society flourishes when people think entrepreneurially. More world problems will be solved-and solved faster-if people practice the values laid out in the pages ahead. This is a book about you, and it's also about improving the society around you. That starts with each individual.
THE NEW WORLD OF WORK
Centuries of immigrants risked everything to come to America with the conviction that if they worked hard, they would enjoy a better life than their parents had.1 Since our country's birth, each generation of Americans has generally made more money, been better educated, and enjoyed a higher standard of living than the generation that came before it. An expectation of lockstep increases in prosperity became part of the American Dream.
For the last sixty or so years, the job market for educated workers worked like an escalator.2 After graduating from college, you landed an entry-level job at the bottom of the escalator at an IBM or a GE or a Goldman Sachs. There you were groomed and mentored, receiving training and professional development from your employer. As you gained experience, you were whisked up the organizational hierarchy, clearing room for the ambitious young graduates who followed to fill the same entry-level positions. So long as you played nice and well, you moved steadily up the escalator, and each step brought with it more power, income, and job security. Eventually, around age sixty-five, you stepped off the escalator, allowing those middle-ranked employees to fill the same senior positions you just vacated. You, meanwhile, coasted into a comfortable retirement financed by a company pension and government-funded Social Security.
People didn't assume all of this necessarily happened automatically. But there was a sense that if you were basically competent, put forth a good effort, and weren't unlucky, the strong winds at your back would eventually shoot you to a good high level. For the most part this was a justified expectation.
But now that escalator is jammed at every level. Many young people, even the most highly educated, are stuck at
the bottom, underemployed, or jobless, as Ronald Brownstein noted in the Atlantic.3 At the same time, men and women in their sixties and seventies, with empty pensions and a government safety net that looks like Swiss cheese, are staying in or rejoining the workforce in record numbers.4 At best, this keeps middle-aged workers stuck in promotionless limbo; at worst, it squeezes them out in order to make room for more-senior talent. Today, it's hard for the young to get on the escalator, it's hard for the middle-aged to ascend, and it's hard for anyone over sixty to get off. "Rather than advancing in smooth procession, everyone is stepping on everybody else," Brownstein says.
With the death of traditional career paths, so goes the kind of traditional professional development previous generations enjoyed. You can no longer count on employer-sponsored training to enhance your communication skills or expand your technical know-how. The expectation for even junior employees is that you can do the job you've been hired to do upon arrival or that you'll learn so quickly you'll be up to speed within weeks.5 Whether you want to learn a new skill or simply be better at the job you were hired to do, it's now your job to train and invest in yourself. Companies don't want to invest in you, in part because you're not likely to commit years and years of your life to working thereyou will have many different jobs in your lifetime. There used to be a long-term pact between employee and employer that guaranteed lifetime employment in exchange for lifelong loyalty; this pact has been replaced by a performance-based, short-term contract that's perpetually up for renewal by both sides. Professional loyalty now flows "horizontally" to and from your network rather than "vertically" to your boss, as Dan Pink has noted.
The undoing of these traditional career assumptions has to do with at least two interrelated macro forces: globalization and technology. These concepts may seem overhyped to you, but their long-term effects are actually underhyped. Technology automates jobs that used to require hard-earned knowledge and skills, including well-paid, white-collar jobs such as stockbrokers, paralegals, and radiologists.6 Technology also creates new jobs, but this creation tends to lag the displacement, and the new jobs usually require different, higher-level skills than did the ones they replaced.7 If technology doesn't eliminate or change the skills you need in many industries, it at least enables more people from around the world to compete for your job by allowing companies to offshore work more easily-knocking down your salary in the process. Trade and technology did not appear overnight and are not going away anytime soon. The labor market in which we all work has been permanently altered.
So forget what you thought you knew about the world of work. The rules have changed. "Ready, aim, fire" has been replaced by "Aim, fire, aim, fire, aim, fire." Searching for a job only when you're unemployed or unhappy at work has been replaced by the mandate to always be generating opportunities. Networking has been replaced by intelligent network building.
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. The question is, which are you?
WHY THE START-UP OF YOU
With change comes new opportunities as well as challenges. What's required now is an entrepreneurial mind-set. Whether you work for a ten-person company, a giant multinational corporation, a not-for-profit, a government agency, or any type of organization in between-if you want to seize the new opportunities and meet the challenges of today's fractured career landscape, you need to think and act like you're running a start-up: your career.
Why the start-up of you? When you start a company, you make decisions in an information-poor, time-compressed, resource-constrained environment. There are no guarantees or safety nets, so you take on a certain amount of risk. The competition is changing; the market is changing. The life cycle of the company is fairly short. The conditions in which entrepreneurs start and grow companies are the conditions we all now live in when fashioning a career. You never know what's going to happen next. Information is limited. Resources are tight. Competition is fierce. The world is changing. And the amount of time you spend at any one job is shrinking. This means you need to be adapting all the time. And if you fail to adapt, no one-not your employer, not the government-is going to catch you when you fall.
Entrepreneurs deal with these uncertainties, changes, and constraints head-on. They take stock of their assets, aspirations, and the market realities to develop a competitive advantage. They craft flexible, iterative plans. They build a network of relationships throughout their industy that outlive their start-up. They aggressively seek and create breakout opportunities that involve focused risk, and actively manage that risk. They tap their network for the business intelligence to navigate tough challenges. And, they do these things from the moment they hatch that nascent idea to every day after that-even as the companies go from being run out of a garage to occupying floors of office space. To succeed professionally in today's world, you need to adopt these same entrepreneurial strategies.
They are valuable no matter your career stage. 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. Companies act small to retain an innovative edge no matter how large they grow. Steve Jobs called Apple the "biggest start-up on the planet." In the same way, you need to stay young and agile; you need to forever be a start-up.
I (Reid) cofounded LinkedIn in 2003 with the mission of connecting the world's professionals to make them more productive and successful. More than 100 million members (at the time of the LinkedIn IPO in May 2011) and nine years later, I've learned a tremendous amount about how professionals in every industry manage their careers: how they connect with trusted business contacts, find jobs, share information, and present their online identities. For example, from LinkedIn's massive professional engagement, my colleagues and I have gleaned insights about the most-sought-after skills, industry trends, and the career paths that lead to opportunities. I've gleaned insight about which approaches succeed and which fail; which tactics work and which fall flat. Along the way, I began to notice something utterly fascinating that related to my other passion of investing.
As executive chairman, LinkedIn is my primary day job, but I also invest in other start-ups. As an angel investor and now as partner at Greylock, I've invested in more than one hundred companies. This has given me an opportunity to help awesome entrepreneurs scale their businesses: be it brainstorming with Mark Pincus at Zynga on social gaming product strategy, thinking through the future of the mobile Internet with Kevin Rose at Digg and Milk (his mobile apps firm), or Collaborating with Matt Flannery bring Kiva's microloan model to all the world's poor. Through these diverse experiences, I've developed an eye for the patterns of success and the patterns of failure in entrepreneurship.
Wearing these two hats-helping LinkedIn enable more economic opportunity for our members as well as helping my other portfolio companies grow-led me to a revelation: The business strategies employed by highly successful start-ups and the career strategies employed by highly successful individuals are strikingly similar. Ever since, I've been distilling into strategic frameworks all that I've learned from twenty fortunate years in Silicon Valley and applying them to the idea that every individual is a small business. I think about my own career in exactly this way: as a start-up.
When I first met Ben, he was at a career juncture: he was deciding whether to do more tech entrepreneurship (he had already started a couple of companies), more writing (he had written a book about entrepreneurship), more international travel (he had traveled abroad extensively), or some combination of all of them. Then in his early twenties, he was grappling with questions like: How far in the future should he plan? What kinds of career risks are advisable? How does someone experiment broadly and build specialized expertise? Then he said something that intrigued me. He told me that even if his next move wasn't to start a new company, he still was going to approach all of these critical career questions as an entrepreneur would.
In the many months leading up to our first meeting, Ben visited dozens of countries and met thousands of students, entrepreneurs, journalists, and businesspeople. From community college students in middle America to small-business owners in rural Indonesia to government leaders in Colombia. In these far-flung places he spoke about his own experiences and simultaneously observed and learned about the aspirations and attitudes of the talented local people. The remarkable thing he noticed was that entrepreneurship-in the broad sense of the word-was everywhere: thousands of miles from Silicon Valley, in the hearts and minds of people not necessarily starting companies. While they may not have considered themselves entrepreneurs, their approach to life seemed every bit the Silicon Valley way: They were self-reliant in spirit, resourceful, ambitious, adaptive, and networked with one another. From these experiences he arrived separately at the same conclusion that I did: entrepreneurship is a life idea, not a strictly business one; a global idea, not a strictly American one. (Which I also learned by serving on the board of the global entrepreneurship organization Endeavor.) And, as the two decades between us attest, it's also a lifelong idea, not a generational one.
WHY THE URGENCY?
Before we look forward at how entrepreneurship as a life idea can transform your career, we first need to fully understand what's at stake. There's no better way to demonstrate the perils of failing to adapt the start-up of you mind-set than by looking back at an industry that once embodied the best of entrepreneurship: Detroit.
In the middle of the twentieth century, Detroit flourished into a dynamic capital of the world thanks to three local start-ups: Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Chrysler. At the time, these automakers were as innovative as they come. Ford figured out a way to mass-produce cars and trucks on an assembly line, a technique that changed manufacturing forever. GM and its legendary chairman Alfred Sloan developed a system of management and organization that was imitated by hundreds of other corporations. They were also visionaries. They boldly believed (when few did) that cars would be ubiquitous in a country that celebrated the idea of an open frontier. Alfred Sloan promised "a car for every purse and purpose." Henry Ford said he would build a car "so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one...."