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 some 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 deploying 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. 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. 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. 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. At best, this keeps middle-aged workers stuck in promotion less 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. 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 there — you 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. 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. 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?
From The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. Copyright 2012 by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. Excerpted by permission of Crown Business, a division of Random House, Inc.