March 9, 2020 Daniel Pleșa

The startup of you

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 we are entrepreneurs. (Muhammad Yunus)

Professional loyalty now flows “horizontally” to and from your network rather than “vertically” to your boss, as Dan Pink noted.

Most of the time, change in the world overtakes you, Reed says. When a Hollywood exec once asked him during an on-stage interview whether he makes five-year strategic plans, or three-year strategic plans, Reed said he does neither: 3 years is an eternity in Silicon Valley, and they can’t plan that far in advance. Instead, Netflix stays nimble and iterates, always in the test phase. We call this “permanent beta”.

Your competitive advantage is formed by the interplay of 3 different, ever-changing forces: your assets, your aspirations/values, and the market realities (supply & demand for what you offer the marketplace relative to the competition). The best direction has you pursuing worthy aspirations, using your assets while navigating the market realities.

you have 2 types of career assets to keep track of: soft and hard. Soft assets are things you can’t trade directly for money. They are intangible contributors to career success: the knowledge and information in your brain; professional connections and the trust you’ve built up with them; skills you’ve mastered; your reputation and personal brand; your strengths (things that come easy to you).

Hard assets are what you’d typically list on a balance sheet: the cash in your wallet, the stocks you own; physical possesions like your desk and laptop. These matter because when you have an economic cushion, you can more aggressively make moves that entail downside financial risk; for example, you could take 6 months off to learn Ruby with no pay-pick up a new skill. Or you could shift to a lower-paying but more stimulating job opportunity.

One of the best ways to remember how rich you are in intangible wealth – that is, the value of your soft assets – is to go to a networking event and ask people about their professional problems/needs. You’ll be surprised how many times you have a helpful idea.

That said, there is no “true self” deep within that you can believe, there is not a “true self” deep within that you can uncover via introspection that will point to you in the right direction. Yes, your aspirations shape what you do. But your aspirations are themselves shaped by your actions and experiences. You remake yourself as you grow and the world changes. Your identity doesn’t get found. It emerges.

ABZ Planning

Plan A is what you’re doing right now. Its your current implementation of your competitive advantage. Here, you make minor adjustments as you learn.

Plan B is what you pivot to when you need to change either your goal or the route.

Plan Z is your fallback position: your lifeboat. Whats your stable, certain, reliable plan if all your career plans go to hell? Thats plan Z.

As much as you can, prioritize plans that offer the best chance at learning about yourself and the world. (more money in the long run, plus more fulfilling journey).

The best thing to do is to think and plan two steps ahead.

If you’re unsure what your first, or even your second, step should be, pick a first step with high option value, meaning that it could lead to a broad range of options.

Throwing your heart into something is great, but when any one thing becomes all that you stand for, you’re vulnerable to an identity crisis when you pivot to plan B. Establish an identity independent of your employer, city, industry. For example, make the headline of Linkedin profile not a specific job title (“VP of Marketint at Company X”) but personal-brand or asset-focused (e.g. Entrepreneur, Product Strategist, Investor). Start a personal blog and begin developing a personal reputation and public portfolio thats not tied to your employer. This way, you’ll have a professional idenity that you can carry with you as you shift jobs. You own yourself.

You’ll rarely know for sure when to pivot or when to persist in what you’re doing. In general, a lesson from the technology industry is that its better to be in front of a big change than to be behind it. But the question of when to shift exactly is a question of both art and science, intuitive judgment, combined with the best feedback or data you can collect.

Schedule a coffee chat with someone who used to work in your niche who pivoted to a new career plan. How did he or she make the shift? Why? Was it what they expected? What were the signs that “the time was right”?

Make a plan to develop more transferable skills, those skills and experiences that are broadly useful to potential other jobs. Writing skills, general management experience, technical and computer skills, people smarts, and international experience or language skills are examples of skills with high option value- that is, they are transferable to a wide range of Plan Bs.

The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.

Imagine you got laid off from your job today. Who are the 10 people you’d email to solicit their advice on what to do next? Reach out to them now, just to check-in, when you don’t specifically need anything.

Chance favors the connected mind. Connect to as many various groups as you can.

The HR department is like the soldiers in the movie 300, holding the line. They have no power to say yes, but enormous power to say ‘no’. Their job is to prevent you from moving forward. Find a way to vault past them, by getting introductions to people who can say yes.

Keeping your options open is frequently more of a mistake than committing to a plan of action. Many failures in results can be chalked up to people trying to keep their options open. As my dad once told me, making a decision reduces the opportunities in the short run, but increases them in the long run.

To keep our ancestors alive, Mother Nature evolved a brain that routinely tricked them into making 3 mistakes: overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities, and underestimating resources (for dealing with threats and fulfilling opportunities).

When you start a company in a recession, there’s less competition for top-notch talent, customer dollars, press coverage and more.

As a general rule, when you want info from your network, when facing a decision, begin by asking domain experts, then talk to people with whom you have strong personal relationships.

When trying to make a decision, ask wide questions to figure out the criteria you should be using; ask narrow questions to figure out which weight you should give to each. For ex: ask domain experts “What should I be thinking about when assessing the pros and cons of this opportunity?” Then, once you’ve narrowed down your criteria, ask a more select group (including people you know well) for specific info about factors X and Y.

When you operate within a network, you even have the ability to do the same reference checks on people you consider going to work for., i.e. a potential boss.