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
In 1955 GM became the first corporation in history to earn a billion dollars of revenue.8 By the end of that decade, GM was a juggernaut so powerful that the Justice Department considered breaking it up.
In the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, Detroit was a crown jewel of America. “The word Detroit is a synonym throughout the world for the industrial greatness of America,” boomed President Harry Truman at the time.
n the 1920s and ’30s firms stayed in the S&P 500 for an average of sixty-five years. By the late 1990s the average tenure was just ten years. John Seely Brown and John Hagel, of Deloitte, report that the topple rate—the rate at which big companies lose their leadership positions—has more than doubled over the past forty years.
The principles of Silicon Valley are the principles in this book. Take intelligent and bold risks to accomplish something great. Build a network of alliances to help you with intelligence, resources, and collective action. Pivot to a breakout opportunity.
Jeff Bezos, founder/CEO of Amazon, concludes every annual letter to shareholders by reminding readers, as he did in his first annual letter in 1997, that “it’s still Day 1” of the Internet and of Amazon.com: “Though we are optimistic, we must remain vigilant and maintain a sense of urgency.” In other words, Amazon is never finished: it’s always Day 1.
Andy Hargadon, head of the entrepreneurship center at the University of California–Davis, says that for many people “twenty years of experience” is really one year of experience repeated twenty times.
A billboard that sat along the 101 Highway in the Bay Area in 2009 put it bluntly: “1,000,000 people overseas can do your job. What makes you so special?”
If you want to chart a course that differentiates you from other professionals in the marketplace, the first step is being able to complete the sentence, “A company hires me over other professionals because …”
Competitive advantage underpins all career strategy. It helps answer the classic question, “What should I be doing with my life?” It helps you decide which opportunities to pursue. It guides you in how you should be investing in yourself. Because all of these things change, assessing and evaluating your competitive advantage is a lifelong process, not something you do once.
Your competitive advantage is formed by the interplay of three different, ever-changing forces: your assets, your aspirations/values, and the market realities, i.e., the supply and demand for what you offer the marketplace relative to the competition.
David Neeleman founded his own airline, JetBlue Airways, and served as CEO for the first seven years. During that time he flew his own airline at least once a week, worked the cabin, and blogged about his experience: “Each week I fly on JetBlue flights and talk to customers so I can find out how we can improve our airline,” he wrote.
After President Clinton left office, Sheryl (Sandberg) asked then Google CEO Eric Schmidt, whom she had met at Treasury, for advice on her next career move. She recalls Schmidt’s reaction as she made a detailed presentation of the pros and cons of her various options: “No, no! Get out of the weeds. Go where there’s fast growth, because fast growth creates all opportunities,”2 he told her. It was outstanding advice: Work in a market with natural momentum. Ride the big waves.
Flickr contradicts the idea that winning start-ups come out of nowhere and ride the founders’ brilliant idea to take over the world. In reality, most companies don’t execute a single brilliant master plan. They go through stops and starts, a couple near-death experiences, and a great deal of adaptation. Pixar started as a company that sold a special computer for doing digital animation; it took a while till they got into the moviemaking business. Similarly, Starbucks originally sold only coffee beans and coffee equipment; they hadn’t planned to sell coffee by the cup.
(Sheryl Sandberg) “The reason I don’t have a plan is because if I have a plan I’m limited to today’s options.”
While you’ll always be tinkering and adjusting your Plan A, should you decide you need to make a bigger change, that’s when you pivot to Plan B. Pivoting isn’t throwing a dart on the map and then going there. It’s changing direction or changing your path to get somewhere based on what you’ve learned along the way. Once you’ve pivoted and are on a new track, that becomes your new Plan A.
Andy Grove, the Intel cofounder, refers to these kinds of events as inflection points. In a business context, Grove says a strategic inflection point is what happens when a “10×” force (ten times bigger) disrupts a business. For example, for a small-town general store, a Walmart setting up shop nearby is a 10× force on the general store. For a midsize financial firm, a huge corporate takeover is a 10× force. Countless once-giants like Blockbuster, Kodak, and the New York Times are all in the midst of environmental inflection points brought about by the 10× force of the digital revolution.
Vinod Khosla, cofounder of Sun Microsystems and a Silicon Valley investor, says, “The team you build is the company you build.” Mark Zuckerberg says he spends half his time recruiting.
what you should be doing—is establishing a diverse team of allies and advisors with whom you grow over time.
the word company is derived from the Latin cum and pane, which means “breaking bread together.”
Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford, has marshaled evidence that shows that when it comes to getting promoted in your job, strong relationships and being on good terms with your boss can matter more than competence.
The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.
No story of achievement should ever be removed from its broader social context.
Research shows that a team in the business world will tend to perform at the level of the worst individual team member.
The nuanced version of the story of success is that both the individual and team matter. “I” vs. “We” is a false choice. It’s both. Your career success depends on both your individual capabilities and your network’s ability to magnify them. Think of it as IWe.
Building a genuine relationship with another person depends on (at least) two things. The first is seeing the world from the other person’s perspective… The second requirement is thinking about how you can help and collaborate with the other person rather than thinking about what you can get from him or her.
Discovering what people want, in the words of start-up investor Paul Graham, “deals with the most difficult problem in human experience: how to see things from other people’s point of view, instead of thinking only of yourself.”
A study on negotiation found that a key difference between skilled negotiators and average negotiators was the time spent searching for shared interests, asking questions of the other person, and forging common ground.
Novelist Jonathan Franzen gets it right when he says inauthentic people are obsessed with authenticity.
According to the National Health and Social Life Survey, 70 percent of Americans meet their spouse through someone they know, while only 30 percent meet after a self-introduction.
Helping someone out means acknowledging that you are capable of helping. Reject the misconception that if you’re less powerful, less wealthy, or less experienced, you have nothing to offer someone else. Everyone is capable of offering helpful support or constructive feedback. To be sure, you’ll be most helpful if you have the skills and experiences to help your allies. Pleasant friendships are nice, but the best-connected professionals are ones who can really help their allies. This is what makes a professional network and not simply a social one.
As Ben Franklin recommended, “If you want to make a friend, let someone do you a favor.”
The drip, drip, drip of short, regular updates—even if some border on the frivolous—creates real human connection between you and your online connections. Use LinkedIn to post professional updates; Facebook to post personal updates; and Twitter for updates that may appeal to both groups.
As entrepreneur Bo Peabody says, “The best way to ensure that lucky things happen is to make sure a lot of things happen.”
Steven Johnson says, “Chance favors the connected mind.”
“Keeping your options open” is frequently more of a risk 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 opportunities in the short run, but increases opportunities in the long run. To move forward in your career, you have to commit to specific opportunities as part of an iterative plan, despite doubt and despite inconvenience. If not now, when?
Of the voluminous research on risk, remarkably little of it actually analyzes how real businesspeople make real decisions in the real world. An exception is a study done by professor Zur Shapira in 1991. He asked about seven hundred high-level executives from the United States and Israel to describe how they think about risk in different scenarios. What he found likely came as a disappointment to architects of fancy decision trees. The executives surveyed didn’t calculate the mathematical expected value of various scenarios. They didn’t draft long lists of pros and cons. Instead, most simply tried to get a handle on a single yes-or-no question: Could they tolerate the outcome if the worst-case scenario happened? So the first thing you want to ask of a possible opportunity is, If the worst-case scenario happens, would I still be in the game?
But the biggest and best opportunities frequently are the ones with the most question marks. Don’t let uncertainty lull you into overestimating the risk.
Nonvolatile environments give only an illusion of stability: “Dictatorships that do not appear volatile, like, say, Syria or Saudi Arabia, face a larger risk of chaos than, say, Italy, as the latter has been in a state of continual political turmoil since the [Second World War].
A decade ago, Bill Gates wrote: “The most meaningful way to differentiate your company from your competition, the best way to put distance between you and the crowd, is to do an outstanding job with information. How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose.”
One of the key messages we hope you’ve taken away from this book is that you are changing, the people around you are changing, and the broader world is changing—so it’s inevitable the playbook will evolve and adapt. So start tapping into your network. Start investing in skills. Start taking intelligent risks. Start pursuing breakout opportunities. But most of all, start forging your own differentiated career plans; start adapting these rules to your own adaptive life. For life in permanent beta, the trick is to never stop starting. The start-up is you.