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August 31, 2020

The Start-Up Of You

Structural Outline:
(1) Introductory
(2) Competitive Advantage
(3) Iterative, Adaptive Planning Integrating Feedback
(4) Building A Network
(5) Creating Opportunities Through Networks & Serendipity
(6) Thinking About Risks
(7) Using Networks
(1) Introductory


(2) Competitive Advantage

  • The story and lesson of Detroit: no matter how secure it may seem, no industry is forever—the world changes and evolves, and you need to adapt with it. 
  • Think about your competitive advantage in the market with three abstract puzzle pieces: your assets, your aspirations, and the market realities.
    • Assets
      • Includes cash and skills
    • Aspirations:
      • Keep them mind so not to lose track of who you want to be in the future and whether what you’re doing now or considering cultivating leads you further away or closer towards it.
      • There is no deep “true self” uncovered by introspection: aspirations shape what you do, and what you do shapes your aspirations. Identity emerges.
    • Market realities:
      • “Markets that don’t exist don’t care how smart you are.”
      • There are always industries, places, people and companies with momentum. Put yourself in a position to ride these waves.
  • Fitting the pieces together: “Just because you’re good at something (assets) that you’re really passionate about (aspirations) doesn’t necessarily mean someone will pay you to do it (market realities).”
  • Regularly evaluate the puzzle pieces in the context of the others as they change in shape and size over time. 

(3) Iterative, Adaptive Planning Integrating Feedback

  • Adaptation (to reality) & Iteration
    • Challenging the common assumption that the path to success is the execution of a single, brilliant master plan: the reality is stops and starts, iteration and adaptation to feedback from the nuanced nature reality.
    • The story of Flickr & Sheryl Sandberg. Reminds me of “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards” (Steve Jobs).
    • Primary take-away is the need to constantly take in new information that conflicts with or contradicts your ‘master plan’ and be willing to adjust it.
  • Planning
    • The ABZ planning framework: 
      • Plan A: what you’re doing now with some minor optimizations
      • Plan B: what you pivot to when you change your goals or your route to getting to a goal
      • Plan Z: the lifeboat, e.g., a place to crash if you can’t afford rent.
    • The ABZ framework is an antidote to the “what color is your parachute” approach to career planning and its goal is promote a trial and error approach, and pursuit of aggressive upside with minimized downside. 
  • Prioritize Learning
    • Don’t focus on hard assets at the detriment of soft assets: don’t invest in the stock market while neglecting investing in yourself. Prioritize plans that offer the best chance at learning about yourself and the world. You will make more money in the long run and your career journey will be more fulfilling. 
    • Ask “which plan offers the most learning potential?” 
  • Learn by doing
    • Actions generate lessons that help you test your hypotheses against reality. Actions help you discover where you want to go and how to get there.
  • Make reversible, small bets
    • Make a good plan A that minimizes failure, don’t bet the farm, iterate bit by bit
    • ABZ planning embraces recoverable failure so long as it generates real lessons.
  • Think 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. Management consulting is a classic example of a career move that maximizes “optionality” because the skills and experiences of consulting can be helpful in and applied toward many other next steps, even if you’re not sure what those steps are yet. A good Plan A is one that offers flexibility to pivot to a range of possible Plan B’s; similarly, a good first step generates a large number of possible follow-on second steps.”
  • Maintain an Identity Separate from Specific Employers

(4) Networking

  • “Social media is particularly great for staying in touch passively. As you push one-to-many updates out to your network and followers, if someone you know wants to respond, he or she can. But there’s no obligation.”
  • There’s no need to “delete” friendships that no longer serve you but you can consciously let them fade and then chose to rekindle them at a later time, if you’re lives are more aligned. The trust often remains.

(5) Creating Opportunities Through Networks & Serendipity

  • Curiosity
    • “There’s one disposition and mind-set that must be “on” like electricity to power all the other opportunity-seeking behaviors: curiosity.”
    • “Entrepreneurs brim with curiosity: they see opportunity where others see problems, because while others simply complain, entrepreneurs ask, why? Why the heck doesn’t this annoying product/service work as well as it should? Is there a better way? And can I make money off it?”
  • Strategic Serendipity
    • “Winning the lottery is blind luck. Serendipity involves being alert to potential opportunity and acting on it.”
    • “You won’t encounter accidental good fortune—you won’t stumble upon opportunities that rocket your career forward—if you’re lying in bed. When you do something, you stir the pot and introduce the possibility that seemingly random ideas, people, and places will collide and form new combinations and opportunities. By being in motion, you are spinning a web as wide and as tall as possible in order to catch any interesting opportunities that come your way.”
    • “…be open-minded, but set smart parameters. You can go to a conference and approach random people; but better yet, you can go to a conference, identify someone you know is interesting, and approach the people you see that interesting person talking to. You’re courting randomness, but you’re also being strategic.”
  • Network
    • Characteristics of the PayPal mafia: “high-quality people, a common bond, an ethos of sharing and cooperation, concentrated in a region and industry.” (another example is Commodities Corporation being the starting point for Paul Tudor Jones, Louis Bacon, Bruce Kovner, Michael Marcu,s Jack Schwager, Ed Seykota, Marty Schwartz).
    • The only thing better than joining groups is starting your own, e.g., hosting events with a gathering of ambitious friends.
    • “Steven Johnson says, “Chance favors the connected mind.” Connect your mind to as many networks as did Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley, J. P. Morgan, and others, and you’ll be one step closer to spotting and seizing those game-changing opportunities that great careers are made of.”
  • Constraints
    • “If you want to find out how resourceful you can be, shrink your budget. Move your deadlines up. See how you cope. This may make you more resilient to actual hardships that inevitably arise.”
  • Opportunities
    • Great opportunities almost never fit your schedule
  • Options
    • “Keeping your options open” is frequently more of a risk than committing to a plan of action.

(5) Thinking About Risks

  • “Assessing risk, while always difficult, is not impossible. Entrepreneurs do it every day. But they don’t use fancy risk-analysis models like those found on Wall Street. And neither should you. There’s no mathematical formula that could possibly capture the probabilities and range of outcomes of a dynamic start-up, let alone the dynamic start-up that is your career. It’s impossible to quantify the pros and cons of every opportunity.”
  • Principles of thinking about risk:
    • Try and get a handle on a single yes-or-no question: “can I tolerate the outcome if the worst-case scenario happened?”
    • “If the worst-case scenario is the serious tarnishing of your reputation, or loss of all your economic assets, or something otherwise career-ending, don’t accept that risk.”
    • If you realize you made a mistake can you reverse your decision easily? Can you get to a plan B or plan Z easily?
    • Have a plan Z to cover your worst case scenario to allow for more risk-taking.
    • Don’t conflate uncertainty with risk. You’ll never be fully certain. 

(7) Using Networks

  • The Value Of A Good Network
    • They offer private observations that would never appear in a newspaper or google search
    • They offer personalized, contextualized advice
    • They can filter information from other sources so that it’s relevant to you
    • They can trade knowledge with you and improve your own thinking
  • Network Literacy
    • Literacy meant the ability to read and write, then it included finding information online, but it should also now include the ability to “conceptualize, access, and benefit from the information flowing through your social network.”
  • Methods
    • (1) Ask targeted questions to specific individuals in your network
    • (2) Query the whole network all at once
  • On Targeted Questions
    • Think in terms of (1) domain experts, (2) people who know you well, (3) smart people. 
    • As a general rule seek out a domain expert and then talk to people who you know well. 
    • The final step is synthesis which is integrating all the sometimes conflicting information into something meaningful and usable.
  • Acquiring this skill is hard
    • “Anyone can read a book or blog. Anybody can talk to random people around the office or neighborhood. It’s harder to identify the right people to talk to on different issues, ask these people questions that invite maximally useful answers, and synthesize points into something meaningful. Network intelligence is the advanced game: if you do it well, it’ll give you a competitive edge.”
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