Near the beginning of this Generation Y careers manual comes the story of Detroit. The US midwestern metropolis grew and prospered in the early and mid-twentieth century thanks in large part to its mighty car industry. It boasted both a seemingly ever-growing network of interconnecting and always busy freeways, and a steady stream of jobs for life with attendant benefits and career opportunities.
However, things changed. The companies and jobs that once seemed so secure toppled in the face of a failure to adapt to competition. Huge houses that were once monuments to wealth and security now testify to the dangers of getting too comfortable as they crumble in neighbourhoods either riddled with crime and poverty, or deserted altogether.
Casnocha and Hoffman argue that many of today's employees run the risk of becoming a Detroit. Assume that you'll be in the same job until you retire, that your career goals should always run exactly in tandem with those of your employer, and that change is a risk rather than an opportunity, and you could end up equally sidelined and career-wise at the very least Ã‚- desolate.
The Start-Up of You recommends we look to Silicon Valley instead. Casnocha and Hoffman argue today's workers should think like technology entrepreneurs and aim to be independent agents always on the lookout for the next opportunity, prepared to take risks, and flexible enough to respond readily to change and setbacks.
To move in this direction, the book encourages the reader to take a wealth of steps in a number of career-related areas. For instance, why not look carefully at the career histories of people you admire and analyse how they got to where you want to be? Or think about how you spend your free time and what it reveals about your aspirations, and then use these insights to direct your career trajectory? Ã‚-Casnocha and Hoffman remind readers here of the mantra of the dressed-down and ping-pong playing Silicon Valley technology CEOs: it's often possible, and profitable, to base your working life around your preferred lifestyle and the things you really enjoy doing.
And the book's sunny Californian optimism is often just plain fun. Sick of ploughing through Excel spreadsheets, or making the tea? That's ok, because you have your Ã‚"experimental side projectÃ‚" to work on in the evenings and at weekends, and if you've been paying diligently into your Ã‚"interesting people fundÃ‚", you might have enough cash by now to get that plane ticket and head off to that conference on clean technology, or to buy a nice lunch for that exciting person in an Ã‚"adjacent professional nicheÃ‚". In all seriousness, even if you're not chartering a private jet or chairing high-powered meetings just yet, thinking like a chief executive or a Ã‚"flexibly persistentÃ‚" entrepreneur surely can't hurt, and might even help you become one.
The book's plan of action is rather heavy on networking, which is only to be expected as one of the authors, Reid Hoffman, is the founder of LinkedIn. However, I suspect some of the tips for Ã‚"relationship building in professional lifeÃ‚" will work much better if you're lucky enough to spend your time with relaxed and open-minded Californians rather than grumpy and cynical Brits. But the book does provide some useful insights on the subject Ã‚- for instance, that your second degree connections are much more likely than your closest friends and current colleagues to provide you with new career information or an exciting job opportunity.
This emphasis on networking is essentially the book's core message. Moving forward in today's hyper-chatty and volatile working world, the authors claim, will involve connecting with a wide range of people in your field and beyond and, crucially, not only when you want something from them. Help others with their career advancement and those less fortunate than yourself, they say, and you'll be helping yourself get ahead quicker.
They assume, then, that the workers of today are still driven by the same old American dream. A similarly worthy but somewhat flawed philosophy of aggressive personal advancement intertwined with purported community building was preached by Dale Carnegie's Depression-era self-help work How To Win Friends and Influence People, and by Detroit's industrial founding fathers with their energetic philanthropy and vast personal fortunes. So there's a lot to take from this book, but don't take it, or its claims to originality, too seriously.