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About this blog: Growing up in Brooklyn, NY I lived in high-density housing and experienced transit-oriented services first hand. During high school and college summers I worked in Manhattan drafting tenant floor plans for high-rise office buildi...  (More)

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Be a Career-Preneur

Uploaded: Aug 11, 2016
For 7 years I’ve studied the characteristics of sustainable innovation ecosystems, for which Silicon Valley serves as the de-facto benchmark. There aren’t many – if any - with the longevity (close to 100 years) of our neighborhood. I was recently invited to be a keynote speaker at a tech conference in Europe, tasked to relate my history and inside stories of Silicon Valley, as I sometimes give archeological tours of downtown Palo Alto for some guests.

I collect timelines of Silicon Valley that illustrate the evolution of technologies by decades. The question occurred to me: ‘What about the people? How do they evolve? Are their careers sustainable alongside Silicon Valley at large?

This quickly segued into a topic I coined – Career-Preneurship. In a world of entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, how do they innovate with regard to their own careers? Or possibly, who are the entrepreneurs of their own careers?

I’m not alone.

Recently, in response to the death of Hollywood producer Garry Marshall, actor Don Most commented:

“Another thing I remember about Garry was how he would advise us to do more than one thing in the business. He knew the vagaries and pitfalls of show business, and tried to impart to us the advantages of wearing more than one hat. Many of our cast members have gone on to write, direct and produce (you may have heard of one or two Ron Howard films), and Garry certainly influenced us in this regard in no small measure.” Don Most.

Here, Garry Marshall mentored his cast and warned of the need to cultivate career options related to a first career.

Thinking about the issues I identified perhaps a dozen elements of Career-Preneurship. I’ll discuss some of them. I assert that the goal for surviving is to evolve into higher value jobs and work.

Thinking about the issues I identified perhaps a dozen elements of Career-Preneurship. I’ll discuss some of them. I assert that the goal for surviving is to evolve into higher value jobs and work.

1. Volunteering. This is a freebie skills and contacts builder. I’ve done a good amount of volunteering locally. For example, while it wasn’t my intent when I joined the planning commission, in retrospect it provided includible experience: chairing meetings, public speaking, evaluating conflicting goals. I met many people from other interests – and they me as well.

2. Management Skills. I’m not referring to an MBA, but basic skills in being a manager, running and motivating a group of people and leading them towards a common goal. An example resource is the American Management Association who provides short courses in the nuts and bolts of being a manager – including in technology.

3. Risk. Understanding your scope of risk tolerance, (comfort, recognition, avoidance and resolution) has several effects. There are two types of risk I observe. The first is the ordinary risk (This company will go out of business), and extraordinary risk – activities you do that are risky, but for which you’re passionate, as a result the experience enhances leadership.

There’s an adage in airplane flying that if you don’t like practicing stalls, do some spins – a more aggressive maneuver. The takeaway is mastering a lower risk limit and expanding it.


4. Master the obscure. Or, in the tech world, new technologies. For example, many technologies are enabled by official technical standards. Participating in standards-setting organizations early on gives an edge to the applications, the market, and the organizations implementing products based on the standard.

5. Internationalization: Spending time working overseas on assignments makes new contacts, and new experiences which elevates your value. This opens up new career roles.

6. Forks in the road – and pain points. These are decision points in your career paths; choosing a professional direction, or perhaps a physical move. The latter may have many implications. Another is recognizing an industry pain– early on- as opportunities for your intervention.

7. Reacting to Discouragement

If faced with a fork, and you ask someone for advice, they may say it’s a bad idea. Well, think about it: are they right? Do they know you? Do they know the industry? Ask why? Sometimes you need to ignore the naysayers and give it a try. Worst case, they may have an ulterior motive to discourage you from a particular path.

These are not all my elements of a toolkit for Career-Preneurship, nor the full depth of discussion. This has stirred interest an others are sharing their experiences with me. You are welcome to as well.

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