Monday, May 27, 2013

The Start-Up of You - Good but not fresh advice

When I reserved this audio book, The Start-Up of You from my local library, I hadn't realized that one of the authors, Reid Hoffman, was also the co-founder of Linkedin. Had I known that, I would have readjusted my expectations for the book.

I use Linkedin (Here's my profile) and I advocate its use, but much of the dispensed advice is focused on expanding the user base of this social networking site. So reader beware. There's overt and covert shilling between the pages. If you can get beyond that, there are a few nuggets of useful career wisdom.

One great point the authors make is that all of us should see ourselves in permanent beta. Just like software companies (at least the good ones) are always improving their products which are dubbed beta versions when in these testing/trial phases, we should also always be learning and improving ourselves.

Some people erroneously believe that with four years of a college education you're set for a fruitful and meaningful life-time career. Not only does that assume a static economy with a static workforce--and you should never assume either--it also assumes that YOU will never change. That mindset has all the trappings of a mid-life crisis. People DO change and learning new things helps keep you open to other options that might not have occurred to your eighteen-year-old self when you thumbed or clicked through the college catalog to pick a college major.

Pivoting into a new career is called A to B to Z planning, and it's another one of the books take-away points. Plan A is what its name implies. This is the career that you believe you want to be in. Plan B is a similar career and one that you could pivot into if you simply reframed your thinking--say moving from accounting to finance or web page design to search engine optimization. Plan Z is your fallback plan. What can you do should all else fail? Move back in with parents? Draw down a 401k? Those answers vary depending on where you are in your career, but having a Plan Z gives you a hedge that allows you to take calculated risks.

Finally, a lot of emphasis, and rightfully so, is placed on building and growing a professional network. That is, after all, the purpose of Linkedin. Successful people know they must nurture their professional connections because they understand the value of helping others in order to help themselves.  You never know when you'll want or need to find another position, tap into someone's expertise, or seek advice. If you are willing to offer your assistance to others, they will be more willing to offer it to you. The Golden Rule applies to business too.

None of what's in this book is hardly the fresh advice that is conjured up with the word "Start-Up." I would hope that anyone who's at least mid-career would have already learned all of it. But for recent college graduates and/or twenty-somethings, it's definitely worth reading. It might save you ten years trying to figure this out on your own.

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

AOL and Apple - Technology for the masses who don't know any better

I’m not usually one to judge people, but when it comes to their choice of technology, I’m prejudiced. Apple users drive me nuts. 

I’ve tried to be open-minded. As Apple introduced more products and increased its computing share of the market from miniscule to marginal, I kept an open mind.  After all, Mac users, or Tooty-fruity Mac users as I call them in a nod to Jason Fox, the nerdy kid in the comic strip Fox Trot who frequently makes reference to the iFruit, insist they love their machines even if they can barely use them. 

The most recent use case, and I have hundreds of other examples, happened on a trip to a designer’s office. There perched on the desk was a mammoth-sized MacBook Pro. Inwardly, I groaned while privately congratulating myself on having the forethought to bring along my own PC.  

Sure enough, at one point during the meeting, the designer swiveled over to her stylish behemoth and attempted to locate some photographs from a previous project. She couldn’t find them.  A few minutes later, she couldn’t retrieve some images that had been emailed to her, and still later she couldn’t connect to a basic web conference. This designer will tell you that she LOVES her Mac even if it is useless to her during a client consultation. 

And so it is, starry-eyed Mac users swear allegiance to Apple with an absolute conviction that their devices are far superior to any other piece of equipment even as they bumble about trying to use them. 

From my vantage, Apple is using the same trick that landed AOL into virtual obsolescence. It charges exorbitant prices and reaps monopoly profits by targeting low-tech users who have limited computing needs. For a while, this business strategy worked well for AOL.  In 1995, AOL cost $2.95 an hour for Internet access after a $9.95 monthly base fee and five free hours. 

AOL claimed to be easy to use, had proprietary content, and a plethora of devout low-tech users who thought AOL and the Internet were one and the same. However, AOL couldn’t keep pace with the free-wheeling development that was going on outside of its closed-in domain. Eventually, people caught on that there was a lot more worth having at a much lower price than what AOL had to offer. 

Fast-forward to today. Apple claims its computers are easy to use although I find most Mac users completely flummoxed by the technology. It also has proprietary content, and most people believe that all smartphones are iPhones. Although there's no question that the company has been wildly successful in putting expensive media devices into the hands of the masses, there are fissures appearing in its carefully crafted landscape.

Unlike other so-called messier platforms like Android or Windows, Apple's applications seamlessly work with one another because Apple has maintained a stranglehold on what it allows to run on its systems. That reason alone is why Apple will never be taken seriously in the business computing market.  And as lower-priced technologies emerge that allow people to do exactly what THEY want to do instead of only what Apple believes they should do, Mac users are going to look more and more like AOL'ers.

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.