Author Ben Casnocha credits an oddball schoolteacher with starting him on his journey as an entrepreneurial self-starter.
He was taking a class in computer repair at a middle school in San Francisco, when the teacher, known only as “Mac Doctor,” promised his students an A+ if they memorized and recited a poem in class.
Casnocha leaped at the opportunity, but when it came time to read the poem, it turned out to be the text of an Apple TV advertisement, titled “Think Different.”
He’s never forgotten it – its ode to misfits and trailblazers who can’t be ignored, because they move the human race forward.
Its lesson remains valid, Casnocha suggested at a recent event sponsored by the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University. The key to success in a world where our basic assumptions are being upset is to adopt the characteristics of a successful startup and apply them to your own life.
Just as a startup faces a constantly shifting landscape, people too “face uncertainty and change” in their lives, he said. “The strategy that entrepreneurs use applies to us.”
Casnocha is co-author of the New York Times bestseller, The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, along with Reid Hoffman, co-founder and chair of LinkedIn. Casnocha was named one of America’s best entrepreneurs by Business Week magazine.
Speaking to more than 200 people at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, Casnocha said the job/career model of the past 60 years is pretty much obsolete. No longer is it realistic to expect a career climbing the corporate ladder along a pre-determined path, retiring in your 50s or 60s: “That escalator is jammed at every level,” he said.
New technologies and globalization have changed all that, for people and for corporations, he continued. Instead, people must employ skills and strategies that allow them to be flexible and adaptable.
Borrowing a term from the world of software, Casnocha said people must be in a state of “permanent beta,” a reference to a product that is in the market but which is continually fine-tuned to operate better.
“The product is never finished. It’s always a work-in-progress… a constant quest for improvement.”
Casnocha suggested people adopt several concepts that are the cornerstone of successful startups:
• Develop a competitive advantage; find ways to do things better, faster, cheaper in a unique segment of the marketplace.
• Assemble a network of allies and acquaintances. Allies are people like you who you can confide in and who provide feedback; acquaintances provide information and job opportunities you might not otherwise find.
• Be adaptive. Successful entrepreneurs need not create something from scratch. Rather, they are often able to bring together existing technologies and ideas in a new and innovative way.
Citing Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi financier and Nobel Prize winner who founded a bank that provides capital to small businesses, Casnocha said human beings are entrepreneurs by nature. People should embrace that and learn how to employ those skills in a useful way.
Entrepreneurs, Casnocha said, are alert to their environment, and where others see problems, they see opportunities.
People have to adapt to change, he continued. “I’m optimistic people will embrace this. I think they’ll have to.”
* * *
Here’s one version of Apple’s “Think Different” advertising campaign, which debuted in 1997:
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”