From Career Ladder to Jungle Gym: Reid Hoffman's Commencement Address at Babson College

5/25/12Follow @wroush

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retire leaving room for the next generations to ascend the steps of their career.

However, due to the changes in a globalized and accelerating world, the notion of a career has changed. Whereas we used to have a career ladder, now we have a career jungle gym. Success in a career is no longer a simple ascension on a path of steps. You need to climb sideways and sometimes down; sometimes you need to swing and jump from one set of bars to the next. And, to extend the metaphor, sometimes you need to spring from the jungle gym and establish your own turf somewhere else on the playground.

And, if we really want the playground metaphor to accurately describe the modern world, neither the playground or the jungle gym are fixed. They are constantly changing – new structures emerge, old structures are in constant change and sometimes collapse, and the playground constantly moves the structure around.

Modern careers need to deal with this constantly changing environment – where the playing field changes, your competition changes, and your tools change.

The mindset of committing yourself to the path of a ladder or escalator and working your way up the steps is now a bad strategy.

What are the tools and the mindset for the flexibility and adaptability of the new jungle gym and the career playground? Entrepreneurship! Everyone needs to think like an entrepreneur – even if still only a few will be starting new businesses.

Fortunately, for you here today, for you graduates of Babson, you have already focused on learning entrepreneurial skills. You have the bias to action rather than elaborate planning. You understand that you need to create your work, your jobs, your career.

These skills will serve you well – both for the businesses that you may start and also in helping others in society learn to think like entrepreneurs.

For entrepreneur-ing, there are hours of advice and insight – indeed you have already studied this for years. I have only one to highlight today.

Build your network and always think in networks. Networks help you find your way; they create a sonar map of intelligence, expertise, information, and insight. Your allies, your connections, can help you navigate the large number of challenges that can derail a startup company.

Networks also help amplify your chances and magnitude of success. Just as much as they can help you avoid minefields of potential failure, they are also essential to finding the path to success – where the opportunities are, how to achieve those opportunities, how to take the intelligent risks for breakout results.

And there are foundations of your network here in this tent, around you today. As a personal example, my first job came from the roommate of a good friend of mine (and who is now also a good friend) from my university; my serious career inflection at PayPal came from a good friend from my university who co-founded the company.

And your networks are not just the people you know and who know you; they are also they people that they know, and further the people that they know.

Life is a team sport. And, as much as entrepreneurs look like individuals who explore the desert by themselves in order to find riches, they are actually successful based upon their ability to find, build, connect, and collaborate with important networks. Entrepreneurs succeed based upon their connection with networks.

And, this leads me to our key theme for today. Entrepreneurs are massively important for society. Not just because they create companies and jobs – although those are both seriously important. Not just because entrepreneur-ism is the toolset for how all of us should pursue our work and careers – although the toolset is essential for modern professional success.

Entrepreneurs are massively important for society because they help build the institutions in which we live. And as the modern world continues to accelerate, adaptability and invention become even more important.

Building great companies and products is essential. Every professional having the tool set to navigate the rapidly evolving jungle gym is critical. But we also need entrepreneurial toolkits in government, ngos, and how we think about the relationship between society, institutions, and people. And we should think about innovation using technology – which is what entrepreneurs specialize in.

For example, government aims to enable a platform that empowers its citizens to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Consider if we had free online platforms for vocational skills, basic entrepreneurship classes, and key modern skills like deploying various technologies. Why free? Free because we want to empower everyone who wants to try with these basic toolkits. Then we would further empower each individual to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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