By Reese Anderson
They say every actor is within six degrees of Kevin Bacon.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was in The Other Guys with Will Lyman, who was in Mystic River with Kevin Bacon. Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, may just be the Kevin Bacon of the tech industry.
Hoffman turned an obsession with social media into a company recently sold to Microsoft for $26 billion. He’s also one of the most successful investors in Silicon Valley.
In interviews with Business Insider and NPR, Hoffman offered unsolicited career advice for college students and young businesspeople. Herein lies my attempt to translate them.
“That uncertainty you feel right now about your future – it won’t ever go away,” Hoffman said. “In an ever-changing world, managing your career is a lifelong process.”
Hoffman’s career is indicative of this. After graduating from Stanford with a bachelor’s in Symbolic Systems and getting his master’s in philosophy from Oxford, he created a social media website called socialnet.com. He first gained notoriety as one of the founders of Pay Pal, alongside his college buddy and Silicon Valley mogul Peter Thiel.
He used his PayPal money to help fund his most notable creation in 2002: LinkedIn.
It took Hoffman 15 years to realize what he was doing had a name: entrepreneurship. Over time, he says, he’s discovered three things successful professionals eventually figure out:
How to deal with competition, networks, and risk.
To wield a competitive advantage in a competitive workplace, you need to focus on your assets, your aspirations, and market realities. What do you have going for you? Where might you like to go in the future? What coincides with these answers that people will actually pay for?
You’d be surprised, he says, at how valuable your assets may be to those who don’t have them. Just ask others: “How can I help you?”
Though meeting people and building relationships in college may come with little work, after college you must learn to proactively build your network, Hoffman says. He should know, I suppose, since he founded the world’s largest networking site.
But every job boils down to interacting with people, and opportunities come through people, not screens.
“If you’re looking for an opportunity, you’re really looking for a person,” he said.
If you’re connected to a couple hundred people on LinkedIn, you’re actually at the center of a network more than 2 million people strong. Via second and third degree connections, your network could be the size of a large Midwestern city.
He went on to say smart business people don’t avoid risks, they take smart risks. If you only do what’s been done and only make decisions based on the approval of others, you won’t innovate.
Hoffman said during the creation of LinkedIn, he knew he had a platform for something special because his idea got backlash from his peers. But he used his competitive advantages and his network to turn an idea into a profit.
“We are all works in progress,” Hoffman said. “Each day presents an opportunity to learn more, do more, and be more in our lives and careers.”