‘Dark Social’ is the Only Social

This video got me thinking.

Every company I’ve started, website I’ve built, book I’ve published, or project I’ve launched began without any measurement or attribution or automated funnel or sophisticated lead capture.

They began with me talking, writing, podcasting, learning out loud, creating a digital body of work, community, and vision around a certain set of ideas, products, or services.

None of that stuff can really be measured. It’s “influence” or “brand”, which sounds fluffy and silly. But it has been everything in these endeavors.

The more sophisticated stuff is great. Once you have some traction, slapping some science on the reach and customer journey helps improve conversions at the margin. But the bulk of the work isn’t at the margin, it’s at the foundation.

The unmeasurable stuff is the dynamite that blows the rockface to bits. The automated, attributable stuff is the cleanup crew combing through the rubble and sorting the results into appropriate buckets for processing.

You don’t make a bang or create a category with finely tuned marketing stacks.

You do it by building reputation and trust in a relevant ecosystem through content, social capital, and value creation.

The Direction of Our Eyes

Almost every ancient and medieval wonder is about the stars.

Megalithic structures. Advanced mechanical devices. Works of art. Advanced knowledge in medicine and agriculture. Philosophy. Religion. Ritual.

Just about every meta-level human endeavor was related to the sky, the bodies that populate it, and their motion. Even mundane daily tasks had a tight connection to things above.

When was the last time you looked up at the sky?

Almost none of the businesses or inventions today are based on the expanse above our heads. In fact, this is so much the case that we have a term for getting important stuff done: Heads down work.

Most daily production and procurement commands a downward orientation. But even when we step back to do higher level work on vision or strategy we look down, only from a higher vantage point. We zoom out, or take a 30-thousand foot view, or look at, the big picture.

Our heads are down, or at most, raised to the horizontal plane, towards the future. We’re quite literally looking forward and inward and sideward and occasionally backward, but almost never upward.

I’ve always been fascinated by the power of our environment, our bodies, and our language and metaphors to shape our realities and possibilities.

What might the relentless downward draw on our eyes mean for our minds, bodies, cultures, and spirits?

What might happen if we re-orient our gaze upwards at least a little more of the time?

Too Many Deaths

Every sweet stage of life has to end.

The bitter stages end too, mercifully. But the mercy of an end to those doesn’t seem sufficient compensation for the nostalgic pangs of the end of the sweet.

I suppose the quintessential human struggle is dealing with goodbye – dealing with the many deaths that entered through the fall.

Every advance on the journey starts on the death of one past.

I suppose the idea of paradise – a restoration, resurrection, and return to the previous selves who’ve died – is the only resolution. Perhaps all our pasts get to continue and exist in fulfilled form, concurrent with all the others. All we ever were, at once.

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I’ve Been to Heathrow but I’ve Never Been to London

Cities have a spirit to them.

You can feel the energy, or zeitgeist of a city when you’re there.

I’ll never forget descending into New Orleans for the first time through heavy clouds. The spirit of the place was palpable.

But not in the airport.

Airports have no spirit. They are not a part of the cities where they have a footprint. When you’re in one, you’re in some kind of portal dimension between worlds. Like the wood in The Magician’s Nephew, except more sterile.

When you step out of an airport you step into the city for the first time. You leave an undefined suspended animation to something with a pulse and personality.

Train stations aren’t like this. They’re a part of the city. Step into Grand Central Station and you’re in New York. They often have structural, architectural elements like the cities they’re in. They share its spirit.

Airports are carve-outs. They’re nearly literal prisons in many ways too. You can hop from airport to airport with ease once you’re in one. As if they’re one contiguous tunnel system. But you can’t pop in or out of them casually. You’re either in the between world or you’re in the worlds outside of them. They dress themselves up with art and knickknacks from their host cities, but it’s superficial and even a bit embarrassing.

I’ve often found that ideas and experiences I have in airports, and by extension airplanes, have a harder time sticking with me than experiences outside of these travel tunnels. But when I step back into one, they come back. As if certain thoughts and feelings are just hanging around there awaiting my return like shoes in a personal locker at a gym. Only accessible on the inside.

I’ve wondered if airports have this quality in part because the speed of air travel is hard for humans to process. Ground travel takes you through each city in sequence, experiencing the subtly changing spirit of the land through each. By the time you arrive on the West coast, for example, you’ve been changed and prepared for its radical differences from the East along the route.

But air travel literally hops over the process. You even outrun the rising or setting sun, putting your mind into a confused place outside of space and time. Until you step foot out of the airport, see the color of the sky, and breathe in the spirit of the city, you don’t really know where you are, or even when you are.

I sometimes fantasize about airports and an air travel experience that felt more real and human. (It never involves the TSA and only sometimes involves zeppelins). What would it look like to maintain the spirit of the city in an airport?

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Career Hackers

I’ve been hacking my way through my own career for 20+ years. I’ve been helping people hack their way through theirs for 13+ years.

Dozens of amazing teammates, two nonprofits, three companies, ten books, half a dozen podcasts, hundreds of talks and interviews, and over 1,500 articles in, it seemed a good time to try to come up with a meta-resource to house all the best stuff we’ve come across.

Career Hackers seemed like a great name.

This is a living, breathing site, so any articles, books, podcasts, programs, or anything else you know of that you think should be included, let us know via this handy form.

I decided to try to condense a few decades of stuff into the tightest TLDR possible to kick off and put some framing on the site.

Here is the Career Hackers Manifesto.

core values to forge your path
Let’s go!
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No Degree is the New Degree

Originally published on Fox Business under the title, “More and more young people are just too good for college“.

‘Would you rather hire someone who ran a marathon, or had a college degree?’

I remember when I saw the question posed on LinkedIn. It got hundreds of responses, almost all of whom said they’d pick the marathoner.

It turns out, the story most young people have been told about the value of degrees on the job market isn’t true, and it’s getting less true every day.

A few years ago, I talked to a business owner who turned down a candidate I passed along because he had a Master’s degree. He told me, “He seems smart and has some skill, but he’s been in school too long. It will take me too much time to get those habits out of him. Plus, I’ve found people with advanced degrees tend to be entitled and assume they’re worth more than they are.”

The famous venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz developed a framework for evaluating which entrepreneurs were most likely to succeed with their startups. One of the strongest indicators was being a college drop-out. The courage and out-of-the-box thinking needed to overcome social pressure and quit school was a bullish sign.

All of these stories share one thing in common: a college degree doesn’t do a good job of signaling employability. In fact, choosing not to get one can be a better signal.

And no wonder. Employers routinely report that college grads lack basic skills they look for in new hires. (See herehere, and here, for example). In fact, less than 10 percent of employers think colleges do a good job of preparing students for the working world. (Study cited here.)

A lack of useful skills is only part of the problem. Grads are saddled with debt, often taught absurd ideas from professors disconnected from the real world, and encouraged to see themselves as victims. Add to that binge-drinking and increasingly draconian policies around health and politically correct speech, and campuses have become a place to pick up bad habits and bad ideas.

Employers want to know you can create value. ‘BA – Communications’ on a resume doesn’t convey much. But guess what does?

A good opt-out or drop-out story.

I have seen hundreds of young people with no degree and no experience get jobs that said a bachelor’s and 2-3 years of experience were required. They won these jobs because they showed something more valuable than a few static bullets on a resume. They explained why they chose not to go to college, and that they did an apprenticeship, internship, self-guided study program, or project instead.

Employers love it. They get excited. Instead of someone simply taking the path of least resistance and muddling through college because their parents paid for it, they see individuals willing to forge their own way, think clearly about costs and benefits, and take initiative.

That’s why college alternative programs often boast placement rates of 90 percent or better immediately upon graduation, while just 40% of university students have jobs within three months after graduation.

Young people who prioritize real-world experience, self-directed learning, and creating an interesting life for themselves are increasingly sought after over those who do the normal college thing.

What began as a counter-signal for startup founders and high-tech jobs is spreading to more and more roles as hiring managers discover the best traits are better correlated with opt-outs than the college-educated. The most dynamic companies need to see more than the same piece of paper everyone else has.

It’s not that college is too good for many young people; it’s that more and more young people are too good for college.

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The Counter-Signal of a College Degree

A degree is a signal.

It became a useful artifact for hiring managers working with limited information to separate candidates likely to have greater conformity, persistence, and willingness to invest in themselves.

But times have changed. A degree no longer does a good job of signaling persistence and willingness to invest in oneself, while conformity isn’t a very desirable trait in the best modern jobs.

In fact, not having a degree is becoming a better signal of value than having one.

Let’s break down the attributes above one at a time.

Conformity

The ability to follow rules and plans and programs has been traditionally valued by employers, especially in factory-like settings or bureaucratic corporate structures.

In an age of nimble startups, creative tech companies, remote work, gig-work, and ever-shifting forms of collaboration, conformity is more of a red flag than desirable trait.

Those who must be handed a clear script and constantly directed struggle in this more dynamic world. Those unafraid to try, fail, explore, experiment, and problem-solve excel.

A degree signals that you can sit in classes and complete arbitrary assignments without deviating or innovating. It also signals that you took the easy path. Since all of society pushes relentlessly towards college, it takes little courage or creativity to do it.

Opting out, on the other hand, is bold. It requires confidence, willingness to endure questions and scorn, and it demands you create your own structure and plan. These are desirable traits for the best companies.

Persistence

Persistence is valuable to those hiring because they want to know that when the going gets tough, you won’t quit and require them to train someone new.

Though still a valuable trait, persistence means something different than it used to. The average employee spends a little less than a year in their first job. Companies can only fight this so much. Most don’t expect you to stick with them for life, or even half a decade. But they do expect you to not quit at the first sign of struggle.

A degree has limited and declining ability to signal persistence. For one, the average grad takes 6 years to get a 4-year degree, so the idea of a gritty grinder pushing through to the finish means less. For another, the college experience is less rigorous than once imagined. It doesn’t take much to get a degree in most programs, and employers have limited ability to see whether that degree was earned through persistence or was granted just cause you paid and sat in class.

More importantly, there are much more valuable ways to signal persistence.

I saw a LinkedIn post where a manager asked whether people would rather hire someone with a degree or someone who had run a marathon. Hundreds responded and it was a landslide for the marathoner.

Even committing to and completing a daily blogging challenge for 30 days signals more of the kind of persistence companies crave than sitting in a classroom for a few hours a day for four years.

Those who opt-out of college and instead intern, apprentice, or complete self-guided learning or projects have a stronger signal of persistence.

Willingness to invest in yourself

Employers want team members who gain value every day. Relentless learners. A willingness to think longer-term, and endure some short-term cost for longer-term payout is important.

College is costly, and has thus served as a proxy for willingness to invest in oneself. But the equation is shifting dramatically.

The availability of artificially easy credit for college means little short-term sacrifice is required of most students. In fact, they often have luxury dorms, fancy facilities, and all kinds of perks wrapped in to the un-spartan experience. They also get nothing but praise from society just for going, even if they goof off the whole time.

It is difficult to determine whether someone is willing to invest in themselves just because they went to college.

An opt-out who paid for a seminar, read books without being assigned them, did free-work as a means to shadow and learn, or spun up a personal website or created a podcast strongly signals self-investment.

The counter-signal

There is a reason top startup investors started explicitly looking for people who dropped out of college to invest in. The signal sent by a degree became negatively correlated with the traits needed to succeed as an entrepreneur, while the willingness to buck the trend and dropout signaled the right things.

Entrepreneurship is expanding. It’s not an approach only valuable to company founders anymore. It’s increasingly valued across every role and opportunity at the fastest growing companies.

Those who choose to do something better than college send a strong signal highly valued in the market.

They refuse to simply follow the crowd and hope for the best. They want more.

They are getting it.

Programs like Praxis, where young people learn professional skills then get placed in startups to apprentice, see 95% of graduates fully employed at the end of the program.

Meanwhile, only about half of degreed students are employed within six months of graduation, and over half of those in service jobs they could’ve gotten right out of high school.

Right now, the best way to stand out is to opt-out.

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Tiny Payments are a Big Deal

I’ve been interested in the possibilities of micro and nanopayments for several years, and recently have been diving deeper.

I’ve always found huge benefits in learning out loud, so I started sharing my thoughts in weekly videos and posts.

You can subscribe to Nanopay to join me on the journey!

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College is a Story; Tell a Better One

I’ve watched hundreds of young people launch incredible careers in top jobs at top companies making great money and loving what they do. I’ve seen them move to cities they love, build a life of meaning and independence, and become total rock stars in their field.

They’ve done this with no college degree; many times winning jobs that “require” one, and going on to hire and manage indebted, degreed peers who are four to five years behind them in the professional world and struggling.

Despite this success and self-actualization, there is one area they struggle with for the first few years, sometimes longer: explaining themselves to their family.

Friends and family rarely have the attention to learn what Product Management is, what your company does, why you’re so good at it, or the future opportunities your network is making possible. Those are individual pieces of your life and they don’t know how to put them together.

They want a story. A quick, easy to understand story.

In fact, an incorrect, inaccurate story told about a person who’s struggling will usually make them more comfortable than disparate facts about your success if not packaged neatly into a story they can understand.

College is a story.

It’s an accepted story. It’s an easy story. It’s a story that makes people feel good about you. The story goes, you went to college, so you are doing well. You’re succeeding, you’re a good person, you are happy, you are OK.

This story is so embedded in the subconscious of the culture that people will ignore any number of facts that fly in its face.

You can be depressed, aimless, angry, in debt, clueless, frustrated, unemployed, unhappy, and sleepwalking through a life you barely tolerate. That doesn’t matter. If you went to college, that simple story is all people see.

“Good for you!”

“Congrats!”

“So proud!”

No one has an answer for, “Now what?”, nor a reason why they are so happy about the college story. They are programmed to be, and it’s very difficult to question or rewrite that programming.

If you deviate from the story, they wonder and worry. They can’t easily check the mental “success” box.

The solution isn’t to fight with them and try to convince them out of it, the solution is to package the path you took into a better story!

And it IS a better story. If for no other reason than that you wrote it yourself, instead of accepting a stodgy story society foisted on you and simply playing out the script.

Your story is uniquely you, full of purpose, adventure, challenges overcome, battles won, confidence gained, and successes earned.

It’s not always easy to package your path into a neat, easily digestible story. But the process will not only help others, it will help you see things and appreciate your own life more.

Instead of, “I’m not going to college” (heard as, “I have no story”), try, “I’m going into an apprenticeship”, or, “I went to the pros straight out of high school, like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James”, or, “I’m doing an elite bootcamp to fast-track me into a startup“, or, “I’ve crafted an intensive curriculum to go directly into what I want to do”.

If you can label or name your story something quick and catchy, it helps. But in the very least, put together a basic pitch that conveys you are not merely opting out of the dominant story, you are actively creating a better one.

Oh, and even if you went to college, you’d better start building a better story. Your parents may be satisfied with it, but the college story doesn’t do much for you on the job market these days.

If your degree is the most interesting thing about you, you’re gonna struggle, even if your mom is proud.

Go start writing a great story and learning how to tell it!

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Interview with Tucker Carlson

Tucker Carlson brought me on for a full hour interview about the value of college, my own life story, the companies I’ve built, and a lot more.

It was really fun! It can be viewed in it’s entirety on Fox Nation, but it requires a subscription. Link here.

Below is a short 2 min clip from the interview that someone shared on Twitter.

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Replacing the College Social Scene

It has become more understood in the last decade that college is not a single good, but a bundle of goods. The bundle includes:

  • Conveyance of information
  • Social experience
  • Signal of employability
  • Guidance on starting a career
  • Sports and clubs and activities
  • Low-stakes environment to begin life away from home

Many of these are an awkward fit, and being served up by the same bureaucratic, subsidized, ideologically crazy institutions results in some pretty strange things. Not to mention absurdly high costs.

Only one item in this bundle drives the cost and keeps college alive: the signal of employability.

That is easily proven by the fact that you could move to a college town and do all the rest for free without registering or paying tuition. But nobody does. They are buying that piece of paper that is supposed to be a ticket to a job. The other items in the bundle are bonuses they enjoy, and ways to compare and choose between competing institutions, since all similar tiered schools offer the same paper signal.

For that reason, alternatives have popped up to address the employability signal in the bundle. Bootcamps and apprenticeships have proliferated, and met with great results. It turns out that job-specific learning, real world projects, and work in companies is a vastly superior signal of employability. Post-graduation employment rates prove this out. (Hovering at 50% for college, and 95% for programs like Praxis.)

They also gain vastly superior guidance on starting a career, and conveyance of information in the areas covered by the bootcamp.

Those who realize how poorly college sets them up for career success choose alternatives and win.

But what about the other items in the bundle?

Better career-prep programs are often remote. This doesn’t mean there is no social element. I know from my experience building Praxis that there is definitely a social experience – ask any participants or alumni – but it does not fully address that item in the bundle as compared to a physical campus and the sports, clubs, and living environment items that come with it.

How might those items in the bundle be better served, now that the main value prop of college has been replaced with something better?

I love to imagine and see things unfolding in this space.

Within the first year of Praxis, we began to see clusters of participants in certain cities. Many of them self-coalesced into communities complete with the clubs, hangouts, apartments, and other campus-like experiences. This has steadily grown and now there are a handful of cities with a sizable and vibrant Praxian community.

This kind of spontaneous cluster community happens for many programs and shared interests. Go find a Crossfit gym or Bitcoin meetup in any city and you’ll see what I mean.

What’s cool about it is that it is both geographically bound in real life, and flexible and mobile. If you’re plugged into these communities in one city, you can hop to another and stay plugged in with the group there. The activity isn’t bound to the academic calendar either.

I suspect the next step in the evolution of these communities is something of a hybrid between a college campus and a co-working space + apartment + gym membership.

In fact, I sometimes browse for failed colleges that are selling their campuses and envision community models for those smart enough to skip school.

Imagine a lovely campus from a defunct liberal arts school. You pay a monthly membership fee to have a dorm/apartment, access to rec center, food, wifi, library, work areas, rooms for activities or classes offered by community members, sports clubs, etc. Filled with students and young professionals (a horrible disservice to both to draw a stark line between them btw) who are enrolled in programs like Praxis or other bootcamps, code schools, interning, apprenticing, or working early in their career.

Imagine if that membership is good at the entire network of campuses, so you could spend two months in one city, three in the next, etc.

As learning and working become more flexible, remote, and tailored to the individual, it’s easy to feel we’re losing any sense of physical, in-person community. It needn’t be so!

The beauty of the unbundling is that these services can be much better, cheaper, and more diverse than when they are shackled to the university.

There’s no need to wait. You can begin building your own bundle even now!

Determine the best ways to learn things you want to learn. The best ways to become more employable and advance your career. The best ways to gain new friends and experiences. Create clubs and communities and tailor life to your needs. Don’t assume all of these things must come in the same package.

The more individuals do this and share this and find each other, the more new social experiences vastly superior to the old frat houses will emerge.

It has already begun.

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