LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman: ‘If you are not evolving, you are dying’

by Mark Jafar, Viacom

Reid Hoffman (right) chats with MTV News's Ben Wagner

It’s a question that’s captured the imagination of Viacom and many large companies alike:  how do you inject the innovation, energy and “who dares, wins” attitude of a start-up into a big organization with well-established cultures, customs and hierarchies in place?

A good question, for sure…but is it the right one?

Maybe there’s a more scalable way to look at the challenge of cultivating entrepreneurial spirit.  And maybe it lies in the question asked by Reid Hoffman, cofounder and chairman of LinkedIn, in his new book The Start-Up of You: how do we as individuals apply the principles of successful start-ups to our own lives and careers?

Fresh off his Social Media Week keynote (he was trending on Twitter only hours earlier), Hoffman visited MTV on Friday as part of the network’s ongoing Pioneers speaker series, hosted by MTV President Stephen Friedman.

In front of an audience of MTV employees, Hoffman sat down with MTV News SVP Ben Wagner to discuss the book, his life and career, and his observations on Millennials and media.

Hoffman spoke on the need for individuals to – like start-ups – recognize their competitive advantage, assess risk and plan accordingly, and exist in “permanent beta,” like so many of the products born of Silicon Valley.

“Your strategy and plans should expect a changing future,” he said. “You should think of yourself as always in development. You are not a finished product. If you are not evolving, you are dying.”

Viacom COO Tom Dooley (left) with Reid and MTV's Stephen Friedman

Hoffman also stressed the importance of gathering “network intelligence” and incorporating the information exchange that drives Silicon Valley and social media into our own career building.

“People [in Silicon Valley] don’t just talk to themselves,” Hoffman said. “Everybody talks to everyone at other companies about what’s going on in the industry, what are the new patterns.”

“In Silicon Valley, ‘hey, you seen anything cool recently?’ is the classic ‘how are you?’ question.”

Hoffman thinks this approach is particularly important for the Millennial Generation as it faces a dim entry-level job market.  Young people especially, he believes, need to learn how to take intelligent risks.

“If you don’t go looking for risk, risk will find you,” he said.

So what does Hoffman see when he looks at media industry?

When asked, Hoffman wonders aloud, “do [media companies] take enough risks in technology development?”

Hoffman sees the approach of the media industry as one of “these are our assets and we have to leverage them.  But just because you have assets doesn’t guarantee success.”  Hoffman implores media companies to “become the disruption.”

Pretty provocative thought for a content company, no doubt.

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