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The insider's edge on job search & hiring™

Forget your job, distribute yourself

If your job is in jeopardy, why be an employee if you can be a distributed innovator? If you’re a manager, why interview applicants if you can meet people who are innovating on the edge of your industry?

I’ve already written about how some of the best career advice doesn’t come from career experts. It’s between the lines in business articles. Here’s another example of how to put business ideas to work to save your career.

In the February 9 edition of ComputerWorld, tech guru (and former director of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center) John Seely Brown talks about the silver lining in our broken economy. He says now is the time to live on the edge (like we have much choice). Here are a few ideas I’ll bend into shape for you:

1. In job interviews, break my rule about showing the hiring manager how you will tackle his problems and challenges. Brown says, “The value lies in the questions you ask, not necessarily the problems you solve.” It’s how you’ll get the manager to see you as his next new productive employee. “There is almost always a silver lining if you ask the right question at the right time in a non-threatening way,” says Seely. He’s right. It can turn an interview into a working meeting.

2. Don’t apply for jobs. Work with your friends in the industry to bid on larger projects at companies you respect. Brown talks about how the iPhone was built. Steve Jobs took the concept and specs to “original design manufacturers” overseas, gave them a price point, and asked them if they could build it. It wasn’t one big company that did the job, but a loose affiliation of small companies that worked together to bid on the various components. Brown calls these innovation networks. “Innovation networks represent tiny, local spikes of capability, which then get wired together to build a product.” This is “edge innovation” because you’re on the edge, worried about losing your job, and desperate for a good idea that will save you. It might save some company out there, too — but only if you get together with your buddies and offer to bid on a project as a team. Stop getting mad at all those little overseas companies that kick our butts. Steal their model.

3. Managers shouldn’t be hiring who comes along. They should go to the edge of their industry and actively recruit the innovators. In another article in ComputerWorld (a tech jobs forecast), a manager in Chicago tells how he’s got 15 jobs open in IT. He’s ignoring the hundreds of resumes he’s received. Who does he want to hire? “If somebody is good in their job, they’re going to want to stay in the job that they’re in. They aren’t the ones papering the town with resumes right now.” He’s out looking, rather than fielding applications. Sure, there are some very good unemployed IT folks out there — but if you’re one of them, you’re not going to get this guy’s attention by sending him a resume. You need to “turn up” among the innovators he’s going to find. Go where he’s looking.

Back to Brown: He talks about the best people being out on one of the edges: Generational edges, industry edges (like start-ups), geographical edges (like India), and discipline edges (like areas where multi-discipline work is being done). “You can get early detectors of new ideas by paying attention to the edges,” says Brown. That’s where smart managers should be recruiting. Tom Peters used to put it another way: “Hire the weirdos.”

Like I said, the best career ideas (and hiring ideas) don’t come from career experts. Start tearing up the business articles you read, and look between the lines.

So show me something good you have read in the biz press that gave you a useful career idea.

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