Strategic Thinking in the Age of LinkedIn

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    LinkedIn founder and triple billionaire Reid Hoffman has two endearing mannerisms that reveal the way he sees–and reasons with–the strategic environment. First, he peppers his statements with the word so. Almost a verbal tic that would grate on a speaking coach like the overuse of the dreaded uh … but he uses it more like therefore. That is, he lays out a logical flow for you as he explains his experience. “This happens, so… that happens, so… this happens… and so on.” Really, he is a great communicator of ideas and how they interconnect.

    Second, his hand gestures often seem to indicate the existence of an invisible chess board upon which he lays the moving pieces. In a recent interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Hoffman laid out the pieces of a global enterprise that can become impedimenta dragging down efforts toward a massive scale-up of a business… hiring, management, international coordination, customer support. As Hoffman brought each element of the strategic environment to mind he gestured at the table between himself and Zakaria, as if he were placing chess pieces on a strategic board.

    A chess board with the king piece

    Every chess player understands the importance of controlling the central four squares of the board early in the game. Once in control of the center, a player simply has far more options than the opponent. True to the chess metaphor, Hoffman advises those with bright, active minds and high ambitions to attend to the importance of connecting oneself to the “central nodes” of human networks (such as LinkedIn). He recommends that we do whatever it takes to meet interesting people and find a position near the core of the network.

    Hoffman told Zakaria a story from his own seminal days at Apple… his first job. Realizing that his job as a user experience designer was not close to the real center of things, he “volunteered” himself to work in Product Development. He told managers there that he had ideas for products, would work through his ideas on the side, and asked only for instruction and feedback in return. In today’s only slightly more mature and structured corporate environments, Hoffman suggests internships and job rotations as ways of getting connected to the central players. LinkedIn, of course, is a great way to find connections in any network of minds, internal or external.

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