The Start-Up of You: A Blueprint for Success in the Knowledge Economy

You should treat your life as if it were a start-up business.

The Start-Up of You: A Blueprint for Success in the Knowledge Economy

The cell phone in your pocket today is a million times cheaper, a million times smaller, and a thousand times more powerful than the $60 million super computer of the 1960s. This billion-fold increase in price and performance has taken place in just the last 50 years, and this progress is only speeding up. As we continue to ascend higher and higher up the exponentially-increasing curves of technology, the innovation set to take place literally exceeds our imagination.


The high-speed, global connection of tomorrow will transform our governments, institutions and education systems, and ultimately reconfigure human civilization as we know it. However, the double-edged sword of technology is that with greater capabilities comes greater chaos. Though it is rational to be an optimist (thank you Matt Ridley), there will have to be an adjustment of the human psyche to navigate our increasingly complex world. With its recent addition to The New York Times Best Seller List, The Start-Up of You, by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, suggests that it is time to modify our life philosophies, and adapt to the rapidly evolving environment.

What’s the Big Idea?

Whether you’re still in school, or have your name on the building of a school, the keys to success are all about navigating the present and adapting to the future. Call it a new-age life philosophy, or just think of it as some basic rules to follow, you need to arm yourself with a mindset that can flourish for the long run. The Start-Up of You is described as “the blueprint for thriving in today’s challenging world of work”. Written by two of Silicon Valley’s favorites, The Start-Up of You presents some novel ideas on how to maximize your working potential, and walks the reader through some key components for building a successful life.

Co-authors Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha are two of the most well-networked individuals in Silicon Valley, and this book is their how-to guide to make it in the new knowledge economy and position yourself to be ahead of the curve as the world presses forward. Having achieved their status through a combination of ambition, hustle, and resilience, Hoffman and Casnocha outline the most important lessons they have learned through their rise to the top.  

Their basic premise is that you should treat your life as if it were a start-up business. They describe it like being in a state of “Permanent Beta,” where you are endlessly learning and iterating off successes and failures. To take intelligent risks, they suggest using what they call “ABZ Planning”, where Plan A is what you’re currently doing, Plan B is what you hope to be doing in the future, and Plan Z is the safety net in case the house burns down. To help you reach your goals Hoffman and Casnocha discuss the importance of networking. They describe success as a function of I^we, where personal value is only as great as the value of your network. Concluding each chapter with some basic steps to “invest in yourself,” Hoffman and Casnocha do a good job of keeping the reader entertained through their own examples and the experiences of some other Silicon Valley legends.

What’s the Significance?

The Start-Up of You reads like a mix of a self help book and a public service announcement. While on the surface it somewhat resembles a pseudo holy bible for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, the lessons described by Hoffman and Casnocha transcend the Bay Area, technology, and business altogether. At its crux, this book is about adapting to uncertainty and building the skills that yield long-term prosperity - whatever that means to you personally. After reading this book, it becomes evident that the rules of the game have changed, and the things that used to be important are no longer even relevant. The Start-Up of You proposes that in this new environment, success is more attainable than ever, and provides the practical guidance to empower individuals to live their life to the fullest.

Big Think got a chance to catch up with co-author Ben Casnocha and ask him how he continues to use these own strategies as he builds his career. Stay tuned for that interview next week. 

In the meantime, you can visit The Start-Up of You website here

Also, you can watch Reid Hoffman's Big Think interview on the value of networking here:

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Meet Dr. Jennifer Doudna: she's leading the biotech revolution

She helped create CRISPR, a gene-editing technology that is changing the way we treat genetic diseases and even how we produce food.

Courtesy of Jennifer Doudna
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

Last year, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier became the first all-woman team to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work developing CRISPR-Cas9, the gene-editing technology. The technology was invented in 2012 — and nine years later, it's truly revolutionizing how we treat genetic diseases and even how we produce food.

CRISPR allows scientists to alter DNA by using proteins that are naturally found in bacteria. They use these proteins, called Cas9, to naturally fend off viruses, destroying the virus' DNA and cutting it out of their genes. CRISPR allows scientists to co-opt this function, redirecting the proteins toward disease-causing mutations in our DNA.

So far, gene-editing technology is showing promise in treating sickle cell disease and genetic blindness — and it could eventually be used to treat all sorts of genetic diseases, from cancer to Huntington's Disease.

The biotech revolution is just getting started — and CRISPR is leading the charge. We talked with Doudna about what we can expect from genetic engineering in the future.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Freethink: You've said that your journey to becoming a scientist had humble beginnings — in your teenage bedroom when you discovered The Double Helix by Jim Watson. Back then, there weren't a lot of women scientists — what was your breakthrough moment in realizing you could pursue this as a career?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There is a moment that I often think back to from high school in Hilo, Hawaii, when I first heard the word "biochemistry." A researcher from the UH Cancer Center on Oahu came and gave a talk on her work studying cancer cells.

I didn't understand much of her talk, but it still made a huge impact on me. You didn't see professional women scientists in popular culture at the time, and it really opened my eyes to new possibilities. She was very impressive.

I remember thinking right then that I wanted to do what she does, and that's what set me off on the journey that became my career in science.

CRISPR 101: Curing Sickle Cell, Growing Organs, Mosquito Makeovers | Jennifer Doudna | Big Think www.youtube.com

Freethink: The term "CRISPR" is everywhere in the media these days but it's a really complicated tool to describe. What is the one thing that you wish people understood about CRISPR that they usually get wrong?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: People should know that CRISPR technology has revolutionized scientific research and will make a positive difference to their lives.

Researchers are gaining incredible new understanding of the nature of disease, evolution, and are developing CRISPR-based strategies to tackle our greatest health, food, and sustainability challenges.

Freethink: You previously wrote in Wired that this year, 2021, is going to be a big year for CRISPR. What exciting new developments should we be on the lookout for?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were multiple teams around the world, including my lab and colleagues at the Innovative Genomics Institute, working on developing CRISPR-based diagnostics.

"Traits that we could select for using traditional breeding methods, that might take decades, we can now engineer precisely in a much shorter time."
DR. JENNIFER DOUDNA

When the pandemic hit, we pivoted our work to focus these tools on SARS-CoV-2. The benefit of these new diagnostics is that they're fast, cheap, can be done anywhere without the need for a lab, and they can be quickly modified to detect different pathogens. I'm excited about the future of diagnostics, and not just for pandemics.

We'll also be seeing more CRISPR applications in agriculture to help combat hunger, reduce the need for toxic pesticides and fertilizers, fight plant diseases and help crops adapt to a changing climate.

Traits that we could select for using traditional breeding methods, that might take decades, we can now engineer precisely in a much shorter time.

Freethink: Curing genetic diseases isn't a pipedream anymore, but there are still some hurdles to cross before we're able to say for certain that we can do this. What are those hurdles and how close do you think we are to crossing them?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There are people today, like Victoria Gray, who have been successfully treated for sickle cell disease. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are absolutely still many hurdles. We don't currently have ways to deliver genome-editing enzymes to all types of tissues, but delivery is a hot area of research for this very reason.

We also need to continue improving on the first wave of CRISPR therapies, as well as making them more affordable and accessible.

Freethink: Another big challenge is making this technology widely available to everyone and not just the really wealthy. You've previously said that this challenge starts with the scientists.

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: A sickle cell disease cure that is 100 percent effective but can't be accessed by most of the people in need is not really a full cure.

This is one of the insights that led me to found the Innovative Genomics Institute back in 2014. It's not enough to develop a therapy, prove that it works, and move on. You have to develop a therapy that actually meets the real-world need.

Too often, scientists don't fully incorporate issues of equity and accessibility into their research, and the incentives of the pharmaceutical industry tend to run in the opposite direction. If the world needs affordable therapy, you have to work toward that goal from the beginning.

Freethink: You've expressed some concern about the ethics of using CRISPR. Do you think there is a meaningful difference between enhancing human abilities — for example, using gene therapy to become stronger or more intelligent — versus correcting deficiencies, like Type 1 diabetes or Huntington's?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There is a meaningful distinction between enhancement and treatment, but that doesn't mean that the line is always clear. It isn't.

There's always a gray area when it comes to complex ethical issues like this, and our thinking on this is undoubtedly going to evolve over time.

What we need is to find an appropriate balance between preventing misuse and promoting beneficial innovation.

Freethink: What if it turns out that being physically stronger helps you live a longer life — if that's the case, are there some ways of improving health that we should simply rule out?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: The concept of improving the "healthspan" of individuals is an area of considerable interest. Eliminating neurodegenerative disease will not only massively reduce suffering around the world, but it will also meaningfully increase the healthy years for millions of individuals.

"There is a meaningful distinction between enhancement and treatment, but that doesn't mean that the line is always clear. It isn't."
DR. JENNIFER DOUDNA

There will also be knock-on effects, such as increased economic output, but also increased impact on the planet.

When you think about increasing lifespans just so certain people can live longer, then not only do those knock-on effects become more central, you also have to ask who is benefiting and who isn't? Is it possible to develop this technology so the benefits are shared equitably? Is it environmentally sustainable to go down this road?

Freethink: Where do you see it going from here?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: The bio revolution will allow us to create breakthroughs in treating not just a few but whole classes of previously unaddressed genetic diseases.

We're also likely to see genome editing play a role not just in climate adaptation, but in climate change solutions as well. There will be challenges along the way both expected and unexpected, but also great leaps in progress and benefits that will move society forward. It's an exciting time to be a scientist.

Freethink: If you had to guess, what is the first disease you think we are most likely to cure, in the real world, with CRISPR?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: Because of the progress that has already been made, sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia are likely to be the first diseases with a CRISPR cure, but we're closely following the developments of other CRISPR clinical trials for types of cancer, a form of congenital blindness, chronic infection, and some rare genetic disorders.

The pace of clinical trials is picking up, and the list will be longer next year.

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