Your Reading List at Linked-In

Sometimes I am a little slow to catch on to the value of a tool. I am just doing this right now, but I have been quite impressed by the way this tool is used by some of my connections. (This is a thinking aloud piece, as I am going through the process right now.)

Your public profile can show the book you are reading now and the book you want to read next. It provides a link to a list of your already finished reading if you create such a list. As with anything that has to do with Linked-In, these should be books that relate to the expertise that you are peddling. You don’t want to list golf books, for example, unless you are in the golf business.

Why have a reading list? You want to show potential clients and/or employers that you are so interested in what you do that you are spending your own time and money to extend that expertise. You are still busy being born, not just coasting on your previous knowledge and experience. If you are in a technical field, this may be the difference between being employable or not in a tight labor market.

If you are really looking hard for a gig, I would take the time to put all of the books that you have read into a reading list. People empathize with other people who have read the same books, and they want to talk about the common experience of reading that book. Books make an personal connection to potential employers and clients. If they are not readers themselves, they are still likely to have some respect for readers.

Put all of the professional books you have read on the list. Don’t fake it because anyone who is interviewing you who has read the same book will ask you about it. That’s what you want so don’t choose books you didn’t read, and don’t choose books you read but didn’t understand. This is supposed to be an ice breaker for a subject in which who hope you have some expertise.

Note that you can watch other people’s reading lists too. I have some friends who always have read the great books in my trade before I have. I am going to start watching their reading lists.

I wouldn’t put too many books on the list. If you are not going to connect with people in your business on your first ten tries, you are probably talking about a person who doesn’t read. There are lots of those peole out there in every profession. They still may be glad that you do, however, but adding more books will not make much difference here. Books that you read recently and vividly impacted you should dominate the list because you want to be able to speak about the ideas in the book with enthusiasm.

Are you helping Linked-In make money when you do this? No doubt. Linked-In should be kicking some of that income back to the members. I think they make a lot more money if they gave half the Amazon income to the member whose reading list was clicked to buy the book. I bet twenty times as many people would almost immediately add and/or expand their reading lists immediately. If Linked-In shares it fifty-fifty with the member, that’s still a tenfold increase in income from the previous results. They could also say almost immediately that they pay you to be part of their network. That could make their growth explode. (Note to Linked-In management: send me a taste of your massively increased profits that you will achieve if you implement this idea.)

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How I Use Linked-In to Enhance My Professional Life

This is a work in progress. I have been a Linked-In member for several years, but have only recently paid any attention to the possibilities. As with most of these posts, I write them as I stumble down the learning curve because it helps me figure something out. Occasionally, someone is nice enough to write and tell me where I have erred.

I am not much of a fan of social networks, but I do recognize that they have become a big thing. I have been forced to become a student of these tools and a user. I don’t have a Facebook page yet, but that day may not be far away.

Right now, the only network I use is Linked-In. It seems to have reached critical mass. I don’t know if there is something else that would meet my needs better, but like any tool, there is a fair amount of work involved in learning to use Linked-In, and there is a fair amount of work in making it work for you. And for me, if it’s work, I can’t help but look at it like a process, and every process needs to be written down and every process has to start with a purpose.

Purpose: To define a professional profile that accurately and attractively presents the detailed professional image that you are trying to achieve.

Your Linked-In profile is a lot like a resume. In fact, I can see a day when your Linked-In profile will be the first thing that employers look at. Resumes may already be obsolete.

Even if you are not looking for work, you are always looking for work or help with work on Linked-In. You should put those things into your profile that you would be comfortable sharing with a new employer or your present employer, and little else. If you like your current job, make sure your Linked-In profile reflects well on your current employer. In general, your linked-In profile should reflect well on everyone and everything you mention. Linked-in is not an arena for fighting battles.

I hope I never have to look for a job again, but that will only continue as long as my current and future enterprises bring in sufficient income. If I use my Linked-In profile properly with my other tools, I may avoid that fate. (Don’t get me wrong. I have loved most of my jobs, but I hate looking for work and I hate commuting. I really love my current job, and it involves no commuting.)

I maintain a Linked-In membership because I want to make more money doing exactly the things that I want to do. I’m not using Linked-In to promote my social consciousness or to keep up with my social network. I might use another networking site for those (with a great deal of caution), but Linked-In is all about what I want to do for work. I need to carefully and constantly define that, and Linked-In is a good place to keep that definition. I don’t want to do that in a way that closes any doors, but I strongly believe that you do need to project a vision.

Moreover, you need to project a vision with substance. If you want to get a certain type of work, you need to convince people that you are likely to be good at it. This is usually a lot easier if you have been living at least part of your vision, and have colleagues, employers, partners, and experience that attests to that skill. This should not be too hard if you are good at what you do and want to continue in that work and there are people that need that work. The more radically you want to change what you are doing, the more difficult it will be to provide substance for your vision.

Above all, keep your Linked-In profile accurate and credible. Remember, people can check out a lot about armed with nothing more than Google, especially if you have ever really done anything. You leave trails everywhere you go in the electronic world we live in.

Company Profile

I did not even know that Linked-In had a company profile capability until a very short time ago, but if you are a manager of a company and want to tell people what you company does, the Linked-In profile is a simple and free way to do that. If you work for a company, you should make sure your company’s profile is online and updated.

Connections

One of the things I like about Linked-In is that no one abuses their connections, or if they do, I have been lucky enough to avoid that. I get no unrequested solicitations. I don’t get that many of the kind of solicitations I am eagerly looking for, but I get some. That’s pretty good, and I actually think it is going to last because the unspoken part of Linked-Ins connection capability is the ease of disconnecting. People will be very unlikely to abuse their connections even on a small level because the risk is far greater than the reward.

I am pretty broad-minded about who I connect to. I can afford to do that because people only tend to come to me for stuff they will pay me for doing. Warren Buffett probably has to be more careful because he faces a real danger of getting excessively pestered. However, even for me I want to avoid connections that do not have a significant purpose.

I want to keep up with what friends and colleagues are up to, and Linked-In provides a quick way to do that if they keep up their profiles. If they don’t, I am no more ignorant for making the connection. The connection also gives me an persistent email link to the person. I would say past colleagues are your best connections because they already know your work. Hopefully, they appreciated and would like to have you on their side in a future endeavor.

I can’t think of any negatives letting these same people know what I am up to, but I control that by what I put into my profile. I wouldn’t want thousand of connections like some people have because I would suffer from information overload. I have enough connections already so that it would be a mess if they all used the broadcast power of Linked-In, but they don’t. With rare exceptions, most of the Linked-In updates have to do with new connections to my connections.

I should pay some attention to who my connections are connected to, but that’s a lot of work and kind of invasive. In all cases, I really want to speak to my direct connections because that’s where I think I have the most credibility. I’d have to go and look at every profile unless I recognized the names.

Linked-In tells me that I am connected to millions of people, but I think they only list thirty that have a live direct connection. There is an implied power in the secondary and tertiary connections, but that is hard to exploit. The only way you can really exploit anything beyond your immediate network is to do something so interesting that your connections have to tell their connections, and their connections have to tell their connections. I don’t know if you would need Linked-In if you came up with something that interesting, but I think sometimes the right message can work its way down a connection chain until it gets to the person who needs to hear it.

To their credit, I think Linked-In is working to help you achieve getting your message out virally if you can, while maintaining a culture of consideration and respect. It’s a tough road to walk, but so far, so good.

My belief is that the best way to exploit those connections is to be very clear about what you or your business can do for people. You want to talk to people who are interested in what you have to offer, and those people can only find you if you tell them what you can deliver.

Groups

If you don’t get enough email every day, join a couple of Linked-In groups. I join groups because I am joining with other people who share my agenda, or at least are my competition. The best things about groups is that they have job postings and discussions. The job postings are interesting even if you are not looking for a job because they tell you a lot about what people in that group are spending their money on.

Linked-In Discussions

Although my impression so far is that Linked-In Discussions would be more accurately called soliloquies, they are interesting and useful. For best results, start or participate in discussions on areas where you are doing work currently. We have gained valuable insights from private comments to our discussions even though we have yet to attract a single public comment. As with every other aspect of Linked-In, proceed with discretion. Anything you put out there becomes part of the value matrix that you are creating for potential customers and employers. Make sure that each contribution to a discussion enhances that picture of value.

Linked-In Answers

I still haven’t used this feature, but I have been thinking about it. My initial impression is that the best way to use it is very similar to discussion. That is, ask or answer questions only if your interest and knowledge is valid and current.

Blogs Linked to Your Linked-In Profile

Again, use discretion. Even if no one is reading your blog right now, someone will when you are trying to get a job or make a sale. Make sure that anything you write in your linked blog in mindful of this fact. Therefore, you shouldn’t link your golf blog unless you are in the golf business, and even then, the blog needs to exclusively support your business purposes. Avoid religion and politics because they won’t get you any new business, but could well cost you some. If you write a blog with significant religious or political content, people may find it anyway, but don’t push it in their face by making it part of your on-line profile.

Feedback

I’d love to hear from people who are having success promoting their business with Linked-In.

Common Sense Risk Management

Taleb is right when he talks about risk management failing so dramatically in part because of its reliance on statistics, but the problem is neither statistics nor statisticians.  That’s a lot like blaming car manufacturers because people have auto accidents.  They might be the cause sometimes, but most of the time they are the fault of someone who bought the car and misused it.  Statisticians know the difference between ninety-nine and one hudred percent; non-statisticians muddy the line between four to one and a sure thing.

Most of the real problem was really that common sense was not applied.  Basic risk management is almost all common sense.  It begins with asking what can go wrong.  Next, list each risk clearly and completely.  Third, develop a plan to prevent or at least mitigate each risk.

I can’t believe that this is new information to anyone, but it is apparent that this process was either skipped or sabotaged in case after case.  This failure was most spectacular in banking and insurance, i.e., risk management professions.  Since it is hard to believe that they skipped the process entirely, we need to understand where they sabotaged it.

I think statistics was used to sabotage the process.  Many people looked at statistics that said that a bet would win ninety or even ninety-nine percent of the time, and said “That will never happen.”  I heard it myself dozens of times, and what may be most surprising, that same people who were burned by that leap of faith continue to be the same people who are still uttering those words.

If you are a risk manager of any kind and ever say that something will never happen, you are not the guy for the job.  If you can imagine it happening, it almost certainly can happen.  That doesn’t mean that the the fantasized disaster can or will happen, or that you can do anything to prevent the disaster or mitigate the effects.  However, it is certain that you cannot come up with a plan ot deal with the disaster unless you treat it as a real threat and make a plan.

Note that you can recognize a catostrophic risk and still do nothing about it.  At some level that is okay.  For example, if you sell property insurance in Florida, you should recognize that it is a possibility that one hurricane could wipe out Florida — take it right off the map.  Obviously, that would oxer-extend the resources of all of the insurance companies in Florida, and they would almost certainly fail without stunning balance sheets and geographical diversification.

You can’t stop such a hurricane, at least with our present technology.  If the hurricane cuts a wide enough swath through your customer base, geograhic diversification will help a little.  The insurance industry has withstood some major blows, but so far the hurricanes have remained small enough so that only a few companies actually failed.  If the U.S. got hit with a 250 knot storm that hit the country for ten days, insurance companies wouldn’t be the only organizations to fail.

Has it ever happened?  To the best of our knowledge, it has not happened on this planet.  However, similar events do occur constantly on both Venus and Jupiter so that we know that physics isn’t standing in the way.  There is a non-zero chance of it happening here, but when the chances are small enough and the possible remedies are so ineffectual that you simply have to accept that risk.  A financial disaster at that point would probably be insignificant given the scope of the natural disaster.

Many people recognize risk know how to mitigate that risk, and do nothing about it.  People who drive without insurance and people who do not back up the work they’ve done on a computer are two examples that spring immediately to mind.  The issue here is cost.  They don’t want to spend either the money or the time.

Again, deciding not to spend the money or the time to mitigate any risk may still be a valid decision, but if you are a risk manager, you need to document the risk as well as the reason why the mitigation plan was too expensive.  You should review each risk categorized this way regularly because conditions change.

An obvious example of this is buying stocks on margin.  If you buy stocks on margin at ten bucks a share, it is very expensive to buy ten dollar puts to cover them.  Prohibitively expensive, in fact.  However, if the stock moves fifty dollars a share, puts with strikes of twenty dollars or less will be extremely cheap.  If I was forced into a position where I had no practical option but to buy stocks on margin (usually a good position, I would review the cost of puts on a monthly and maybe even weekly basis.  But I digress …

Risk management is almost never about statistics.  Statististics are used to justify risk management decisions,  but no risk management plan should need statistics as a defense.  Ask the question:  What can go wrong?  Answer the question.  Deal with the answers.  That’s all it takes.

The Rule

Are you for rules or against rules?  Pick a side!

There are some people who still claim to be for deregulation (i.e., against rules) at the same time they claim for “the rule of law”.   Larry Kudlow of CNBC, for example, has no problem claiming to believe in both of these contradictory ideas at the same time. Not only are these assertions inherently contradictory, both are a waste of time.

Rules are a fact of life in a crowded world.  We can’t waste any time being for or against the idea of rules in general, and indeed, people who believe fervently in anarchy are few and far between.  Let’s call deregulation fanatics exactly what they are: anarchists.

Any professional who does any kind of comparative analysis knows that rules are critical.  A formal experiment encapsulates these rules in the form of constraints, factor settings, measurement standards, etc.. All of us need to focus on getting the best rules we can.

To do that, we need to know whether a rule is a good rule or not.  What is a reasonable set of criteria for whether a rule is good or not? The guidelines for good rules are much like the guidelines for good process descriptions.

Purpose: A good rule begins with a clearly defined and purpose.

Metrics: A good rule has measurements that can be used to measure compliance and results.

Understandability:  A good rule is easy to understand and follow.  (The best rules eliminate far more arguments than they create.

Observation:  A rule needs to be observed both in the sense that it needs to be followed and in the sense that the effects of the rule need to be monitored and discussed.  Observers should include the creators of the rule as well as all of those affected by the rule.

Enforcement:  A rule that is unevenly enforced creates more problems than it solves. Rules must be both stable and flexible.

Penalties:  The purpose of a rule should never be to collect penalties, but the penalties should be clearly spelled out and be clearly greater than the cost of compliance.

When a problem requires a rule, we should establish the best rule we can, then slowly make it better as we learn more from applying the rule.  Rules have impacts, and changing rules changes those impacts.

Rules are subject to the Law of Unintended Consequences (All actions have unintended consequences).  Changing rules has unintended consequences; not changing rules has unintended conseuences.  The same can be said for not having rules or for having rules.

Note that all good rules are a customer-driven behavior.  Rules need to be changed or even eliminated if they do not serve the purposes of the customers they were created for.

In all cases where the government makes rules, the general public needs to be viewed as the ultimate customer.  The government should create rules only for the benefit of the general public.  While these rules may benefit a specific industry, no rule should be created to protect one industry over another.

Industries and the busineses within those industries need to fight it out in the marketplace, but this is only possible in a marketplace with rules.

What about Unwritten Rules?

The real question is whether or not unwritten rules should be written down.  In most cases, it seems that this is unnecessary and may even be counterproductive.  However, the existence of unwritten rules does not mean or imply that written rules are unnecessary.  We are only concerned with written rules because we can change written rules.