To Link Or Not To Link

…that is the question. I recently came across an article offering advice to those looking to improve their LinkedIn profile visibility. One of the recommended tactics, the article offered, was to accept and indeed seek as many connections as possible, in search of the illustrious 500+ connection milestone, and in the process, partially loosing or at least diluting, what I perceive to be the intended goal of business networking – relationship building.

Personally, I admit the allure of having a large business network is a power aphrodisiac. And LinkedIn is quite similar in this way to other forms of online social networking (Tweeter et. al). We all crave popularity and the number of connections is hard to ignore. After all, there are no other ways to measure the quality of one’s LinkedIn network – engagement level, number of updates, what our connections do outside of LinkedIn, etc.

Let me then try to answer my own question, “Should one indiscriminately accept/seek LinkedIn connections, or be very selective?”. The answer is: Maybe. If you use LinkedIn as a kind of sounding board for what you’re doing, then by all means, reach as broad of an audience as possible. Some positions, perhaps recruiters, need not be concerned with the quality as much as the quantity. On the other hand, if you’re using LinkedIn to manage a close knit community of former colleagues and friends, then don’t allow “strangers” who haven’t yet graduated to your inner circle. Until there’s an easy way, without alienating anyone, to create an inner and outer circle/group of friends and manage them separately, this question will continue to yield a “Yes or No” kind of answer for many of us.

Retirement

The traditional concept of retirement is showing its age. Perhaps we need to retire it.

Retirement seems like an abrupt and in many ways unwelcome career death – one day you’re a business professional, the next, you’re at home, watching soap operas and obsessing about your lawn. Having a smoother, longer transition could allow the aging workforce to maintain the often demanding pace of work while not feeling overwhelmed or pushed out. This new structure, call it a phase out, may be in the obvious form of reduced hours, flexible work schedules and lessened responsibilities. Whatever the blend may be, fewer hours or smaller workloads, it could be individually tailored.

I’ve come across several individuals who actively or reactively stumbled into their own phase out plan. It worked out for them. But, the plan is often not perceived that way by the employers. It often felt taboo to openly discuss it as such. The expectations is that we’re all working toward the same goal of one day going home with a box full of pictures and personal affects following a big retirement party.

I would still like to have the party, but would much rather phase out my retirement and avoid the emotional, financial and social shock of the abrupt change.

App You

What if business professionals custom tailored their skills in a way a software applications are designed to target a specific problem space? If you “app-ed” yourself, shrink wrapping relevant background, work experience, and professional skills to better appeal to a desired audience of potential employers and/or clients what would be the right approach to branding and marketing, keeping yourself up-to-date, maintaining an existing user base and knowing if and when to reinvent yourself.  Let’s talk about it…

There are off course many different types of software applications.  However, broadly, in terms of their application domains, I see internally developed/custom and externally-marketed/general-purpose applications:

Custom developed in-house to suit a specific internal need, applications of this type tend to be quite well adapt at solving a business problem within the confines of an organization.  Often, their life spans are long, releases incremental, and they’re notoriously resistant to change.  But also, quite often, they’re indispensable.  Quite similarly, business professionals with long tenures take on the same characteristics – powerful at solving a set of unique, specific problems, requiring a mastery of a particular field/domain.  They are often regarded and highly valued as SMEs, but also, over time, develop the kind of resistance to change and aging toolsets that diminish their broader relevance and appeal.

On the flip side, successful general purpose software applications gain face an entirely different set of requirements and challenges.  Initially, they’re regarded as a commodity and are often scrutinized purely on price, functionality and specifications.  They face stiff competition from established leaders and the newcomers.  Just as business professionals who move around as free radicals between organizations, filling a much needed skills and resource gap, are faced with a competitive market and difficulty in differentiating themselves.

So, then back to the dilemma – what is the right approach to model yourself – app you – as a business professional?  Do you laser in on a narrow problem space and go deep, but risk being too specialized and narrowing your appeal?  Do you instead broaden skills, constantly seeking and indeed welcoming change, ever vigilant of emerging trends, at the expense of becoming a jack of all trades and master of none?

It seems all too obvious to say that the balance lies somewhere in between these two modes – not too specialized, always relevant, but careful at chasing the hype.  Yet, on closer examination, aren’t some of the most successful applications found exactly at the polar ends of that spectrum?  Couple of examples come to my mind.

In the custom software arena, I’ve encountered a Claims Adjudication applications so tightly coupled to the underlying data model, so highly customized to suit a unique mix of clients, so heavily invested in legacy technology that it could never be effectively reused or re-architected, yet offering of the kind of a strategic advantage that’s afforded several decades of solid growth and elasticity in a highly regulated market.

WinZip comes to mind as a successful general purpose compression and archival tool.  I’ve personally used it for so long that it’s hard to even recall the initial time I came across it.  And, despite many alternatives, it maintains a broad user base and continues to reinvent itself and stay relevant.

The answer then is not quite so simple.  There appears to be no prescribed formula for application and career success.   In my view, neither approach guarantees career success nor offers a slight advantage.  Perhaps we all poses the capacity to succeed under either of these two paradigms.  And perhaps still we can transition between them with conscious effort.  Perhaps.