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Sunday, January 31st, 2010

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12:17p
You ... going from 1.0 to 2.0
Well, this is the first time that I've really felt that I needed to make obsequience to the invasive scrutiny of our vile governmental masters, but in the interest of staying on the right side of the FTC's ridiculous regulations I figured I should note that the copy that I have of this book came from the publisher at the request of the author in order that I would have a copy to read and review. As regular readers are no doubt aware, I've been getting review copies from other sources (LibraryThing.com's Early Reviewer program, the Chicago Tribune, etc.) for quite some time, but this is the first instance of my being directly contacted by an author for the purpose of having me do a review. Obviously, we have always been at war with Eastasia. Needless to say, my recent tenure as the writer of The Job Stalker blog on the Trib's “Chicago Now” site, and my now-regular review/interview feature for books about the job search and related subjects, has begun to draw some attention to my long-obscure scribblings (I have been doing these reviews in this space for several years at this point), and we wouldn't want to have the FTC fine me for receiving a free copy of a book, would we?

Anyway, the book which has led me across this particular Rubicon is Dan Schawbel's Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success, a book about Schawbel's own “brand” of personal branding. In retrospect, it's no surprise that I had “some issues” with this book, as it is explicitly targeted to “Generation Y” or “Millennials” (which I was shocked to find includes my grade-school-aged daughters!), and pretty much only deals with aging Boomers like myself in a sense that we should go ahead and die to make room for the new, hipper, generations. As I was only reading this as a part of my OWN job search, I found this both irritating and unsettling, as, within the context of the book, people my age are pretty much regarded as obstacles to be tossed aside in the path of the favored groups' career advancement!

Fortunately, most of that stuff is contained in Part 1 of the book (“The Rise of Personal Branding”), which is focused fairly firmly on the Gen Y audience (with 30 years of professional experience, the “extracurricular activities” of my college days rarely come to mind, let alone find a way into my “personal brand”). The “meat” of the book commences with Part 2 (“Command Your Career In Four Steps”), which presents some very useful (even for geezers like myself) materials for creating what Schawbel describes as one's “brand”, divided in sections “Discover Your Brand”, “Create Your Brand”, “Communicate Your Brand”, and “Maintain Your Brand”. Again, for somebody who has been “organically” developing (however unconsciously) a “brand” for a few decades, some of the steps involved in here are either in the “been there, done that” category, or “that horse is already out of the barn” zone, but over-all the materials presented in this part of the book are very well thought out, “systematic” (in the sense that a network marketing program is a “system”), and reasonably applicable to anybody at the point of focusing on their career (it did cross my mind that my 14-year-old daughter could benefit from reading this).

While much of the initial material is extremely basic (what's appropriate business dress, etc.), it certainly seems to be comprehensive, walking the reader through such foundational skills as business writing, verbal presentation, confidence building, constructive persistence, developing technical competence, how to make a sales pitch, etc. Again, the examples given here are generally that of 20-year-olds with minimal work experience, trying to differentiate themselves in the entry-level (or not, he adds in examples of numerous folks who had reached upper-level jobs by 24) job market. The same level of detail is exhibited as the book moves to web sites, blogs, and social networks, giving step-by-step instructions on how to conceptualize, execute, develop, and market these vehicles, with (and here's the part I found most useful, personally) fairly extensive notations of on-line and other resources for doing this.

The tone of the book is somewhat uneven, vacillating between specific instructional segments, and Schawbel pontificating on his own (admittedly, rather remarkable – he's only four years out of college at this point) experience. On this latter point (if you'll excuse a jaded late-Boomer bit of attitude), he does point out that this sort of success only comes with ”The right combination of skill, determination, networking, and timing”, to which I might add luck in being in the right place at the right time with a message specifically in resonance with the Zeitgeist. Needless to say, Schawbel is an “outlier” who achieved remarkable success in an amazingly short period of time (and he details several others who have been similarly unusually successful).

This brings me to my main criticism of the book ... while it does have a “system” that should be applicable in its general outlines to anybody reading it, it is very likely not going to result in finding oneself in “C-level” positions by age 24 unless one has extremely high levels of both skill (and the ability to “pick up” things with little very little study and practice) and determination. On this latter point, in a section on “tenacity”, Schawbel says: “(entrepreneurs) get very little sleep because they realize the opportunity cost in sleeping instead of getting things done”. While I certainly agree with this statement (and for decades have lived my life according to that pattern), I'd submit that the percentage of the population that is willing to drive themselves to the extent that the book suggests is vanishingly small. So, going in, one has to realize that if you don't have the ability to pick up skills quickly and effectively, and if you're fond of watching TV, hanging out with friends, or having much of any “free time”, you're probably not going to create the sorts of success on which the book focuses.

Again, this is not to say that there isn't a whole lot of useful information and advice in here (indeed, there were many “new tricks” this “old dog” is likely to be taking from reading it), only one needs to keep in mind what one is bringing to the table. Much like most network marketing pitches, this is long on what could happen, while avoiding much consideration of what an “average result” would be. The “personal branding” meme may have actual application in the evolving work force, but for most people, jumping though the hoops of developing one's “brand” is only likely to have subtle benefits (confidence, focus, etc.) and not land one in the executive suite, with media stardom, or on lucrative lecture tours.

Me 2.0 should be available at your local brick-and-mortar book vendor, although Amazon has it for about 1/3rd off. This is certainly a “your mileage may vary” sort of a book, if you're a Gen Y kid looking to break big in the business world, this might just be your “user manual”, but for Boomers looking to maximize what's left of their careers, maybe “not so much”.


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