Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Bringing the job market and marketplace into focus – Part 3: looking for new options and paths forward

Posted in job search and career development, startups by Timothy Platt on August 9, 2010

I have recently found myself reading a diverse but fundamentally connected series of news articles, editorials and op-ed pieces that each seek to offer a way out of our current unemployment crisis. These pieces to what may best be seen as a developing puzzle come from a variety of writers with a wide range of views and perspectives, but they all carry one important detail in common: a basic if unstated assumption that we are facing more of a fundamental change in the workplace than a simple(?) recession and employment-level downturn could account for. And with varying levels of consideration of practicality and of steps that would be needed to implement, they each attempt to offer a new path forward. Two come immediately to mind for me here as I write this: startups and our pool of unexploited but filed patents and I want to start this posting by briefly discussing these as poster child examples from this perhaps significant publishing trend. This is my third posting in a new series within my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development (see postings 89 and 90 for Parts 1 and 2) on the changing face of employment and of the overall economy and marketplace that sustain it. I have been discussing underlying changes that would make this downturn distinctive from any recent recession and dip in employment. My goal in this posting is to start what I intend to be a progressively more focused discussion for more effectively moving forward with job and career in our changing workplace climate.

I want to start that by briefly considering the two poster-child paths into newness that I cited above and will begin with startups. First of all, I do see startups as a viable and even preferred path to employment and career success for some and perhaps even a numerically quite significant some. Small businesses really do drive our economy and it is likely they will continue to do so, and both for percentage of overall employment sustained and for collective top and bottom lines and market share. For the entrepreneurial, this can be a best and even an only true path to success. That said, startups as an approach come with some very significant caveats.

• Many and in fact most startups fail, and certainly for ventures that seek to develop new types of market space with new ideas, innovations and inventions.
• This is at least in part because starting a business requires a range of skills and experience, and of risk acceptance that most employees in their set jobs never develop.
• And even successful startups usually start up cash flow negative – watching money go out the door as a foundation for success is built and with no income to compensate, at least for now. And it can and usually does take a significant period of time before that successful startup hits a break even point and moves past that to become cash flow positive and with a real income. And even there, funds are going to be needed to grow the business.
• Businesses need liquidity to succeed – cash now to meet current essential expenses if nothing else. People need liquidity to meet their expenses too. Some startups fail because of falling out between founding partners or failure of the core concept behind the business model but most startups that fail do so because of a lack of liquidity.
• So you have to have both that great idea and the skills and perseverance to succeed as an entrepreneur and also the cash resources, or access to them to succeed and through the initial cash flow negative starting phase.

This is not to say that a startup cannot succeed without a pre-planned and developed cash reserve, but it is easier if you have that ready. And for those who would at least consider startups as a path forward, there is a lot of information out there to turn to in shortening your learning curves. I cite my own ongoing series: Startups and Early Stage Businesses in this context as just one of them of many.

The other poster child path forward I would cite here is one I have read about with interest, and both for the idea itself and for its failure to connect at a practical level to the people in search of a path forward. Yes, there are vast numbers of patents out there that have been filed and paid for with all of the effort and expenses involved that remain undeveloped as products or services. But this is not, in a hands-on and practical sense a ready cornucopia of opportunity for the unemployed to dip into for new employment opportunities. And if the intended audience of these news stories is the C level office suites of the companies that hold these patents these articles beg the question as to why they are not already developing these resources and potential marketplace advantages.

There are many reasons why companies patent new ideas and inventions.

• Some connect immediately into ongoing need and directly support current and short-term anticipated business activities. These tend to be used and developed as product and service and as a means of keeping the business and its offerings competitive.
• Some patents are filed to in effect block competitors, current or potential from carving out proprietary areas of innovation that may prove problematical moving forward if unavailable. These patents may or may not actually be developed as offered products and services. They are used as a protective buffer in maintaining option and opportunity, and flexibility in further developing a business that holds them.
• Some patents are filed simply because something interesting was developed in-house that may some day become of real significance. Patenting them can keep your more creative researchers happy as kudos of recognition. All too often these inventions simply collect dust until they are superseded by the general flow of development and invention, and by the current state of the art. A never developed innovation that would only apply to an already obsolete technology is probably going to remain undeveloped – unless it in some way makes that overall technology relevant again and that is noticed and with enough force of certainty to make the effort to develop/redevelop worthwhile.
• Patents and numbers of patents held make for great marketing. IBM and a number of other major corporations have occasionally moved to shift large numbers of their undeveloped patents into the public domain, and this helps with both their marketing, and it can also help them safeguard their position as per the second bullet point in this group. Public domain makes for a long term protective buffer too.

I will have more to add on both of these proposed paths forward, but I want to switch to a different and more hands-on practical approach to finish this posting. Do look at all of your options and for as wide a range of opportunities as you can find as this is a time to keep your eyes and ears and options open. But watch out for the options that cannot be sustained in detail and that only sound to be effective for you when viewed from a wide brushstroke perspective. Even if you have that great startup idea or know of a fantastic patent that has been tossed into the public arena but is still laying there fallow, start with a foundation of what you can do, and both by skills and experience and temperament, and by financial wherewithal.

My next posting in this series is going to look in a fairly significant level of detail into what that means and as a foretaste of that I would propose a hands-on exercise. I wrote five postings on writing an effective resume in my Plan B job search series in my guide (see postings 60 through 64). Read posting 60 and really work on building that “everything including the kitchen sink” reference resume that you would build submitted resumes from as a mine of thought out details. Now deconstruct that, looking not at the specific jobs you have held but at all of the specific skills and experience that you have developed and applied. Include all of the hard, more technical skills and definitely include the softer more people oriented skills and even if you have always worked in a technical area – perhaps even especially then. This is a document of what has made your jobs successful and it is a mine of information you can turn to in your search and as you seek out your path forward that will work for you. I am going to start Part 4 in this series on the assumption that you have at least started assembling this resource.

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