Success through professional self-destruction and why I drop the mic: my TED talk preview


I’m into the homestretch of prepping for my TEDx OregonStateU talk for February 12th. As the theme is disruption, the organizers commissioned me to tell the story of my professional life (I think that was meant as a compliment). Here’s the working synopsis of what I’m calling “Why I drop the mic and why it matters now more than ever that we all go out on a professional high note”:

Hanson Hosein shares five lessons on why we all need to practice a form of professional self-destruction to sustain success in this disruptive age. He’ll also explain when to know it’s time to move on to the next big thing. Hanson regularly advises his own students on this transformational approach, even as he’s pursued his own series of meaningful experiences rather than a traditional career. It’s as much a survival technique as a way to ensure personal growth, in a time when nothing is guaranteed and everything is up for grabs.

In the last few weeks, I made a bid to lead a global branding initiative for the greater Seattle region even as I was appointed to our Chamber’s Board of Trustees; I hosted a social media workshop at the Seattle Art Museum and then a Happy Hour session for my students in collaboration with Tableau Software.

Storytelling training at Intel
Storytelling training at Intel

I ran a full-day Storyteller Uprising workshop for Intel in Oregon, only to return the following day for a meeting in Redmond to discuss my role emceeing the next Microsoft Cloud & Hosting Summit. That evening I keynoted a session for Leadership Tomorrow’s alumni.

It was there that I announced that this would be my final “Storyteller Uprising” keynote. There’s some of that “professional self-destruction” I referenced in my TEDx talk synopsis. “Drop the mic” is another way of saying “leave them wanting more” before you overstay your welcome. After five years of successfully presenting the Storyteller Uprising concept around the world, I just know that it’s time to say something new, do something new, and most importantly, learn something new. Ultimately, I behave like a professional, but I want to maintain the healthy, beating heart of an amateur.

According to very recent issues of two old-school news magazines (irony much?), there’s nothing unusual about my frenetic entrepreneurialism and self-renewal. It’s just another form of survival for today’s professional.

The Economist says it’s the “rise of the on-demand economy” which requires “workers on tap:”

People will have to master multiple skills if they are to survive in such a world—and keep those skills up to date. Professional sorts in big service firms will have to take more responsibility for educating themselves. People will also have to learn how to sell themselves, through personal networking and social media or, if they are really ambitious, turning themselves into brands. In a more fluid world, everybody will need to learn how to manage You Inc.

The Atlantic Monthly calls it the “rise of the creative entrepreneur”:

The institutions that have undergirded the existing system are contracting or disintegrating. Professors are becoming adjuncts. Employees are becoming independent contractors (or unpaid interns). Everyone is in a budget squeeze: downsizing, outsourcing, merging, or collapsing. Now we’re all supposed to be our own boss, our own business: our own agent; our own label; our own marketing, production, and accounting departments. Entrepreneurialism is being sold to us as an opportunity. It is, by and large, a necessity. Everybody understands by now that nobody can count on a job. Still, it also is an opportunity. The push of institutional disintegration has coincided with the pull of new technology.

Here are my takeaways from all of this (and it’s how I advise my students):

  1. Nothing is certain in our professional lives anymore. Get creative in how you roll with the punches, and keep learning.
  2. “Drop the mic.” Know when you’ve achieved meaningful success in one area, and when it’s time to move onto the next before momentum stalls and you get stale.
  3. Find your value and charge accordingly for it. If business models are in flux, why can’t you be part of the next one? What do you have to offer that provides clarity to this chaos? In my case, it’s how to leverage communication technology. Everybody’s got a mobile phone, and everybody’s on Facebook. So how do professionals make something of it?
  4. Create an influential network. As The Atlantic points out, putting in “10,000 hours is less important now than 10,000 contacts” for the project-pursuing, multi-platform entrepreneur.
  5. Your personal brand matters. A lot. Thanks to social platforms, your own content and your network, you can have the same reach as the traditional power players such as corporations and governments. The more credibility you can exhibit in public, the greater your brand.

This is as much tied to our creative ability as it is to acknowledge the uncertainty we’re all faced with; it’s time to build a new connective infrastructure to bolster our profile even as we put ourselves “out there” more than ever.