LinkedIn Founder Talks to IOP

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of business networking website LinkedIn, spoke about networking and entrepreneurship on Wednesday at the Institute of Politics’ JFK Jr. Forum.

Hoffman’s talked centered on an idea he called “Network Thinking,” which calls for people to view relationships as intangible assets and to make better use of these connections to solve business problems.

“People don’t confine themselves to silos to work...and this sort of idea sharing is what made Silicon Valley such a powerhouse,” said Hoffman.

Though renowned for his achievements as an entrepreneur, Hoffman originally wanted to be an academic and pursued graduate studies at Oxford University. Hoffman said that his academic experiences taught him to think simultaneously about “how individuals think and operate, and how entire ecosystems operate”—which he said is one of his most useful tools as an entrepreneur.

Hoffman also discussed what he views as the ongoing transition from the “Age of Information” to the “Age of Networks.” He described the internet as ushering in an “explosive exponentiation of information” that is often unintelligible and difficult to navigate. Hoffman said that this will lead to increased use of networks to contextualize information.

“The question is, how do we navigate it, how do we make sense of it, how do we come to judgements of truth, how do we make judgements about action,” he said. “And the answer is that information is being much more centrally framed within networks.”

Hoffman also spoke about the importance of “Network Literacy”—a term he used to describe the ability to utilize a network to achieve one’s goals. Though networking sometimes receives criticism for being exploitative or selfish, Hoffman said, this negative image should be disregarded. He suggested that networking should not be perceived as using individuals as a means to an end and instead as a way to develop a mutually beneficial relationship.

“We should be asking questions like, ‘How can we dance together?’ rather than, ‘How can this person be a useful asset to me?’” said Hoffman.

When the discussion shifted to the topic of entrepreneurship, Hoffman advised that following one’s passions may not be the best course of action for a budding entrepreneur.

“Passion is an important part of the equation [for success], but it is incomplete...and radically insufficient,” he said, adding that would-be entrepreneurs must complement passion with a keen eye for market trends and opportunity.

Economics professor David I. Laibson ’88, who attended the talk, echoed Hoffman’s sentiment.

“You don’t want to let the herd drive you, but you can’t ignore the herd either,” he said.

Audience members said that they appreciated Hoffman’s advice and were struck by the impact a successful entrepreneur can make.

“He offered a lot of great advice to future entrepreneurs,” said Jacob T. Morello ’15. “It’s inspiring to think that someone can have an idea entirely on their own and it can grow into something so huge.”

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