The Second Mix Podcast - Reflect, Revise, and Remix Your Life
Oct. 31, 2022

The Career Toolikit - Why don't they teach this in school??? - Interview with author Mark Herschberg

The Career Toolikit - Why don't they teach this in school??? - Interview with author Mark Herschberg

Some personal development and career development advice from author (and so much more) Mark Herschberg. Creator of the Brain Bump App, we talk about how to get a little bit better every day, as well as working on expanding your "short side" and how that helps change your life.

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Mark Herschberg is the author of The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You and creator of the Brain Bump app. From tracking criminals and terrorists on the dark web to creating marketplaces and new authentication systems, Mark has spent his career launching and developing new ventures at startups and Fortune 500s and in academia, with over a dozen patents to his name.

He helped to start the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program, dubbed MIT’s β€œcareer success accelerator,” where he teaches annually. At MIT, he received a B.S. in physics, a B.S. in electrical engineering & computer science, and a M.Eng. in electrical engineering & computer science, focusing on cryptography.

At Harvard Business School, Mark helped create a platform used to teach finance at prominent business schools. He also works with many non-profits, currently serving on the board of Plant A Million Corals.

He was one of the top-ranked ballroom dancers in the country and now lives in New York City, where he is known for his social gatherings, including his annual Halloween party, as well as his diverse cufflink collection.


This is the Second Mix Podcast - a dose of personal development leading to personal growth. My philosophy is that personal development is business development and that mindset, especially a success mindset, is the primary factor that leads to self-improvement.

I like to talk about things that matter with people who care as well as bring you some old-school motivation and valuable information from the original masters of inspiration Jim Rohn, Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, and more. These guys helped me turn my life around in just a couple years, I've 5X my income, improved my relationships with my wife and kids, and I've completely changed my entire network - and so much more!

I use this podcast to tell you how I did it, the thinking behind it, and as a way to get to meet great new people who are all moving forward by helping people become more than they are.

Don't wish things were easier, wish you were better - Jim Rohn



Should I work on getting my weak side stronger? Here to answer that question today is my guest, Mark Hirschberg. Mark has so many fascinating credits that I can't roll them all off here, so I'm just gonna highlight a few. He's an instructor at MIT and he's helped develop finance programs at Harvard Business School.

He's the author of the book, The Career Toolkit, and he's the creator of the Brain Bump app. Mark has helped track criminals and terrorists on the dark web and has developed new ventures at startups and Fortune 500 s and in academia with over a dozen patents to his name. He's here today to provide us with a ton of valuable information about personal growth and development, as well as some amazing tips for developing your career and growing your skill set.

I'm excited to have him here and I hope you are as well because we are starting in five, four, three, two, one.

Matt: Mark, can you tell us a little bit about what it is that you do right now? 

Mark: I do a couple different things. My primary job, I build tech startup companies and I've got two of them going right now. I sometimes do a little bit of consulting. I work as a fractional CTO or consultant on projects for other companies.

I do a little bit of teaching at MIT in a few other places. And then of course I have the book and the speaking that I do related to the book, The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success that No One Taught You. 

Matt: How long ago did you write that book? 

Mark: The book came out last year in 2021.

Matt: Have people been finding it helpful so far?. 

Mark: Extremely the book is based on 20 plus years of teaching some at MIT, some elsewhere of all the skills that we need, that companies say they want that entrepreneurs need, but that aren't actually taught. And this is not just for recent college grads.

This is not just for engineers. These are universal skills. 

Matt: So, I do want my audience to read your book , but can you give us a couple teasers of some of those skills that nobody taught us? 

Mark: Absolutely. And I have the philosophy we can go as deep as you want. I don't say well, you know, by the book, if you want more, you ask, I answer because we are here to deliver value for the audience.

So why don't we go through what the 10 are and then we can dive into some of them. Absolutely. That sounds. The 10 skills are broke into three sections, section one, careers, how to create and execute a career plan. Now that might be your at a company and you want to get that VP title, that C level title.

It might be you're an entrepreneur and you say, well, my title's not going to change, but you yourself will still need to grow and develop. And how do you create a plan to get there? Chapter two, working effectively corporate culture, managing your manager. All the unwritten rules of the office. Chapter three is interviewing not as a candidate.

You can go find that elsewhere, but we focus a lot on as a hiring manager because no one teaches us how to hire other people. And yet we all do it. Yes. The second section leadership and management, there's a chapter on leadership. And then one on the people side of management and one on the process side of management, the third section is interpersonal dynamics and that has chapters.

Communication networking, negotiating and ethics. And each chapter has a mental shift. How to think differently about the skill and then concrete, actionable things you can do to be more effective. 

Matt: Okay. So it can be a guide. Something that people would refer to over and over to say, I need to do this step next.

Mark: Absolutely. It's not a book you need to read front to back. You certainly can. A lot of people will buy it and they might jump right to chapter eight, networking, which so many people need help with. And then they might go to chapter two, working effectively understanding those unwritten rules. So you can jump around.

You can go forward and back. And you can use the free companion apps to help retain the information and get access to it when you need it. I'm gonna ask you about those in just a minute, actually, cause I'm interested in your companion apps. That's a beautiful thing. However, uh, I, I do wanna ask you, like when you get to, let's say, if I were writing a book under leadership, this is where I would put it, but do you get into working on yourself and personal development stuff?

Like, you know, make sure that you're living up to these traits, characteristics and values that you have. 

Now, obviously when I cover all these topics in one book, I can't cover. I know, I know. 

Matt: I know. I know. 

Mark: In chapter one, where we talk about your career plan, there's a series of questions. In fact, those are also available for free on the website.

And these are questions about what you want in life, and it's not just, well, how much money do you want to make, or do you want a job that's nine to five or are you okay working longer hours, but it's things about your life. Where do you want to live? How much flexibility do you want? Those things matter as much when we create our careers, because what we want to do is have a career that fits our lifestyle instead of trying to squeeze our life around our job.

Matt: Wow. I, I like the way that you phrase that too. And that's what most people are doing. That's what most people are out there doing are, uh, just working that job and, and hoping that they can get a little bit of life in between. 

Mark: If you think about there's that famous story of the rocks and the professor with the fish tank?

Yes. For those who don't know, I do it quickly. Professor has the fish tank. He says, just, you know, how do we fill it? He puts in a bunch of big rocks. He says, is it full? And they say yes. And he put some smaller rocks. He says, is it full? And they say yes. And they puts in the pebbles and the sand and the water.

He says, you have to focus on the big things first. Okay. You know, it's a cute story. But we think, but what's the biggest thing in my life. It's those 40, 50 hours a week that I show up to work and we start with that rock and then we say, well, now we have to squeeze in family and fun and other things. No, that's not how we want to think about our life.

We want to say, put in the family and fun and important things to us. And then how much room do I have for the rocks that are my career? Obviously there's a balance. You do need to have a job. Some of the time you do need money, but it's your number three or four priority. Not your number. 

Matt: Okay. All right.

So how do your, what companion apps do you have and how do they help, uh, as companions to the book? 

Mark: There are two apps completely free. You don't even need to buy the book to get. The first is the career toolkit app available on the Android and iPhone store. It takes highlights from the book and has them there in an app.

You can use it in one of two ways, either you say, you know what? I am walking into a networking event and there were all those great tips, but I read them six months ago. I wish I had them now. You pull out the app, you open up, you go to the networking tips and you quickly flip through them right before you walk into the room.

So you get that just in time access when you need. On the other hand, there's other content let's take leadership. You don't say in the middle of the meeting, wait, hold on. Pause. Let me go look up the leadership tip you. You kind of need that top of mind and that means you need repeated exposure about it.

You need to be thinking about over a long term. So the app, you don't even need to open it more than once a month. You just have it set to leadership tips and each day at a time you set, it will pop up a notification with one of the tips from the book. So at 9:00 AM, as you walk into work, you look at the tips, say, all right, that's good advice, swipe it away, done.

And by getting this each and every day, you help to better retain it. Or you save off your favorites for when you wanna see them. That's the career toolkit app. We took that idea and said, well, if this works for my book, I'll bet it works for other books, blogs, podcasts, and talks. And we created the brain bump app also completely free on the Android and iPhone stores.

Although an Android it's brain bump without a space. Currently apple has a bug it's brain bump, uh, sorry. It's brain bump with a space on Android, apple. There's a bug at the time that we're recording this, you need to do it. No space, brain bump, one word. Okay. It's the same thing, except it's not just my book, it's other books and blogs and podcasts, and you can download the content you want again, get the tips just in time as you need them, or have that passive learning mode where you get that daily notification to help keep it top of mind.

Matt: That's that's really good. We talk a lot about, you know, how do you eat an elephant one bite at a time that, that whole thing. As you do little tiny things like that, those little tiny steps that you take every single day completely change your life. So if you're using, uh, your app, the career toolkit is the first one that you were talking about with your Le, like if I was going for leadership, um, and I get that advice every morning.

I, I might the first morning just be like, okay, it's just something I read. Right. And then the second morning, oh, it's just something I read, but gimme 700 days of that. Something is gonna change. Something is gonna happen. If you're actually gonna take the time to read the tip and, uh, people thinking. So, yes. Yes.

Changing your thinking as Brian, Tracy says, change your thinking, change your life. Uh, I love that. 

Mark: Let's look at the importance of these small changes. I opened the negotiation chapter with the following example. Suppose you are 30 years old and you have a job offer. For $60,000, but instead of just taking the job as it is, you've learned how to negotiate.

You've read my book. You read different book, took a class, however you did it. You learned to negotiate and you negotiate and get a thousand dollars more. That's not a big lift. We can all imagine doing that. So instead of 60, you get 61,000. If you do nothing else, if you sit there in that job for 30 years, you've just earned yourself with five minutes of negotiating, a thousand dollars more for 30 years, five minutes just got you $30,000.

Now, of course, you're saying, wait, I'm not staying in a job for 30 years. No one does. And you're right. You will have other jobs, promotions raises. You will negotiate for more than just a thousand dollars. If you learn to negotiate, we're not talking about being the world's best negotiator. We're talking about getting just a little bit better.

You can add tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars to your earnings. If you're a business owner, imagine. In your company. Every sale was 1% better. Every vendor discussion was 1% better for you when your team discusses. Cause people say, wait, wait, if my team learns to do this, they're gonna get that 1% more from me, but they're gonna get 1% more when they work with each other.

When they work with your partners and your customers, the whole pie gets so much bigger. Right. And gladly give them 1% more. And now here's the big secret. We can do this with negotiations. We can do the math and go, okay. 30 times a thousand. I get this same is true for all of these skills, for networking, for leadership, for communicating, no one says, oh, you are a 1% better leader.

So here you go. Here's the job. But getting a little bit better, gets you those opportunities. It helps you stand out. It helps you land the client. So getting just a little bit better each day, it pays compound interest. 

Matt: . I've never heard that in terms of negotiation, you know, I think of it in terms of if we're gonna lose weight or if you're gonna learn some skill or, or do something, but, in terms of actual negotiating for just a thousand dollars more, 

I love that I love the compound effect and I like to see it working in real ways like that in the world. So thank you for that.

Mark: It can be intimidating to think, uh, I'm at 60, I wanna get to 70,000. That's big. I might not be able to do it. Try, try for it. But even if you just get a thousand, it's those small steps they do pay off in the end.

So don't worry about hanging that home. Run. Just get on base. 

Matt: Can you tell me a little bit about your tech startups? Cuz that fascinates me as well and my audience, I'm sure 

Mark: the ones I'm working on right now. One is a communication startup that I can't get into yet. We're still okay. Still a little under the radar.

There's the brain bump one. We're actually building that app and we're expanding and have a long roadmap. So we talked a little about that app. Yes. There's some consulting I'm doing right now. The one client I can mention is one, that's a labor marketplace. I've actually built a number of labor marketplaces.

So this is, think of like Uber for jobs, but for contract workers years ago, I consulted to Sears, for example, and Sears, of course, every time you buy a dishwasher or your dryer brakes, they have to send a repair person or an installer that was a contract workforce. And we built this liquid marketplace.

People who did that type of work could find jobs and Sears when they had a customer who needed it could get someone. So I've built a number of these marketplaces. I have a client, right. That right now doing that in medicine. Okay. I've also done a lot of cybersecurity work, lead generation marketing, bunch of different areas.

That's excellent. 

Matt: Yeah. I read about the cybersecurity work, uh, a little bit. That's that's pretty awesome. Uh, helping track hackers or stop hackers. 

Mark: The I've done a few different things in cybersecurity. The one that is sexiest is the one where I was tracking terrorists and criminals on the dark web. Okay. So this is where a lot of bad people are getting together online to do stuff.

And we, and our customers need insight into what they're trying to do. And when and where I would describe us as the Paul Revere of the dark web. So our job was to say, Hey, the hackers are coming, the hackers are coming. Are they coming from this IP address or using that worm? And we would. Use digital spying techniques to go gather that information and then provide it to our clients.

Matt: Okay. Wow. that's great. That's great. I can't even fathom. I think I, I downloaded tour once and everything that I saw, I looked just looked like a 1980s version of the internet. So , I couldn't, I, I couldn't even deal with like, I'm like, okay, well, whatever. I just want to go to Google and, and, and search something, you know?

Mark: UI and UX are not paramount on the dark web. People are going really for the functionality either provided by a Tor website or the very fact that it is just not traceable. And they're less concerned about whether it looks pretty. 

Matt: That's true. That's true. I know. I guess that's why I'm not on it is because I like when stuff looks pretty 

Mark: yes.

Over time it will evolve. And in fact, we've seen. Even on the dark web, the sophistication of these groups has evolved over time and things that we've figured out, we in legitimate businesses have figured out they've been adapting at a very rapid rate. And so we're seeing better and better. It's just a matter of time before we see better UI.

In fact, famously all those ransomware. Viruses that you'd get you get the ransomware on your computer and say, oh, you have to pay in cryptocurrency cuz it's untraceble,. Yes. They had incredible tech support because most people, when your grandmother gets this, she doesn't know how to do cryptocurrency, but she could call them up and they'd walk her through.

Here's where to enter your credit card. Here's what to do. Very, very helpful because they're making money off of it. So they got good at what mattered to making them money. 

Matt: So would you were saying basically you weren't catching these people, you were warning against these practices. You were figuring out we were, 

Mark: we were determining who was doing what, when, and then either our customers for corporates corporations, they'd say, okay, thanks.

We know the British are coming by land or by sea. And therefore we know where to put our defenses. Or for certain government agencies, they do have some people on staff who kick down doors and take more advanced, uh, proactive responses to that person. 

Matt: And, uh, and then MIT, you said you teach at MIT.

Mark: I do. So at MIT, 20 plus years ago, we saw the surveys of companies about what skills they wanted, the ones we mentioned before. And this research it's been replicated. It's not just at MIT and again, not just for engineers or even for college students, but again and again, we saw companies want these skills, leadership, networking, communication.

And they're not being taught. So we put together a program referred to as the career success accelerator, and that program really instills into our students, some of these core skills so they can advance. Yes, they're obviously good at engineering, but it's not just being good. Technically I don't just mean engineering.

I mean, technically at accounting or marketing or graphic design or whatever you do. it's these other skills are really going to help you advance. And that's what we wanted to teach our students. 

Matt: Okay. Okay. That makes sense. So, uh, as a metaphor, like you could have the best musician in the world playing in a coffee shop for 60 bucks a night because they don't have the other skills that it would take to promote themselves and to get different places so that they can be playing stadiums.

Mark: That's exactly right. And we see this often with musicians and artists, but likewise, many of us might be technically proficient in our job, but if you don't know how to work the office and fit into the culture and do what your boss needs yes. Solve the problem, but presenting a certain way. So here's a trivial example.

Imagine your boss is someone who hates emails. And when you need to talk to her, she just wants you to walk into the office or maybe set up an appointment. But if you are sending her these long emails saying, oh, I discovered this issue and here's what I did. And here's all the information he goes, oh my God, I don't even wanna read this.

I don't like it. You're just the guy who's always sending me these annoying long emails. Just come talk to me. And she has that little bit of frustration. Now. You're not getting fired. You're doing a good job. But you are not the person she thinks. Yeah. He's the guy I can rely on. And so understanding little subtle things like that, like how to manage your manager will make you more effective, just like that.

Great violinist better than most out there, but he doesn't understand how to book that bear venue. 

Matt: Along the same vein, following that path, I, see people being frustrated because there's people that are one or two or three levels over them. That just aren't as good as they are.

And so those people get frustrated, but the truth is those people might have had, you know, in one skill area where they were hired, let's say, as an engineer, they, they might be mediocre or average, but there are other skills that surrounding that. Risen them to that level. And, uh, so it's hard for the people down there to understand like, oh, I'm so much better than them.

Why, why, why are they up there? And I'm down here. 

Mark: Here's how to think about, we're gonna use an analogy that was taught to me by my friend, professor Charles Eron. Okay. We're gonna do a little bit of math at the moment. We're gonna take you back to sixth grade math. Uhoh. Here we go. Imagine you have a rectangle that's four by 10.

So 40 square units. You want to increase one of the sides by two units. To maximize the area. Which side do you increase? The short side or the long side? The four, the 10. And if you need to pause the podcast, that's okay. Take a moment to remember. Now that you're back. The answer of course is we go from four to six to get 60, six times 10, not four times 12.

Okay. That. So, okay. What does this have to do with our careers? Cuz I don't do a lot of rectangles in my job. When you think about what's happening, when you put those two units on the short side, they are amplified by that long side, the two gets multiplied by the 10. Instead the two being multiplied by the four that's conceptually what's happening.

We all have short sides and long sides. Typically more than two, but we'll just pretend it's two for the moment. So imagine you are that great engineer. You've got a really long side. That's 10, maybe 20, maybe it's 50. It's really long. You're so good at that. But your ability to communicate, the idea is poor.

That's the four. And so you can solve the problem, but then as you try to explain it, it doesn't come off well. And especially non-technical people have no idea how to follow what you're saying, cuz you use all this jargon. And so you are long and thin. Your total area is small. Your four by 10, you're only 40.

Now we all need to continue to develop our alongside as an engineer. If I don't pay attention to new technologies, I become a dinosaur. That violinist, he needs to keep practicing to get better. We all have to continue to work on the long side, but per unit time, we get better value working on the short side and that engineer who's really capable, but a poor communicator.

If he just put a little extra time into being a better communicator. 10 20 hours in a year. He's not yet ready for the Ted stage and that's fine. He doesn't have to be up there, but he now presents much better. He's more coherent. He's easier to follow the non-technical. People can pay attention and understand, and he becomes so much more effective his overall area, which is our capability.

gets bigger. And so what you pointed out, we measure against long sides. We say, well, my long side is longer than yours. Just can't pretend it's sides and nothing else. Right. but other people, because we are not just one dimensional, their areas are bigger. Even if that particular side isn't as long. And that's why we see them advanced.

So we need to focus on some of our short sides. But that, that's how I think, but hopefully the non-math folks were able to follow along. 

Matt: Let me ask you this. . If you had the entire world on the line for 43 seconds, and you could tell them anything that you wanted to tell them to, to help people to bring them up, what would you tell 

Mark: them? I think it's what we just hit, which is that we all have short sides.

And by working on our short sides, we get a much better ROI. And even those small improvements, as we saw with negotiating, just small improvements, really add up and compound over time. 

Matt: I love that. 

Mark: And let's talk a little about how to develop some of these short sides, because if you say, well, I need to get better at accounting. Okay. Taking accounting class, reading an accounting book, it's pretty straightforward.

But if you need to get better at leadership or networking or the skills in the book, they're not things you can just read a book about, and I say this as someone who wrote it, it's just like, you can't become a good violin player or public speaker or basketball player by reading a book, right? There's no simple set of rules to memorize, to be a leader, nothing to no formula.

So the way we want to get better at this, and this is how we teach it at MIT, it's not us lecturing out the students. We do small group interactive learning. But you can do this yourself. I'm going to explain how okay. What I recommend companies do is create groups. I typically recommend six to eight people in size, but you can do bigger ones.

And by the way, if your company isn't going to do this, you can share this episode with them and say, Hey, check out this great idea. If they say, yeah, no, not for us. Go create your own group, whether informally at the company or do it with other people from other companies in your own time, create a local meetup group.

There's lots of ways to do this, but you get these small groups and then what you want to do is engage with some content. So explain how to do it with my book, but you don't need my book. If you use my book, you say, okay, we're going to read for the next time we meet every two weeks. Let's say we're gonna read a couple pages, these 10 pages about leadership.

And then when we come together and discuss it, just like you hear different ideas about leadership or the other skills on this podcast, you're gonna come together and we're gonna talk about, and you're going to get something different from that text than I will. And we're going to uncover that in the discussion.

And then someone's going to say, Hey, I have a challenge. And here's what I'm thinking of doing. Do you have any advice? What do you think? What's the feedback? Because when we want to learn a sport, we scrimmage. Unfortunately I can't do that. I can't stay at my office. Hey, I'm gonna try leading today and I might screw it up.

And then at five o'clock I say, okay, everyone do over. Doesn't count, forget everything I did, right. Do that. So instead in this group, we can talk about, I'm thinking of doing this and what do you think and gimme feedback, or let me, let me try. Here's what I'm gonna say. And what do you think, how does that sound?

Other people can chime in and say, you know, I tried something similar and here's what worked and here's what didn't, and you're going to learn from each other. You don't necessarily need an expert like me to come in and do it. There's lots of people like me 

and companies pay to bring us in and we do our talks and, and that's great.

And there is value to that, but that's not the only way to do it. And you can learn in these small groups from each other. Now I mentioned, yes, you can use my book for this. If you don't wanna use my book. No problem. Pick another book, use some articles online, some videos, use a great podcast like this one, listen to the podcast episode and discuss that in your group.

That's the key idea is that you have this discussion and on the resources page of my website, the very first download. Is how to create these groups. I walk you through how to think about them and what to do. So you can share that with HR, you can do it yourself. You can create your local meetup group. If you use my book, it shows how my book can be used for this.

But again, you don't have to use my book, use whatever content you want, and it's all completely free. 

Matt: Outstanding. Where do people go to find that 

Mark: you can go to my website, and on that website, obviously you can see. Where to buy the book. You can get in touch with me, see other content, the blogs I put out other podcasts, but then the resources page, that's where you have all these free downloads.

And there's a number of things on there as well as links to free online resources to go deeper on some of the topics. There's also a page for the app, and that will take you to the Android and iPhone store to get the career toolkit. If you want brain bump that's at and you go the brain bump link, and that will take you to the app on Android stores for that app.

Matt: I will put these, all of these links in the description in the podcast. Uh, is there anything that we failed to cover today? 

Mark: I think we got to a lot of the key highlights. We didn't get into a lot of the specific tips that are in the book. You can find some of those in the apps as well as the book, as well as the blog posts.

So go in, pick a few things. The final thing I'll say is. When you think about trying to change your habits, when you think about your new year's resolution, you don't say it's January 1st. I'm gonna wake up early and quit smoking and drink less and go to the gym more and eat better. And, oh my God. I'm giving up already say I'm gonna do one thing.

I'm gonna try to get to the gym more. And once that becomes a habit after some number of months, Now you can focus on a second thing. Don't take on too much. So if you use my book or if you don't use my book, but you want to develop these skills, don't try to do them all at once. Pick one thing, maybe it's networking, maybe it's leadership.

Maybe it's creating a career plan, whatever you wanna start with and focus just on that, the app, by the way, you can set to a particular category. So you're just getting tips from that category, but focus on that one thing for some weeks or months until you're feeling better and it's more of a habit you'll continue to grow.

You'll continue to get that side longer, but now you can start focusing elsewhere. 

Matt: This has been great, actually, probably one of the things that I would like to do is read your book and then get you back on the show. Thank you so much for being with us today. 

Mark: Thank you for having me on.