311 of 325 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2012
I've been following Cal Newport's ideas for a while now, so when I learned that he was coming out with a book, I pre-ordered it from Amazon. I was not disappointed. If you have a child or know someone in college who is trying to figure out what to do with their life, or even if you're north of fifty and still wonder what you'll be when you grow up, then this book is for you. So Good They Can't Ignore You, is so good that you shouldn't ignore it.
The central premise that sets this book apart from so much life advice that is out on the market is that following your passion is terrible advice. There are two main reasons for this: first, very few people at a young age know enough about life to choose something to be really passionate about, and even if they do, they are bound to be wrong. If Steve Jobs had followed his early passion, maybe he would have made a dent in the universe as a Buddhist monk.
Second, while most people would love to have a job that allows them to be creative, make an impact on the world, and have control over how they choose to spend their time, jobs like that are rare and valuable, and the only way to get something valuable is to offer something in return. And the only way to be in a position to do that is to master a difficult skill. Passion doesn't waive the laws of economics, and if it's not difficult it won't be rare. The book cites the example of Julia, who quit a secure job in advertising to pursue her passion of teaching yoga. Armed with a 4-week course, she quit her job, began teaching, and one year later was on food stamps. Here's a hint: if a four-week course is enough to allow you to set up shop, do you think you might have a little competition?
Taking the economic model a step further, the book argues that you must develop career capital, which comprises skills, relationships and a body of work. The long and arduous process of building your capital also opens up your options and refines your own understanding of what you really like to do and what you can be good at.
Newport offers the craftsman mindset in place of the passion mindset. The passion mindset asks what the world can offer you in terms of fulfillment and fun; the craftsman mindset forces you to look inside and ask what you can offer the world. You have to create value to get value, and that takes time and deliberate practice. It's the only way to get so good that they can't ignore you. The nice benefit is that rather than being good at something because you love it, you love doing something because you've gotten good at it. (Note the similarity to Carol Dweck's growth mindset.)
What's the little idea? Another idea that Newport challenges is the common advice that you should have a big idea--set a big hairy audacious goal for your life and then work backward from it. The master plan approach certainly works for some people, but how many people do you know who have actually lived their lives that way? Instead, you should work forward from where you are, taking small steps that expand your capabilities and build up your career capital. In this way, more options and possibilities open up. Newport compares career discoveries to scientific discoveries, most of which occur in what's called the "adjacent possible", or just on the other side of the cutting edge of current knowledge.
The book is well-written. Newport emulates Malcolm Gladwell's technique of telling individual stories to illustrate the main point in each chapter. In addition, the arc of the stories follows a master story thread through the book, so that you feel like you are brought along on his quest to figure it all out.
Here comes the part I did not like about the book, and I would not devote so much space to it if the author were not an MIT PhD, just beginning his career as an assistant professor of computer science.
The methodology in the book is suspect in two ways. While its stories are the book's great strength, the plural of anecdote is not data, and it's surprising how little hard data we're given. I certainly buy in because it makes sense and it matches my own life experience, but someone with a more skeptical point of view may be a tougher sell.
In at least one case, where he does use a peer-reviewed study for support, he overstates the case. Citing a paper by Amy Wrzesniewski, he states that the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but those who stayed around long enough to be good at what they do. If you read the actual paper, you won't find that conclusion, and in fact the author stresses that the sample size of 24 is too small to draw any firm conclusions.
That said, I strongly recommend this book to just about anyone, regardless of where you are in your career.
167 of 182 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2013
The basic premise of this book is thought-provoking and very relevant to so many of us struggling through career decisions. The primary point which Newport gets across is unambiguously true: finding a "passion" before setting off in your career is extremely difficult, and perhaps even counterproductive. Developing a very solid set of skills which are somewhat rare and valuable is the only way to position oneself into a meaningful job with any sort of autonomy and humanity. This is essential, especially in the competitive world we live in. And competency itself is related to self-satisfaction—perhaps even more so than any intrinsic interests we might have. Good points.
However, the book falls flat in almost every other aspect, from the explanations, to the real-world examples, to the relevancy for the vast majority of professional laborers sitting in cubicles today. This is not surprising given Newport's background in prestige and academics, and the quite unorthodox path he's taken. This issue follows through the entire book with example after example of people and their careers that can only be characterized as esoteric and extreme. The hyper-successful individuals he profiles as examples of people happy with their careers are starkly contrasted by the obvious hubris of those he interviews who are not. There is no middle ground, which is, unfortunately, the vast majority of us, who are neither ridiculously foolhardy nor overachievers to the extreme.
This book and its author smacks of the Tim Ferriss-style cure-all self-help trash which is all born out of an unrigorous, hyped-up, TED Talk-syle, fast-food intellectualism which is so tempting to consume in the blogging age. Beware of the hype, remember this book was written in less than 6 months, work hard, and find a job you don't hate for Christ's sake.
239 of 265 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2012
I really wanted to love this book. I have been reading Cal's blog since its inception and have read his "yellow" and "red" books many times over. When he started this idea on the blog, I thought it would be great. While the ingredients are there in this book, the execution, especially the writing, is beyond disappointing. Every point is belabored, and the exact same points are made in successive paragraphs and pages. It felt like a nail was being hammered into my brain. It was also very roundabout -- instead of striving to keep addressing his assumed critics in every chapter, he should just get his point across. While I did find the latter half of the book better than the first half, I felt as if I could get the necessary information from the chapter summaries.
I also have two qualms about the book:
1. It feels as if this book is posited to those who are in the position to create career capital, such as ivy league graduates, and not someone who is just trying to get by and can't leave their job of flipping burgers. How can people in less fortunate positions get the capital to be remarkable? I must admit, I have not thought long enough about this observation to flesh it out, but if anyone has thoughts on this, let me know.
2. Also, it seemed as if the majority of the subjects in the book did have passion to do something before they had the capital. While they did have a craftsmans approach, this seemed to be a necessary action to pursue what they were passionate about in the first place. In addition, in his caveat section for the method, it basically says that if you don't like the job and coworkers (more specifically, if they see it as useless or it can't help them get career capital), don't do it. Again, if one must take such a job to support themselves, are they then helpless? And if they don't like the job, ie are not passionate about it, and you recommend them to quit, what does that say about the importance of passion? It would have been better to explicitly say that while passion is good, it is not good enough.
I am open to changing the review if I could get some of my questions and concerns answered, but this is how I feel at the moment.
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on August 16, 2013
First, I will say that this is an excellent book. In a world of so many different ways to make a living, this is a fresh new path to follow. It really is good advice. Just because people love doing things doesn't mean that people will pay you for it. The trick is to get really good at something and then people will come to you. Essentially, when people come to you, you are negotiating from a position of power and you can set whatever terms will make you happy. You not a morning person? Say you'll work from 12-8. Don't like Tuesdays? Take that day off. It all boils down to having control over your own life. It's the same idea about an encyclopedia vs Wikipedia. The more successful one is the one where anyone can add anything anytime they wanted. They're not even being paid, they just really want to add an article about mustard at 3am.
However, I started getting an elitist feel from the book about halfway through, and it's the reason I gave it only 3 stars. The people he talks about in his book are those buisness/computer people who: A)Know how to start and run a business, B)Can work from home (all they need is a computer), and/or C)have a skill that makes hundreds if not thousands of dollars an hour. Not to mention, most of them have PhD's. One person he talks about started a music company, sold it for 22 million, donated all the money, globe trotted for a few years, then started another freakin' company. Would this book be worth something to a nurse? A teacher? A police officer? Or are these people who have followed their "passion" and this book is just for a select number of people who's highly paid skills are transferable?
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2013
While at base, there are a few good tips and hints of better ways to think about one's life and career, ultimately it's riddled with hopelessly weak arguments. For instance, the very first one (don't do what Steve Jobs says, do what he did), according to Newport, if Steve Jobs had followed his passion, he would have ended up a Zen master or whatever, but instead, he actually fell into computers to make money, and therefore did not follow his passion. I'm sorry, but Newport has absolutely no basis for assuming that Jobs' passion for Zen didn't die out and he didn't find an even greater passion in computing, as Jobs attests in the Stanford speech Newport so heavily criticizes. I'm not saying the "passion hypothesis" doesn't have flaws, but this particular line of reasoning is a poor argument against it.
Nearly every argument in the book is flawed in this way. For instance, in determining one's "mission," Cal says you need to get to the cutting edge of your field first, and only then can you find a compelling mission. But the example he gives to prove this contains just the opposite! He quotes a Harvard professor saying that she had a vague sense that she "wanted to help people," and so went to med school, but ended up becoming a disease specialist, which has led to a specific mission. Now, call me crazy, but it seems that an initial general mission of "wanting to help people" led to her later, more specific mission. Instead of Cal's apparent thesis--"just become an expert in anything and then apply it to a specific mission" (which anyone can immediately tell is wrong)--the evidence that Cal himself provides seems to suggest more that it's okay to follow a general mission, but make sure you learn as much as possible about it and narrow it down to something as specific as possible. It's just weird that Cal, who is clearly a smart guy, comes to such clearly wrong conclusions.
Also, his descriptions of the people whom he deems to have valuable lives are insufferable puff-pieces. Look how brilliant these people are! Oh look, they're funny too! Gag me. Just get to the point.
I couldn't even finish this thing.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2012
I found the book to present an interesting, alternative viewpoint to the passion philosophy but was not convinced in the end because of a lack of evidence and the author's assumption that getting better is independent of passion.
Cal breaks one of his main points when trying to argue for his "craftsman mindset" idea: he only presents anecdotal support. In the first part of the book Cal argues that "it is necessary to study a large number of examples and ask what worked in the vast majority of cases." The problem is Cal never presents this data and instead relies solely on support from personal stories. Although the personal stories are more emotionally engaging it does nothing to further support his argument. It fails in exactly the same way he describes the Passion Hypothesis to fail. Could it be that his argument is really only viable to the select few people he's presented? We don't know because he never presents the data.
The other large hole I found in Cal's argument is his implicit assumption that getting better at something is necessarily independent of how one feels about that thing. Naturally someone who believes or likes something will get better much faster than someone who is less so. The internal passion/belief is the motivation to be able to do the hard "deliberate practice". I find it difficult to believe that anyone would ever try to get really good at something simply for the sake of getting really good. If you look at his examples with Steve Martin and the guitarist Jordan, they both had the motivation to practice because they believed in what they were doing. Matching what you do with your personality DOES matter in my opinion.
Despite this criticism though, I would still recommend the book. Although the evidence is lacking and I'm not entirely convinced by the overall argument, it presents an alternative viewpoint which is important when deciding for yourself what is really true. Also, I thought his ideas on "deliberate practice", "career capital", and the importance of control were very useful.
But in the end, simply ignoring who you are and what you like still doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2015
I can’t recommend this book enough. The author’s lessons matches my life experience to the letter. At 25, I quit my engineering job on the day of my 3rd anniversary with a large company (I needed 3 years to vest my retirement stock matching contributions). When I quit, I was beginning to get really good at my job. I quit due to having an excess of courage caused by excessive exposure to (mostly) Robin Sharma’s writings. This was 2004. “You can’t get to second base with one foot on first” Robin said. Yeah. Right. After I quit my job my potential clients fell through, so I started working a sucky part time engineering job with a very small company. I made a lot less money, but at least had more time to devote to “my company”. Well this lasted all of 11 months. I got fed up with how hard it was to get clients, money, and trying to manage all the paperwork of having a company. Looking back I find the whole event comical: I even had a business card with the company name and the title of “President”. Oooohhh preeeesident. What a joke. I was the courageous president of a company that had zero clients.
In reading this book, I feel as if the author is talking about me. I quit a good job to form a my own company even though I had zero clients whom had given me money, no experience in the field I was trying to cover, no reputation, nothing. Just a lot of inspiration from “feel good” authors, all whom became successful by peddling ideas that sound sexy but are dislodged from reality. At least it only took me 11 months to find out. I was able to get a good job at another company and stuck to it for 8.5 years, where I accumulated a lot of career capital. By the time I left I was able to more or less choose what I wanted to work on. I’m 37 now and am doing very well at another large company, but only because I’ve always practiced the craftsman mentality described in this book. So it has always been easy to stand out among my peers. I now have a venture that I’ve been working on the side for a little over 2 years and it is starting to yield more consistent results. I feel I’m at the threshold of something good, but this time, it is because I have accumulated a ridiculous amount of skills and decent connections (still need to work on my networking). This time, if I quit my day job for my own venture I know I will have success. How do I know? Because I will not quit my dayjob unless I’m making more money on my venture.
Oh and don’t get me started on Tim Ferriss. I stumbled upon his book at an airport at a time when I was more mature and knew better. Even so, I still devoted about 2 or 3 weeks of my time to creating a website to get the fabled passive income. At least I lost only a few weeks of my time because I had grown wiser. But yet again, I saw myself in the references the author makes in this book about the “lifestyle design” bullcrap, though he is far more forgiving than I am. It was only when I started acquiring new skills by DOING rather than READING that my options have started to grow exponentially. I still have a long way to go, but everything is getting easier by the quarter. You need money to make money. Everybody knows that. Well I’ve found you also need clients to get clients. You need success to get success. Once you can SHOW rather than TELL what you can do, people start looking for you. You also start to exuberate confidence, both because you have gained experience in the negotiation table, but more so because you have actually a done the work and are truly skillful. This skillfulness brings confidence. Confidence and a body of work brings clients. If a potential client finds you instead of you cold calling her, well that just leads to a very different discussion on the negotiation table. That is why it is critical to have a body of work. And you need a day job to support you while you create that body of work. We are talking years here, not months. There are no shortcuts to success.
It is pretty simple though not easy: Cut your TV watching / internet browsing to only 2-3 hours per week. Use all that time gained learning a skill that interests you. Once you are proficient with the first skill, start with another skill. But you need to be DOING, not reading how to do it or watching how to do it. Spend a year this way and you will become addicted to the personal growth you have experienced while your friends are liking their lives away on Facebook. To the outside world you will be somewhat of a workaholic, but you will not feel that way because you are working on YOUR interests, not your employer’s interests. Success will invariable follow in a few more years because you will be so good they can’t ignore you. You just need to unplug yourself and start on your own path, but without the financial stress of not having a day job.
Quit your Netflix, not your dayjob. Do, don’t plan.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2014
I purchased this book in a hurry after watching one of his talks on Vimeo, where he plugs it rather heavily. The reason I purchased it in a hurry is that I have been offered a spot in a grad program, yet am very conflicted about whether or not to accept it or pursue my other career possibility. I was hoping this book would help, but the obvious holes in his logic and fuzzy thinking in general are not giving me a lot of confidence in taking his advice.
The main issue I have is that almost all of his anecdotes completely undercut his primary thesis: that "following your passion" is horrible and even dangerous (really? dramatic much?) advice. A millionaire ad-man, a surf-board magnate, a bluesgrass afficionado, a famous radio host... all of Cal's examples are people who are clearly doing very specific, glamorous jobs which they seem to have been dedicated to for years.
If he was trying to disprove that the nature of your work is irrelevant, why did he not pick accountants, actuaries, retail managers, or any blue-collar workers? A completely satisfied manager at The GAP would have been much more convincing than any one of the exceptional cases he uses to back up his points. In fact, the way he explains the backgrounds of his examples, it is quite obvious they have in fact had "pre-existing passions" for their line of work. None of them were thrust into a field they didn't choose, with the one exception maybe being Steve Jobs. But even that is debatable.
I'm sorry, but what I'm taking away from this book is that if you have natural talent and you work your ass off and become a "craftsman", than you will be able to enjoy a successful career following your passion. For me, the book fails as an argument completely. I give it 3 stars because it introduces new ideas and has interesting stories, and 2 is too harsh.
I have to say though, for someone who spends 42 hours a month thinking about research problems, Cal seems to not be the most spectacular researcher. Or, at the very least, is not very great at presenting what research he has completed.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go get better at my passion.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2014
Ok. All the way through the book Mr Newport argues that "follow your passion" is a bad advise, instead you should put all your efforts and dedication to become "so good they can't ignore you"= meaning so good you'll get paid good money and get more flexible in working hours etc.
However the author failed in the roots of his own concept. He suggested you should't be focused on finding your passion just work hard, very hard and eventually you'll love what you do when you become real good at it. Ok, now how do I choose what that thing should be? Just go for one of the top 10 jobs from the salary rankings or what?
And most importantly, where I am supposed to find the motivation to work really really hard (in order to become "so good the can't ignore me"?)
What Mr Newport doesn't realize is that all the people he presented in the book (including himself) were passionate about their jobs. At the very least they were really interested in their fields. The only difference that really differentiated them from the rest is dedication and persistence, but hey it's not a new idea at all.
Quite frankly there is not a single chapter in the book which would give any practical advice on HOW to CHOOSE the career path, it's all bout how to become good in the path which has been already chosen.
Besides the book is very repetitive, like going over and over the same ideas thousand times will make them more convincing...
It's also quite impossible to contact Mr Newport for further explanations, so you pretty much left alone with a fancy, but rather irrelevant theories. I guess we shouldn't expect anything more practical from a PhD anyway...
35 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2012
Cal Newport's new book contains some great ideas, but this should have been an article not a book. To summarize, the author argues that the "follow your passion" movement has very little to offer and he proposes a "career capital" model. In the career capital model one asks themselves what they have of value to offer to an employer (or customer for those inclined to start a business), as opposed to asking what our employer has to offer us. Once significant career capital has been built, one can then go about assembling a career based on passion which includes autonomy, control and is mission-driven. I was impressed by the new construct that this book outlines, but I was underwhelmed by the examples used, by the research cited, and by the depth of the information presented. Instead of citing original research Newport primarily refers to works such as Outliers and Drive. Given Newport's impressive research credentials I would have expected more. I finished this in a matter of hours and was disappointed.