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So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love Hardcover – September 18, 2012
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"Stop worrying about what you feel like doing (and what the world owes you) and instead, start creating something meaningful and then give it to the world. Cal really delivers with this one."
--Seth Godin, author, Linchpin
"Entrepreneurial professionals must develop a competitive advantage by building valuable skills. This book offers advice based on research and reality--not meaningless platitudes-- on how to invest in yourself in order to stand out from the crowd. An important guide to starting up a remarkable career."
--Reid Hoffman, co-founder & chairman of LinkedIn and co-author of the bestselling The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career
"Do what you love and the money will follow' sounds like great advice -- until it's time to get a job and disillusionment quickly sets in. Cal Newport ably demonstrates how the quest for 'passion' can corrode job satisfaction. If all he accomplished with this book was to turn conventional wisdom on its head, that would be interesting enough. But he goes further -- offering advice and examples that will help you bypass the disillusionment and get right to work building skills that matter."
--Daniel H. Pink, bestselling author of Drive and A Whole New Mind
"This book changed my mind. It has moved me from 'find your passion, so that you can be useful' to 'be useful so that you can find your passion.' That is a big flip, but it's more honest, and that is why I am giving each of my three young adult children a copy of this unorthodox guide."
--Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick, WIRED magazine
"First book in years I read twice, to make sure I got it. Brilliant counter-intuitive career insights. Powerful new ideas that have already changed the way I think of my own career, and the advice I give others."
--Derek Sivers, founder, CD Baby
"Written in an optimistic and accessible tone, with clear logic and no-nonsense advice, this work is useful reading for anyone new to the job market and striving to find a path or for those who have been struggling to find meaning in their current careers."
About the Author
Cal Newport, Ph.D., lives in Washington, DC, where he is a writer and an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University. He also runs the popular website Study Hacks: Decoding Patterns of Success.
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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.
At the end there is also an outline of the steps he has taken to implement these strategies in his own career. This provides a practical example of his arguments you just read so I'd recommend not skipping this section. Maybe you will have some ideas on how to do the same for your own career.
Rule #1 Don't Follow Your Passion
Argument against the Passion Hypothesis. Most people do not seem to have a pre-existing passion waiting to be discovered and therefore believing that there is a magical right job awaiting you is a mistake.
Rule #2 Be So Good They Can't Ignore You
Argument for building career capital which is the acquisition of rare and valuable skills. These skills are used in order to get a great job which is also rare and valuable.
Great work allows you to be creative, have impact, and control.
How you do this:
A) Craftsmen mindset - focus on what value you are bringing to the world around you as opposed to the passion mindset which is focusing on the value the world is offering you.
Three disqualifiers to craftsmen mindset:
1) The job presents few opportunities to develop rare and valuable skills.
2) The job focuses on something you think is useless or bad for the world.
3)The job forces you to work with people you really dislike.
B) Deliberate practice - deliberately stretching beyond your comfort zone in work and receive feedback on your performance. Similar to how athletes and musicians train. This is deep work where you focus on improvement.
Rule #3 Turn Down a Promotion
Once you have career capital how do you invest it? Gaining more control over your career...not necessarily promotions or more responsibility.
1) Do not try to gain more control too early. Need to make sure you are valuable enough to your employer before making moves for autonomy.
2) Once you are skilled enough to make moves for more control your employer will resist because of the value you bring to them. They will push you toward promotions and roles requiring more responsibility.
If you are pursuing more control in your career but are encountering resistance you can test the reason by using the law of Financial Viability. This simply means doing what people are willing to pay for. This is an indicator of whether or not you have enough career capital to do what it is you are pursuing.
Rule #4 Think Small, Act Big
Having a guiding Mission is a trait to pursue if you want a compelling career. You must first develop career capital to increase your chances of having a successful mission. You must have this career capital in order to see what the opportunities are in your field.
Adjacent possible is the area just beyond cutting edge in your field. In order to see this you must be skilled enough in an area which requires developing career capital.
Once you have a mission or an idea of a mission it is best to use Little Bets which are small specific projects launched at pursuing this overall mission. These little bets allow you to get feedback to see if you are on the right track or if you need to make adjustments to your ideas.
It also helps to pursue remarkable projects. That is 1) compels people to spread it and 2) launched in a venue that is conducive to spreading. An example of this is open source platforms or academic journals.
But, the author is so obsessed by strong words like "laws" and "rules", and has a rather dry writing style. I also caught him several times trying to forcefully project general experiences in his frame of thoughts and rules. Actually, the first two can be called rules. The last two are more of a couple of traits (control/autonomy, and mission/meaning) that someone who has built his career capital with hard work can enjoy and target. There could be a fifth and a sixth, etc. Which means the hardly can be called rules.
On another note, his theory and findings are very simple, but he keeps repeating again and again the same words and sentences. For instance, when he reaches Rule #3, he would go and lay out his arguments for Rule #1 and Rule #2. In Rule #4, he will go and lay out the same monotonous arguments for Rule #1, #2, and #3. And the same happens at almost the beginning and ending of chapters and parts, and at the conclusion. I find it very annoying!
On another note, he keeps elaborating on the experience of his subjects in extended lengths of narrative. Not a single time, I wanted to say: "cut it short, Cal!"
Again, the premise of the book and his findings are great and I consider them crucial for anyone who takes his career seriously. I, however, see the readers will go through unnecessary labor to reach simple conclusions that hardly need more than 50 pages of writing.
Most recent customer reviews
It could have been a blog post instead of a book and it would have communicated the idea across just fine.
Too expensive for what it is.Read more