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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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After making his case against passion, Newport sets out on a quest to discover the reality of how people end up loving what they do. Spending time with organic farmers, venture capitalists, screenwriters, freelance computer programmers, and others who admitted to deriving great satisfaction from their work, Newport uncovers the strategies they used and the pitfalls they avoided in developing their compelling careers.
Matching your job to a preexisting passion does not matter, he reveals. Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before.
In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.
With a title taken from the comedian Steve Martin, who once said his advice for aspiring entertainers was to "be so good they can't ignore you," Cal Newport's clearly written manifesto is mandatory reading for anyone fretting about what to do with their life, or frustrated by their current job situation and eager to find a fresh new way to take control of their livelihood. He provides an evidence-based blueprint for creating work you love.
SO GOOD THEY CAN'T IGNORE YOU will change the way we think about our careers, happiness, and the crafting of a remarkable life.
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--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
- Publisher : Grand Central Publishing (September 18, 2012)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1455509124
- ISBN-13 : 978-1455509126
- Item Weight : 14.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.75 x 1.15 x 8.38 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #16,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #18 in Job Hunting (Books)
- #472 in Success Self-Help
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on July 29, 2018
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1. "Um... and for those of us who aren't Leonardo de Vinci?"
a.) Who is the target audience: Ivy League grads (well, Stanford is in there too), music prodigies, people whose standardized test results put them in the top 1%, United States top-ranked debaters who use law school as a back-up plan for trying out Hollywood?!! In fairness, there are also studies cited. But is this really a guideline meant to be representative for a generalized population? Yes, these remarkable people worked hard, excelled, and appear to be content. It makes sense to look at that. But what about the rest of us?
b.) An underlying assumption seems to be that career "success" is the same as career "satisfaction." (I'm not sure I would choose someone like Steve Jobs to illustrate how to be happy.) If the book were entitled, "How to be successful," I would probably quibble less. Snapshot assessments are provided of talented people who are for the moment extremely successful, and who appear content. How do we measure that these people are really happy in their jobs, or that they will be 30 years from now? Does one have to be "successful" to be happy? How many examples exist of people who have been successful who have lied (to themselves and others) about their happiness--only to later implode.
c.) How do these examples support causality relative to the book's premise? There was no mention of the possibility that others might try the recommended approach and fail anyway.
d.) The author's work with computers perhaps betrays him. This comes across as an intellectual construct based on the premise that job satisfaction is a deterministic puzzle. I don't agree: our lives are not linear, and this is NOT a science. There are just too many variables. Some write songs in 5 minutes, others labor for weeks or months. Some write books prolifically, some struggle for years. The template is not fixed.
2. "The Craftsman Mindset (Mastery)"
a.) Of all the places to look for evidence that job satisfaction is the result of the merit of one's efforts, the decision to highlight people in the music and television industries as illustrative models is just stunning. These venues represent the most subjective examples of achievement I can imagine. Countless instances can be found to illustrate a lack of mastery, talent, and quality. How many contemporary singers sing off pitch, how many hit television shows are increasingly... garbage? Perhaps "the tape doesn't lie", but in too many cases it just doesn't matter.
b.) The celebration of mastery, hard, smart work, craftsmanship, and excellence is valid, wonderful, and useful. But history is replete with examples of people who were masters at what they did, and yet they WERE ignored--or even vilified. The response based on the line of reasoning presented would likely be that these people failed to adequately handle their "career capital." Should they have assessed their marketability at the expense of their mission or their integrity? Would this have made them happy? On the other hand, maybe it's possible they were already happy--despite their lack of tangible success.
c.) I find it difficult to believe that people who have the tenacity to pursue the craftsman mindset do so not from passion but because it's what the "industry requires", or because it's what they can "offer the world." The former rationale is too cynical (a la "Stepford" employees). The latter is too Pollyanna-ish. I doubt either covers the general case.
d.) Ira Glass is quoted as asserting that "you have to force the skills to come." I can attest from decades of experience in diverse environments that some of the most capable people I have met were the biggest goof-offs... and when it came time to get down to brass tacks, it wasn't because they "forced it". (I suspect this is partially because their minds were relaxed enough to learn.) Would they fit the book's criteria to be considered masters? I don't know, but that's not the point: the question was whether they were happy in their work.
a.) I think the book makes some good points regarding passion. It is sometimes difficult to understand passion in the absence of experience. But people have done amazing things because of passion--passion allows people to get beyond horrible circumstances through dedication to something they love. And while the book ridicules the passion mindset, Craftsman Mindset Disqualifier #2 allows for avoiding work that one considers "useless." Why? Probably because it's hard for anyone to have ANY passion for something they consider useless. (And later the development of a sense of mission is lauded to answer the related question "what should I do with my life.")
b.) The argument that prior to deciding on a mission, one must first "get to the cutting edge" is just not realistic. How many people are ever able to attain that status? But even if they can, at what price? The opportunity cost of "10,000 hours" (particularly to find out one was mistaken) is enormous. Is this really a prescription for job satisfaction for the average person?
c.) Perhaps the most poignant counter-examples to the premise that passion lacks value are provided by many who do excel at music as a profession. Accomplished musicians invariably note that they selected music as a career, because they in effect "had no choice," it is "part of who they are." As far as Jordan Tice, I cannot see how he would have practiced so much without passion. And to compare someone with average or even above-average musical skills to someone who is a musical "prodigy", and assert that the difference between the two can simply be attributed to how they practiced, seems to be pushing it a bit. For myself at least, I can tell you that I harbor no such illusions. :-)
d.) The assertion is made that Steve Jobs wasted time during his younger days on the idea of passion. But how does one know that his "messy path" wasn't a prerequisite for his later success and happiness? How would he know he shouldn't become a Zen master, if he hadn't taken the time to explore the possibility? More to the point, maybe he would have never accomplished what he did if he hadn't attempted that path first. Indeed, the knowledge that our passions may not be clear cut may be the very reason for their pursuit. How will people obtain clarity, if they never investigate what they believe to be true? Passions may at times be illusory, and they may change, but that doesn't negate their validity--or their pursuit.
4. "The American Dream"
a.) This book can be viewed as optimistic, in that it suggests that anyone can do anything. Implicit in the analysis is the cliché that if one just tries hard enough and in the right way, they'll make it, and they'll be happy. But it can also be viewed as convenient and elitist to argue from success, e.g. "I succeeded, I'm happy, why aren't you... just do what I did." Though not mentioned as such, this idea fits in well with of the longstanding concept of the American dream. The narrow and exclusive nature of the supplied anecdotes does not lead one to be persuaded regarding the general premise. The author suggests that passion is rare, but how rare are the exceptional stories that were described? How many follow the rules and aren't happy; how many don't follow the rules but are? I would be curious as to how Malcolm Gladwell might view this book. Some of the points made in "Outliers" are cited, but in my opinion this book misses some of the heart that comes through in Gladwell's book. But perhaps I'm mistaken.
b.) The book notes the particularly low satisfaction level of young workers. Increasingly, Americans' expectations are too high, we have grown up believing that we deserve to be entertained. In some ways this feeds our obsession with passion--I agree. But beyond this, we live in a culture where money, power, winning, and success--not craftsmanship or mastery--are the holy grail. Are we really surprised that people feel empty?
c.) If one Googles "resume tips", they'll come upon the recommendation for people to leave their personal information off their resume. This is practical advice that is understandable, but consider the rationale that is provided: "We don't care what kind of person you are." That, I suggest, may be closer to the root of why rank and file people are often miserable in the jobs.
I think Newport made a great original contribution to understanding career development with his concept of Career Capital:
"The traits that define great work are rare and valuable. Supply and demand says that if you want [this work] you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your career capital. The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you,” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital. "
Newport suggests a strategy of acquiring career capital - and then investing it in better roles.
To develop career capital,
* develop a craftsman attitude
* start "deliberative practice" - "Deliberate practice is the key strategy for acquiring career capital then integrating it into your own working life." As per the 10,000 hours philosophy espoused by Anders Ericsson and then Malcolm Gladwell..
To get more career control, understand the two control traps:
The First Control Trap
"Control that’s acquired without career capital is not sustainable."
The Second Control Trap
"The point at which you have acquired enough career capital to get meaningful control over your working life is exactly the point when you’ve become valuable enough to your current employer that they will try to prevent you from making the change."
Then, develop your mission by getting to the cutting edge of your field and spotting what is possible in the adjacent future.
THE (VERY) BAD:
In spite of the good in the book, I think Newport made several major mistakes that radically reduced the forcefulness of his book's argument.
I just want to tackle one of them here, which is his attack on the "passion hypothesis."
The Passion Hypothesis is stated as:
"The key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion."
Then Newport proceeds to tell us why this hypothesis is wrong.
Unfortunately, this "passion hypothesis" is a straw man, an artificial construction created by Newport.
According to Newport, the poster child for the passion hypothesis is Richard Bolles and his book "What Color is Your Parachute."
Newport however seems to have completely missed the point of Bolles' book - and the central point of similar books in this genre.
"Passion" was not what was at the core of Bolles' book. In fact, the word "passion" was rarely mentioned in the book.
Instead, Bolles advocated an alignment between Skills, "Knowledges," and (in different editions) either Values or Purpose, together with conceptualising an ideal work environment.
** Bolles' book placed skills at the very centre of his approach **.
For Bolles, 'skills' were NOT ignored. They were the very foundation.
To say Bolles' approach was just about "following your passion" - and doing so at the expense of skills - is either a deliberate mischaracterisation of Bolles' work, or shows an astonishingly low level of understanding of the point of view that Newport is attacking.
And it's not just Bolles who took this skills-based approach to career and business development.
Most of the common models in the 'find your career' or 'do work you love' or 'start your business' genres tend to follow something like the Jim Collins Hedgehog model - combine what you love (your interests or passions) with what you're good at (your skills and strengths) and a market need.
** For Newport to put passion VS skills as a dichotomy where you have to choose one or the other and can't have both is not representative of what people actually teach or what career seekers or business startups actually do. **
It is a false dichotomy.
In the examples he used in the book, this was so ridiculous that at one point (Ch. 5) Newport even observed his example wasn't really all that representative, and that we should understand the case examples forming the foundation of the chapter as simply a good 'metaphor.'
This isn't just a minor point. This is a gaping hole in the fundamental premise in the book - that other people tell you to just go and follow your passion, that that's wrong, and Newport alone has a different and better way.
Well, Newport's way - to focus on skills development - is along the lines what everyone else does anyway.
Newport makes some good contributions about the process of developing your skills and using them to advance your career. But his rhetorical positioning that everyone else is just about following your passion and only he can show us the 'true path' is plain wrong.
I do recommend reading this book as it has some good ideas and for me it generated some good reflections. Just be aware that there is a gaping hole in his premise around the role that passion plays in career development. And that he uses the same rhetorical device of constructing and attacking a false 'straw man' in his next book, Deep Work - so this seems to be a deliberate strategy or preference on Newport's part.
Top reviews from other countries
This book is particularly relevant for people looking to be gain more control over their lives or starting their own business. For this type of reader this book will be very valuable before you make the jump and will hopefully provide the confidence that it’s the right time for you and equip you with some tools to increase the chances of success.
Below are some of the things I took away from the book:
Thanks Cal, magnificent work!!
• Choosing a job based on following your passion is often bad advice
• The advice of following your passion is common and heard from high performing executives such as Steve Jobs. But in Jobs’ case he did the exact opposite: he was not initially passionate about technology and business but studied Western history and dance
• Life happens in stages and passion takes time to develop
• Passion is a side effect of mastery
• Many people don’t realise this and feel they are failing at life which results in chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt. Knuckle down, work hard and be patient.
Adopt a Craftsmen Mindset
• Don’t think about what the world can offer you (the Passion Mindset), think what you can offer the world (the Craftsmen Mindset)
• If you focus on what the world can offer you then the daily grind will lead to frustration and unhappiness
• Adopting the craftsmen mindset means that you must earn it and this can be liberating when you achieve success by putting the hard work
• To make it to the top is rare. Supply and demand dictates that you need rare and valuable skills to make it to the top
• You must work hard - and smart - to accumulate rare and valuable skills if you want to make it to the top
• It’s not how many hours you put in, it’s how you spend those hours
• “Deliberate practice” has been shown to be crucial in improving performance and reaching a high level
• If you work in a knowledge environment or professional services and you can figure out how to incorporate deliberate practice into your schedule then you should accelerate past your peers
• Measure your time to make sure you’re allocating enough time to the high value activities. This will likely annoy people as you become less available by email and phone. (just like my boss, hey maybe that’s why he’s my boss???)
• Think about your sector and job title to determine whether you need one skill (winner takes all) or multiple skills (auction market).
• Then go and put in the hard graft acquiring the skill(s) that you need to progress. This will likely be uncomfortable and unnatural. Be patient, it will pay off.
Gaining Control in your career
• Companies that provide control to their employees outperformed their peers while the employees themselves are happier and more fulfilled
• Be wary of radical life changes to gain more control of your destiny. You must have accumulated significant career capital – i.e. rare and valuable skills and ideas – to be valuable to prospective customers.
• Many people underestimate the need for this and assume they’ll figure it out as they go along. This OFTEN results in failure. I’ve seen a few friends fall in to this trap!
• Gaining more control will also be challenging since if you have the requisite career capital then your employer will likely prize you highly and not want you to work less.
• Gaining more control can only be executed well by those people that understand when they have the necessary skills. Many others will make the mistake of seeking control at the wrong point and wind up failing in their venture.
Have a mission but be patient finding it
• Having a worthwhile mission to accomplish in your career can be incredibly rewarding but the reality of creating one is challenging
• It often requires several years and accumulation of career capital before you have the requisite knowledge and expertise to identify a noble cause.
• People make the mistake of trying to take on missions without having the skills to back it up which results in failure. Suppress these instincts until you’re ready
• Missions are more likely to be successful when they are remarkable and are marketed well
The premise of the book covers picking a skill that is "rare and valuable" and then going all in to becoming "So good they can't ignore you". This is done through the craftsman mindset; where you are continously learning and honing in on your craft through "deliberate practice" (getting out of your comfort zone to learn new things).
Cal seems to comfortably dismiss the fact that it doesn't matter if you don't like what you're doing. All that matters is that you get "so good" and acquire "career capital" - A term that can be similarly described to becoming more valuable in the marketplace.
Although I agree with honing in on your craft and the topic of mastery, i cannot fathom that just because you're good at something, you become "passionate about it" or end up "loving what you do".
It's the same as saying "I'm a master at making French fries, hence I love what I do and I am passionate about it". What if a person where to pick something and become a master at the craft but hate their life? Hate that they didn't pick something they had a deep interest for instead? Or were innately good at? What if you are getting good at the wrong thing? It leads to regret.
The author completely disregarded the fact of playing to your strengths, personality types and how some jobs and trades may be better suited to the end-user than others. There's more to it than just putting in the hours and getting good at what you do.
In summary, I would advise everyone to read this book. It gives you insights that can alter the trajectory of your life in a positive way. But please consider doing something you have a an interest in as you'll end up with nothing to lose. Being good at something valuable that you also have a deep interest in. Don't rely on "developing that passion" once you're really good as it simply is not guruanteed!
I was someone who constantly felt like I needed to be elsewhere or in another job (my dream job) and I felt like I needed to get that job or work in that area to feel happy and be satisfied with my life. Also, as my "dream job" was in something else to the thing I had trained in and worked in for the past 8/9 years, I also felt helplessly lost and at my wit's end- I felt like I didn't have the skills and didn't know how to get them. Essentially, I was playing the "helpless victim" role in my very own Hollywood blockbuster and had forgotten that I had to work and test myself to get my degrees and professional qualifications.
However, I was recommended this book by a friend and it has really changed my outlook on my present job and what I want to do in the future. Cal explains numerous things (and I won't even try - other people have done better than I could), but the big thing that impacted me was that the people who were happy in their jobs were happy because they were good at their jobs - it wasn't because it was their dream job, but due to their competence in the job and the other two big areas (explained in his book). This impacted me because I knew it to be true from looking at a few other people in my area of work and because I have been doing some other coaching which has helped open my eyes in regards to where my feelings and therefore passions come from (my thinking - see Michael Neill's TED talk as an introduction).
Anyway, I fully recommend this book, especially if you are someone who feels like you are constantly chasing or searching for that job that will give you fulfilment.
The very brief summary of the book is that the author believes you should not follow your dreams. Instead, you should work hard excel in your skills and ultimately become "so good they can't ignore you". The idea is by working hard you'll get recognized and relied upon and then with this revelation you'll then become develop a passion for your job and accrue "career capital" which you can effectively "cash in" at later dates.
The idea of working hard to excel in your skills personally reminded me of when I was at school and a group of us were learning Electric Guitar. All my friends would be learning the songs they like for that instant-gratification, but I was the only one who went through the strain of doing technical exercises, running up and down scales, picking techniques, etc and I ended up being a better player... That is, until I went to University and found everyone else had practiced even more than me! But really I could relate to the point the author makes where if you take that time to really focus on the hard/boring stuff, you will quickly soar above everyone else. I strongly believe he's correct.
Some people may hate the idea of not following your dream but the author's isn't saying you can't do what you're interested in but maybe don't give up your day job until it pays. He gives an example that Steve Jobs doesn't actually follow his dream, he just found a gap in the market. And my personal favorite example in the book was the person who quit their job to start a blog about how to make a living from writing blogs and their blog didn't go very far. There's another about a lady who quits her job to teach Yoga but has very little Yoga experience and soon realises she's financially ruined herself.
All in all, I'd definitely recommend it! Maybe nothing too new for some people but the examples are definitely a bit of a wake up call.