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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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--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
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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.
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.
So why am I so conflicted by this book? I think he makes valid points that acquiring skills will ultimately lead you to get to interesting work. But on the other hand, I think he dismisses passion too easily. For Newport passion always leads to failure evidenced by him cherry picking one example which goes to almost be definite proof. Perhaps the world isn't so simple to boil down to one path? The way I read this book was that it had a preference for going the same established way that everyone else has gone down. Newport seems to have a clear preference for education and working up career ladders which is perhaps not that surprising seeing as he's a professor at Georgetown University.
I think this book is excellent for those who don't quite know their passion or perhaps feel stuck in their current situation. The principles are great, build your skills, combine your skills into new combinations, ensure that the skills you have are the ones that are sought after. But don't pay too much attention to the parts about passion as it seems the passion part of the book is the least interesting part.
Top international reviews
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.
This is the approach I have used in my career and it has been successful. However one must be careful:-
1. You need to choose you area of expertise so that you stand out. If there are plenty of other specialists in the same area then its much harder to be above the rest. (I specialise in computational geography for a major telecommunications company). In non-academic environments have both theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge of how you business/industry works.
2. Do not ignore politics. It's there whether you like it or not. You can do great work and others can claim it is theirs or it is not important. Not always because they are nasty, it may be their honest belief. Make sure you are working on topics which are considered important (even if you are not so sure they are your self). (I advise senior management of the impact of various strategy ideas and new technologies)
3. Always keep up you expanding your knowledge. This is discussed in the book. However in a non-academic environment it is much harder. I still go on courses to learn new techniques even though I am 59.
4. Balance going to meetings with doing work. Some people spend all day in meetings and consider that work. I restrict the number of meetings and give my self time to produce ideas and innovations. However if you are not seen in meetings at all, others can claim your work or your work become invisible. Luckily most managers have supported me in the approach.
5. This whole approach assumes you are not keen on managing. At various points in you career you can move over to management. This can be enjoyable, but personally I do not enjoy that so much. In most companies you will get paid more for managing rather then being a technical expert.
Must read for undergrads and graduates, the passion hypothesis is a lie, Cal Newport reveals what the successful people do to enjoy their careers and their lives so much, as a computer engineer this advice will change everything, make me better than my peers and so good that my employers can't ignore me.
as a side note, the books starts off a bit slow, the good bits are in the 4 rules. be patient and give it a good read, trust me its worth it.
This to me was the book form of the same mindset. Do a thing you might not like or be naturally any good at if that's what the market says is valued.
The example of two people who both change career, one jumps in with no real plan and it doesn't work out. The other transitions to a new career, building skills and not putting all their eggs in one basket immediately. Both approaches have merit, the first is high risk but if it works the payoff can be big (the early bird gets the worm). Cal uses it as an example of why following your passion is bad advice but I think that's not the lesson to be learned from that.
I've seen and heard nothing but praise for this book so perhaps it was just the wrong book at the wrong time for me personally.
Deep Work on the other hand I would recommend highly.
Pursue excellence first and foremost, and passion will follow you. This can take some trial and error, but the case is strong in favour of developing unique sets of skills that make you (in-)valuable, as opposed to pursuing your 'dream' job. Many of the life-stories rang true, and the personal and collective insight Cal Newport shares were enlightening. This book also makes sense as a companion read to his other books e.g. Deep Work, as they all seem to hang together nicely.
While there always will be exceptions who fumbled upon a uncharted opportunity and excelled, this book is practical and gives you an assured method to explore life.
Having disposed of the myth, Cal Newport goes on the replace it with more solid advice, showing how you can become "... so good they can't ignore you". Also, very helpfully, he explains how he has applied the concept of "deliberate practice" to his own learning, with impressive results.
Overall, this is a really excellent book, and quite remarkable from one so near the beginning of his own career. On occasion, I thought the writing style was clumsy, but that is a minor issue. Much more important is the content, and that is superb. It ought to be compulsory reading for anyone involved in offering careers advice.
This books tells you that taking control and entrepreneurship and passions are all great, but they aren't enough to achieve success. It walks you step by step through the journey of what you need to do be able to take control, follow your passion and become an entrepreneur.
Very good book, very down to earth. You need this knowledge on top of your motivation to reach the necessary balance of drive and common sense.
1. The annecdotal examples are quite frankly bizarre - what about a sales person, policeman, real estate broker, or clerk?
2. The rambling and smug writing style of the author grated after a while.
3. Like most academics, the author looks for answers in the academic community...where people go to school, graduate, and subsuquently go back to school.... hardly a premise for the real world workers out there.
4. The book could be a ten page leaflet.