Tuesday 26 February 2013

So Good They Can't Ignore You

Finished February 24
So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport

I'd seen a mention of this book and was intrigued. The book captured me right from the get go. It counters the prevalent mindset (started for real purposes in the 1970's) that to have work you really enjoy, find what you are passionate about and make a job out of that. Newport digs deep into this premise, finding that it isn't as simple as that. He comes up with four rules around finding work you love.
Rule #1 is Don't Follow Your Passion. He looks at successful people, including many who espouse the "follow your passion" mantra and finds that even they didn't follow that path. Those that do have a passion, and follow that without proper preparation find themselves failing. So following it can actually be dangerous to your continued happiness.
Rule #2 is Be So Good They Can't Ignore You (or, the Importance of Skill). Newport looks at a number of people who are working in something they are passionate about and thus loving their work, and finds the truth behind their stories is getting really good at what they do, even better if it is something relatively rare. He calls this Career Capital. Trying to work at a passion without the practiced skills won't get you where you want to go. Here is where I hear my parents' voices exhorting hard work, because hard work, not just lots of work, but work that is actually challenging and difficult and success with it takes you to the next level is what is necessary. You have to be willing to seek out that work, and keep doing it, getting better with every iteration, until others see that skill in you and are willing to pay you for it. That pay may be in money, time, or other things, but that is what takes you further toward working with real passion.
Rule #3 is Turn Down a Promotion (or, the Importance of Control). Here, Newport shows that finding real passion in one's work means having a certain level of control about what you do and how you do it. Again, this is not something you can try without having those skills in place. This is about choosing what path you take, knowing that you can make a successful life with your skills in different ways and choosing the path that offers you the level of control you want, even if others try to dissuade you. As he says, because you have those skills, others are likely to try to talk you out of taking this path. Employers may value you highly and not want to give up even a portion of your time, colleagues may not understand you turning down a promotion that limits your control of your work due to the high compensation associated with it. That is why skills are important here, because if you try to exert control without having those skills, then you won't get that control. Here he talks about control traps and the law of financial viability, which is "using money as a way of determining whether or not you have enough career capital to succeed with a pursuit".
His Rule #4 is Think Small, Act Big (or, the Importance of Mission) which is about finding that unifying mission to your professional life that gives you that satisfaction or love of work which we aspire to. Again, he finds that you have to get things in the right order and finding a true mission only comes when we have gained those skills and control that we can see the possibilities and links between things. Visibility is important here, where you can market those ideas in a venue that draws you recognition. This means that you need to have the skills to be one of the top in your field (and this field can be quite narrow) so that you are working at the leading edge of discovery, in what he calls the adjacent possible. He also talks about the importance of the law of remarkability, the need for a project to be remarkable both in the drawing attention meaning and the venue that is conducive to such attention.
He wraps up the book with how he has applied and is applying these rules to his own life, the thought processes he follows for each and the actions he takes to further his career.
This book offers a lot to think about, and would be a great gift for a graduate to get them on the right track earlier.

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