Book Recommendation: So Good They Can’t Ignore You

A central theme in the formation of this blog was passion. How do we find work we love? How do we craft a career around the belief that work shouldn’t be something that’s done to pass time before the weekend arrives? And how do we move towards turning those passions into something that someone will pay us for?

The passion hypothesis (as defined by Cal Newport) states that the key to happiness at work is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion.

In his new book, So Good They Can’t Ignore you, Newport argues that the passion hypothesis is both wrong and potentially dangerous.

Put that Steve Jobs commencement speech on hold for a second.

Newport does a few things that I like. He takes a commonly held notion (one pushed by guidance counselors, parents, countless authors/bloggers, and the media) and turns it upside down.

He creates several hypotheses that he then tests on himself (and others). And through this process, he developed what I found to be a very sensible, action based framework.

There are 3 main conclusions that the book comes to.

1. Career Passions are Rare (our earliest passions are not good indicators, as nearly everyone’s passion at a young age is centered around sports or the arts).

2. Passion takes time – the more someone is in their job, the more passion they have for it (akin to the endowment effect).

3. Passion is a side effect of mastery.

In place of the passion hypothesis, Newport proposes the Craftsmen Mindset. The craftsman is focused less on his specific job, and more on the rare and valuable skills he can attain in his field. These skills can ultimately be ‘cashed in’ for control, impact, and creativity, three cornerstones of a fulfilling career.

The book goes into detail discussing different fields, the types of capital available, and how to go about attaining it. One point that’s relevant to anyone in any field, according to Newport, is deliberate practice, a term for the hard, focused practice that will allow you to see great improvements in any skillful endeavor.

Newport actually addresses the famed Stanford commencement speech given by Steve Jobs. In fact, Jobs didn’t follow his passion at the time (buddhism and other forms of eastern mysticism) when founding Apple. Before the company was formed, there was no indication that he was passionate about either technology (that was his partner, Steve Wozniak) or entrepreneurship. More than anything, he appeared to have stumbled into the opportunity via new insights he uncovered about circuit boards (this isn’t to say Jobs wasn’t passionate about his job, because he clearly was, merely that his passion grew over time).

Newport has created what I believe to be a useful framework in an area where things tend to be ambiguous and fuzzy. The book is one I recommend.

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4 responses

  1. I enjoyed talking about this with you earlier this week! You should start a book club. I am interested to hear more about what you are doing to apply these ideas towards your own journey for passion/fulfillment.

  2. Interesting. I’ve heard people throwing around the word passion (relative to their interests, not so much their work) so often lately, it comes close to losing its meaning. There also seems to be a general mindset that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to translate your passion(s) into your life’s work– with which I strongly disagree. And you’ve given me more to think about on this topic! Thanks!

  3. hi david. from my own experience i totaly agree with newport. my job and then what become my career that i loved , started as the need for a job for survival. as i kept doing the best i could with the job i had and the right circumstances i grew into becoming the vice president of the company in just 6-7 years. any way i keep enjoying your blog, miss you and look forward to see you next moth at thangsgiving.love you.

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