So Good They Can’t Ignore You: A book review by Bob Morris

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love
Cal Newport
Business Plus (2012)How and why “the craftsman mindset is the foundation for creating work you love”

Curious, I checked on the etymology of the word “career” and learned this: Origin in 1530s, “a running, course” (especially of the sun, etc., across the sky), from M.Fr. carriere “road, racecourse.” Only centuries later (early 1800s), through the evolution of usage, did the word’s meaning emerge as the “course of a working life.” I mention all this because one of Cal Newport’s primary objectives is to help his reader select the most appropriate career course and remain on it while achieving near-, mid-, and long-term goals; then, if and whenever necessary, adjust the course, pace, and focus to accommodate unforeseen changes. Viewed as a journey, Newport also calls it a “career mission” that serves as “an organizing principle to your working life. It’s what leads people to become famous for what they do and ushers in remarkable opportunities that come along with such fame.”

Years ago during a commencement address at Stanford, Teresa Amabile urged the new graduates to do what they love and love what they do. I think that is excellent advice. That said, I agree with Newport that it is also very important to develop one’s capabilities, skills that will “trump passion in the quest for work you love.” That is why Newport advocates development of what he calls “the craftsman mindset,” one that focuses on what you can offer to the world. Unlike “the passion mindset” that focuses on what the world can offer you, the craftsman mindset “asks you to leave behind self-centered concerns about whether your job is ‘just right,’ and instead put your head down and plug away at getting really damn good. No one owes you a great career, it argues; you need to earn it — and the process won’t be easy.”

Here are a few of the dozens of passages that caught my eye:

o   Rule #1: “Don’t Follow Your Passion” (Pages 3-26)
o   The Science of Passion: Three Conclusions (14-19)
o   Craftsman Mindset vs. Passion Mindset (49-55)
o   Rule #2: “Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You” (29-101)
[Note: Newport explains that this comment was made by Steve Martin during an appearance on “The Charlie Rose Show.”]
o   “The Career Capital Theory of Great Work” (42-57)
o   Rule #3: “Turn Down a Promotion/or Control” (105-143)
o   “Control Traps” (115-131)
o   “The Law of Financial Liability” (137-141)
o   Rule #4: “Think Small, Act Big/The Importance of Mission” (147-197)

Newport devotes the final chapter to a brief but revealing discussion of his own “quest” to (a) answer the question, “How do people end up loving what they do?” and (b) obtain a faculty appointment at a university. He explains how he achieved both objectives.  Near the end of the book, he observes, “Once you build up the career capital that these skills generate [and others value highly], invest it wisely. Use it to acquire control over what you do and how you do it, and to identify and act on a life-changing mission. This philosophy is less sexy than the fantasy of dropping everything to go live among the monks in the mountains, but it’s also a philosophy that has been shown time and again to actually work.”
No brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of the information, insights, and counsel that Cal Newport provides. However, I hope that those who read this review will have at least a sense of what his purposes are and how well he serves them. Presumably he agrees with me that it would be a fool’s errand to attempt to act upon, immediately, all of his suggestions. Read strategically, highlight whichever passages are most important, formulate a “game plan,” and then proceed with both determination and patience during your own journey of self-discovery. Bon voyage!
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