Let me start by saying that I’m deeply grateful to Cal Newport for his insights over the past few years. They’ve encouraged me to implement Deliberate Practice, batch e-mails, engage in a shut-down ritual, delete my facebook, and eschew the Passion Mindset in favor of a craftsman approach.
His book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, is one of the best career books out there. Below is a brief summary:
Great careers do not arise from pre-existing passions. They spring from the cultivation of career capital – the development of rare and valuable skills that people will pay for – and the cashing in on a career that grants autonomy, creativity, and opportunities for mastery.
Note that passion is a side effect of mastery--and not the other way around.
You don’t follow competence, autonomy, and relatedness (i.e your passion), you earn it by providing something valuable in return.
Sometimes we identify our life’s work early on, as something we’re instinctively inclined to do. My friend knew at a young age, for example, through his predilection and talent for debate, that he was going to “talk” for a living. Sometimes we’ve unwittingly put in enough Deliberate Practice as a kid to reach 10,000 hours before we have to make career decisions. Professional athletes, Cal concedes, have followed their passion since as long as they can remember.
But most of us haven’t put in the time to master anything without years of hard work.
And that’s why following your passion first, before cultivating any value at that passion, is dangerous – you’re not good enough at it to provide real tangible value to society. You’ve got it backwards: You earn creativity, control, and impact at your job (i.e passion for it) by being so good at it.
If you understand this, you’ll avoid the “chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt” that plagues the wide-eyed idealists who expect to have amazing opportunities without putting in the work – the 10,000 hours, the 10 years – to earn them.
Putting in the work means, to quote Steve Martin, being so good they can’t ignore you.
Everything else – your brand, your network, your social media presence – these are all horribly secondary to Being So Good.
Ira Glass, award winning radio-show host, notes that you won’t be So Good when you begin a creative pursuit.
“All of us who do creative work…you get into this thing, and there’s like a ‘gap’. What you’re making isn’t so good, okay?... It’s trying to be good but… it’s just not that great” he explained in an interview about his career. “The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase,” he elaborated in his Roadtrip Nation session. In other words, this is not the story of a prodigy who walked into a radio station after college and walked out with a show. The more you read about Glass, the more you encounter a young man who was driven to develop his skills until they were too valuable to be ignored. “
Ira Glass didn’t follow his passion. He earned it, by “forcing” himself through the work—by putting in the deliberate practice.
And yet. It’s not just about working hard. It’s about working smart.
“If you just show up and work hard, you’ll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better. “
An example of Deliberate Practice in action:
“It didn’t take long for Alex to discover what allows some writers to succeed in catching the attention of a networks while so many others fail: They write good scripts…Alex turned his attention to writing. Lots of writing. During the eight months he spent as an assistant he dedicated his nights to working on a trio of different writing projects.”
“He threw himself into a project beyond his current capabilities and then hustled to make it a success.”
“He then obsessively sought feedback, on everything—even if , looking back now, he’s humiliated at the quality of scripts he was sending out.”
“even now he’s an established writer he still reads screenwriting books, looking for places where his craft could stand improving.”
After telling an investment tax-banker he should quit his job, Cal added 3 disqualifiers for applying the craftsman mindset:
1) The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable
2) The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively band for the world
3) The job forces you to work with people you really dislike.
I think, with more case studies, people would have a better idea of whether their job disqualifies the use of the craftsman mindset. More on this later.
Identify whether you’re in a Winner Take All or an Auction Market. Alex, the writer profiled above, entered a winner-take all market—who ever wrote the best scripts earned the most success; everything else—connections, degree—was secondary.
Auction markets, however, rely on diversity of experience. Business leaders and Educators, it seems, reside in auction markets. Teachers, then, rather than solely focusing on instruction techniques, should gain valuable non-class room experiences (traveling, working, performing), to give more credibility and zest to their classroom.
I'm most excited to hear the discussions that follow the book: How people can use it in their career, how it compliments or differs from The Start-Up of You and how education systems can adapt to a newer, more nuanced understanding of career development.