Geetanjali Mukherjee

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Review: So Good They Can't Ignore You

This week's book review is of a book that I read more than a year ago, and came across recently, and decided to read again. The book: Cal Newport's career-advice book "So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love".

Rating: 4.5 stars

General Comments: The second time around I am appreciating the message of this book a lot more than I did previously. I would probably have given it 3.5 stars then. I think partly that is because the message of the book is quite different, and presented differently, and takes getting used to. In some ways, my own views on career and success have changed a lot in the intervening period, and perhaps as a result, I am more in agreement with the general arguments of the book.

The central premise of the book - "follow your passion" is bad advice, and instead of asking yourself what your passion is, you are better off focusing on becoming "so good they can't ignore you".

3 Insights from the Book:

1. Focus on honing your skills at work - become what Newport calls a "career craftsman", systematically honing your skills at the aspects of your field that are most important. The better you are at work, the more you acquire "career capital", which is a lot like other kinds of capital, and can be exchanged for creating a job that you actually love.

2. Craft comes before autonomy - most of us crave more autonomy in our work, as discussions on remote working and flexible time illustrate. However, Newport argues that more autonomy isn't possible without having a store of "career capital" to exchange for it.

3. Find a mission after you gain mad skills - those of us looking for a mission believe that you need to find the mission first, and then find a way to make it happen. Newport flips that order - and states that by first becoming really good and therefore knowing the bounds of your field, you can find interesting avenues to explore, which will be easier now that you also have the skills.

Although I did find some holes in his argument, or at least many possible exceptions, I do think in general there is merit in prioritising becoming good in what you are already doing rather than looking for something elusive that you could be doing instead. I definitely wish there was a book like this when I graduated.

Recommend For: Anyone wishing to gain another perspective on how to create a career that is "remarkable", especially for those starting out, or in their first jobs.

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