After so many people lost their jobs in the economic downturn, it seems as if there is another wave of people who’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurship/passion bug and are looking for a way out of their current job. Nothing against improving one’s position, but authors like Cal Newport are critical of the ‘grass is greener’ perspective. The result, he thinks, is that skills get softened when one jumps from one passion to another, and no skills get developed to the point of expertise – a problem whether one is working for someone else, or themselves.
His new book is called So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. Taken from comedian Steve Martin, the title might have been humorous in his context, but in Newport’s, it’s quite serious. According to the author, many young people have expectations of their jobs; expectations that those jobs will inherently provide skills, opportunities, and fulfillment. In some ways, this might be true, but expectations also involve a passivity which might keep young people from reaching their true potential. Following Newport’s theory, whether you’re in business for yourself, or as an employee, work at your skills to the point that someone finds you because you stand out. If your skills eventually outgrow the job, better opportunities might then find you, but likely not before. It’s up to you to create that scenario, not your job.
This is a great guide for young professionals in the art of doing. My hunch is that anyone with the incentive to pick up a business book and read it (when your peers are likely off doing other things) is an early sign that doing won’t be an issue for you. From there, the book offers solid advice on what steps to take to improve your career path.
Here’s a quote from the book:
I argued that it’s important to adopt the craftsman mindset, where you focus relentlessly on what value you’re offering the world. This stands in stark contrast to the much more common passion mindset, which has you focus only on what value the world is offering you. Even with the craftsman mindset, however, becoming “so good they can’t ignore you” is not trivial. To help these efforts I introduced the well-studied concept of deliberate practice, an approach to work where you deliberately stretch your abilities beyond where you’re comfortable and then receive ruthless feedback on your performance. Musicians, athletes, and chess players know all about deliberate practice. Knowledge workers, however, do not. This is great news for knowledge workers: If you can introduce this strategy into your working life you can vault past your peers in your acquisition of career capital.