So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport

A few months ago I received an email from a friend covering what he’d been up to over the course of 2012, and making a few recommendations. Amongst these suggestions was the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport – a book that takes a very different stance when it comes to choosing a career path.

The basic premise is that while the advice “find your passion” is extremely prevalent, it isn’t necessarily accurate. Through various examples and interviews, Newport sets about demonstrating where “finding a passion” has caused problems for people and on occasion doomed their projects to failure. He concludes that skills are much more important, and that success is much more likely to come from building up a very specific (and possibly narrow) set of abilities rather than being passionate.

Amongst the various examples he cites are Steve Jobs and Thomas. Steve Jobs famously delivered a commencement address to Stanford University advising graduates to “do what you love”, and referring to his time at university taking classes that interested him. His interest in Buddhism was well documented, so Cal Newport’s reference to Thomas – a man who decided to follow his passion and become a monk – seems even more appropriate. Thomas discovered that following his passion wasn’t enough and became disillusioned with his plans, eventually returning to working in finance. It’s worth bearing in mind that despite Steve Jobs’s advice, he didn’t dedicate his whole life to what he was passionate about, and instead focussed on founding Apple Computers. He may well have loved his job, but running a business couldn’t have been described as his passion.

I thoroughly recommend Cal Newport’s book – it’s an incredibly interesting read even from the perspective of changing how you work, as he goes into detail about how to develop a set of skills.

XKCD: What happens when coders want to read a comic

If you keep up with XKCD (described by its creator, Randall Munroe, as “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language”), you might have seen the comic posted on Monday entitled Time. It initially showed a pair of people sitting on the beach, but half-an-hour later had changed slightly. Thirty minutes later, it had changed again, with one of the characters lying down. As the day progressed, so did the comic – by yesterday evening the characters had built a sandcastle.

At this point several (myself included) might have assumed the comic was over, but the picture then zoomed out over the next few hours to reveal a second sandcastle being built. At the time of writing this post, the comic is still changing and is on its 178th version).

Although the concept is interesting, it’s also worth keeping an eye on the way those reading XKCD have reacted to the comic. One reader developed a system for recording each change and scrolling through them, while others found methods to compile them into a single animated .gif image.

It does show that often when those with a technical ability want something done, they may well find a way to do it themselves, to the benefit of anyone else interested. Something as simple as a changing webcomic has resulted in a few different tools for viewing it in just a few days.