Category Archives: visual-book-notes

Sketched Book – So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love – Cal Newport

It seems almost given that you should follow your passion, but what if you don’t know what that is? Or what if following your passion prematurely can lead to failure?

In So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love (2012), Cal Newport gives more practical advice: Instead of jumping into a completely unknown field to follow a passion which might turn out to be imaginary, look for ways to translate or grow your existing capabilities. Develop a craftsman’s mindset so that you can improve through deliberate practice. Often it’s not a lack of courage that holds you back, but a lack of skill. As you build career capital, you can develop your appreciation of a field, possibly leading to a clear passion or a mission. You also can make little bets that help you move closer to the cutting edge so that you can make something remarkable. This qualifies you to do greater work that involves creativity, positive impact, and good control.

I’ve sketched the key points of the book below to make it easier to remember and share. Click on the image for a larger version that you can print if you want.

2015-01-03 Sketched Book - So Good They Can't Ignore You - Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love - Cal Newport

I agree with many of the ideas in the book, although I’m not entirely sure about the dichotomy that Newport sets up between passion and craftsmanship. Many of the passion-oriented books I’ve read encourage you to try out your ideas before making major changes to your life – for example, by working on your own business on weekends or by taking a second job. Very few people advocate leaping into the unknown, and if they do, they recommend having plenty of savings and a network of mentors, potential clients, and supporters. So the book comes down a little harshly on a caricature of the other side rather than the strongest form of the opposing side’s argument.

Amusingly enough, although the book describes What Color is Your Parachute as “the birth of the passion hypothesis”, I remember coming across the idea of gradually transitioning to a new field by first exploring something more related to your current one in What Color is Your Parachute, which recommends it as a way of lowering risk and clarifying what you want. I also remember the What Color is Your Parachute book to be less about impulsively following your whims and more about identifying and exploring the skills that gave you feelings of accomplishment.

Anyway, I think you start with curiosity. Then you develop a little skill. This makes you more curious, which helps you learn more, and so on. That–combined with feedback and appreciation–helps fan a spark of interest into a flame. So it’s not really that you start with passion or that you spend many years developing your craft before you can enjoy it, but rather that you gradually figure out both. (I have a feeling this somewhat agrees with what the book would’ve been if it weren’t trying so hard to distinguish itself from advice about passion.)

We just don’t normally express ourselves that way, I guess. It’s almost as if people are expected to either have strong convictions about their life’s work, or to be lost at sea. If you say, “I’m still figuring things out,” it’s like you’re a drifter. If you say, “I’m not passionate about my work right now,” it’s like you’re just going through the motions. I don’t agree with this, which is why I like the book’s emphasis on forming hypotheses about what you want to do, and testing that with little bets that also develop your skills. (This is particularly apropos, since J- will be choosing a university or college course soon.)

Anyway, after reading this book, the specific take-away I’m looking forward to following up on is that of exploring adjacent possibilities more systematically. How can I move closer to the edge of discovery in myself and in the fields I’m interested in, and what new areas have been opened up? I’ve been thinking about designing more focused projects that result in things I can measure and share. That’s similar to the middle layer of the pyramid that Newport suggests:

  1. Tentative research mission – figuring out what you want
  2. One-month exploratory projects with concrete results
  3. Background results

On the whole, the book has a good message. You don’t have to love something to get good at it. Sometimes (often?) getting good at something will help you like it or even love it.

But the book feels a little… uneven, I guess? The anecdotes feel like they’re making too-similar points. The ones about failure feel unsympathetic and hand-picked for straw-man arguments. I imagine most businesses are not started out of the blue because of some grand passion. People prepare, they minimize risk, they work hard. Passion for something – either the work, the customers, or even just the life that’s afforded by the work – pulls them through the toughest parts and keeps them going. Sometimes they succeed for reasons unrelated to their skills; sometimes they fail for reasons unrelated to their passions. Sometimes things just happen. There are everyday businesses that don’t have the creativity, grand positive impact, or full control that are idealized in the book, but that still give people enjoyable lives. I think that the techniques and ingredients described by Newport in his book are good, but they are not essential to an awesome life.

On a somewhat related note, in the past few years, I’ve been learning to let go of the desire for either passion or mastery, Instead, I’m embracing uncertainty and beginner-ness, setting aside time for things I don’t quite love yet. It’s a challenging path, but it tickles my brain. =)

Anyway, if you’re looking for a counterpoint to the usual “Follow your passion!” advice and you want to check out So Good They Can’t Ignore You, you can get it from Amazon (affiliate link) or your favourite source for books. Like this sketch? Check out sketchedbooks.com for more. Feel free to share – it’s under the Creative Commons Attribution License, like the rest of my blog.

Enjoy!

Sketched Book: Take Charge of Your Talent: Three Keys to Thriving in Your Career, Organization, and Life – Don Maruska, Jay Perry (2013)

Don Maruska and Jay Perry’s Take Charge of Your Talent: Three Keys to Thriving in Your Career, Organization, and Life (2013) has plenty of tips for developing your skills and taking charge of your career. I’ve sketched the key points of the book below to make it easier to remember and share. Click on the image for a larger version that you can print if you want.

2014-12-25 Sketched Book - Take Charge of Your Talent - Three Keys to Thriving in Your Career, Organization, and Life - Don Maruska and Jay Perry

I liked the chapter on reflecting on your talents through a structured conversation with someone who can reflect back not only your words but also your feelings and hopes. Sometimes we don’t see the patterns in our thoughts until someone points it out to us. The questions are also good for personal reflection, and I’m looking forward to using them in my planning.

Sometimes people ask me to help them figure out what they want to do. Other books I’ve read about coaching tend to be pretty high-level, but this one gives concrete advice, including some notes anticipating potential responses or difficulties.

I also liked the chapters on creating tangible assets and sharing them with other people. That’s been a great learning- and career-booster for me, and I hope other people will try it out as well.

Among other things, the book also suggests listing at least one hundred resources (people, places, things, skills, …). Forced-length lists are great for creativity because you dig deeper than your surface answers, often coming across surprises. When you review your list, think about ways that you could make even better use of those resources. The book also suggests taking a look at your top 10 resources and working towards 100% use of them, which will be an interesting challenge. The third related exercise is to combine different resources so that you can break through obstacles or come up with interesting mash-ups – forced association, another great creativity technique. I like this reminder to apply creativity so that you can recognize and make the most of your resources, which allows you to MacGyver your way to growth.

Want the book? You can buy it from Amazon (affiliate link) or check out their website at .

Like this sketch? Check out sketchedbooks.com for more. Feel free to share – it’s under the Creative Commons Attribution License, like the rest of my blog.

Enjoy!

Sketched Book: Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action – Simon Sinek

Do you talk about what you do and how you do it? Or do you start with why you do the things you do and why this matters? In Start With Why (2009), Simon Sinek writes about how great companies have a clear purpose and identity that inspires employees and earns customer loyalty. Here’s my sketch of the key points from the book so that they’re easier to review or share. Click on the image to view or download a high-resolution version that you can print.

2014-12-13 Sketched Book - Start With Why - Simon Sinek

What are my whys?

  • Visual thinking
    • My selfish reason for visual thinking is because I want to be able to learn, think, and remember more effectively, so that I can live a better life.
    • My altruistic reason for sharing visual thinking is because there are lots of people who enjoy learning from drawings more than text or audio or video. I want to share how I’m learning, but more than that, I want to inspire people to take these techniques and use them for their own. From the resources I share, people can see that you don’t need to draw particularly well in order to use doodling as a way to explore the world or untangle your thoughts.
  • Emacs
    • My selfish reason for Emacs is because I have fun tweaking my editing environment and doing so helps me work better. It tickles my brain. In addition, helping the Emacs community thrive contributes to the longevity of Emacs, which means it will keep growing, which means I probably won’t have to switch to some other tool in the future. (Planning-ahead Sacha plans ahead!)
    • My altruistic reason for Emacs is because I think something incredible happens when you take control of your tools, shaping them to fit your needs, expanding your imagination along the way. I want to help people become intermediate users and power users because I’m curious about what they’ll build for themselves and what they can share with other people. Also, the Emacs community has awesome people. =)
  • Experimenting
    • My selfish reason for experimenting (lifestyle, semi-retirement, business, ideas, etc.) is so that I can figure out what works well for me.
    • My altruistic reason for sharing my experiments is to encourage other people to question their assumptions, look for ways to test their hypotheses, and gradually shape a life that fits them well. Come to think of it, it’s similar to why I like helping people personalize Emacs. If I can help people explore the possibilities in their life, we might come across interesting ideas along the way.

What are your whys? Why do you do what you do, and why does that matter?

Get “Start With Why” on Amazon (affiliate link) or from your favourite book source.

Like this sketch? Check out http://sketchedbooks.com/ for more. Feel free to share – it’s under the Creative Commons Attribution License, like the rest of my blog.

Sketched Book: The Inner Game of Work – W. Timothy Gallwey

So I was reading through J. B. Rainsberger’s site because I liked his blog post on Productivity for the Depressed, which I mentioned in my post on learning slack. His about page had this nugget that made me stop and think. He wrote:

I have found over the years that many companies request training when they need coaching, and request coaching when they need training. Tim Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Work makes the distinction very well:

  • training focuses on increasing capacity
  • coaching focuses on reducing interference
  • performance is capacity minus interference.

Reducing interference. Huh.

I’ve been curious about coaching. I haven’t quite made the jump because I’m a cheapskate who’s accustomed to introspection and who’s flexible about motivation. I figured I might as well see how far I can get exploring on my own, yeah?

But I know there are times I get in my own way, and I know that I probably don’t know even half of the times that happens. Interference.

So here’s what W. Timothy Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Work says:

2014-12-01 The Inner Game of Work - W Timothy Gallwey

I like this book. The author shares many examples of how paying attention to tiny details can help you learn more effectively, and how a coach’s role isn’t to provide answers but rather to help draw the student’s awareness to the right things and encourage them to trust in their own learning process. The book is useful not only for individual change but also for group change.

The Self 1 / Self 2 distinction resonated with how I’ve been thinking about motivation. It reminds me a little of the driver (Self 1) / elephant (Self 2) metaphor used in Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. The answer to internal conflict isn’t “try harder,” it’s to understand better and give yourself the time and attention you need.

I’m paying closer attention to the skills I want to develop. I’m practising more deliberately and with more focus. And when my Self 1 pipes up with “Shouldn’t you be doing something else instead?” or “Let’s go find someone with all the answers who can tell us what to do!”, I tell it, “It’s okay. Self 2’s got this. We’re learning how to learn, and everything is going to be okay.”

This still leaves me uncertain about getting an actual coach instead of asking myself questions from books. Since I can see big areas for improvement even on my own, I figure I’d go for the low-hanging fruit and keep going until I hit diminishing returns. Maybe someday. In the meantime, this book has given me a few things to think about.

If you’re curious, you can check out more reviews of this book on Amazon: The Inner Game of Work: Focus, Learning, Pleasure, and Mobility (affiliate link)

Sketched Book: The Stoic Art of Living: Inner Resilience and Outer Results – Tom Morris

Tom Morris’ The Stoic Art of Living: Inner Resilience and Outer Results (2004) collects easy-to-read quotes from Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. The author glues the quotes together with commentary, providing context and suggestions for interpretation.

2014-12-10 Book - The Stoic Art of Living - Inner Resilience and Outer Results - Tom Morris

I like the author’s quotes from ancient philosophers, as other translations can feel stuffy. It’s a decent overview of interesting thoughts, and you can follow the ideas to their sources. The book can feel a little light, though. There’s something about the succession of quotes and topics that makes me feel like I’m bobbing up and down on a surface.

For comparison, I feel that William Braxton Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life (2009) goes into greater depth for fewer concepts. Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way reads more like a modern self-help book inspired by Stoicism, without as many quotes as this book.

If you’ve read a lot about Stoicism (and especially from the three philosophers featured here), you probably won’t find a lot of new ideas here. However, you might pick up some good phrasings and ways to think about those ideas. As Pierre Hadot wrote in Philosophy as a Way of Life: “Ancient philosophy was designed to be memorized, so that it could be ‘at hand’ when we are confronted with tumultuous situations.” Maybe you’ll find the quotes in this book easy to hang on to. Enjoy!

If you want, you can check out the books on Amazon:

I get a small commission if you buy the books through those links, but getting them from the library is totally okay too. =) Have fun!

Sketched Book: Just F*cking Ship – Amy Hoy, Alex Hillman

Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman wrote, published, and launched Just Fucking Ship in 24 hours, using a Trello board and an outline to quickly whip up this short reminder to stop procrastinating and get something out the door. They’re halfway through editing it and will post updates through Gumroad, so if you buy the book, you can watch it evolve.

I’ve sketched the key points of the book below to make it easier to remember and share. Click on the image to view or download a high-resolution version that you can print or reuse.

2014-12-12 Sketched Book - Just Fucking Ship - Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman

The principle I’m focusing on is #7: Start with atoms. I’m comfortable with making small pieces now: an outline, a blog post, a sketch. I’m working on getting better at assembling those pieces into molecules, and eventually I’ll be able to turn those molecules into rocketships. Eventually. But in the meantime, I can push more things out there.

I’ve been sorting out my EPUB/MOBI workflow by putting stuff up on Gumroad, like the Emacs Chat transcript collection. (Incomplete, but that’s what updates are for.) This will help me Ship More Stuff.

Today I noticed an opportunity for wordplay. The domain was available, so I jumped on it. Shipped.

Ship. Get your stuff out there, incomplete and in progress, because you’ll learn more from the feedback than you will from stewing on it by yourself. And if it flops? Don’t worry. You’ll do another one, and another one, and another one, and you’ll learn.

Want the e-book? You can buy it at Just Fucking Ship (Amy Hoy, Alex Hillman; 2004). You’ll get a PDF and updates. (Amusingly, no physical shipping involved.)

Like this sketch? Check out sketchedbooks.com for more. For your convenience, this post can be found at sketchedbooks.com/jfs. Feel free to share – it’s under the Creative Commons Attribution License, like the rest of my blog.

(Incidentally, I’ve quoted Amy Hoy before – see my post on Learning slack for another reflection on writing, productivity, and motivation.)