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“So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love”: Book Review


My previous reads were “Biography of Steve Jobs: Walter Issacson“, ” Notes on Startups: Peter Thiel“, “Siddhartha : Herman Hesse”  and I can only wonder how this book connects with those.

I came across the author Cal Newport due to the Happy Schools Blog. This book arrives in style, for  a job hunter in USA. Yes, I am searching for positions in electrical engineering as I am approaching end of my studies.

Here is the talk by the author :-

In ” Notes on Startups: Peter Thiel”  the author argues that we have to provide something 10 times better than what is available to be a good start up. In Cal Newport‘s “ So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love“. This book tries to come up and blast it on the face as to ‘why passion is not what you are looking for. You are looking for expertise in the beginning of your career’.

As an engineer with some awesome experience in my field, I can say that I have met a couple of people who said the same. They never wrote a book or go to MIT. Great People. Here, was this great retired man who was called back to help serve the company and help the new fellows to catch up with the technologies. I have asked him if he had any passion for the things that he did and if there is any tips and tricks of career life that I can use. He said ” It is good to have your own ideas and developing knowledge to implement it. Even more important is to flow with the crowd till the time is reached; the time when you are confident and knowledgeable enough to have a separate direction of commute than the general flow.” And then the bus had arrived and those were probably the last words I heard from him. Since I left the company- for higher pursuits. The book reinforces this thought.

There was this amazing scientist, who was also called back from retirement the same way as the former. I had breakfast with this man very often when I was working there. I remember that I posed him the question ” Did you have any particular interest or great passion for what you are currently doing, when you were my age”. He replied ” Not really, I got the job, I learned the job. Now, I know some things, with which I can help new people”

And then I talked to a colleague in university very recently, asked him why he changed majors and what his interest is. He said ” I do not have any specific area of interest, But , I am not proud of it. I know jobs are in the computer science area, the number of jobs in software is more than electrical engineering. So I am where I am.” The last I heard from him he had an internship in this super big company in USA.

Very recently, I was speaking to a friend, he was really interested in this wonderful research and was in the process of starting his research. He has not started any job application and he is OK with that. I have this another friends who went from Bachelors to PhD straight and says ” I do what I do , what I like, what is interesting, I keep doing it, Job will come”.

In the beginning, I had this biased understanding of what these people told. It was naive of me in the thought process. Everyone has some attraction to say some colors, some food, some topics, some places. This could be yellow, pasta, history of Incas, Egypt for some. This could be anything. The rational mind of mine tries to normalize the bias whereby this is diluted to any color,, history, World. This rationality and dilution is for the world to see. This is a form of outlook, self-created outlook, banishing the old preferences and making life simpler. Categorization and division was a tool to tackle odd chunks of data, information or knowledge. This is never diluted, because it becomes hard to grasp. My understanding is that this is not representation of real world. It is not like there are land animals and water animals, there are amphibians. Elephant which swims is not amphibious. That sounds like blasphemy to categorical knowledge. 🙂


The book 

As per the book , there are only two kinds of people.

Passionate people and Craftsmen (people who work to achieve their greatness). Also, the book says that ‘passion is rare’.

I got this question from an interview 2 days back ” How much interest , do you have in the work or job description?”

I was lost for words since I was reading the book. I cannot say “I am a passionate worker”. I cannot claim that I am an expert , due to modesty and truth. I cannot suggest that I am a hardworker who  is a go-getter. Because, I am not there to be a self-proclaimed worker who is not interested in the subject , who can master any subject by hardwork, I am not  a machine. I see the blurring of the categories? There is a mix. This is not mutually exclusive, this is my understanding. If I am interested in something, it does not mean I will forget everything and focus only on that. If I am an expert in data entry ( actually I am !) and burrito making (too) that does not mean I am passionate about these. The point is, there are things that people do out of need and circumstances. This makes them experts of the field, in my case burrito making , I can do it blind-folded, I can do it in sleep, you can wake me up at 3 in the morning and I can make burrito. This by no logic means that I am passionate about it.

Passion is  a thing arousing enthusiasm. Work is generally perceived as a bad thing. Increasingly, I hear that job is the worst thing that you can get, who does not like freedom. Don’t  we all trade our freedom with someone else’s freedom !. I mean free as being free to do anything with the time they could have probably invested that in. Then we come to selectivity of fields in which one wants to work. some people like being mathematician, while some do music. There is math in music and music in math. There are people in the interdisciplinary-gray-blurred-line who work here. World is not a number of countries, each with boundaries and armies on either side. This is because everything is depended on everything else. Not just globalization/localization there is glocalization.  This is depicted by mentioning Alan Lightman who wrote Einstein’s Dreams  who made a career in combo of math and culture.

The religion of logic says : choose a field, focus, work hard – you become an expert.

How to choose a field ? – by gut feeling, and elimination process of uninteresting stuff can help shortlist the field.

There are many venues to connect with interest. It is easy to find that out, with what you do in your spare time.

I cannot do something which is not interesting or satisfying me. This can be termed passion. And then I go on to learn how to do these things, if I do not know how to, I learn. This is what Cal says as passion is side effect of mastery. You can start doing things you do not like, to test how broad you are in the mind. See for yourself, where , unintentionally we put limits for ourselves.


The Case of Incremental Improvement.

I got bowled over in one of my classes since I was to give a presentation on a new idea. I had this vision of myself as a visionary, going to change the world. After the presentation, I came to terms with what I have heard years back ” There is more than enough of technology available, your phone has tonnes of features, how much of the features do you use or know how to use ?”  This was before the advent of android!

I see myself as learning how to do stuff with existing technologies. Necessities will always push up the technologies to be innovated. That said. The knowledge of existing technologies would bring in the required mastery and formulating the exact requirements for improvement . In this sense, like  a big project, steps follow a waterfall model, the goal of which is a moving target, the field of which is the area of interest. Improvements happen in agile fashion. Continuous improvement! In the religion of science, this is a scientific improvement called innovation/invention(sometimes). In the religion of life , this is self-improvement and sharpening your saw (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey). Improve yourself, so that you can grab the opportunity as it comes, because you are prepared. I would combine Cal‘s mention of ‘exploring the adjacent possible’ with ‘little bets’ with incremental improvement. This is because on a personal side, when you make innovations, improvements these carry the risk of going beyond the comfort zone, this opens venues for exploratory work.

Key Take-aways

All said, with my opinions and Cal‘s opinions (what he calls ‘rules’). I would say I have to work get some career capital (that is expertise) so that I can create opportunities and may be ones that Peter mentions in Notes on Startups.

“Creating a research bible”:(here bible only means another book)

Cal gives good tips on how to go about research. He is a research professor going about his research. It makes sense to follow this path if you have not discovered your own. This involves

summarize a research paper  that you think is relevant for your work

keeping  a timesheet/schedule/calendar

maintain a research note for brainstorming ideas

do practice beyond the practice that we do that can be tagged as “productivity – oriented”. This involves

  • stretching one’s self beyond comfort zone.
  • read tough papers.
  • keep improving.
  • track your work , to see the improvement.


This includes provocative title such as “my job went to India“! Jobs are going everywhere.I have read that USA thrives on creating ideas. When new ideas stops getting generated USA job market is not going to be the same. Because this is were the ideas get exported and get adopted by the globe. The title could have been re-thought !

When it comes to bananas, the dwellers in USA get it from Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and other places. When it is jeans, it comes from Bangladesh and Vietnam. Belts comes from Thailand and China. Now, please do not tell that all these jobs went elsewhere. It was the market and policies of trade that led to this.


The references in the book that I would like to refer are as follows.  T


Writing Style

The style is lucid and easy to follow. The emotions are kept at neutral while the facts and references are cited. This is a good way to write making it an easy read. The book tries to number the ideas (written as ‘Rules’ in the book). This can be  a drawback to people who dislike rule book. But the count is very less, and it is manageable.

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Posted by on October 1, 2016 in Book Review


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Being a Keyboard warrior

Art of writing and speaking was reserved for the very few who could take diplomatic stands on and off stage. Those were the talents of the bygone era. The era of the  bombastic rhetoric. New age media of internet and social marketing has forced many activists to go online. This has gone to such realistic level that in UP BJP had reportedly wanted a minimum number of likes for potential candidates to get a ticket.

The game of social activism had taken a leap from there, at least for the many potential activists. This lone writing of blog in a non-main stream channel of networking. Yes, bloggers do network in a different way than social networking platforms like twitter. But the game again is to put your content in a static form, for memory and for easy retrieval compared to the real time dynamic nature of social media where the next second is not yours. Yes, with considerable number of friends and group to follow, it is not more than a second that captures the attention, if at all, of a casual reader, in social platform.And a lone writing in a blog may not garner quick, or long followers. But it is still there, as a personal satisfaction, for the keyboard samurai to look back and cite as achievement. There is no guarantee that the fighter gets the fame in his lifetime. And like the many real soldiers who stand for their homeland and defend it with pride and their life, the lone keyboard warrior cannot come anywhere near in even a passing reference for the real life defenders. The effort of  a keyboard warrior may then be diverted to capture the moods and comments of his “friends” and “followers”. This is possible lest these women and men and others are a tad inclined to oblige themselves in the form of likes, follow and comments. The best of social media activity of a modern day couple is well written in the lyrics of “Selfie – Pulla” by Madhan Karky Vairamuthu


By this time you would have understood the feelings of a keyboard warrior who has nothing but the keyboard and Google search to help him locate the necessary raw materials. This is unlike the traditional activists who have torn their footwear for their passion for their activism. Technological advancement in the form of speech recognition and better keyboard do not let the keyboard warrior’s keyboard to look like that of a well seasoned politician or social worker. Blame it on technology, but one definite indication of the keyboard warrior is that his seat is always hot! Due to continuous sitting and typing. If the temperature is a good indicating parameter of a seasoned keyboard warrior, why not take it at face value. Yes, this is forced upon the reader and the unexpected reader. But that is a risk befitting a champion. There may be losses of “friends” and “followers”. But it is said by Facebook that “Followers are temporary, friends are forever” because the network is build on the basic habit of fellow humans, to know and comment, often bad comments, on what others did or what they ought to. It is the unforgiving human nature. This no one can control.

As an experiment , may be for real, facebook started the keyboard warrior program where people could change their images to support France. This was a technological jump for the usual keyboard warrior, often going by fake names to support his cause, because this just involves few clicks. This gave rise the Click-warriors, later extended to Touch-warriors and so on and so forth, based on the kind of sensing mechanism that they used their social networks with. Now there were new worlds created due to this. This included the first world of touch-warriors and touch-citizens, second-world of click-warriors and click citizen, third world of keyboard warriors and keyboard citizens and the dark fourth world were the net speed is less than 1Gbps, a fifth world that had bare minimum of what is called as civilization at 256Kbps and the dark unknown world without internet.  This was another layer of abstract classification of human beings but not yet devastating enough to cause war and “peace”. Normalization in this internet hegemony is brought forth when one for real speaks to another human being. This maintains the delicate equilibrium between the different social strata. The movement of people from one-world citizenship to multi-world citizenship is made possible by the discontinuity in the physical telecommunication network that keeps the demographic incongruity to minimum.

A keyboard warrior is always restless. The slightest possiblity of activism awakens the champion. The latest was that a gorilla was killed and people shared their feelings. Some showed solidarity to human stupidity to laud the efforts to save a child , that saved humankind from wilderness (though captivated and endangered). Some loathed the efforts of the zookeeper and bickered about the human stupidity that led to a whole series of events, from endangering animals, imprisoning , removing the barrier between captivity and guests (for natural watching), bringing up and inviting a human who could not manage her own kids (let alone animals), who paid the zoo (in form of ticket), to let the kid fall and let the Mighty Gorilla “protect” and let the Gorilla (Harambe) be shot to save the kid. God knows why it did not fell on the kid and then it would have been another stupidity. Harambe and this stupidity will be one among the many in the annals of human history. The collection of achievements to save human species. But the keyboard warrior will not be silent. For there is a world to be saved. Remember, 8 years ago someone wrote Human Welfare with a Question mark?

“Once a warrior always a warrior” works for keyboard warriors too. The fingers twitch at a shared photo of man made disaster or incident , the keyboard warrior wakes up to action. Keyboard warriors strive to respond, react and show the world some virtual humanity. It may be a few words that can dwell in the heart of the casual reader that changes perspectives and support and actions and reactions. This is all the work of a genuine keyboard warrior whom we should acknowledge for the virile vigilant efforts of an undying unidentified (often fake id) heroes. It is this species that the God has send on earth Homo KeyWar (Keyboard Warriors) to maintain this world as a single piece woven in the intricate internetwork of things and stuff. Salute to them.

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Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Book Review: Jumpstart Your Business: 10 Jolts to Ignite Your Entrepreneurial Spirit

Jumpstart Your Business: 10 Jolts to Ignite Your Entrepreneurial SpiritJumpstart Your Business: 10 Jolts to Ignite Your Entrepreneurial Spirit by Shawn Doyle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book meant to be used in proactive reading style. I could use it that way and had some notes and questions jotted down from the “jolts”. The book is written is a very confident style where the bragging part doesn’t come off as odd. The examples of success stories are kept to a common man’s level. Yes, it does not speak of Steve Jobs or Elon Musk , for a change?!
This book provides an easy top follow guideline that can be written down as a checklist. So once you have a brooding idea about startup then you can easily walk through the checklist and take the necessary steps and cross out the ones that you have already achieved.
The time I read book coincides with my participation in a Pre-Seed workshop in University at Buffalo. Here, I am part of a team that discuss strategies to help build a startup around the patented invention of Idea champion. This book steps through the essential steps of building a business around the entrepreneur , corresponds to the idea champion in the workshop.
In this process the book urges you to think, if not write down, about the answers to questions posed to the reader at the end of each chapter. These questions helps one understand the thought process behind the creation and maintenance of a company and assists in staging and forming the basis for the foresight, to see the work in action in near future.
The icing on the cake is the collection of books and authors at the end for further reading.

Some of the quotes (as it has become a standard with self help books) that I liked from this particular writing are:

” Business is as good as the people you associate with”

” It is what you know and who you know” that helps the business

” If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” – John Quincy Adams

The book also quotes Think and Grow Rich atleast 3 times in its content, making it the next book to be read if you haven’t already done so. The context mostly is that ” You are what you think” and thinking positive. Which any religion, say Buddhism also mentions. After reading these books on ” business” and ” leadership ” I get this feeling that the American way of writing on business tends to project capitalism and money as basic motivation while the oriental spiritualism says the same without touching the money but peace and self satisfaction. I can’t blame one if it is through money that one achieves self satisfaction and peace of mind. But it is one big thing in such books were success is almost always tied to money. This works perfectly for people who believe in capitalism. “Ultimately it is the belief”

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Posted by on May 23, 2016 in Book Review, Review


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