Adopt a “Craftsman” mindset

Monish SubherwalDesign CareerLeave a Comment

It’s only been a week since I’ve read Cal Newport’s “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” but I feel like I’ve been telling my friends about the book FOREVER.  I absolutely LOVE the book.  It’s brought so much clarity to me – as I have been very confused on where the next step in my career will be.

Personally, I have developed many new interests unrelated to design (I am a designer by profession):  coaching, training, learning, and more.  There are people out there who say “Just follow your passion!” or “Screw it, just do it!”  This, to me, is confusing (and scary) advice since these interests tend not to pay as well for starting junior level employment – and who knows if I’ll like those endeavors anyway.

So what to do?  Gather the courage and just quit my job?  This is what the new budding “lifestyle-design” community advocates.  They say ‘follow your dreams’ – the rest will work it out itself.

Cal Newport says otherwise.

His book explains how you should ignore the idea of “following your passion.”  Why?  Because most people have no clue what their passion is — and many who quit their jobs and try to ‘figure it out later’ end up flat on their faces.

Instead, successful people tend to get good at something and build ‘career capital’ which allows them more and more control into areas they find interesting.

When I read this – I was in HEAVEN.  This drive to build your skills and develop yourself – is EXACTLY why I blog.  To learn and develop yourself is the mark of successful people.  Continuous learning leads to continuous excellence which leads to continuous success.

One of my favorite quotes from the book brings a massive paradigm shift.  I have been keen on being more productive — but it’s no fun doing LOTS of random things fast.  Instead, the key is to do things fast – but focus on your TOP priorities.  But what are your TOP priorities?

Newport argues that your focus should be on developing skills and cultivating a crafts-centric mindset.  Newport explains it better than me:

….[I] fundamentally changed the way I approach my work. If I had to describe my previous way of thinking, I would probably use the phrase “productivity-centric.” Getting things done was my priority.


When you adopt a productivity mindset, however, deliberate practice-inducing tasks are often sidestepped, as the ambiguous path toward their completion, when combined with the discomfort of the mental strain they require, makes them an unpopular choice in scheduling decisions. It’s much easier to redesign your graduate-student Web page than it is to grapple with a mind-melting proof.


The result for me was that my career capital stores, initially built up during the forced strain of my early years as a graduate student, were dwindling as time went on…however, [his discoveries] changed this state of affairs by making me much more “craft-centric.”


Getting better and better at what I did became what mattered most, and getting better required the strain of deliberate practice. This is a different way of thinking about work, but once you embrace it, the changes to your career trajectory can be profound.

Focusing more on what skills will help me become the person I want to be, changes everything for me.  With a craftman-centric mindset — knowing what skills that require you to get to the next level would be the obvious exploration.

So what do you want to master?  What skills are rare and unique and valuable in your field?  Think about it.

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