Profiles in Awesomeness: An Introduction to Cal Newport

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You should assume that any time I recommend a product or service on this blog that I'm being paid millions of dollars and flown out to cruises and conferences in all world's greatest warm-weather locales-- not because such an assumption is accurate, but because it's pretty awesome. In fact, I haven't been paid to recommend anything-- until now.  Cal Newport recently sent me a copy of his new book "So Good They Can't Ignore You" and I agreed to review it for my blog. However, that's not quite what I'm going to do.  Instead, I want to give an introduction to Cal and many of his ideas, not simply the ones that made it into his most recent book.

Cal Newport wrote a book about succeeding in high school when he was in college, a few books about succeeding in college when he was in grad school, and, now that he’s graduating, he’s– naturally– turned his attention to success in the working world.  The book is called So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

If it’s not clear from the fact that he’s had four publishing deals before the age of 30, Cal Newport is good at life.  From the very first time I read his blog, it was clear that he was a nerd in the best sense– someone who, given an interesting problem and enough time, could simply think unthought thoughts– and then produce value from them.

Cal does something interesting with these thoughts.  Something incredibly simple and powerful.  He names them.

I’ll take the bait.  I’ve read a lot of Cal’s strategies and postulations in the last two years, and some of them have stuck with me since the day I first read them.  Here are a few of my favorite idea’s of Cal’s, including a bit on the book at the end.

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Failed Simulation Effect

This is perhaps my favorite advice from Cal’s older writing.  It’s about how to be “impressive”.  And his idea goes like this:

The things that sound the most impressive are not the things that require the most work– they’re the things that are the hardest for someone else to imagine doing.

Let’s dissect that.  Let’s imagine, as Cal often does Read More

[Profiles] Steve Jobs: History’s Best CEO

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Steve Jobs with the only furniture he found fit to purchase.

Steve Jobs with the only furniture he found fit for purchase.

When I was growing up, it was popular to say that a kid destined for success would be “the next Bill Gates”. But they aren’t going to say that anymore.  The best of the rising generation will be prophesied as “the next Steve Jobs”.

From a discalced and fruititarian kid-CEO to the father and savior of the world’s most valuable company, it’s hard to say whether he will be remembered more as an uncannily intuitive businessman whose every other opinion turned into millions of dollars or as an artisan who, more than anyone, infused soul into the cold and boxy tech world.

The purpose of this blog is to spur, inspire, and assist you to do amazing things. Steve Jobs did some amazing things. I’m floored by him, and I want to convey some of this to you. If you have dreams of business greatness or using art and design to change your part of the world, this piece is especially for you. It is a collection of the strange and wonderful stories and impressions of him that have stuck with me.

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Steve Jobs was never normal, per se. Even as a teen, he was a featherweight from constant fasting– or any number of his diets where he’d eat nothing but a single vegetable for weeks on end. Read More

[Profiles] Jim Collins: The Man with 3 Stopwatches… and 4 Bestsellers

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Years ago, Jim Collins, a business professor and consultant, sat down and drew up a schedule for how he’d like to spend his workdays in the future.

Creative: 50%

Teaching: 30%

Other: 20%

Half his time would go to endeavors like research, writing books, and authoring papers; a third to teaching-related activities; and the final chunk to all the other things he needs to do.

In order to make sure he was meeting his goals, he made the incredibly obvious and incredibly bold move of timing everything. For the rest of his life.

He literally took three stopwatches, labeled them, and put them in his pocket.

He still uses them.

Jim Collins is a serial bestselling author, and I’d place money that he will continue to lay golden egg after aurous, shining egg. Part of the reason for this is because he has made it his main goal in his business life to create an influential and lasting body of creative work, then scheduled his time– all of his time– accordingly.

Meta-scheduling

Jim Collins, photo by Kevin Moloney, NYT

In 2009, the New York Times profiled Collins, and they asked him about his time management experiment. He only had to point to the upper-right corner of his whiteboard on the far side of his conference room. Scribbled in marker was the lifetime tally:

Creative: 53%

Teaching: 28%

Other: 19%

Read More

[Profiles] John Goddard: Patron Saint of Bucket Lists

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This is part of a series of posts I’m running called “Profiles in Awesomeness”.  In it, I talk about the disgustingly prolific and ridiculously accomplished thinkers and doers whose lives and philosophies can inspire us and teach us how to accomplish our own goals.

This is my first profiles in awesomeness post, and I think an appropriate subject is John Goddard.  Here’s why.

When John Goddard was 15, a friend of his dad’s told him he regretted not doing all the things he wanted to when he was John’s age.  John, struck by the comment, got out a yellow legal pad and scribbled out 127 things he wanted to do before he died.

He was a pretty ambitious 15-year old.  Heavy hitting items include:

  • Circumnavigate the globe
  • Climb Cheop’s pyramid
  • Climb Kilimanjaro, Rainier, the Matterhorn, and Everest
  • Milk a poisonous snake
  • Hold breath underwater for 2.5 minutes
  • Explore the Amazon, Congo, and Nile rivers from source to mouth

Etc, etc, for 127 items.

Now here’s the ridiculous thing.  While most 15-year old boys could have compiled a similar list, most of us wouldn’t dedicate the rest of our lives to achieving every single one of them. Read More