Summary of How to Do What You Love

To do your job well you have to like it. Since our childhood most of us assimilate a very different approach that work or school is a tiresome part of life, and everything beyond this is fun. So, for many children (including the author at his school age) the idea of work that people enjoy seems pretty strange.



At the time kids graduate high school, they start thinking what career path to choose. That’s the time when young people (and the author himself, as he recollects) face the dangerous lie about work: many people lie that they like their jobs.

This seems very contradictory to the common opinion of work as unpleasant duty shared by so many adults and children, and therefore the question arises – if having work is even worse than going to school, then how comes that so many adults assure they like it? The author finds the answer in the upper-middle class tradition that you are supposed to love your job. This attitude is a close imitation of the mindset typical of the most successful people that do great things, because, after all, to be the best you have to truly enjoy what you do.


Seeing parents doing boring job to give a high standard of living to their families, kids tend to share belief that a job is supposed to be boring.

Only when the author was in college, he finally split the idea of work from that of making a living. He came to the concept of work as making some original contribution to the world. Yet, his new approach still required discipline, as solving hard problems couldn’t be fun and you had to force yourself to work on them.



The next question raised is how to understand, if you really like your job. If you are not sure, chances are you will stop searching too early and will choose the career based on your parents’ influence, impact of money or prestige.

So the author introduces a set of criteria to make the task easier for everyone.

First, you have to like your work more than any unproductive pleasure. Though at some point everyone prefers having some fun, you can’t spend all your life drinking coffee or lying on the beach. In the long run, if you want to be happy, you need productive work.

Second, if the concept of «spare time» seems mistaken, it’s a good reason to believe you really like your work. Not that a person who says “I like my job more than anything in the world” is bound to work 24×7. Everyone should take a break when you get tired and need some rest not to make mistakes. But (and this is the third reference point), you don’t consider this time to be the prize you earned by your work efforts.

Fourth, to be happy you have also to admire what you do. If your friends do as well, it’s another valid proof.



“Sirens” that can lead you astray from the job you like is prestige, money or the combination of both.

The author advises not to take care of prestige immediately admitting that this is easier said than done. Prestige tempts us into doing not what we like, but what “we would like to like”. The example is novel-writing a person takes not because he especially enjoys the creativity process, but because to him getting the Nobel Prize is very prestigious. And of course, prestige is the strongest temptation for ambitious people.

How to differentiate between truly liking a job and its prestige? If you admire two kinds of work equally, choose the one, which is less prestigious. This somehow guarantees that you have more genuine admiration for the less prestigious job.


Another magnet attracting people away from their true path is money. The money itself is not too dangerous, because usually despicable occupations don’t turn into the force that can lead you away. But money combined with prestige (for example, corporate law or medicine) is the most dangerous distraction.


The test that can help you out here is whether you would do the same job even if you did it for free and had to work somewhere else to make a living. This test is especially helpful, if you ask yourself what academic work to prefer, as there are research fields no one would take, if there were no teaching positions in this field of knowledge.



Though less discipline is needed to do things you like than most people think, you really need discipline while searching for such job.

Very few people know since childhood, what career they would like to pursue. Most often, those, who found their true calling, have “careers with the trajectory of a ping-pong ball”, when they move from their college major to the job that has nothing in common with it, and then become successful in the utterly different endeavor.

Here you can face several stumbling blocks. When switching between fields of work, you can be guided either by inner energy or by laziness – but how can you distinguish between them?

The article offers two tests for that. First, try to do a good job no matter what it is. This way you’re sure you don’t use disaffection as an excuse for laziness. Another important effect of this approach is the habit of doing things well.

The second principle is “always produce”. It means that you have to move forward in your would-be career, even if it differs from your day job you don’t take seriously. For example, if you plan to be a writer, you are supposed to write. If you do, you can be sure you don’t use this dream just to escape. This approach also helps you find the job you like, since you won’t be willing to waste your time on the things you don’t particularly admire.

There are two gueses why many people give up the idea of finding the job they love and agree to some kind of in-between. First, people refuse to take the risk. For many of them, it’s easier to abandon the idea than to spend years taking efforts that can still fail after all.

Second, there’s an opinion that someone has to do the job that nobody likes. But if no one in the society wants to do it, chances are, modern technical progress will automate these unpleasant tasks or we’ll have to do without it, just like in case with domestic servants.


Two Routes

Still, the need to earn for a living is a valid argument for doing a job you don’t particularly like. There are two ways to finally drive to the work you love.

The organic route: the better you are at what you do, the wider choices you have. If you grow professionally, you will be choose from more options, some of which you will like. This approach is more common.


The two-job route means you have a job you don’t like to earn cash for the job you prefer. At one extreme of this spectrum is the «day job,» when you make money during regular hours and spend it on what you love in your free time. Or you keep to one job until you make enough to have freedom to choose. This approach is also more dangerous, as you can be stuck on the least favorite job for years.


Which route to take is up to you to decide, but any route will be a struggle. Still, if you know what your destination point – that is, if you like to work and know what work you’ll love – you have almost made it!



Summary of the Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction

In 1994, Sven Birkerts wrote a book, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, which contained fifteen essays on reading, human personality and the threats both face because of advanced technology development. Birkerts was afraid that explosive growth of the Internet would put at danger “reading as experience”.

Birkerts was devastated by the risk of loss of writing as the product of a focused mind and of sustained reading that would, in its turn, diminish the “breadth of our world and the depth of our own consciousness”. As the author of the article puts it, technology hazards mentioned endanger not only future of the books, but also that of small-town economies, American democracy, and the whole world.


In the past, people used to read one and the same book many times – reading was “intensive” or, in the Birkerts term, “vertical” moving down to the deep layers of thought. The advantage of real vertical reading of books that are works of art is that the time spent with the book “lingers” after a person sets the book aside. When readers are immersed in the book, they continue thinking about it during walk, when talking to friends, napping or shopping.


Today we live in the era of the Internet, data and content that change every second, and vertical reading has been to a greater extent replaced with horizontal. We don’t look in the depth any more; we live on the surface reading headlines, introductions or summaries. Unfortunately, horizontal reading also tends to be lingering. Many of us keep on thinking over what objections and arguments we could post in Facebook or Twitter, and ghosts of hatred, aggression, foolishness and shallowness haunt us now and then.


To summarize the Internet vs. and books opposition found in the article, the internet is like a flat surface. It’s a symbol of shallow time and nowhere space without any deeper layer. On the contrary, a book is the experience we can immerse in restoring the feeling of coherence. Vertical reading is a self-contained fulfillment that doesn’t have to argue for itself.


In spite of all risks and hazards, Birkerts is optimistic about future of the literature, and so is the author of the article. They both believe that books will survive due to people’s passion “to bodily pleasure of reading something remarkable”. Holding a book in your hands, enjoying its depth and immersing in the world of literature is life that is worthwhile, desirable, and still possible.


Работа мечты

Я тут недавно отправляла резюме на работу своей мечты. Собственно, я даже не задумывалась, что из себя представляет такая работа, пока не увидела объявление на LinkedIn. Оказывается, можно за деньги читать и конспектировать статьи и книги. Такой сервис придумал Аллен Ченг, основатель Shortform. Сама идея экономить время читателей, пересказывая 90% содержания на 20% от объема исходного текста, глубоко греет мне душу.

Сразу скажу, работу я не получила, но отказ так сформулирован, что приятное чувство не оставляет меня до сих пор. Особенно меня порадовало, что ни у кого даже сомнений не возникло, что английский мне не родной, руководство Shortform только посетовало, что мой стиль не полностью соответствует их требованиям – a specific, possibly idiosyncratic approach to crafting summaries.

Так что, чтобы проба пера для Shortform не пропадала даром, привожу здесь три текста, которые я для них делала.

Summary of The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures

Due to tolerance for failure, willingness to experiment, psychological safety, being highly collaborative and nonhierarchical, innovative companies are seen by many people as places that are fun to work at.

However, it’s not always obvious that innovative companies have paradoxical corporate culture, and have to rely on behavioral counterbalances of their driving forces that are hard to implement and not so enjoyable.

These counterbalances are as follows:

  1. Tolerance for Failure but No Tolerance for Incompetence

Naturally, tolerance for failure is an integral part of innovation development for the companies working in the uncertainly environment, when no one knows what the outcome of their research will be.

To counterbalance this risk of failure and exclude incompetence as its reason, innovative companies set very high performance standards for and expect high competence from their employees. The project failure can bring valuable lessons to learn from for the future, unless it failed because the employees couldn’t perform up to the standard. The opposite of these are companies that are sympathetic to the employees even if they are no longer fit for the job in the ever changing business environment, or if their projects fail because of poor project or time management.

To adhere to the culture of competence, it’s necessary to set and follow clearly expected standards of performance, even if it means that some projects will have to be shut down and some employees will have to leave despite that their “incompetence” is not due to their own fault, but because of technology advances or change in the business context.


  1. Willingness to Experiment but Highly Disciplined

Discipline is one of the basics of experimenting in the uncertainty conditions so typical of innovative companies. The bright metaphor is that experimenting does not mean “working like some third-rate abstract painter who randomly throws paint at a canvas”. For discipline-based experimenting, it’s necessary to select and design experiments very scrupulously, to establish clear criteria of whether it’s worth to continue, and to be objective about the facts and deliverables generated.

As an example, the article dwells on Flagship Pioneering company dealing with new ventures based on pioneering science. The company adheres to the set of rules guiding its formal exploration process that help it maximize innovative research efficiency:

— a problem is explored by a small group of researchers;

— at a certain stage the purpose of the research is to develop “killer experiments” that would expose idea’s weaknesses;

— such experiments don’t cost more than $1 million and don’t last longer than half a year;

— Flagship employees don’t gain any benefits from continuing their project, and therefore are not interested in faking or ignoring the outcome they get.

As a result, Flagship Pioneering can handle more ideas in shorter time frame and easier abandons projects that are not promising.

Disciplined experimentation is all about delicate balance of encouraging your employees to verify ideas, determining, what time is enough to prove or reject a hypothesis without sacrificing creativity, on the one hand, and without wasting too much resources on the dead project, on the other one.

  1. Psychologically Safe but Brutally Candid

As proven by many years of research, psychologically safe environments both help organizations avoid severe failures and drive learning and innovation.

Here the balance is in mutual safety – if it safe for me to speak out freely and criticize others, it should also be safe for others to criticize me. On the one side of breaking such balance is consensus, when everyone agrees with each other just to sound polite, even if it compromises constrictive criticism that could ultimately drive better results. On the opposite side is the corporate environment that may seem too harsh for an outside observer. With such culture in place, employees may seem aggressive and hard to deal with.


  1. Collaboration but with Individual Accountability

Though another seeming paradox of the innovative culture, collaboration and individual accountability complement each other. Collaboration gives inputs, pieces of advice and recommendations to an employee, who is in charge of decision-making and is ultimately personally responsible for the choices made. Unlike collaboration, consensus makes it difficult to go through transformational innovation and slows down decision-making, and is “poison” for the innovation-focused environment.


  1. Flat but Strong Leadership

The last paradox of the innovative culture is that flat organizations have strong leadership. Seemingly opposite, these features go hand in hand: due to the lack of hierarchy, decisions are made faster, managers get closer to the action, and the company can respond quicker to any circumstances it faces. But strong leadership is necessary for this type of management to avoid chaos flat organizations can otherwise end up with. Good examples of strong leadership in the innovative company are Amazon and Google. Both of them encourage delegation of personal responsibility downstream and high degree of freedom for the sake of creativity, but have strong and visionary leaders clearly stating the principles underlying company operations.


Leading the Journey

Managing the innovative culture company is quite a complicated endeavor for three reasons:

1 The risk of confusion resulting from the need to rely on the combination of seemingly contradictory management patterns.

2 The environment, which combines behaviors seen as positive, and the underlying counterbalances that are not so enjoyable. Not all employees will welcome high performance standards, strong discipline, individual accountability and sometimes harsh dialogue.

3 Since innovative culture is a comprehensive system it must be implemented in a comprehensive and not piecemeal manner.

Actionable Insights for Senior Leaders

Throughout the article you can find recommendations to leaders of the companies implementing innovative culture:

— To make their employees aware of the traps and pitfalls of the innovative business environment

— To clearly state difference between unproductive and productive failures

— To publicly take individual accountability despite the risks it implies to set the example to their employees

— To be able to shape company vision and strategies and at the same time to be technically competent

— To understand that the path of shaping the innovative culture cannot be curtailed

— Finally, to keep a close eye on whether the opposing features of the innovative culture are balanced to avoid instability and be always ready to intervene and restore the balance, if needed.