Follow your passion – the worst piece of career advice

In previous blogs I’ve posted about the skills we need for a prosperous digital present and future, and the ones that are likely to be in short supply. I’ve been asking the question of how we drive our own value propositions over time, one, because there is more choice and focus if we do it for ourselves, and two, because we can, thanks to our context of rapid change and technological advancement.

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Today I came across an article written about Andrew Ng, which deepened my insight. Ng is the founder of Google Brain, a deep-learning research project supercharged by Google’s vast stores of computing power and data. Ng also co-founded Coursera, the largest provider of open online courses or what we know as MOOCs, with partners Princeton, Yale and top schools Europe and China. In his interview for the article, he said that ‘follow your passion’ is probably the worst career advice you could ever give or get. His reasoning?

Ng says we are very rarely good at something when we start out, and yet we have to be good at something to be passionate about it. He does believe we can become good at almost anything. In place of following a passion when choosing where to focus your energies, we should look at what opportunity there is to learn and what the possible impact is.

‘The world has an infinite supply of interesting problems. The world also has an infinite supply of important problems. I would love for people to focus on the latter.’

The key in preparing for the future is also moving away from the repetitive and routine. This is where I think his work chimes with Seth Godin. Highly repetitive and routine tasks lend themselves well to eventual automation. That means a loss of jobs. Young people who can identify and make the most of opportunities to learn and have impact – solving real and important problems – and who seek out non-repetitive and non-routine, are on the right path.

What I like about Ng’s approach is that he also believes that innovation and creativity are teachable. They are not ‘unpredictable acts of genius’ so much as processes that are systematic that we can all improve on. Ng runs his own workshop on the strategy of innovation.

‘When you become sufficiently expert in the state of the art, you stop picking ideas at random. You are thoughtful in how to select ideas, and how to combine ideas. You are thoughtful about when you should be generating many ideas versus pruning down ideas’.

Building people for the non-routine, the human, the creative and the innovative – that’s what we’re seeking out. And we need scalable ways of doing that. Ng believes this is possible. We’re just not there, yet.

In your Pocket

How about a job with flexible hours and unlimited vacation?

One that promises ‘your ideal computer setup’, 50% credit towards your purchase of any mobile devices, ergonomic desk setup, wireless stipend, catered lunches and lots of free snacks and drinks.  That’s in addition to 100% Medical, Dental and Vision Coverage, 50% spouse/dependents, and other benefits.

In return, you need to be passionate about what you do.

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That’s what Pocket, offering the app to beat when it comes to bookmarking and managing links, will provide in return for helping to build a company that revolutionises how people consume web content.

Sounds kind of cool, doesn’t it?  Like some people are pushing the box on what we traditionally experience at work (think unlimited holidays).  Something you might want in your pocket?