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How to Be a Focused Marketer in a Distracted World

How to Be a Focused Marketer in a Distracted World

Cal Newport, a professor at Georgetown University, discusses the differences between shallow and deep work, as well as why the hive-like mentality in most offices doesn’t contribute much in the way of productivity or creativity.

Everyone at your company, from the CEO to administrative assistants, likely feels overwhelmed with work at times. The culprit may sometimes be that they are focusing on the wrong kinds of work — and the wrong kinds of work goals. This is one of the insights from Cal Newport, a professor at Georgetown University, and in this episode of the Salesforce Marketing Cloudcast he discusses the differences between shallow and deep work, as well as why the hive-like mentality in most offices doesn’t contribute much in the way of productivity or creativity. Newport offers insights into how the future of work should change, and how employees can usher in that change.

Welcome to the Marketing Cloudcast. It’s the podcast where marketing leaders shoot straight about key trends, technologies, and topics in marketing today. And now, straight from the Salesforce Marketing Cloud, it’s your cohosts, Heike Young and Joel Book.

Joel Book (JB): Well, hello again, everybody. Joel Book here from Salesforce welcoming you to another great episode of the Marketing Cloudcast, the show that features some of the best and brightest minds impacting all different facets of marketing today. And today, we’ve got another great guest lined up, and with no further ado, I want to kick it over to my friend and colleague, Heike Young, to tell you who we have in our guest chair today.

A New Approach to Work

Heike Young (HY): Thank you, Joel. Today’s guest is Cal Newport. If you’re not yet familiar with his work, you will be familiar with it after this episode, and I think that your workday will be better for it. Cal is associate professor of computer science at Georgetown. He specializes in the theory of distributed algorithms. He studies the theoretical foundations of our digital age — those are his words — and really what he writes about is the impact of technology on the world of work and the way that we approach those long to-do lists that we have on our laptops and in our Evernotes every single day.

His most recent book is called Deep Work. It was an instant Wall Street Journal bestseller and an Amazon best business book for January of this year. And he previously authored another really great book called So Good They Can’t Ignore You. I think, actually, recently we had somebody on the show who named that as their top book that they would recommend for digital marketers to read, and that book resulted in a really popular op-ed Cal wrote that was The New York Times’ most emailed article for over a week. So his thoughts make a huge impact all around the world and all around the world of folks who want to do a better job at how they get stuff done every day. So, Cal, welcome to the show.

Cal Newport (CN): Sure. Yeah. Thanks, Heike. Thanks, Joel. I’m happy to be here.

HY: So, Cal, I really want you to just lay out the concept of deep work for us here. Give us sort of the elevator pitch. How is the practice of work becoming more distracting and less deep over the past couple decades?

CN: Right. I think we’ve talked a lot in recent years with some ambiguity about distraction. Is it good? Is it bad? Do we have too much? Do we have too little? And what I’m trying to do is actually flip the script, and instead of focusing on what’s bad about distraction, focus on something that we’ve forgotten about, which is what’s so good about its opposite. So that’s what brings us to deep work. Deep work is an activity where you’re focusing intensely without distraction on something that’s really hard. And the claim I’m making is that deep work, this particular activity, is becoming more valuable in our knowledge economy at the exact same time that it’s becoming more rare. So if you’re one of the few individuals or organizations to cultivate it, it’s a huge competitive advantage.

The Loss of Deep Work

HY: So, Cal, you’re a professor. On a scale of maybe an A-plus to an F, how would you rate most professionals’ ability to engage in that kind of deep work?

CN: It’s vanishingly rare right now. There’s a few areas left in the economy where the ability to focus intensely is still prioritized as a tier-one skill. I happen to come up in one of these few areas where that’s the case, which is doing theoretical computer science. You also see artists and writers who still will protect the ability to focus as a tier-one skill. But really what’s changed is that as the knowledge economy has become faster moving, and more competitive, and more demanding of elite level results, if you don’t want to be automated or outsourced, deep work is encroaching on many, many more fields in knowledge work as a tier-one skill. And people haven’t really realized it yet.

HY: So do you think that people… maybe take us through a typical day of somebody who has a long to-do list at their desk, right? So they know that they have all of these things to do. Do you think that they want to engage in deep work, but these little things just kind of keep creeping in? And then before they know it, five or six hours are gone, and they haven’t actually completed any of those deep tasks?

CN: Yeah. Because there’s a never-ending source of shallow work tasks, which I don’t mean in a pejorative way, I just mean the term “shallow work” to mean any task that’s not deep work, so anything that does not require intense concentration or anything that’s relatively easily replicate-able. So most of the back and forth emails, and meetings, and PowerPoints that people spend time on, I consider shallow work. The right way to look at things is that shallow work is what keeps you from getting fired, but deep work is what gets you promoted. So it’s really easy to dedicate your day to the shallow work because, hey, it keeps you from being fired. And it makes you feel busy. It makes you feel…

HY: It makes you look like you’re getting a lot done.

CN: And you’re visibly productive. That’s true, but we really know that deep work is what produces real value. Deep work is what allows you to improve your skills rapidly. Deep work is what allows you to produce things that are rare and valuable, and in the end, that’s really the key currency in our current economy. I mean, the stuff you can do that’s really valuable and not easily replicate-able, that’s the only thing that’s going to move the needle.

JB: The people that listen to the Marketing Cloudcast, Cal, are probably listening to this and saying right now, “Well, the one thing I have in precious supply is time. I never have enough of it. There are just simply not enough hours in the day.” I’m curious to know your perspective or maybe your advice for companies to foster an environment that promotes deep thought, that promotes deep work, the type of work that really produces incredible breakthroughs and results. Is it possible to do that?

CN: It is, and here’s what I’ve found. What doesn’t work is if, let’s say you go to a supervisor or a boss, and just complain about the negatives of distraction, this has been shown to be very ineffective. So if you say, “I get too many emails. Stop bothering me so much,” or, “These meetings you keep scheduling are a waste of time. Come on, stop scheduling so many meetings,” nothing good comes of it.

What does seem to be effective, a particular strategy that seems to be effective, is to have a conversation with your boss or supervisor — if you work for yourself, have this conversation with yourself — where you talk about what deep work is. You talk about what shallow work is. You recognize that both are important. And then you ask, “What should my ratio of deep to shallow work be in the typical work week?” And you actually try to nail down a number. And then you can measure, and say, “Okay. Here’s where I am. Maybe I’m really far off of this. What changes do we need to make so that I can actually hit this ratio that we decided was sort of the optimal use of my time?” And I’m starting to gather a growing archive of stories of people who were able to effect relatively radical culture shifts by taking this sort of quantitative, positive approach. That a lot of the things that we think are just ingrained in our corporate cultures, that could never change, turn out to be quite fungible. But you have to have the right question to ask and the right number to measure. So this, I think, is the best entrance into this conversation is, “What should my ratio of deep to shallow work hours be per week? Okay. Now that we’ve committed to that, we’ve now committed as an organization to making the changes needed for me to hit that.”

Considering Your Work

JB: Does that apply to companies of all types? I can certainly understand, let’s say, take an advertising agency, or take maybe the creative department of an agency, or people that work in advertising or one of the different creative disciplines, I can clearly see where that would apply there. In your experience, does this particular approach apply to basically every type of company — small, medium, and large? Is it possible, in other words, for any company to really create that kind of environment where you’ve got that balance between shallow work and deep work?

CN: Well, it does because what’s important about this approach is that it doesn’t fix in advance, this is the ratio that everyone should hit. Instead, what is asks is that you determine for your particular professional context what ratio makes sense. And so, for example, let’s say you’re entry level, and really most of the value you offer to an organization is supporting people higher up who are actually maybe producing original things of value. Well, in that case, your deep-to-shallow work ratio you agree on is probably quite small.

On the other hand, if you’re at the front lines of producing things that are valuable to your company, that’s probably going to be a much higher ratio. So there is no fixed number that works for everyone, but what’s important is actually thinking about it and actually having an answer. “For what I do and for the value I bring to this company, where should this ratio fall for me?” And I’ve seen a wider range from entry-level people having it down to, “Basically, if I get a couple hours each week to think about some things, that’s fine, but I’m mainly doing support.” Fifty-fifty is probably the most common ratio that I’ve seen being successful. But then you have some creatives where, by far, the bulk of their value comes from producing hard things, like computer developers, in which case the ratios that they actually end up on are much, much higher, where there’s maybe five hours a week where they’re accessible [laughter]. That’s a lot because it’s head down. So it depends, but you [have] got to have that conversation. If you don’t, and you let the conventional wisdom push you around, you will end up with a ratio close to zero.

HY: Talk to us about that heads-down time, Cal. What should that look like? I mean, should somebody go sit in a hidey-hole by themselves to really get this stuff done? How can they foster that kind of environment to complete that deep work?

CN: Well, if you’re going to do a successful deep work session, a few things are useful. One, it has to be at least an hour long, preferably 90 minutes or more. Because you have to recognize there’s going to be a 20-, maybe even 30-minute start-up period, especially if you’re new to deep work, where your mind is just clearing out residue from other things pulling at your attention. So you need that 20, 30 minutes even just to get revved up. So if you’re doing a 45-minute deep work block, you’re actually getting 15 minutes maybe of actual work. So put aside at least an hour; 90 minutes or more would be better. Have ironclad rules for the session. And I think the most important ironclad rule that everyone has to have is if there’s even a moment of a glance at something else — at an inbox, at a smartphone — it doesn’t count as a deep work session. Even a moment’s glance at an inbox can create a…

HY: Whoa.

CN: It creates a state of attention residue that can significantly compromise your cognitive capacity. And this is a problem because I think there’s a lot of knowledge workers today who will say very savvily, “I don’t multitask anymore. I don’t do that. I don’t have two windows open at the same time. I do just one thing at a time.” But if you actually watch them, and researchers have, what they are doing is quite a few ‘just checks’, I call them. They’re just really quick checks on things, just in case. And they would say, “I’m not multitasking. I only have one thing open. I’m thinking hard. I’m just occasionally taking just the quickest glances.” But it turns out even the quickest glance at an email inbox can induce this state of attention residue that essentially significantly reduces your cognitive capacity. So they key rule you have to have in these nice long sessions is zero distraction, or it doesn’t count.

Why Humans Are Not Computers

JB: So the closer we get to being single-threaded versus multi-threaded, the more work we’re able to get done? Is that where you’re headed with this?

CN: It’s like that, but it’s even worse because, you see, we’re not computer processors. Computer processors are pretty good at handling multi-threads, to follow out this computer science analogy. Because when it switches to this thread, it’s 100 per cent executing the commands for that thread. And then when it switches back to another, it’s 100 per cent executing the commands of that thread. But the reality of human beings is when we switch to a different thread, there’s a huge overhead cost. So it would be like having a computer processor where when you switch threads, the performance fell by 50 per cent for the next million instructions or something like that. If that was the case, we would probably think about multi-threading a different way. So really the computer processor analogy gets us in trouble because we like to think every quantum of work is equivalent, and it doesn’t matter how I’m interweaving them. It just matters how many I’m processing, but it’s not the case. We got to actually rev up our mind to get full power out of it, and it really requires concentration over a long period of undistracted time.

HY: Cal, I’m seeing this movement in the tech world, and this has been true in my job at Salesforce and a couple previous jobs, too. I’ve been seeing this kind of hatred of email start to take hold among professionals, right? And they’re like, “I hate managing my inbox. I only want to manage it for a couple hours at the beginning of the day and then a couple hours at the end of the day. And then I’m in meetings, and then I’m doing my tasks. And let’s all reduce the amount of email.” But of course, they’ve adopted something else, which I think can be equally as harmful, which is instant group or one-to-one person chats. Are you familiar with Slack, and HipChat, and Google Hangouts, and some of these different tools?

CN: Yep, I’m quite familiar with them.

HY: So I’m wondering if this kind of stuff — actually, in some ways I feel like it could be worse than email because people are expecting an instantaneous reply. Whereas email, I feel like there’s sort of this understood notion that you can reply in the next 0 to 24 hours, and you’d still be pretty timely with it. Whereas chat, if you don’t reply within an hour or two, it would kind of look like you’re just slacking off, and you’re not actually there. So what would you advise for people whose workplaces really rely on these kinds of chat tools to get by?

CN: Right. And I agree with your premise that Slack and the equivalent technologies are just as bad as email. The reason people shifted to them is that email had two issues. One was the fractured attention that made it hard to really produce things of value. And two was the psychological burden of, at all times, when you’re away from your computer, that you had this piling inbox happening. And I think the move to chat tools like Slack was popular because it got rid of that second issue. You can’t pile up messages if you run completely off Slack. If you’re not there, the person has to wait for you to get there before your conversation can go. So it solved that problem, which people liked. But then it took the other problem, which was fracturing attention, and revved it up. It fractured the attention even more. So it’s a little bit robbing Peter to pay Paul.

HY: Right. And now I actually get the push notifications for Slack on my phone. So I’m really never far from it [laughter].

CN: Well, so I think there’s a fundamental problem here. And I think there’s a reason why, even though for the last decade or so where this problem really has reached a fever pitch, this constant communication problem for the last decade, there’s been innumerable suggestions for tactics and tips that should help you spend less time in your inbox or write smarter emails. And none of these seem to be making a difference. And I think I have a good hypothesis for why this is, and that’s because what’s really going on with these communication tools, it’s not about the tool itself. It’s about the workflow that these tools help engender.

So with the rise of asynchronous, universally addressed communication, like email, came a new type of workflow that I like to call the hyperactive hive mind, which says, “We’re going to have very low logistical overhead inside our organizations. We’re not going to have a ton of sort of fixed processes and communication channels. Instead, we’re just going to have this ongoing conversation that happens throughout the day.” And in ad hoc fashion, we can kind of just figure things out as they arise and, “Hey, did you get that? Are you working on that? What about this?” And out of this conversation, we can be very adaptive and flexible as an organization and we can handle lots of things without having to have a lot of processes or logistical overhead.

The problem is we’ve come to think of this hyperactive hive mind as what it means to work in the digital age, but it’s actually a very specific way to work, one of very many different ways we could do it. And it’s turning out to be a disastrous decision. Because the human brain is not a computer processor, and if you fragment attention to that degree, which is necessary to keep the conversation going, you can’t actually produce valuable output with the human brain, which is ultimately what we want to do. So again, we got rid of a lot of overhead, but instead we prevented the ability of our factory equipment to actually produce.

But this is why I think small fixes don’t help because modern knowledge work cultures are built on the necessity of an ongoing, continuous conversation to function, because it doesn’t have any other structures to function to work. So if you tried to spend less time on email, or try to just check email at the beginning of the day or the end of day, it always is going to conflict with the reality that the company depends on constant communication to move forward. So I think this is a fundamental issue, and to solve it’s going to require fundamental changes to how we approach work in the digital age.

Work That’s Bad, Work That’s Good

JB: Cal, when we talk about artificial intelligence in the context of marketing sales service — obviously major business operations or functions that are part and parcel to Salesforce — artificial intelligence is playing a bigger and bigger role for the purpose of being able to augment a lot of the existing software and capabilities that different applications provide, and really use AI to streamline or speed up some of the decision making regarding those technologies, even looking at data and then inferring different insights from that. Does artificial intelligence have a role in simplifying the workplace in some way, shape, or form?

CN: Well, it’s not just going to… my theory at least, it’s not just going to simplify the workplace. It’s actually going to reconfigure it in a way that’s going to bad news for a lot of people. And I think this is important to recognize because people worry… if you’ll allow a sort of hyperbolic example, people have this vague worry of the robot apocalypse, right? Computers are going to take over, like in the Terminator movie. And I would argue the thing to be worried about is not Terminator robots. The place where actually technology is going to have the biggest negative impact on us might actually be email and related tools. And what I mean by this is that the rise of email transformed people’s work habits in the way we just talked about.

So now more and more people are becoming human network routers, where most of what they do is move information back and forth between inboxes. This is exactly the behavior that AI is going to be able to conquer first. And if you spend most of your time as a human network router, you’re going to be completely replaceable when AI comes along. And so it’s almost like this is the opening salvo [laughter] of the robot apocalypse is actually, “Let’s introduce this technology that makes most people very replaceable, so that then when technology advances a little bit more we can replace those.” So if you spend most of your day sending and receiving emails very quickly, and you’re very proud of sort of your email responsiveness, you should be very, very worried. I mean, you should be asking yourself, “What is it that I can do that it’s hard to replicate, it’s hard to automate, that I do at a high level, that I do at an elite level?” Because that’s basically what’s going to be left after we have the next wave of both automation and outsourcing.

JB: And isn’t that what we really should be trying to reward or promote from a culture standpoint, to really create an environment that supports that kind of creative thinking as opposed to just turning individuals into routers?

CN: We should, and I think it’s an issue that we don’t right now. And I think this is something that organizations in the professional world are starting to recognize. So I’m hoping five years from now, a boss is not going to care so much how quick you respond to an email, but they are going to be pretty worried if you said you only spent 10 hours in deep concentration that week. Because what we’re doing, it’s like in the industrial example. If you bought factory equipment, capital invested in factory equipment, and then you ran it all at 10 per cent of its capacity. People would say, “Whoa, what a terrible investment.” Well, it’s what’s going on now. Now that capital investment is in people’s brains and knowledge work, and we’re putting them in a metaphorical factory. And we’re running them at a fraction of their capacity.

HY: Right. Or you buy a new MacBook Pro, and all you do is use the calculator on it.

CN: Yeah. It doesn’t make sense. As someone who works in networking, I can tell you that the commodity piece of networking is those routers at the very bottom that just move information back and forth. We don’t want to be pushing people to be the network routers. We want people to be the applications who are up top that are actually doing interesting processing.

JB: Do you think business is ready for this change, Cal? Do you think CEOs are willing to sit down and listen to you and take a look at this? And say, “This makes sense. I need to rethink the way in which we’re structured in our company. I want to create a different culture, a different environment that supports and rewards creative thinking, as opposed to just having people be paper pushers.”

CN: I think so. I’ve been out on the road a lot speaking about this in a lot of different places and getting a lot of feedback on it. And the two things I’m noticing is that the biggest concern organizations have goes back to what I talked about before, which is their whole structure is based on this hyperactive, hive-mind, constant communication. So if you just started by unplugging metaphorically, everything would grind to a halt. So what makes this a difficult transformation, I think, is that you first have to put the alternative workflows into place before you unplug this existing communication-based flow. And that’s hard. I mean, the right analogy is the Industrial Revolution. It took a long time for us to get the assembly line right. It was very a difficult inconvenience transformation in how we built things. But once we did, we had an order of 10 increase in productivity. So something similar has to happen in knowledge work, and it’s not going to be easy.

JB: Interesting assessment. Final question before we go to break on this particular segment then, if you were speaking to the people that are designing the next iteration of email or any of the different productivity software that we use day in and day out, are there specific areas where you would suggest they get focused on to try to take a lot of the teachings out of deep work that we’ve talked about here and really apply them to the, let’s say, this next generation of productivity software?

CN: I think it’s useful to think process-centric. So to move away from the generalist approach to communication technology, like the classical email inbox where everything comes into one inbox that’s associated with a person’s name, and think instead about a future in which there are processes that produce value. And people are associated with different processes, and how information flows in and out of those processes is really tailored to what’s going to be the most valuable for that particular processes’ goal. So away from generalization and towards specialization is how I think communication’s going to evolve in the workplace.

HY: Cal, we’ve learned a lot, and we have a couple more questions for you before we close this episode of the Marketing Cloudcast with you. But I want to let people know how they can get a hold of Deep Work. I know I mentioned it’s on Amazon earlier. How else can people maybe read some more about it and maybe find a copy for themselves?

CN: Right. Well, if you go to my website,, you can find out about the book. You can read my blog where I’ve written a lot about it. And then to find the book itself, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or really anywhere this type of business books are sold.

The Final Five

HY: So Cal, with that, we are ready to take you into our final five. This is one of our favourite parts of the show, where we get to know our guests just a little bit better. And we’re going to start with this — it’s our first question we ask every guest on this segment. Who is your biggest influence professionally would you say?

CN: Professionally, I’ve been influenced by historical figures who have done impactful things and are famous enough that there’s good biographies written about them, so that you can really get deep. So like Teddy Roosevelt, for example, he’s been so well-written about that you can get deep into what helped fuel his rise, which I would argue is pretty much deep work. So he’s been a big influence for me.

JB: You are the very first one who has mentioned Mr. Roosevelt as one of the persons that really has been one of your biggest influences. I love that a lot, Cal. Hey, question number two in the final five concerns a specific company that you would say you have a brand crush on because you’ve become such a huge admirer of their marketing. What company might that be and why?

CN: Well, that’s interesting, an admirer of their marketing. Well, as a Washington Nationals baseball fan, I have to say I certainly admire Under Armour’s move to make Bryce Harper [laughter] the face of the company. They put out some… as a baseball fan, they put out some nice ads that sort of get the athletic fan juices flowing.

JB: The Nationals definitely have the momentum going. What do you think their chances are this year?

CN: Well, they just lost four in a row, so this is the wrong time to ask me about it. I’m sort of gripping the edge of my seat right now but hopefully pretty good.

HY: Hopefully, by the time this episode airs [laughter], they’ll be doing much better. Things will have turned around for them.

All right, Cal. So this question, we’re going to have to have you get a little bit hypothetical with. A lot of the folks we interview, Cal, as you know on this show, are marketing leaders at different companies. And so we like to ask them the question, if you had 10 per cent more marketing budget this year, and you could only invest in one strategy or channel, what would that be and why? So maybe I’ll ask you to think — you could take this a couple different directions. You could imagine that you’re leading marketing for your department at Georgetown. You could imagine that you’re leading marketing even for the Nationals. But what kind of strategies or channels would you invest this money in?

CN: Well, I’ll tell you where I’m hearing a lot of buzz within sort of my somewhat closed circle of business writers and people who sort of write and have public presence in the world of advice writing, business advice writing, is that all the buzz right now is around what you’re doing right now, which is the podcast channel, and that how, when executed properly, the sort of ROI on investment, the engagement versus the resources required, is sort of unprecedented right now. So in other words, I think you’re doing, in my hypothetical CMO…

HY: Wow.

CN: …that, I would say you’re doing the right thing.

JB: Well, thank you, Cal. We hope we are.

HY: Thanks. That’s good to hear [laughter].

JB: We were just honored recently by being named the top marketing podcast for 2016 by the Content Marketing Institute and — totally unexpected. So we were very pleased to be honored in that way. And we get really good feedback on the podcast, but I do think you’re right. And I think it just makes it easy for people during drive time to maybe take a little bit of a time-out and listen. I think it just works into what they’re naturally doing.

HY: Yeah. And, Joel, to add on that too, I feel like there’s so many books that I have had on my reading list for the longest time, and I just love reading. I was a literature major, but unfortunately, with a full-time job, there’s only so many books that I can squeeze into my schedule every week. And I love these podcasts. Not only ours, but some other ones too, that interview amazing authors like Cal, just to give me an insight into the book and just hear in the author’s own voice. Because you can figure out a lot about an author from the way that they answer these kinds of questions in a podcast and whether you’re going to like that storytelling style in a book. And I think it really gives people a sort of like a real-life book review, featuring the main character, the author. And it just gives them a great way to be more productive. They can listen to this short podcast, and then from there, they can decide how to move forward, how to read some materials by that person, which is often the case. Because we interview a lot of authors on the show.

JB: It does. I think it makes a much more personal connection, which is really refreshing these days.

HY: And it saves Cal from having to do individual phone calls with 500 different people [laughter]. He could just do it with both of us.

JB: Because we can give him a bigger audience. Speaking of books, Cal, question number four. Other than your own books, is there one book that you would recommend to our listeners? And what would that book be, and why?

CN: So a book that’s been influential to me recently was cultural critic Jaron Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gadget. It’s polemical. It’s brilliant. It’s also crazy in a lot of places. And what it does is what I think any good avant-garde philosophy should, which is it takes something — in this case, a lot of ideas surrounding our current sort of digital culture and network culture — and shakes it up completely, and finds angles added and new ways of thinking about it that will really change your thinking on a lot of things. And you might not agree with everything, but what it does is give you some distance and allows you to see that the things that are happening in our culture right now, they’re not intrinsically good, they’re not intrinsically bad, and they’re worthy of contemplation. So reading that book, I think opened my eyes. And going forward, it’s really helped me, as sort of a cultural critic, look at what’s happening with some objectivity. And so I would recommend his book as a good opening for anyone who’s looking for sort of new perspective or lens on all the changes that are happening in our connected culture.

And the title is You Are Not a Gadget.

JB: And the author is who again?

CN: It’s Jaron Lanier. He’s a computer scientist. He helped found virtual reality back in the ’80s.

HY: Yeah, he’s a Silicon Valley guy.

CN: He’s a Silicon Valley guy, and a philosopher, and a little bit crazy, and also one of the smartest people [laughter] I’ve read. So it’s a great book. You’ll be frustrated. You’ll be engaged, and so it does everything you want a good book to do.

HY: Thank you. Great rec.

JB: Hey, before Heike asks you the last question, I’m just curious about one thing. I’ve been to your website Cal, and I see you’ve written a lot of books specifically for students: So Good They Can’t Ignore You, How to Be a Good High School Superstar, How to Become a Straight-A Student, How to Win at College. I’m just curious: Is that a big part of your focus, not just as a professor, but it’s seems like you have a passion to really helping students prepare to be the best?

CN: Well, typically my books follow topics that are relevant to me at the time. So I’m relatively young. So those first three books that are aimed at a student audience, I wrote while still a student. The first one I wrote as a college student. The two that followed I wrote as a graduate student. So I did spend a lot of time then. Because I was a student, these things were relevant. And then, So Good They Can’t Ignore You was really about, “Okay. What’s the reality of how people build a working life they love?” Well, I wrote that while entering the job market for the first time. I needed to know that question, and then I wrote Deep Work once I had settled down as a professor. I wanted to figure out, “How do I succeed in a high-level knowledge work job?” So basically, I let my books help me with whatever is going on in sort of my main professional life in this track I’ve been going on.

JB: Interesting. Thank you.

HY: Thank you for asking that, Joel. That’s great insight. All right, Cal. This is going to be our last question to you on the Cloudcast. How would you sum up the state of marketing in just one word? I know it’s a little out of your wheelhouse here, but I’m going to ask anyway.

CN: …in flux. That’s really two, but I’m hyphenating.

HY: That works.

CN: Yeah. I mean, so much is changing as these channels change, and it’s so complicated. And I watch people in digital marketing. It’s good for them because if you’re willing to do the deep work to keep up, which is one of the big advantages of deep work is it helps you learn complicated things quickly. If you’re willing to do the deep work to keep up with these rapid changes, there’s a market that really needs it. But it’s exhausting when I watch them [laughter] because everything is changing so quickly that you really got to be locked in to keep up with this.

JB: Well, even though marketing and specifically digital marketing is not in your wheelhouse, Cal, I find your perspective on that absolutely spot-on because so many of our guests here describe today’s world of marketing as being constantly changing, constantly transforming. So your description of in flux, I think, is absolutely spot-on.

Cal, you have been, in my opinion, and I think Heike shares my opinion, one of the more thought-provoking guests we’ve had here at the Marketing Cloudcast. And, folks, I would highly recommend if you haven’t been yet, to Cal Newport’s website, please go there. And I really do encourage you to pick up a copy of Deep Work, a very, very compelling, very, very thought-provoking book.

Our guest today here at the Marketing Cloudcast has been Professor Cal Newport. He’s the associate professor of computer science at Georgetown. As we’ve already discussed with Cal, his most recent book is called Deep Work. And as you just learned, one of his more recent books is called So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, great book to get your son or daughter who is getting ready for their career.

Well, my name is Joel Book, and on behalf of Heike Young, my colleague and cohost here at the Marketing Cloudcast, folks, I want to thank all of you once again for giving us your time today. Hope you found our interview with Cal Newport inspiring, and we would invite you to stop by again for the next episode of the Marketing Cloudcast. And if you’ve enjoyed listening, do us a favor, please go to iTunes and subscribe. If you have not yet, it’s easy. All you need to do is subscribe at, and back to iTunes, that’s where you can actually rate us. We take your reviews and your ratings very seriously. And you can also look for us on Google Play Music or Stitcher. So on behalf of all of us at Salesforce, thanks so much again for [reading]. And we’ll look forward to having you aboard on another episode of the Marketing Cloudcast.

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