Cal Newport is a professor at MIT and, as a side hobby, studies deep work for knowledge workers as a side hobby. His philosophy is simple: the ability to do cognitively difficult things will become increasingly valuable in our economy. In fact it’s the only way to make sure that you are not replaced by a robot. He argues that many of the work that is performed in offices today, is of negligible economic value. Many of his ideas may be usefully applied to curriculum design.
Whilst his ideas about the nature of modern work are interesting, I am more interested in the concept of Deep Work itself. In his book “deep work” he describes deep work as” professional activities performed in a state of distraction free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to the limit”.
This is interesting to me, because he’s being explicit about something we often gloss over. Sometimes (often) learning new things is hard. Learning new things often requires a cognitive stretch, which may have an emotional impact. When we are used to working for 10 hour days and so do not understand how two hours spent on learning a new language can be so taxing. . When we learn truly new things, it’s hard. We are often inadequate at the beginning and then improve slowly.
What I like about Cal Newport is that he doesn’t try and put a plaster over this by pretending that cognitively hard things can be made easier. Instead, he argues that state of cognitive strain is exactly what is required to push us to excel. He argues that this work is valuable, that it is hard and that it is rare. He argues that the ability to work in a state of cognitive stretch for a sustained period of time helps one to produce quality work for a sustained period of time