January 28, 2017 Daniel Pleșa

So Good They Can’t Ignore You- by Cal Newport


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A book that illustrates why the “follow your passion” advice is actually flawed, and instead suggests a new way to look at our careers, all backed up by Cal’s scientific approach. Great read especially if you are at the beginning of your career.


My takeaways:

  1. The astrobiologist Andrew Steele, for example, exclaims, “No, I had no idea what I was going to do. I object to systems that say you should decide now what you’re going to do.” One of the students asks Steele if he had started his PhD program “hoping you’d one day change the world.” “No” Steele responds, “I just wanted options.”
  2. Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.
  3. A job, in Wrzesniewski’s formulation, is a way to pay the bills, a career is a path toward increasingly better work, and a calling is work that’s an important part of your life and a vital part of your identity.
  4. In Wrzesniewski’s reasearch, the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do. If you have many years’ experience, then you’ve had time to get better at what you do and develop a feeling of efficacy. It also gives you time to develop strong relationships with your coworkers and to see many examples of your work benefiting others. What’s important here, however, is that this explanation, though reasonable, contradicts the passion hypothesis, which instead emphasizes the immediate happiness that comes from matching your job to a true passion.
  5. Self-Determination Theory (SDT) tells us that motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs- factors described as the “nutriments” required to feel intrinsically motivated for your work:
    1. Autonomy: the feeling that you have control over your day, and that your actions are important
    2. Competence: the feeling that you are good at what you do
    3. Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people
  6. The more I studied the issue, the more I noticed that the passion hypothesis convinces people that somewhere there’s a magic “right” job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately recognize that this is the work they were meant to do. The problem, of course, is when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow, such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt.
  7. While the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you. This mindset is how most people approach their working lives.
  8. First, when you focus only on what your work offers you, it makes you hyperaware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness. This is especially true for entry-level positions, which, by definition, are not going to be filled with challenging projects and autonomy-these come later. When you enter the working world, with the passion mindset, the annoying tasks you’re assigned or the frustrations of corporate bureaucracy ca become too much to handle.
  9. Second, the deep questions driving the passion mindset- “Who am I?” and “What do I truly love?”- are essentially impossible to confirm. “Is this who I really am?” and “Do I love this?” rarely reduce to clear yes-or-no responses. In other words, the passion mindset is almost guaranteed to keep you perpetually unhappy and confused, with the one feeling of missing out on life.
  10. Traits that define great work:
    1. Creativity
    2. Impact
    3. Control
  11. The career capital theory of great work:
    1. the traits that define great work are rare and valuable
    2. supply and demand says that if you want these traits you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your Career Capital.
    3. the craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital. This is why it trumps the passion mindset of your goal is to create work you love.
  12. Three disqualifiers for applying the craftsman mindset
    1. the job presents few opportuinities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable.
    2. the job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world.
    3. the job forces you to work with people you really dislike.
  13. This focus on stretching your ability  and receiving immediate feedback provides the core of a more universal principle- one that I increasingly came to believe provides the key to successfully acquiring career capital in almost any field.
  14. In Outliers,  Gladwell pointed to this rule as evidence that great accomplishment is not about natural talent, but instead about being in the right place at the right time to accumulate such a massive amount of practice. Bill Gates? He happened to attend one of the first high schools in the country to install a computer and allow their students unsupervised access- making him one of the first in this generation to build up thousands of hours of practice on this technology. Mozart? His dad was a fanatic about practicing. By the time Mozart was being toured around Europe as a prodigy, he had squeezed in more than twice the number of practice hours that similarly aged musician contemporaries had acquired.
  15. If you want to understand the source of professional atheltes’ talent, for example, look to their practice schedules- almost without exception they have been systematically stretching their athletic abilities, with the guidance of expert coaches, since they were children.
  16. If you just show up and work hard, you’ll soon hit a plateau beyond which you fail to get any better.
  17. To successfully adopt the craftsman mindset, therefore, we have to approach our jobs with a dedication to deliberate practice.
  18. When you are acquiring career capital in a field, you can imagine that you are acquiring this capital in a specific type of career capital market. Tere are 2 types of these markets: winner-take-all  and auction. In a winner-take-all market, there is only one type of career capital available, and lots of different people competing for it. Television writing is a winner-take-all market because all that matters is your ability to write good scripts. That is, the only capital type is your script writing capability. An auction market, by contras, is less structured: There are many different types of career capital and each person might generate a unique collection. The clean-tech space is an auction market.
  19. Pushing past what’s comfortable, however, is only one part of the deliberate-practice story; the other part is embracing honest feedback-even if it destroys what you thought was good.
  20. Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.
  21. If your goal is to love what you do, your first step is to acquire career capital. Your next step is to invest this capital in the traits that define great work. Control is one of the most important tagets you can choose for this investment.
  22. Control that’s acquired without career capital is not sustainable.
  23. This is the irony of control. When no one cares what you do with your working life, you probably don’t have enough career capital to do anything interesting. But once you do have this capital, as Lulu and Lewis discovered, you’ve become valuable enough that your employer will resist your efforts.
  24. Acquiring more control in your working life is something that benefits you but likely has no direct benefit to your employer. Downshifting to a thirty-hour-per-week schedule, for example, provided Lulu freedom from a working environment that had felt increasingly stifling. But from the point of view of her employer, it was simply lost productivity. In other words, in most jobs you should expect your employer to resist your move toward more control.
  25. The key, it seems, is to know when the time is right to become courageous in your career decisions. Get this timing right, and a fantastic working life awaits you, but get it wrong by tripping the first control trap in a premature bid for autonomy and disaster lurks. The fault of the courage culture, therefore, is not its undelying message that courage is good, but its severe underestimation of the complexitiy involved in deploying this boldness in a useful way.
  26. If i want to learn to scuba dive, for example, because i think it’s fun, and people won’t pay me to do that, i don’t care, i’m going to do it anyway. But when it comes to decisions affecting your core career, money remains an effective judge of value. “If you’re struggling to raise money for an idea, or are thinking that you will support your idea with unrelated work, then you need to rethink the idea.”
  27. When deciding whether to follow an appealing pursuit that will introduce more control into your work life, seek evidence of whether people are willing to pay for it. If you find this evidence, continue. If not, move on.
  28. We like to think of innovation as striking us in a stunning eureka moment, where you all at once change the way people see the world, leaping far ahead of our curent understanding. I’m arguing that in reality, innovation is more systematic. We grind away to expand the cutting edge, opening up new problems in the adjacent possible to tackle and therefore expand the cutting edge some more, opening up more new problems, and so on.
  29. If life-transforming missions could be found with just a little navel-gazing and an optimistic attitude, changing the world would be commonplace. But it’s not commonplace; it’s instead quite rare. This rareness, we now understand, is because these breakthroughs require that you first get to the cutting edge, and this is hard- the type of hardness that most of us try ot avoid in our working lives.
  30. For a mission-driven project to succeed, it should be remarkable in 2 different ways. First, it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.
  31. Working right trumps finding the right work. He didn’t need to have a perfect job to find occupational happiness-he needed instead a better approach ot the work already available to him.