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So Good They Can't Ignore You summary

So Good They Can't Ignore You book cover

A short and sweet book on an alternative view to how one develops a remarkable career. We often hear things like, “Do what you love and the money will follow”. Cal Newport argues (through research and anecdotal evidence) that this is generally unhelpful and does not lead to people truly finding passion and meaning in their work.

What he argues for instead, is that passion is not found, it is earned...through hard work, deliberate practice and mastery. He calls this, earning career capital. With career capital, you can then dictate your price in a competitive job market, and push for the things in life that make us happy - being in control of our time, autonomy, and working towards a fulfilling personal mission.

Rule #1: Don’t follow your passion

  • Career passions are rare.
  • Passion takes time to cultivate.
  • Passion is a side effect of mastery.
  • Nutriments to feel intrinsically motivated at work:
    • Autonomy
    • Competence
    • Relatedness (feeling connected to others)
  • The passion hypothesis is wrong and dangerous because it can cause chronic job hopping and self doubt as one searches for this magical 'right' job.

Rule #2: The importance of skill

  • Adopt the craftsman mindset. It's all about the quality of output.
    • Be so good they can't ignore you.
    • Focus on what you can offer to the world.
  • The converse is the passion mindset where you're hyper-aware of what you don't like about your job, leading to chronic unhappiness.
  • Develop career capital.
    • The traits that make up a good job are rare and valuable.
    • Supply and demand laws mean you need to offer rare and valuable skills in return (career capital).
    • The craftsman mindset is how you achieve career capital.
  • Disqualifiers for applying the craftsman mindset (pg 56).
    • Few opportunities to distinguish yourself.
    • Focuses on something you think is useless or bad for the world.
    • Forces you to work w/ people you don't like
  • If you just show up and work hard, you will reach a performance plateau. You need to practice deliberately.
  • The 5 habits of a craftsman (pg 91):
    1. What market are you in - winner takes all vs. auction?
    2. Define good - what are you deliberately practicing?
    3. Stretch yourself. Deliberate practice is often the opposite to enjoyable.
    4. Be patient - ignore other pursuits along the way that might be a distraction.

Rule #3: The importance of control

  • Giving people more control, over what they do and how they do it, increases their happiness, engagement and sense of fulfillment.
  • 1st control trap - control that's acquired w/out career capital is not sustainable.
  • 2nd control trap - your employer will try to stop you taking control over your working life at the point you've acquired enough career capital.
  • When deciding whether to pursue something that gives you more control over your work life, seek evidence of whether people are willing to pay for it. This is the law of financial viability.

Rule #4: The importance of mission

  • Happiness comes from building a career with a clear and compelling mission.
  • To find a good career mission, you need to be at the cutting edge to determine the "adjacent possible" of your field.
    • To do this, you need to cash in your career capital.
  • Use small bets (little steps) to explore the concrete possibilities around compelling ideas.
  • Law of remarkability - for a project to transform a mission into a success, it should be remarkable in 2 ways:
    1. People should literally be compelled to remark on it.
    2. It must be launched in a venue conducive to such remarking.

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