So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Book Notes

Book- “So good they can’t ignore you : why skills trump passion in the quest for work you love” by Cal Newport. 2012.


This book is a manifesto of four “rules” to move from finding the ‘right work’ and towards ‘working right’ and building love for what you do.

1. Don’t Follow Your Passion

Steve Jobs- The passion hypothesis- the key to occupational happiness is to match your job to a pre-existing passion.

Steve Jobs said “find what you love, love what you do and keep looking don’t settle. That’s what made all the difference!” This “do what you love and the money will follow” is terrible advice.

What Steve Jobs did is not what he said, he followed the money and that lead him to Apple. It wasn’t his passion that got him involved in computers it’s luck and hard work and some might say an entrepreneurial spirit. Job’s passion was for Eastern mysticism but he found no money there.

Jobs became Wozniak’s business parter. His first major idea was to sell a Woz designed circuit board to computer kit hobbyist. Make the boards for $25 apiece and sell them for $50. His goal was to sell 100! This would lead to $1000 in profit. It was a low risk venture.

However, the shop that Jobs approached wanted more, and instead of boards the shop wanted fully assembled computers. The shop owner would pay $500 for each and wanted fifty ASAP. Jobs jumped at the opportunity and soon was dreaming of taking over the world.

So it is good to enjoy what you do but is that the same as following your passion? How do we find work we’ll eventually love?

Passion is Rare
How do people end up loving what they do? Follow your passion – is seriously flawed. It fails to describe how most people actually end up with compelling careers.

Do the work- following your passion is making judgments on abstractions before actually doing the work and seeing if you love it.

Keep your options, do what you like, work hard, be the best at what you do.

Career Passions Are Rare, the passions people may have, like Jobs and Eastern mysticism, don’t have much to offer as far as a career.

Passion Takes Time, and the side effect is mastery.

Motivation needs according to Self-Determination Theory (SDT);
•Autonomy- personal control over your day and on the needed time to practice the skills you are learning.
•Competence (Mastery)- you have to be good at something before you can expect people to pay you for it.
•Relatedness (Career Capital)- being connected to others at your career and the right traits of your working life. Show your audience that you are so good that they can’t ignore you.

It takes time to build these traits.

Passion is Dangerous – in the 70s What Color Is Your Parachute said; You can control what you do with your life, so why not pursue work you love? Richard Bolles sold more than six million copies.

So why is it that 64 percent report that they are unhappy in their jobs? Unhappy twenty something’s who feel adrift in the work world. These people are trying to follow a passion.

For most people following your passion can make things worse: leading to chronic job shifting and angst.

2. Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You (The Importance of Skill)

The Clarity of The Craftsman-
The craftsman mindset, a focus on what your producing in your job and the value of what you are offering to the world to create work you love.

Practice your skills till they stand out, get focused with the technical. Steve Martin’s ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’ With experience comes confidence in what your doing. It’s something that your clients can feel.

Many of today’s products and services are bought and sold on the quality of the work. After all, art is a meritocracy. The standouts are those that know what they are doing and do it well.

Career Capital is a rear and valuable skill. It takes time to get this knowledge and expertise and that time makes the skill rare and valuable. Rare and valuable things supply and demand says get a higher price. This is the key currency for creating work you love.

Great work has certain traits, creativity, impact, and control over time. These traits do not come easy as they are valuable and most jobs don’t offer them. So if you want a great job you need to get good at something. This creates rare and valuable skills to offer in return.

Steve Jobs had the rare and valuable skills to increase the value of what he had to offer by getting seed money and design a product too good to ignore. He made Woz’s parts a computer, a complete product the Apple ll. This product of great value gave more creativity, impact, and control to Jobs.

Some might say you lack courage if your not pursuing your dreams. You need to jump to take the leap of faith. Every day your not following your passion is a waisted day. However, if following a dream has no career capital (nothing rare and valuable) the results are anyone can do it and it’s not worth much in the market place.

Here are reasons to look for another job and abandon following the craftsman mindset.
•The job has few opportunities to distinguish yourself with rare and valuable skills.
•The business opposes your personal morals and values.
•The job has people you don’t like and can’t work with.

The Opportunity Chain
Career capital leads to work you love. Doing work creates opportunities that lead to more work that leads to bigger and better opportunities. This is because you are good at what you do.

The object of work is to gain those rare and valuable skills that increase your Career Capital. Each time you have something rare and valuable find your market or job that need it and sell it to them. This will build more valuable skills and increase your career capital even more thus increasing your earning power.

Deliberate practice (is an activity designed, typically by a teacher, for the soul purpose of effectively improving specific aspects of an individual’s performance) means focusing on those skills that make you stand out of the pack. Practice what builds your career capital. Stretch yourself beyond what is comfortable. Put out your new skills to get feedback, this is part of the process. It’s not the hours you practice that matter it’s the hours of this deliberate focused practice that matter.

Chess is a good example of deliberate practice. In chess what is the difference between a grand master and an intermediate? Is it the hours they play or deliberate practice? In 2005 Neil Charness of FSU, publish the results of decades long study of practice habits of chess players. They ended up surveying over four hundred ranked players, to help understand what made players better than others.

Previous studies had shown it takes about ten years to become a master (K. Anders Ericsson) sited in Malcom Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers.

However Charness’s research went beyond the time and ask the type of practice do top chess players do. Some of the players had the same amount of time practiced, 10,000 hours, and were at different levels of expertise.

Was it hours of tournament play or serious study that made the difference?

It was found that those that used teachers to help identify and eliminate weaknesses through serious study made the difference. Players that became grand masters spent five times more hours dedicated to serious study than intermediate players.

This focus on challenging problems and improving skill with immediate feedback from a book or an expert coach (chess great Garry Kasparov was paid over 700,000 a year as a coach) is what made the difference in the chess players level of expertise.

Showing up and working hard is not enough to break through performance plateaus in which you fail to get better at what you do. If you however find ways to integrate deliberate practice in what your doing then you can blow past your peers that have plateaued as you are systematically getting better.

Always have a thirst to get better, practice and study. Your craft ought to be a constant learning process soliciting feedback from colleagues and professionals. Stretch your abilities by taking on projects beyond my comfort zone. The more stretched you are the faster you acquire career capital.

One guy allocated his time and kept two spread sheets for the week, hard to change commitments where he listed e-mail, lunch, planning, meetings/administrative. And highly changeable commitments where he listed improving marketing materials, fund raising, research, meeting/calls with potential investors, work on portfolio, networking. His goal was to be more aware of his time. His focus is using his time that leads to income for the business. Working on what is important rather than immediate. At the end of every week he evaluates his progress and effectiveness and this generates his feedback.

The Five Habits Of a Craftsman

H1. Decide What career capital market your in. ‘winner take all’ or ‘auction.’ In a winner-take-all market there is only one type of career capital availible and lots of people competing for it. An auction market is less structured: there are many different types of career capital, each person generates their owe unique collection of this capital.
H2. Identify your Capital Type same as above, pick your skill. Look for unique opportunities that lead to getting career capital sooner.
H3. Define “Good” get clear about the sign post and timing, set good goals.
H4. Stretch And Destroy – we enjoy doing what we know how to do but deliberate practice demands effort and focus. This uncomfortable stretch of our abilities also demands feedback to know if we are growing. Set up a way to get this important feedback.
H5. Be Patient. Take the long road and keep with it. As shiny new pursuits pop up use diligence to keep working your path. Remember your goal is to acquire rare and valuable career capital only someone who masters what they are doing can have this. If you keep on jumping to new pursuits then you will not have banked any useful capital.

3. Turn Down a Promotion (The Importance of Control)

The Dream-Job Elixir- control over what you do and how you do it is the most powerful traits to acquire in creating work you love. Autonomy is what people are attracted to because it’s rare in most jobs and careers.

Some companies are making it by giving control to their employees and embracing results only. They call it Results-Only Work Environment (or ROWE, for short). In a ROWE company all that matters is the results. You can do whatever you want as long as your meeting the results. But no results no job.

Giving people control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness , engagement, and sense of fulfillment.

The First Control Trap- the dangers of more control. Don’t go off on your own if you have no capital or career capital to offer because you will have nothing valuable to offer.

A bunch of people in the growing lifestyle-design community, argue you don’t have to live by other people’s rules, are caught in this trap. Author Timothy Ferriss coined the term lifestyle design in his book “The Four Hour Work Week”. But he had lots of career capital to back it up. His followers on the other hand, skip over the part of building a stable means to support their unconventional lifestyle. They assume it’s all about courage, and everything else will just work it’s self out.

Many lifestyle designers blog about their enthusiasm about not having a “normal” life but that is all they have for a product. “It doesn’t take an economist to point out there’s not much real value lurking there.” What lacks is content that readers are willing to pay for, and this lack of valuable content soon leads to no money and no value for the business venture.

“If you embrace control without capital, your likely to end up like many lifestyle designers – enjoying all the autonomy you can handle but unable to afford your next meal.”

The Second Control Trap- once you have enough career capital acquired, your employer will fight your efforts to gain more autonomy.

Courage is not irrelevant to creating work you love. To push through resistance of other forces and to push through the uncomfortable feelings of learning new skills requires courage.

Avoiding the Control Traps- The law of financial viability, you should only pursue a new career choice if you have evidence that it’s something that people are willing to pay you for. If not, move on.

The Derek Sivers story, in his story the law of financial viability gets discussed. In a career, “Do what people are willing to pay for.” This is different than from pursuing money for the sake of having money. “Money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, your aiming to be valuable.”

Pursue what ever you want, have many hobbies, but your career needs to make money.

“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.”

Derek quit his day job to become a professional musician only when his music was making more money than his day job. As his next venture, CD Baby grew, making money, his time he devoted to it grew.

“Passive income websites are more myth than reality.”

4. Think Small, Act Big (The Importance of Mission)

The Meaningful Life of Pardis Sebeti-A mission- a unifying goal for your career can be a source of great satisfaction.

To have a mission is to have a unifying focus for your career. It’s more general than a specific job and can span multiple positions. It provides the answer to what am I doing with my work life?

Understanding the “adjacent possible” and it’s role in innovation is the first link in a chain of argument that explains how to identify a good career mission. Understanding that new knowledge and new technology come from what is already there and just grows upon it a little to create something new.

A good career mission is similar to a scientific breakthrough — it’s an innovation waiting to be discovered in the adjacent possible of your field.

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; instead it’s quite rare. This rareness is because breakthroughs require that you get to the cutting edge, and this is hard— the type of hardness that most of us try to avoid in our working lives.

Those that skip the step of gaining rare and valuable skills will not be in a place to be on the cutting edge of their field. So they can’t write compelling mission till they are at the elusive cutting edge first.

Missions Require Capital- so focus on acquiring career capital and getting to the cutting edge in you field. Once there see what can be assimilated into a mission statement.

Missions Require Little Bets- try different things till one sticks. Rather than believing they have to start with a big idea and plan out the whole protect in advance, they make a methodical series of little bets about what might be a good direction, learning critical information from lots of little failures and from small but significant wins. This turns vague missions into specific successful projects.

Missions Require Marketing- use what Newport calls “The Law of Remarkability” to find the right mission-driven project. First it must be compelling enough for people to want to remark on it to others. Second it must be in a venue that supports such remarking. In Seth Godin’s words make purple cows and they will get remarks.

5. My Notes – What I got out of this book

Career Capital reminds me of the word Social Capital and I got to thinking on how the two terms relate. How does one gain social capital, is it similar to career capital?

Isn’t social capital gained by connecting with people. Each person has their own set of people they influence. If you influence one person enough that they decide to friend, follow, or plus you. Then you are gaining the potential to influence every one of their followers. This act of following gives you social capital and people with lots of social capital are leaders of small tribes with fans. These people earn trust and a sense of connection with those they friend. But of coarse, it’s slow going, real, lasting friendships take emotional investment and that is time being with them through thick and thin.

Social Capital is the same as personal relationships, you can’t buy it, force it, or make it happen without putting in the work. It comes down to having something worth sharing.

Having something worth sharing is what Newport called “The Law of Remarkability” and this is what social capital is build on.

If you are a top singer or actor that have built remarkable careers then you already have fans and followers. Whatever new social tool you start using you will have your fan base linking, following and showing up in droves. You don’t have to buy them or even do anything because people want to hear your thoughts.

You don’t have to build your fans, you have them and they will follow till you turn them away.

If however you are not famous then building social capital is built upon doing something so cool or useful that people need to follow. If you don’t do anything but comment on what others do or just curate cool stuff you find then your helping others but not really building anything remarkable for yourself and your social capital.

Part of social capital is your brand both business and personal. Who are you and why should anyone friend, follow, or link to you? What is in it for them? If however you sing great songs they love or make great art or cook great food then that’s something they can get their teeth into. That is worth sharing, that is remarkable.

Maybe it’s just the thoughts you share are focused and compelling and they have the possible fans in mind. With every post it is focused on answering the one question ‘what is in it for you’?

I think what Chris Ducker says is true, people want to buy from people they know first (p-to-p not b-to-b or b-to-c). They build a feeling of loyal support with those they know from following and they connect with their thinking and goals. If they recommend some product over another this social capital holds big weight.

Back to the book:

At first I felt a bit uncomfortable as I am really connected to the passion theory. I think follow what your interest are and what interest you is the only way to go. You have to start somewhere and what interests you is a good place as any.

The example of the musician who became a great guitar player followed his passion. But the point was what he did with deliberate practice and how good he got.

If you do choose something go do it and see if it is something people are willing to pay for. If after a little test drive of a month or so no money is possible then move on because people are not paying for it. Follow the money it is a great indicator of value.

The career mission is a bit off for me. It was never hammered down so it still seems a bit vague. I get that having a mission and career capital does give you a clear direction to work from. I see that being on the cutting edge is a great place to forge into the next great thing. And of all businesses are problem solvers or itch scratchers than being at the cutting edge has value. But are all successful business at the cutting edge? I’m not so sure. In art what is the cutting edge value? Or is it more than that? It seems a bit ambiguous to have to be at the cutting edge in order to to have a clear mission.

All and all it had the Godin Purple Cow fighting passion and had good points on putting its stuff out into the world for feedback and growth. Knowing that what your looking for is two fold an audience of people remarking on what your doing and money being made for doing it. How to build these two factors was unexplored and kind of pushed under the carpet.

I do however recommend the book. Moving beyond passion and trying out stuff before quitting your job and doing something you think you will like is making people less skilled and less successful. To master a skill and build marketable skills is the big lesson I took.

Do what puts food on the table. Do what people are willing to pay you for. Help people, solve problems, educate, find ways to use your unique skill sets. If your miserable pivot do something different but try to get past the bad start out days to receive the benefits of mastery.

Check out the book for yourself. Here

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