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Book Notes: So Good They Can't Ignore You

Read On: Jan 24, 2014
Reading Time: 6 hours
Rating: 8/10

Summary

In this eye-opening account, Cal Newport debunks the long-held belief that “follow your passion” is good advice. Not only is the cliche flawed-preexisting passions are rare and have little to do with how most people end up loving their work-but it can also be dangerous, leading to anxiety and chronic job hopping. After making his case against passion, Newport sets out on a quest to discover the reality of how people end up loving what they do. Spending time with organic farmers, venture capitalists, screenwriters, freelance computer programmers, and others who admitted to deriving great satisfaction from their work, Newport uncovers the strategies they used and the pitfalls they avoided in developing their compelling careers.

Notes

  • The path to happiness is more complicated than simply answering the question: “What should I do with my life?”.
  • It’s hard to predict in advance what you’ll eventually grow to love.
  • The Craftsman Mindset focuses on what you can offer the world. The Passion Mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you. There are 2 problems with the Passion mindset:
    • When you focus only on what the world can offer you, you become hyper-aware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness.
    • Deep questions like “Is this who I really am?” are impossible to confirm and rarely reduce to a yes/no answer. You adopt the Craftsman Mindset first and then passion follows.
  • Creativity, Impact and Control are some of the traits that define great work. These traits are rare and if you want something that is rare and valuable, you need to offer something of great value in return. These rare and valuable skills you offer are your Career Capital. The Craftsman mindset, with it’s relentless focus on becoming “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” is well suited for acquiring Career Capital.
  • Certain jobs are better suited for applying career capital than others. 3 traits that disqualify a job:
    • Job presents few opportunities for distinguishing yourself by developing skills.
    • Job focuses on something you think is useless or bad for the world.
    • Job forces you to work with people you do not like.
  • Focus on stretching yourself ability and receiving immediate feedback provides the key to successfully acquiring career capital in almost any field. If you just show up and work hard, you’ll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better.
  • 5 habits of a Craftsman
    • Decide what capital market you are in (Auction or Winner take it all).
    • Identify your capital type.
    • Define Good.
    • Stretch & Destroy. Embrace honest feedback.
    • Be patient.
  • Giving people more autonomy and control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement and sense of fulfillment. However, control that is acquired without career capital is not sustainable.
  • When you have enough career capital, you will also become valuable to your employer and they will discourage you from making a change.
  • When deciding whether to follow an appealing pursuit that’ll introduce more control into your life, make sure people are willing to pay for it.
  • To have a mission is to have a unifying focus for your career. Missions focus your energy towards a useful goal and this in turn maximizes your impact on the world. A good career mission, like innovation/scientific breakthrough, is waiting to be discovered in the “Adjacent Possible” of your field.
    • Rather than starting out with an uprfont plan for a big idea/project, make a series of Little Bets about what might be a good direction. Learn critical information from small failures and wins and adapt accordingly.
    • Good Missions require marketing:
      • People should be compelled to remark about them.
      • Spread the word about the project in a venue/medium that supports these remarks.

Thoughts

Cal touches on a topic in this book that’s not been talked about much until recently. As a programmer, I have been familiar with the Craftsman mindset but I have moved my focus from craftsmanship to finishing and shipping projects of late. This was a good reminder to think more about craftsmanship, to be more patient and be more involved in deliberate practice.

P.S More Book Notes here.

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