Books

So Good They Can’t Ignore you | Cal Newport


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Published in: 2012

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The title is taken from the comedian Steve Martin when he in an interview with Charlie Rose described his way up in his career. The book is about how to create your dream career by first focusing on becoming really good at something (building career capital) and then investing capital in a labor market where it is a precious scarce commodity. Newport believes it is the wrong way to go to begin with following one’s passion. Instead, we should ask ourselves in what area we can become good, through hard training master it, and then let it become our passion.

THE CRAFTSMAN MINDSET. To master our work, we should look at it as a craft that we are constantly refining. Newport’s “craftsman mindset” is another name of the 10,000-hour rule – the number of hours it takes to become an expert in an area.

WORK-RELATED PASSION IS RARE. Another reason for not following our passion in our career choice is that passion is rare – few have something they consider to be a very strong passion. Newport refers to a study that showed that 19 out of 20 passions are in hobby-related areas. Instead of following our passion, we should let our passion follow us.

“Passion is an epiphenomenon of a working life well lived. Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you in your quest to become so good that they can’t ignore you.”

CAREER CAPITAL. What we offer the world should be rare and valuable. Only then can we expect to create the professional life we dream of. To be able to do this, we need to build career capital, which is achieved through “deliberate practice”. The career market’s supply and demand then ensures that we get a fair compensation for our career capital.

DO WHAT’S HARD. ”Deliberate practice” is about practicing the steps that are hard and uncomfortable. To take on assignments that are just above our current level of knowledge. Finding problems and repeating them over and over until they move on to basic knowledge. This is how musicians, chess players and athletes become the best in the world. However, it is important to only “stretch” oneself – if we push too hard, we risk scaring ourselves out of the game.

THERE ARE TWO CAREER MARKETS. According to Newport, there are two types of career markets: winner-take-all markets and auction markets. On the former, the skill is the only thing that counts, examples are writers, comedians and musicians. Here, our focus should only be on refining our skills. In an auction market, however, it can pay to be somewhat broader. There we should look for “open gates” – opportunities to gradually build parts of our career capital. When the building block is finished in one place, we move on to the next “open gate” and learn something new.

LEAVE JOBS WITHOUT POTENTIAL FOR BUILDING CAREER CAPITAL. Some jobs are not suitable for “the craftsman mindset” – we should leave them as soon as we can. It is jobs that offer few opportunities to develop relevant and rare skills, jobs that are based on something we do not believe in or are bad for the world, or jobs that force us to work with people we really dislike. These are a poor breeding grounds for building career capital.

AFTER CAPITAL COMES CONTROL. To be happy with our professional lives, we need to be in control of it. When we have some career capital, we usually have the opportunity for control – few care about where and how we spend our time. Without career capital, however, we cannot afford to be in control – we must act according to our employers or teachers. With career capital, we can afford to have control, but those who pay for our services do not want to give us control – they want us in place to perform the work we are good at. We should be aware of this balance of control, and expect that if we try to “break free”, we will feel more resistance the greater career capital we have built up.

“Siver’s ‘Law of Financial Viability’: “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.”

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