So Good They Can't Ignore You

03 Oct 2023

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
— Steve Martin

Author Cal Newport takes us on a refreshing and pragmatic journey through the world of career development and personal fulfillment.

In an era where the pursuit of passion is glorified, Newport presents a compelling counterargument: instead of searching for your “dream job,” he suggests that we should focus on becoming exceptionally good at what we do.

Through a combination of compelling anecdotes, real-world case studies, and insightful analysis, Newport challenges conventional wisdom and offers a blueprint for achieving true career satisfaction.

This book is a call to action for those seeking not just any job, but a career that is fulfilling, meaningful, and, above all, sustainable. Newport’s message is clear: the key to finding work you love lies in becoming “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” Join us as we dive into this thought-provoking book and uncover the principles that can lead you to a more rewarding and purposeful professional life.

So Good They Can't Ignore You
So Good They Can't Ignore YouCal

Rule #1: Don’t Follow Your Passion

  • The Passion Hypothesis, which claims that finding a job that aligns with your passion leads to occupational happiness, is a common misconception.
  • Even Steve Jobs, known for his advice on following one’s passion, didn’t start out loving computers. He initially saw it as a means to earn quick money. While he eventually developed a deep love for Apple computers, his journey began without a burning passion for technology.
  • True career passions are rare, and most personal passions, like hobbies such as reading, can’t easily be turned into a career.

Rule #2: Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You (Or, the importance of skills)

  • Embrace the craftsman mindset, focusing on the value you bring to your job or the world rather than fixating on your personal passion.
  • The passion mindset often leads to dissatisfaction with your job, as you constantly question if it’s the right fit for you. This mindset might push you into fields where you lack the necessary skills, driven solely by passion (e.g., pursuing a career in Yoga without the required expertise).
  • The craftsman mindset centers on continuous improvement and excellence in your work. It’s about becoming so good they can’t ignore you.
  • Start with the craftsman mindset, and then the passion follows. Building rare and valuation skills, known as career capital, is the key to securing a great job filled with creativity, impact, and control.
  • Knowing when to leave a job is crucial. Consider leaving if your job doesn’t provide opportunities to develop rare and valuable skills, if it involves work you find useless or actively bad for the world, or the job forces you to work with people you really dislike.
  • Deliberate practice is the key to acquiring career capital—constantly pushing your boundaries, seeking feedback, and obsessively pursuing improvement.
  • Implement practical strategies, like Mike Jackson’s time-tracking spreadsheet, where he tracks how he spends every hour of every day, to focus on what truly matters in your work.

5 Steps on applying the deliberate practice in your work

  • Step 1: Decide What Type of Capital Market You’re Competing In. Is it a winner-take-all market or an auction market? In a winner-take-all market, there is only one type of career capital available (e.g. for a blogger, you don’t need skills like SEO, format, etc, the only skill that matters is writing good and compelling posts). Whereas in the auction market, there are a variety of relevant skills that could have led to a job in this field. (e.g. As a Clean-tech VC, you may need expertise in renewable energy and entrepreneurship, plus other relevant skills)
  • Step 2: Identify Your Capital Type. What relevant skills do you need in order to be great at your job? For an auction market, as we have more flexibility, a useful heuristic is to seek open gates- opportunities to build capital that are already open to you. And work your way up, based on the valuable capital that you have accumulated.
  • Step 3: Define “Good”. Once you’ve identified exactly what skill to build, you can start having clear goals on where you want to be and how you can achieve it through deliberate practice. e.g. For a scriptwriter, his goal might be having a good-enough script to land him an agent.
  • Step 4: Stretch and Destroy. Deliberate practice is often not enjoyable. Pushing past what’s uncomfortable, even if it destroys what you thought was good. Get instant feedback on what was working and what was not.
  • Step 5: Patience. Acquiring capital takes time. Have the patience and willingness to reject shiny new pursuits, and put all your effort into acquiring the capital you need. You stretch yourself, day after day, month, and month, before finally looking up and realizing you’re too good to be ignored.

Rule #3: Turn Down a Promotion (Or, the importance of control)

  • After accumulating career capital, invest it in gaining more control over your work. Control is a critical component of job satisfaction.
  • Don’t seek greater control until you’ve amassed enough career capital; otherwise, you might jeopardize your financial stability if your passion doesn’t lead to immediate success.
  • When you’ve acquired sufficient career capital, your current employer may resist your desire for more control. Overcoming this resistance is necessary to pursue your dream job.
  • Adhere to the Law of Financial Viability: Ensure there’s evidence that people are willing to pay for what you offer before pursuing a career change. Money reflects your value to others.

Rule #4: Think Small, Act Big (Or, the importance of Mission)

  • Build your career around a clear and compelling mission to find meaning in your work and stay motivated during challenging times.
  • A successful career mission is akin to a scientific breakthrough, discovered at the cutting edge of your field. To identify such a mission, accumulate enough career capital first.
  • Maximize your mission-finding potential through small, concrete experiments that provide actionable feedback. These experiments allow you to explore specific aspects of your mission.
  • Great missions are transformed into great successes as a result of finding projects that satisfy the law of remarkability, which requires that an idea inspires people to remark about it, and is launched in a venue where such remarking is made easy.
  • For a mission-driven project to thrive, it must be remarkable in both concept and launch strategy, encouraging people to share and engage with it.