So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport is an interesting and engaging analysis of the correlation between passion and work. Newport argues that the concept of finding a job that matches your passion can actually lead to uncertainty, unhappiness and can potentially be bad advice. This book emphasises that possibilities of finding happiness and fulfilment in work that may not necessarily start out as your passion.
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Who is this summary for?
So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport is an interesting and engaging analysis of the correlation between passion and work. Newport argues that the concept of finding a job that matches your passion can actually lead to uncertainty, unhappiness and can potentially be bad advice. This book emphasises that possibilities of finding happiness and fulfilment in work that may not necessarily start out as your passion. A great read for anyone starting out in the workforce.
About the author
Cal Newport studied at Dartmouth College and graduated with his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He has been working as a Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University since 2011. Newport has simultaneously written five books and enjoy writing about the impacts of innovations on society. Newport is active on his blog and lives in Maryland with his wife and three sons.
In this summary
We’ll discuss the four rules that Newport covers in his book. The first rule controversially explains that you don’t have to follow your passion. Rule two explains how you can be so good they can’t ignore you. The third rule outlines control. Finally, the fourth rule is all about thinking small but acting big.
RULE 1: DON'T FOLLOW YOUR PASSION
Passion and happiness
The advice commonly given out is that the key to finding your happiness is to first establish what your passion is, and then find the job that allows you to follow your passion. This message is presented to students over and over again and continues to be emphasised throughout any persons working life. Newport explains that society seems to celebrate those that do follow their passion, assigning them the notion of bravery. And the remaining people, those who don’t seem to ‘follow their passion’ are discouraged and pitied.
Newport has noted that in recent years, this advice is pushed even further. Calling it the passion hypothesis, Newport believes that the concept of a standard office job is being presented as negative. The passion hypothesis suggests that you need to follow your passion; “do what you love and the money will follow.”
However, Newport finds issue with these messages and the advice so often given. He believes that the argument of the passion hypothesis is weak, and cannot be fulfilled by everyone. Therefore, he actually believes that following your passion isn’t good advice, and shouldn’t be celebrated as the best option.
Steve Jobs and passion
Newport examines the life of Steve Jobs in relation to passion and work. It’s pretty clear that throughout his career, Jobs was incredibly passionate about his work with Apple. But Newport questions whether it was his passion in the beginning. He explains that in the early days, Jobs had different passions, and if he pursued these, he probably would have been a teacher at one of the Los Altos Zen Centers his who life. Rather than follow his passion, Jobs had a side-scheme, which resulted in a lucky break, and alas, Apple took off. But it wasn’t because he dreamed of building computers, that wasn’t his passion initially, but rather, it took off, and developed into something he came to love.
“There's no doubt that Jobs eventually grew passionate about his work. But so what? All that tells us is that it’s good to enjoy what you do. Like Jobs, should we resist settling into one rigid career and instead try lots of small schemes, waiting for one to take off?”
It’s rare to have true passion
Newport explains that the passion hypothesis, while it sounds appealing, is actually quite rare. Consider everyone you know, are they truly following their passion in their jobs?
”Compelling careers often have complex origins. These reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion. This observation may come as a surprise for those of us who have long basked in the glow of the passion hypothesis.”
Newport points out that according to numerous studies, the amount of identified passions that can be directly related to work or education accounts for less than 4%. Therefore, only 4% of passions will have available, relevant work. The remaining 96% of passions are not applicable to most workforces.
Another thing to consider is that passion takes time. Newport notes that when examining some of the happiest employees, they are usually the ones who have been working in their job for a lengthy period of time. Their passion has developed as they got better at their job. They didn’t apply for the job because it was their passion initially.
Finally, Newport explains that passion is closely related to mastery. If you are good at what you do, then passion will likely occur as a side effect. Newport quotes studies that explain that motivation behind work comes from three key psychological factors: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Passion is not one of the necessary factors.
Passion can be dangerous
Newport questions whether being told to follow your passion is more than just bad advice but potentially dangerous. He believes that anyone who believes that following their passion is a viable option the majority of the time is naive and full of optimism. When told to follow your passion you’re more likely to be paving the path to a future of confusion, angst and not very much financial or career security. Obviously, this isn’t always the case, and following your passion can work in certain circumstances. It’s just important to remember that these circumstances are the exception, not the rule.
”For some people, following their passion works. When you look to the careers of gifted individuals, such as professional athletes. You’d be hard-pressed to find a professional baseball player who hasn't been passionate about the sport as far back as he can remember.”
RULE 2: BE SO GOOD THEY CAN'T IGNORE YOU
The craftsman vs the passion
Newport identifies two separate mindsets when it comes to thinking about the work that you do, and they are extreme opposites. The craftsman is someone who will focus on the value that they can provide from their job. Whereas someone with the passion mindset will be focused on what value their job provides them. He explains that the passion mindset is the most common, but the results are extremely mixed. Whereas someone who follows the craftsman mindset is much more likely to set themselves up with a career and work they grow to love.
The craftsman mindset
Newport truly believes that you need to dedicate your time to be so good that they can’t ignore you. This means dedicating yourself to being the best at what you do. And if you don’t do this, you’re destined to fly under the radar. Regardless of what field of work you are in, having the craftsman mindset will enable you to get better and better at whatever it is that you do, and you’ll find that your passion for it evolves. By focusing on what you can do for the world through your work rather than what your work can do for you frees you up to focus on being the best.
The passion mindset
“People thrive by focusing on the question of who they really are—and connecting that to work that they truly love.”
In opposition to the craftsman mindset, the passion mindset is all about focusing on what your job can do for you, considering what the world can offer you. Far too many people have this mindset and Newport believes that it leads to unhappiness. Focusing on this alone increases your awareness of every little negative aspect of a job or career. You end up obsessing over the details and don’t give yourself the opportunity to grow or enjoy what you do.
”The craftsman mindset offers clarity. While the passion mindset offers a swamp of ambiguous and unanswerable questions; “who am I?” “What do I truly love?”
How to have a craftsman mindset
Newport clearly outlined why the craftsman mindset is better in most cases and here’s how you can adopt it yourself.
- Don’t question whether your job is an expression of your true passion.
- Focus on being the best at what you do, so good that you cannot be ignored.
- No matter what you do, you can be the best at it.
- By adopting the craftsman mindset, passion is likely to follow.
Creativity, impact, and control
Newport identifies three traits that make a great job. These are creativity, impact, and control. Creativity allows you the freedom to push boundaries and express yourself. Impact is about having a role in affecting peoples lives. And finally, control is about leading the life you want to lead, being able to work the hours you want to work for example.
Newport explains that these three traits are not common. In fact, if you have a job that offers even just one of the three, you are in a pretty good position. It’s extremely rare to be working in a role where you have the ability to be creative, have an impact and have control over your life. Due to the rarity, it’s extremely valuable to have a position with all three, these are key components in creating a great job.
”Basic economic theory tells us that if you want something that’s both rare and valuable, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return. This is Supply and Demand 101. It follows that if you want a great job, you need something of great value to offer in return.”
The career capital theory of great work
Career capital is something that we should all be working towards constantly. And Newport explains that the craftsman mindset is perfect for doing so, by focusing on being so good that they can’t ignore you, you are inevitably going to be building your career capital.
Although Newport has been clearly identifying all of the reasons why the craftsmanship mindset is so successful, it’s important to note that there are situations in which it can fail.
- The craftsmanship mindset can fail when there are not many opportunities in a job to clearly stand out from the rest. If there is no clear way of distinguishing yourself then it’s difficult to become the best.
- If you are in a job working alongside or for people that you struggle to get along with and agree with then the craftsmanship mindset may suffer.
- Finally, if the role you are in is designed to focus on something that you personally do not agree with then you will struggle to build your career capital.
The 10,000-hour rule
We all know that practice makes perfect, but numerous studies have been done on just how much practice it takes to become truly excellent at something. Most research has come to the conclusion that the minimum requirement to become an expert at something is ten thousand hours.
Ten thousand hours is no easy feat, and Newport explains that it’s going to take more than simply showing up to work every day and working hard for the required hours. If you do this, you’ll reach a plateau pretty quickly and stop any acceleration forwards. In order to be a true craftsman and to be so good they can’t ignore you, you have to dedicate yourself to deliberate practice.
Newport describes deliberate practice as pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and past your current abilities. It needs to be a deliberate attempt to push boundaries and develop your skills. The key is to not only push yourself but to welcome feedback and accept constructive criticism. This is the way that musicians and athletes work. They run faster than they ever have before, pushing themselves to their limits, and receive feedback from their coaches, acknowledging what they need to work on next time. Newport believes that if you can introduce deliberate practice into your work then you are destined to continually improve and outshine the rest.
RULE 3: CONTROL
We’ve already discussed how valuable and rare control in the workplace is. Newport emphasises just how important having control is in a persons life. Having control gives workers a greater sense of happiness, they are more likely to engage better and they will feel more fulfilled by their work.
”If your goal is to love what you do, your first step is to acquire career capital. Your next step is to invest this capital in the traits that define great work. Control is one of the most important targets you can choose for this investment. Acquiring control, however, can be complicated.”
Things to be cautious of
Newport explains that you first need to build up your career capital. If you go around demanding more control in your work life prior to building the required career capital you are likely to be faced with pushback.
Only once the career capital is at a reasonable level will you be seen as a valuable employee and someone that your employer will fight for. When you get to this point you are much more likely to gain the control you desire.
It’s important to be doing something that people are willing to pay for, if you’re not, then you’re never going to gain more control.
Newport explains that the majority of employers are not going to be overly pleased about your request for more control. This is because they want to remain in the position of power and hold on to the control.
”They have every incentive to try to convince you to reinvest your career capital back into your career at their company, obtaining more money and prestige instead of more control, and this can be a hard argument to resist.”
RULE 4: THINK SMALL, ACT BIG
“A unifying mission to your working life can be a source of great satisfaction.”
Newport believes that in order to find happiness in your career, you need to be working on a clear and captivating mission. It’s so important to feel like your work is meaningful. Without this, it’s likely that you’ll be stuck in a rut and feel worthless. Newport emphasises the importance of having a mission and the role it plays in building a career that you are passionate about.
”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 an answer to the question, What should I do with my life? Missions are powerful because they focus your energy toward a useful goal, and this, in turn, maximises your impact on your world—a crucial factor in loving what you do.”
Newport explains that in order to have a mission, you need to have the required career capital. Without this, the mission is unlikely to succeed. Innovation is a key component of a successful mission. If the mission has a clear goal that requires innovation, then you are likely working on a worthwhile mission. Newport recommends you consider your mission as something like a scientific breakthrough. A mission is going to require ‘big action’. It’s often going to be cutting edge. Newport explains that in a field with a narrow focus, you have to expand the focus and stand out.
Bets and missions
A great mission is something you should definitely pursue, and here are a few ideas from Newport on how you can do this.
- Commit to small, actionable projects, also called little bets. These little bets will provide you the opportunity to experiment with different possibilities within your overall idea.
- You don’t have to start with one big idea or have a huge project mapped out before you start. You can simply start with little bets. These little bets will provide the information you require to learn from potential failures and little wins. By having constant feedback you’ll be able to amend your mission as you go and reach significant success.
- Experiments really are the key to success, ensure that you have multiple experiments before you commit to a final idea. Get feedback on every single experiment and use the information you collect wisely.
Marketing and missions
”A good mission-driven project must be remarkable in two different ways. First, it should be remarkable in the literal sense of compelling people to remark about it. Secondly, you need to also spread the word about the project in a venue that supports these remarks.”
So it’s one thing to be working on a great mission, but how do you ensure that it develops into something that is a great success. Newport explains that you need to have a mission that is going to satisfy the law of remarkability. The law of remarkability is really just what it sounds like, it means that your mission, idea or focus needs to be something that people will talk about and get excited about. People need to be able to make remarks about it, and therefore it is important that you promote your mission somewhere that gives people the ability to make remarks.
FINAL WORDS FROM CAL NEWPORT
Working right trumps finding the right work—it’s a simple idea, but it’s also incredibly subversive, as it overturns decades of folk career advice all focused on the mystical value of passion. It wrenches us away from our daydreams of an overnight transformation into instant job bliss and provides instead a more sober way toward fulfilment.”
- The passion hypothesis suggests that you need to follow your passion; “do what you love and the money will follow.”
- Newton believes that the argument of the passion hypothesis is weak, and cannot be fulfilled by everyone.
- Newton actually believes that following your passion isn’t good advice, and shouldn’t be celebrated as the best option.
- Passion is closely related to mastery. If you are good at what you do, then passion will likely occur as a side effect.
- The craftsman mindset is held by someone who will focus on the value that they can provide from their job.
- Someone with the passion mindset will be focused on what value their job provides them.
- These are creativity, impact and control are three traits that make a great job, but they are rare.
- You need to build career capital before you can demand these three traits in your work life.
- You should dedicate yourself to deliberate practice in your field of work to ensure you can be so good they can’t ignore you.
- In order to find happiness in your career, you need to be working on a clear and captivating mission.
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Guidelines is my eBook that summarises the main lessons from 33 of the best-selling self-help books in one place. It is the ultimate book summary; Available as a 80-page ebook and 115-minute audio book. Guidelines lists 31 rules (or guidelines) that you should follow to improve your productivity, become a better leader, do better in business, improve your health, succeed in life and become a happier person.
- Don’t question whether your job is an expression of your true passion right now.
- Focus instead on being the best at what you do, so good that you cannot be ignored.
- Commit to deliberate practice to continually improve your skills.
- By adopting the craftsman mindset, passion is likely to follow.
- Download the complete book on Amazon
This summary is not intended as a replacement for the original book and all quotes are credited to the above mentioned author and publisher.