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Elvis Chidera

So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love

summary, book3 min read

This is my summary of the key ideas of So Good They Can't Ignore You written by Cal Newport.


The core idea of this book is simple: To construct work you love, you must first build career capital by mastering rare and valuable skills and then cash in this capital for the type of traits that define compelling careers.


Rule 1: Don’t follow your passion

  1. Rule #1 challenges the passion hypothesis which says that the key to occupational happiness is to match your job to a pre-existing passion.
  2. Do what Steve Jobs did, not what he said: The author tries to buttress that the actual start of Steve Jobs's career didn’t follow his Stanford speech about “following your passion”.
  3. Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.
  4. It’s hard to predict in advance what you will eventually grow to love.
  5. The Self-Determination Theory (SDT) tells us that motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs:
    • Autonomy: the feeling that you have control over your day, and that your actions are important.
    • Competence: the feeling that you are good at what you do.
    • Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people.
  6. Competence usually leads to more autonomy.
  7. Passion can increase with expertise.
  8. The passion hypothesis is not just wrong, it’s also dangerous because many people don’t have a viable passion.

Rule 2: Be so good they can’t ignore you

  1. Two different approaches to thinking about work:
    • Craftsman mindset: a focus on what value you're producing in your job.
    • Passion mindset: a focus on what value your job offers you.
  2. The author argues that the craftsman mindset is the foundation for creating work you love.
  3. No one owes you a great career, you need to earn it — and the process won't be easy.
  4. The traits that define a great job are rare and valuable; Therefore, if you want a great job, you need to build up rare and valuable skills to offer in return (Supply and Demand 101).
  5. Some traits that define great work:
    • Creativity
    • Impact
    • Control
  6. Three disqualifiers for applying the Craftsman mindset:
    • The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable.
    • The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world.
    • The job forces you to work with people you really dislike.
  7. Deliberate practice is an activity designed, typically by a teacher, for the sole purpose of effectively improving specific aspects of an individual's performance.
  8. It is a lifetime accumulation of deliberate practice that ends up explaining excellence.
  9. If you just show up and work hard, you'll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better.
  10. Unlike professional athletes, most knowledge workers don’t know or apply deliberate practice. The implication is that you can vault past your peers by applying deliberate practice if you are a knowledge worker.

Rule 3: Turn down a promotion

  1. Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.
  2. The point at which you have acquired enough career capital to get meaningful control over your working life is exactly the point when you’ve become valuable enough to your current employer that they will try to prevent you from making the change.
  3. Do what people are willing to pay for. Money is a neutral indicator of value — by aiming to make money, you are aiming to be valuable.

Rule 4: Think small, act big

  1. Missions are powerful because they focus your energy toward a useful goal, and this in turn maximizes your impact on your world — a crucial factor in loving what you do.
  2. People who feel like their careers truly matter are more satisfied with their working lives, and they're also more resistant to the strain of hard work.
  3. A unifying mission to your working life can be a source of great satisfaction but it isn’t always easy to have such a mission.
  4. 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 strategy allows you to find unexpected avenues and arrive at extraordinary outcomes.
  5. The law of remarkability (coined by the author): says that for a project to transform a mission into a success, it should be remarkable in two ways:
    • It must literally compel people to remark about it.
    • Second, it must be launched in a venue conducive to such remarking.
© 2023 by Elvis Chidera. All rights reserved.