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

Great book about developing the skills that are valuable to your career.

My Notes

The narratives in this book are bound by a common thread: the importance of ability.

The things that make a great job great, I discovered, are rare and valuable. If you want them in your working life, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return.

In other words, you need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.

move his focus away from finding the right work and toward working right,

Rule 1: Don’t follow your passion

Perhaps the only thing it does make clear is that, at least for Jobs, “follow your passion” was not particularly useful advice.

Glass emphasizes that it takes time to get good at anything, recounting the many years it took him to master radio to the point where he had interesting options.
“The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase,”

Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.

A job, in Wrzesniewski’s formulation, is a way to pay the bills, a career is a path toward increasingly better work, and a calling is work that’s an important part of your life and a vital part of your identity.

it seems that the type of work alone does not necessarily predict how much people enjoy it.

the more experience an assistant had, the more likely she was to love her work.

the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do.

Conclusion #3: Passion Is a Side Effect of Mastery

Self-Determination Theory (SDT), which is arguably the best understanding science currently has for why some pursuits get our engines running while others leave us cold.

SDT tells us that motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needz- factors described as the “nutriments” required to feel intrinsically motivated for your work: 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

Competence and autonomy, for example, are achievable by most people in a wide variety of jobs- assuming they’re willing to put in the hard work required for mastery.

In other words, working right trumps finding the right work.
passion hypothesis convinces people that somewhere there’s a magic “right” job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately recognize that this is the work they were meant to do.

The problem, of course, is when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow, such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt.

The more we focused on loving what we do, the less we ended up loving it.

RULE #2 Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You

two different approaches to thinking about work: the craftsman mindset, a focus on what value you’re producing in your job, and the passion mindset, a focus on what value your job offers you.
Most people adopt the passion mindset,

“Nobody ever takes note of [my advice], because it’s not the answer they wanted to hear,” Martin said. “What they want to hear is “˜Here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script,'”¦ but I always say, “˜Be so good they can’t ignore you.’ “

“If somebody’s thinking, “˜How can I be really good?’ people are going to come to you.”

It took Martin, by his own estimation, ten years for his new act to cohere, but when it did, he became a monster success.

“[Eventually] you are so experienced [that] there’s a confidence that comes out,” Martin explained. “I think it’s something the audience smells.”

track the hours spent each month dedicated to thinking hard about research problems

“Here’s what I respect: creating something meaningful and then presenting it to the world,”

Irrespective of what type of work you do, the craftsman mindset is crucial for building a career you love.

the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you.

I am suggesting that you put aside the question of whether your job is your true passion, and instead turn your focus toward becoming so good they can’t ignore you.

regardless of what you do for a living, approach your work like a true performer.

regardless of how you feel about your job right now, adopting the craftsman mindset will be the foundation on which you’ll build a compelling career.

Most jobs don’t offer their employees great creativity, impact, or control over what they do and how they do it.

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.

Glass began to break away from the pack when he turned his focus on making his skills more rare and more valuable.

The traits that define great work are rare and valuable.

Supply and demand says that if you want these traits you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return.

Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your career capital.

The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you,” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital. This is why it trumps the passion mindset if your goal is to create work you love.

The traits that define great work require that you have something rare and valuable to offer in return- skills I call career capital.

You need to get good in order to get good things in your working life, and the craftsman mindset is focused on achieving exactly this goal.

it became clear to me that certain jobs are better suited for applying career capital theory than others.

ended up devising a list of three traits that disqualify a job as providing a good foundation for building work you love:
1. The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable.
2. The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world.
3. The job forces you to work with people you really dislike.

It didn’t take long for Alex to discover what allows some writers to succeed in catching the attention of a network while so many others fail: They write good scripts

During the eight months he spent as an assistant he dedicated his nights to working on a trio of different writing projects.

Mike literally tracks every hour of his day, down to quarter-hour increments, on a spreadsheet. He wants to ensure that his attention is focused on the activities that matter.

seriously for the same amount of time, did I end up an average high school strummer while Jordan became a star?

The difference in our abilities by the age of eighteen had less to do with the number of hours we practiced

my discomfort playing anything I didn’t know real well.

Not only did Jordan’s early practice require him to constantly stretch himself beyond what was comfortable, but it was also accompanied by instant feedback.

This, then, explains why Jordan left me in the dust. I played. But he practiced.

can’t avoid the need to “go out to the woodshed in order to practice.”

Hours spent in serious study of the game was not just the most important factor in predicting chess skill, it dominated the other factors.

The researchers discovered that the players who became grand masters spent five times more hours dedicated to serious study than those who plateaued at an intermediate level.

The “serious study” employed by top chess players sounds similar to Jordan Tice’s approach to music: They’re both focused on difficult activities, carefully chosen to stretch your abilities where they most need stretching and that provide immediate feedback.

“deliberate practice” to describe this style of serious study, defining it formally as an “activity designed, typically by a teacher, for the sole purpose of effectively improving specific aspects of an individual’s performance.”

It is a lifetime accumulation of deliberate practice that again and again ends up explaining excellence.

“Most individuals who start as active professionals” change their behavior and increase their performance for a limited time until they reach an acceptable level.

if you just show up and work hard, you’ll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better.

most types of work- that is, work that doesn’t have a clear training philosophy- most people are stuck.

If you can figure out how to integrate deliberate practice into your own life, you have the possibility of blowing past your peers in your value, as you’ll likely be alone in your dedication to systematically getting better.

That is, deliberate practice might provide the key to quickly becoming so good they can’t ignore you.

“It’s like a sport, you have to practice and you have to study.”
“It’s a constant learning process,”

“You need to be constantly soliciting feedback from colleagues and professionals,”

“When I look back now, I’m humiliated that I ever showed it to anyone,” Alex recalled. But it was necessary if he was going to get better. “I hope I can look back ten years later and say the same about what I’m writing now.”

He stretched his abilities by taking on projects that were beyond his current comfort zone;

**Step 1: Decide What Capital Market You’re In**

There are two types of these markets: winner-take-all and auction.

In a winner-take-all market, there is only one type of career capital available, and lots of different people competing for it.

An auction market, by contrast, is less structured: There are many different types of career capital, and each person might generate a unique collection.

If you want a career in television writing, as Alex discovered, only one thing matters: the quality of your scripts.

The problem, however, is that blogging in the advice space- where his site existed- is not an auction market, it’s winner-take-all. The only capital that matters is whether or not your posts compel the reader.

Some top blogs in this space have notoriously clunky designs, but they all accomplish the same baseline goal: They inspire their readers.

**Step 2: Identify Your Capital Type**

If you’re in a winner-take-all market, this is trivial: By definition, there’s only one type of capital that matters.

For an auction market, however, you have flexibility. A useful heuristic in this situation is to seek open gates- opportunities to build capital that are already open to you.

The advantage of open gates is that they get you farther faster, in terms of career capital acquisition, than starting from scratch.

it’s hard to start from scratch in a new field.

**Step 3: Define “Good”**

once you’ve identified exactly what skill to build, that you can, for guidance, begin to draw from the research on deliberate practice.

you need clear goals. If you don’t know where you’re trying to get to, then it’s hard to take effective action.
Deliberate practice] requires good goals.”

**Step 4: Stretch and Destroy**

Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands”¦. Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it “deliberate,” as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.

The good news about deliberate practice is that it will push you past this plateau and into a realm where you have little competition.

The bad news is that the reason so few people accomplish this feat is exactly because of the trait Colvin warned us about: Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable.
I like the term “stretch” for describing what deliberate practice feels like,

If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level.”

Pushing past what’s comfortable, however, is only one part of the deliberate-practice story; the other part is embracing honest feedback- even if it destroys what you thought was good.
Steve Martin explained his strategy for learning the banjo: “[I thought], if I stay with it, then one day I will have been playing for forty years, and anyone who sticks with something for forty years will be pretty good at it.”

RULE #3 Turn Down a Promotion

You have to get good before you can expect good work.

The appeal of control, however, is not limited to farmers. Decades of scientific research have identified this trait as one of the most important you can pursue in the quest for a happier, more successful, and more meaningful life.

As Pink summarizes the literature, more control leads to better grades, better sports performance, better productivity, and more happiness.

Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.
To summarize, 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.

**Control that’s acquired without career capital is not sustainable.**

skipped over the part where they build a stable means to support their unconventional lifestyle. They assume that generating the courage to pursue control is what matters, while everything else is just a detail that is easily worked out.

enthusiasm alone is not rare and valuable and is therefore not worth much in terms of career capital.

The key, it seems, is to know when the time is right to become courageous in your career decisions. Get this timing right, and a fantastic working life awaits you, but get it wrong by tripping the first control trap in a premature bid for autonomy, and disaster lurks. The fault of the courage culture, therefore, is not its underlying message that courage is good, but its severe underestimation of the complexity involved in deploying this boldness in a useful way.

Derek thought for a moment.
“I have this principle about money that overrides my other life rules,” he said. “Do what people are willing to pay for.”

“Money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, you’re aiming to be valuable.”

“If you’re struggling to raise money for an idea, or are thinking that you will support your idea with unrelated work, then you need to rethink the idea.”

The 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.
Unless people are willing to pay you, it’s not an idea you’re ready to go after.

RULE #4 Think Small, Act Big

her happiness comes from the fact that she built her career on a clear and compelling mission-

Her goal, put simply, is to rid the world of its most ancient and deadly diseases.

How do you make mission a reality in your working life?
just because you really want to organize your work around a mission doesn’t mean that you can easily make it happen.

We like to think of innovation as striking us in a stunning eureka moment, where you all at once change the way people see the world, leaping far ahead of our current understanding. I’m arguing that in reality, innovation is more systematic. We grind away to expand the cutting edge, opening up new problems in the adjacent possible to tackle and therefore expand the cutting edge some more, opening up more new problems,

Scientific breakthroughs, as we just learned, require that you first get to the cutting edge of your field. Only then can you see the adjacent possible beyond, the space where innovative ideas are almost always discovered.

A good career mission is similar to a scientific breakthrough- it’s an innovation waiting to be discovered in the adjacent possible of your field.

If you want to identify a mission for your working life, therefore, you must first get to the cutting edge- the only place where these missions become visible.

as a new graduate student, she was much too far from the cutting edge to have any hope of surveying the adjacent possible, and if she can’t see the adjacent possible, she’s not likely to identify a compelling new direction for her work.

Sarah would have been better served by first mastering a promising niche- a task that may take years- and only then turning her attention to seeking a mission.

If you want a mission, you need to first acquire capital.
Advancing to the cutting edge in a field is an act of “small” thinking, requiring you to focus on a narrow collection of subjects for a potentially long time. Once you get to the cutting edge, however, and discover a mission in the adjacent possible, you must go after it with zeal: a “big” action.
had notebooks filled with potential missions, yet I had resisted devoting myself to any one in particular.

Once you have the capital required to identify a mission, you must still figure out how to put the mission into practice.
titled Little Bets, and it was written by a former venture capitalist named Peter Sims.

“Rather than believing they have to start with a big idea or plan out a whole project in advance,” he writes, “they 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” [emphasis mine]. This rapid and frequent feedback, Sims argues, “allows them to find unexpected avenues and arrive at extraordinary outcomes.”

The important thing about little bets is that they’re bite-sized. You try one. It takes a few months at most. It either succeeds or fails, but either way you get important feedback to guide your next steps.

To maximize your chances of success, you should deploy small, concrete experiments that return concrete feedback.

These bets allow you to tentatively explore the specific avenues surrounding your general mission, looking for those with the highest likelihood of leading to outstanding results.

“You’re either remarkable or invisible,” says Seth Godin in his 2002 bestseller, Purple Cow.

“The world is full of boring stuff- brown cows- which is why so few people pay attention”. A purple cow”¦ now that would stand out. Remarkable marketing is the art of building things worth noticing.”

For his mission to build a sustainable career, it had to produce purple cows, the type of remarkable projects that compel people to spread the word.

In the world of computer programming, where does one launch remarkable projects?

Featured among Fowler’s fifty-two strategies is the idea that the job seeker should leverage the open-source software movement.

Giles told me. “The synthesis of Purple Cow and My Job Went to India is that the best way to market yourself as a programmer is to create remarkable open-source software. So I did.”

“I basically took Chad Fowler’s advice way too far and went to speak at almost every user group and conference that I could- at
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.

There’s also, however, a second type of remarkability at play. Giles didn’t just find a project that compels remarks, but he also spread the word about the project in a venue that supports these remarks.

In his case, this venue was the open-source software community.
Without this conduciveness to chatter, a purple cow, though striking, may never be seen.

I realized early on in my process that blogging was a remarkable venue for introducing my ideas. Blogs are visible and the infrastructure is in place for good ideas to quickly spread,

The Law of Remarkability For a mission-driven project to succeed, it should be remarkable in two different ways. First, it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.

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. Mission is one of those traits.

become good at something rare and valuable, and then invest the career capital this generates into the type of traits that make a job great.

I decided that focusing my attention on a bottom-up understanding of my own field’s most difficult results would be a good first step toward revitalizing my career capital stores.

I faced immediate internal resistance.

To combat this resistance, I deployed two types of structure.

The first type was time structure: “I am going to work on this for one hour,” I would tell myself. “I don’t care if I faint from the effort, or make no progress, for the next hour this is my whole world.”

The second type of structure I deployed was information structure- a way of capturing the results of my hard focus in a useful form.

My Research Bible Routine

document I keep on my computer. Here’s the routine: Once a week I require myself to summarize in my “bible” a paper I think might be relevant to my research.

The sheet has a row for each month on which I keep a tally of the total number of hours I’ve spent that month in a state of deliberate practice.

My Theory-Notebook Routine

I use this notebook when brainstorming new theory results. At the end of each of these brainstorming sessions I require myself to formally record the results, by hand, on a dated page.

law of financial viability, and described it as follows: “When deciding whether to follow an appealing pursuit that will introduce more control into your work life, ask yourself whether people are willing to pay you for it. If so, continue. If not, move on.”

they were willing to pay me well for this move toward autonomy,
This background-research process, which combines exposure to potentially relevant material with free-form re-combination of ideas, comes straight out of Steven Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From

According to Johnson, access to new ideas and to the “liquid networks” that facilitate their mixing and matching often provides the catalyst for breakthrough new ideas.

a little bet, in the setting of mission exploration, has the following characteristics:

1. It’s a project small enough to be completed in less than a month.
2. It forces you to create new value (e.g., master a new skill and produce new results that didn’t exist before).
3. It produces a concrete result that you can use to gather concrete feedback.

When a little bet finishes, I use the concrete feedback it generates to guide my research efforts going forward. This feedback tells me, for example, whether a given project should be aborted and, if not, what direction is most promising to explore next.

In other words, the system as a whole is a closed feedback loop- constantly evolving toward a clearer and better supported vision for my work.

His experience at the monastery had freed him from the escapist thoughts of fantasy jobs that had once dominated his mind.

He was able instead to focus on the tasks he was given and on accomplishing them well. He was free from the constant, draining comparisons he used to make between his current work and some magical future occupation waiting to be discovered.

Thomas acquired these traits not by matching his work to his passion, but instead by doing his work well and then strategically cashing in the capital it generated.

Working right trumps finding the right work.

Don’t obsess over discovering your true calling. Instead, master rare and valuable skills.