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  • Writer's pictureLars Christensen

So good they can't ignore you by Cal Newport.

I finished this book in May 2023. I recommend this book 5/10.

Don't look for a job, thinking it will somehow be your passion. Instead, focus on how you can become better and an expert in your craft—someday, you might just find that passion sneaking up on you.

Get your copy here.

My notes and thoughts:

  • P17. In Wrzesnieswski's research, 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. In reflection, this makes sense. If you have many years of experience, then you've had time to get better at what you do and develop a feeling of efficacy. It also gives you time to develop strong relationships with your coworkers and to see many examples of your work benefitting others.

  • P18. SDT tells us that motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs—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

  • P35. This was a frustrating process: I felt like I was stretching to convince the world that my work was interesting, yet no one cared. Martin's axiom gave me a reprieve from this self-promotion. "Stop focusing on these little details," it told me. "Focus instead on becoming better."

  • P39. There's something liberating about the craftsman mindset: It asks you to leave behind self-centered concerns about whether your job is "just right" and instead put your head down and plug away at getting really damn good. No one owes you a great career, it argues; you need to earn it—and the process won't be easy.

  • P48. 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.

  • P56. Three disqualifies 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.

  • P85. If you just show up and work hard, you'll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better. To successfully adopt the craftsman mindset, therefore, we have to approach our jobs in the same way that Jordan approaches his guitar playing or Garry Kasparow his chess training—with a dedication to deliberate practice.

  • P89. Mike's goal with his spreadsheet is to become more "intentional" about how his workday unfolds. "The easiest thing to do is to show up to work in the morning and just respond to email the whole day," he explained. "But that is not the most strategic way to spend your time."

  • P91. The five habits of the Craftsman:

    • Step 1: To decide what capital market you are in. Are you in a "winner-take-all" or "auction" market? The auction market is less structured; different ways you can win.

    • Step 2: Identify your capital type.

    • Step 3: Define "Good"

    • Step 4: Stretch and destroy

    • Step 5: Be patient

  • P113: 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.

  • P131. The second control trap. 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.

  • P139. 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.

  • P167. Pardis Sabeti thought small by focusing patiently for years on a narrow niche (the genetics of diseases in Africa), but then acting big once she acquired enough capital to identify a mission (using computational genetics to help understand and fight ancient diseases). Sarah and Jane, by contrast, reversed this order. They started by thinking big, looking for a world-changing mission, but without capital, they could only match this big thinking with small, ineffectual acts. The art of the mission, we can conclude, is to suppress the most grandiose of our work instincts and instead adopt patience.

  • P180. The important thing about the 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. This approach stands in contrast to the idea of choosing a bold plan and making one big bet on its success.

  • 197. The little bets strategy, I discovered as my research into mission continued, is not the only way to make a mission successful. It also helps to adopt the mindset of a marketer. This led to the strategy that I dubbed the law of remarkability. This law says that for a project to transform a mission into a success, it should be remarkable in two ways. First, it must literally compel people to remark about it. Second, it must be launched in a venue conducive to suck remarking.

  • P210. 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." But of course, I wouldn't faint, and eventually, I would make progress. It took, on average, ten minutes for the waves of resistance to die down. Those ten minutes were always difficult, but knowing that my efforts had a time limit helped ensure that the difficulty was manageable. The second type of structure I deployed was information structure—a way of capturing the results of my hard focus in a useful form. I started by building a proof map that captured the dependencies between the different pieces of proof. This was hard, but not too hard, and it got me warmed up in my efforts to understand the result. I then advanced from the maps to short self-administrated quizzes that forced me to memorize the key definitions the proof used. Again, this was a relatively easy task, but it still took concentration, and the result was an understanding that was crucial for parsing the detailed math that came next.

  • P223. Mission development system in three-level pyramids.

    • The system is guided, at the top level of the pyramid, by a tentative research mission—a sort of rough guideline for the type of work I'm interested in doing.

    • Bottom level. Here's my rule: Every week, I expose myself to something new about my field. I can read a paper, attend a talk, or schedule a meeting. To ensure that I really understand the new idea, I require myself to add a summary, in my own words, to my growing "research bible." I also carve out one walk each day for free-form thinking about the ideas turned up by this background research. The choice of what material to expose me to is guided by my mission description at the top of the pyramid.

    • Middle level. It is the "little bets." A little bet, in the setting of mission exploration. I use little bets to explore the most promising ideas turned up by the processes described by the bottom level of the pyramid; they have the following characteristics:

      • It's a project small enough to be completed in less than a month.

      • It forces you to create a new value (e.g., master a new skill and produce new results that didn't exist before).

      • It produces a concrete result that you can use to gather concrete feedback.

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