So Good They Can’t Ignore You


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

Rule #1: Don’t Follow Your Passion
  • Passion Hypothesis: They key occupational happiness is figuring out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion.
  • Problem is most people don’t have pre-determined passions
  • Passion usually takes time to develop and is a side-effect of mastery
  • Self-Determination Theory
    • 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
  • Generally, as you become better, you have more control over your responsibilities
  • 64% of young people are actively unhappy with their jobs, passion hypothesis likely major cause
Rule #2: Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You (Or, the Importance of Skill)
  • In order to build career you love, must adopt craftsman mindset and focus on what you can offer the world
  • Great work include rare traits (creativity, impact, and control, etc) and in order to get them, you need rare and valuable skills (supply and demand)
  • There are instances where the craftsman mindset fails:
    • There are few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable
    • The job focuses on something you think is useless or bad for the world
    • The job forces you to work with people you really dislike
  • Deliberate practice, or uncomfortable strain, is key in mastery; ambient practice won’t help you improve after a point
  • Five habits of craftsman:
    • Winner-take-all or auction market? In winner market only one type of career capital available. In auction, can generate a unique collection. Easy to mix winner for auction (e.g. blogging)
    • Identify your capital type. Seek open gates (opportunities to build that are already open) to you. It is hard to start from scratch
    • Define “good.” Need clear goals
    • Get out of comfort zone. Doing things we do well is enjoyable. Deliberate practice is opposite. Strive for ruthless and honest feedback.
    • Be Patient and willing to ignore other pursuits that pop up along the way
Rule #3: Turn Down a Promotion (Or, the Importance of Control)
  • Control is one of the most universally important traits that you can acquire
  • Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment
    • Control Trap #1 – Control that is acquired without career capital is not sustainable
    • Control Trap #2 – The point at which you’ve acquired enough career capital is when your current employer will try to prevent you from making the change
  • Law of Financial Viability – Strive for more control if you have evidence people are willing to pay you for it
Rule #4: Think Small, Act Big
  • Mission or purpose is an important source of happiness in a career, many people lack it and it is hard to find
  • Good career missions are discovered in the adjacent possible of your field and require you to get to the cutting edge
  • Missions require little bets, small concrete experiments and concrete feedback
  • Law of Remarkability – For mission-driven to be successful, 1) people must be compelled to share and 2) must be launched in venue that supports sharing
Conclusion (Or, how Cal applied these principles)
  • Rule #1: Don’t follow your passion
    • Made decent money in high school designing websites
    • Wasn’t passionate about web design, but saw that skills could provide a lot of opportunities
    • Focused on gaining rare and valuable skills
  • Rule #2: Craftsman’s mindset
    • When intensity of deliberate practice started to level off in grad school, made it a practice to deeply analyze and understand the proofs of well-known papers no matter how hard
    • Also created information structure to capture dependencies
    • Conclude by writing detailed summaries in my own words
    • Research Bible Routine: once a week, require summaries on papers relevant to research
    • Hour-Tally Routine: Count hours of deliberate strain
    • Theory-Notebook Routine: Brain storm and formally record results
  • Rule #3: Control
    • Chose to become an assistant professor at a new program (Georgetown)
    • Law of financial viability – They were willing to pay well and support research
  • Rule #4: Mission
    • Scanning for adjacent possible requires dedicated brainstorming and exposure to new ideas
    • Top Level: Guided by a tentative research mission, “To apply distributed algorithm theory to interesting new places with the goal of producing interesting new results”
    • Bottom Level: Every week expose to something new in the field and make a summary for research bible. Carve out time to think about ideas.
    • Middle Level: Small project that can be completed in less than a month. Forces you to create value and master new skills. produces concrete results.
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