So Good They Can't Ignore You

Apr 21, 2013

So Good They Can't Ignore You cover

Rating: 55

A really enjoyable book that goes into why following your passion is bad career advice. After debunking the “follow your passion” advice, Cal presents concrete advice for how to create a successful career. Cal puts little value in the actual job you end up with, instead focusing on the traits present in nearly all jobs and careers that can make them fulfilling. The book is also full of interviews and studies of people with successful careers and how they applied the idea of developing rare and useful skills in their careers.


  • “Follow your passion” is bad, unhelpful, and potentially dangerous advice.

  • The things that make a job great are rare and valuable, and typically not specific to the actual job itself. If you want them in your working life, you need to offer something rare and valuable in return.

  • Anecdote: if young Steve Jobs took his own advice, “follow your passion,” he would probably have been an instructor at the Los Altos Zen Center.

  • Compelling careers often have complex origins and messy paths, rarely following the simple idea that you just need to find your passion.

  • Feeling intrinsically motivated requires: autonomy, the feeling that you have control over your day and that your actions are important; competence, you are good at what you do; relatedness, the feeling of connection to other people.

  • Working right trumps finding the right work.

  • Reject the passion mindset for the craftsman mindset, focusing on what you can offer the world. You should focus on becoming really good at your career, instead of constantly worrying about whether your job is “just right.”

  • The advice is extremely job agnostic, with just three disqualifiers for applying the above: the job has few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant and valuable skills, the job focuses on something useless or even actively bad for the world, or the job forces you to work with people you really dislike.

  • Be relentless about ensuring your time is spent on the right things, for example, not email. Many people interviewed in the book track their time spent throughout the day so they avoid just reacting to incoming tasks and focus on what is important. They review the percentage of time spent on various activities every week to see how well they are doing.

  • Focus on stretching your ability and receiving immediate feedback.

  • Working hard isn’t enough, otherwise you will soon plateau. You should approach your job the same way musicians or athletes approach practice, with a dedication to deliberate practice.

  • Figure out which type of career market you are in. In winner-take-all, there’s only one type of career capital, with lots of people fighting over it. Example: television writing because all that matters is writing good scripts. It is less structured in an auction market, where there are many different types of career capital, and each person may have a unique collection.

  • For winner-take-all, the plan is clear: use deliberate practice to improve in the type of career capital that matters.

  • For auction, look for open gates, that is opportunities to build career capital that are open to you. As you open more gates, the opportunities will improve.

  • Deliberate practice requires clear goals. It is the opposite feeling of doing things we know how to do well. It is about focus and concentration, and often uncomfortable. It will often feel like an uncomfortable stretch.

  • Honest and harsh feedback provides you with where to retrain your focus to continue progressing.

  • Deliberate practice is often less about paying attention to your main pursuit, and more about ignoring others that pop up along the way.

  • As you later look to invest your career capital, control is one of the most important targets to look for. People who have more control over what they do are happier, more engaged, and more fulfilled. Often when it is the right time to do so, meaning you’ve acquired career capital, you will also receive the most resistance since you will have become valuable. Money is a neutral indicator of value.

  • A mission in your career provides a sense of purpose and energy.

  • Bottom up skill development is hard. Two strategies can help. You can try giving yourself a time limit, “I’m going to work on this for one hour no matter what.” Another is to capture your results from the skill development in a useful form, like a notebook, mind map, summaries. Keep a monthly or weekly tally of the total number of hours spent in this deliberate practice.

  • Spend a portion of your work on little bets, projects small enough to be completed in less than a month that force you to master a new skill or create new result that can be used to gather useful feedback.

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