So Good They Can't Ignore You

Why is Following the Romantic Notion of Passion Bad Advice?

I have read many books on productivity but this one stood out to me since the thesis was taking on a central dogma of a large portion of the US society: that following your passion is the key to happiness and fulfillment in the modern world. I have always been skeptical of this hypothesis, but I have not seen a well stated alternative worldview that does not have tremendous downsides. One of the primary ones I have dealt with is, I am naming it it, the prestige hypothesis which is: get so rich/famous/powerful/etc. that people will respect and like you, then and only then will you be happy and fulfilled. This hypothesis seemed even worse than the passion hypothesis since it makes you a slave to others opinions and does not lead to fulfillment, something many of us yearn for.

Cal Newport goes over an overwhelming body of work covering the passion hypothesis and it’s merits, then destroys them. I see humans belief in simple solutions to complex problems in many places, but sadly, the world is much too complex for such simple solutions at many turns. One anecdote was from the meta-research on different highly successful individuals in technology including Steve Jobs who did not follow his passion, he actually wasn’t initially interested in business or electronics early on–he fell into it for pragmatic reasons. Another romantic and naive idea that Steve Job’s didn’t follow was jumping blindly head first into his risky venture of a personal computer system, he did it as a side job and saw what happens.

Many of us are told at a young age to follow your passion, what if you don’t have one, and even if you do, do you know it will work out? The reality is that finding a passion that sustains you for a long time and pans out into a fantastic career is the exception.

To quote from the book “Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.”

The reality is quiet simple: it takes time to develop a passion. Amy Wrzesniewski, from Yale’s department of organizational behavior, goes over this in her paper in Journal of Research in Personality distinguishes between jobs, careers, and callings: paying bills, path towards iteratively better work, and important part of your life and integral part of your identity.

To summarize the findings: more experience and skill, the more enjoyment one will feel for their job. Thus, passion is a side effect of mastery.

What is the best theory we currently have? Self Determination Theory (SDT): Motivation requires:

  1. Autonomy: I have control over my day and my actions matter.
  2. Competence: I am good at what I do.
  3. Relatedness: I feel connected to others.

So “working right trumps finding the right work.”

The Passion Hypothesis basic problems:

  1. It Be counter productive and cause people to move from one profession to another without ever developing a complementary or transferable set of skills.

  2. It can Turn into an elusive and unsatisfying chase, the more we try to find a passion we end up liking what we do less.

  3. One is giving people bad advice, it actually ends up hurting many people and impeding their chances of actually being happy and fulfilled in their job, career, or profession.

So What is the Alternative to Passion?

The Craftsman Mindset: I attempt to build, learn, innovate, improve, and repeat this cycle constantly. Through my practice I will grow and love the work that I have built. I will focus on creating more, my goal is output. The world does not owe me anything, I must show the world that I can produce something of value and good things will follow. The process will not be easy.

Steve Martin quote embodies the essence of the Craftsman Mindset “Nobody ever takes note of [my advice], because it’s not the answer they wanted to hear. […] 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.” In short, dedicate yourself to getting better and producing more. The rest is noise.

What are the Key Components to a Great Job?

The big ones mentioned are: creativity in your work, impact on the world, and control within your position. He then goes onto list how you get these into your work and relates them back to the central thesis, I will not be summarizing these since they’re not particularly applicable to me and I write these posts to myself. The short version is: get really good and then you can negotiate your way into a position with these key components. You need to focus on forcing yourself through the work, you need deliberate practice.

After adopting a craftsman mindset with deliberate practice, you will have a significant amount of career capital to throw your weight around. You need great skills and courage to develop these things. You need courage to apply a growth mindset within your working life.

However, what disqualifies a job from applying the craftsman mindset?

  1. The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable.

  2. It focuses on trivial, useless, or things that are bad for the world.

  3. You don’t like the people you work with.

  4. This is my own: It is extremely difficult to determine if you are progressing.

If a job contains any or all of these, you need to leave it sooner rather than later. Anything useful to gain short term should be done with haste. It is also important to note that you want to pop your head out and see if any better opportunities are available.

How do I Become a Craftsman?

I will not get into too much detail since my other summaries will cover this topic more extensively. In short: you want to employ the growth mindset, deliberate practice, removing low priority things that sap your time and willpower, stretch goals, immediate and clear feedback loops when deliberately practicing.

He goes over the 10,000-hour rule, which basically states there exists some critical minimum level of practice to obtain expertise. I personally think this time can be shortened, but that’s a topic for another post as well. Also remember that genius and expertise are not the same thing, experts are typically highly trained people with cognitive abilities in the normal range. We don’t know how to train or create geniuses for now.

The illustrative example used: of the 10,000 hours poured into chess by grand masters, they spent an average of 5,000 hours, five times more hours than typical players, in serious study of the game. Again, experts are not geniuses, just highly trained normal people.

What are the Ingredients of a Dream-Job?

Self Determination Theory already has the ingredients listed, but this section goes into more depth about these components like getting better: grades, performance, productivity, and more happiness.

Has someone applied this set of ingredients to a company? You bet your ass they did, it is called Results-Only Work Environment. In this work environment, no one gives a shit what you do as long as you get your work done. What a concept. They found it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment. Has psychology finally stated something too obvious? Perhaps.

Control traps also exist, the company will find ways to keep you from gaining more autonomy. He goes into detail about making sure no to negotiate more control without leverage (skills) and that if you actually do have enough career capital to negotiate control they will try to fight your efforts to gain more control.

A concept he introduces is Law of Financial Viability which sounds like some science-y sounding stuff, but it is simply just asking you to see if people will pay you for your skills. If not, move on for now. In his words: “Money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, you’re aiming to be valuable.” Things outside of your career are not part of this measurement e.g. hobbies.

What is the Importance of Mission in my Working Life?

One must has career capital before forming a mission. One reason is that you need to be on the cutting edge before you can see adjacent possibilities within a field. It is like a chemical reaction, one thing must happen within the chain before the others can occur. Innovation happens at the edge of the recently discovered possible.

Then, one can have a good career in the adjacent possible in your field. To reach that area requires expertise within your chosen field(s). This is the only place where these missions become visible. So the rareness comes due to the minority of individuals at a cutting edge within a field, not due to lack of bravery, vision, etc. Once you see the area to break through and innovate go ahead with zeal.

Make little bets to achieve big goals by exploring the possibilities surrounding a promising idea. If a trusted strategy doesn’t exist for an idea to be executed then leverage little bets and watch the feedback. Think of it as experiments with concrete results. This is a well defined methodology of exploration.

He goes over a long story of a woman who has a clear and compelling mission from which she built her career on. Remember that hardness creates a fertile environment for those of us willing to work hard to achieve goals since many people are scared off by hard work.

Once again, he adds a term which is called the law of remarkability:

  1. It must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others.

  2. It must be placed in a venue that allows it to be remarked upon.

That’s all folks. I hope you enjoy the summary of So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

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