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So Good They Can't Ignore You

Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before.

Here are my highlights from So Good They Can’t Ignore You, a blueprint for developing compelling careers.

Elements of intrinsically compelling work

Motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs:

  • 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.

Notice that ‘matching work to pre-existing passions’ is not one of these traits.

The Craftsman mindset

The Craftsman mindset refers to a focus on what value you’re producing in your job, in contrast to the Passion mindset, a focus on what value your job offers you.

An obsessive focus on the quality of what you produce is the rule in professional music.

Studio musicians have this adage: ‘The tape doesn’t lie.’ Immediately after the recording comes the playback; your ability has no hiding place.

If you’re not focusing on becoming so good they can’t ignore you, you’re going to be left behind.

Career Capital

If you want a great job, you need to build up rare and valuable skills.

Focusing on stretching your ability and receiving immediate feedback are keys to successfully acquiring career capital in almost any field.

Deliberate practice

The deliberate practice employed by both chess grandmasters and top guitarists are focused on difficult activities: carefully chosen to stretch your abilities where they most need stretching and that provide immediate feedback.

Deliberate practice: an activity designed, typically by a teacher, for the sole purpose of effectively improving specific aspects of an individual’s performance.

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

To successfully adopt the craftsman mindset, therefore, we have to approach our jobs in the same way that top guitarists approach guitar playing and chess grandmasters their chess training – with a dedication to deliberate practice.

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.

Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable.

Control

It’s dangerous to pursue more control in your working life before you have career capital to offer in exchange.

When deciding whether to follow an appealing pursuit that will introduce more control into your work life, seek evidence of whether other people are willing to pay for it. If you find this evidence, continue. If not, move on.

You should only pursue a bid for more control if you have evidence that it’s something that people are willing to pay you for.

Mission

A unifying mission to your working life can be a great source of satisfaction.

To have a compelling mission is to have a focus for your career. It’s more general than a specific job and can span multiple positions. It provides an answer to the question: What should I do with my life?

Missions are powerful because they focus your energy toward a useful goal, and this in turn maximizes your impact on your world - a crucial factor in loving that you do. Staying up late to save your corporate litigation client a few extra million dollars can be draining, but staying up late to help cure an ancient disease can leave you more energized than when you started.

The best ideas for missions are found in the adjacent possible - the region just beyond the current cutting edge.

To encounter these ideas, you must first get to the cutting edge, which requires expertise. To try to devise a mission when you’re new to the field and lacking any career capital is a venture bound for failure.

In pursuing your mission, take small steps / little bets that generate concrete feedback to figure out what to do next.

Law or remarkability

For a project to transform a mission into a success, it should be remarkable in two ways.

First, it must compel people to remark about it.

Second, it must be launched in a venue conducive to such remarking.

Summary

Working right trumps finding the right work.

Don’t obsess over discovering your true calling.

To construct work you love, you must first build career capital by mastering rare and valuable skills, and then invest this capital for the type of traits that define compelling careers. Mission and Control are two of those traits.

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