So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport – Review & Summary

July 2013

in Bookshelf, Notes, Self-mastery

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“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” –Steve Martin


So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport (2012) is about working right, rather than finding the right work. To achieve true work satisfaction you should learn to love what you do, not do what you think you love.

Find rare and valuable skills that you are good at, or could be good at, and excel at them using a craftsman mindset. Then, use the leverage obtained from this to obtain more control over your working life. Lastly, explore the edges of your field to find a motivating mission, a unifying goal in your career.

Doing this will help you fulfill the three key ingredients to an ideal working life: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

I’m happy I read this book, especially since I’m fairly prone to falling into the “but what do I really want to do?” mental trap—which is a valid question, but only to a point… ultimately I need to make more of an effort to Be Good At Things rather than constantly worry whether I’m doing the Things I Most Like Doing. Cal primarily drives his points home with several long anecdotal examples. I think more, shorter examples would have been better.

Overal, I think the book is worth a quick read. I blasted through it pretty rapidly, taking notes (see my mindmap at the bottom of this post), and don’t think I’ll need to review it again, since the ideas are relatively straightforward.

Key Ideas

  • the passion mindset – Focusing on the value your work is giving you; leads to unhappiness and work dissatisfaction.
  • the passion hypothesis – The claim that in order to have job/career satisfaction you must first discover what you’re passionate about and then find a job in line with that passion; widely believed, but wrong and potentially dangerous.
  • the craftsman mindset – Focusing on the value you can give to the world through your work; i.e., striving to constantly get better.
  • career capital – Your rare and valuable work-related skills. The ‘currency’ you use to obtain ideal work.
  • Key requirements to be intrinsically motivated by your work (adapted from Drive by Dan Pink):
    1. competence / mastery – The feeling that you are good at what you do.
    2. autonomy / control – Having control over your day and actions.
    3. relatedness / purpose – The feeling of connection other people; the desire to make a contribution.
  • How to obtain these things:
    1. Use the craftsman mindset to develop valuable skills.
    2. Leverage your skills to obtain more control over your job.
    3. Explore the edges of your field to find a overall goal.
  • control – Having a say in what you do and how you do it.
  • mission – A unifying goal in your career.

Some Quotes

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

“Regardless of how you feel about your job right now, adopting the craftsman mindset will be the foundation on which you’ll build a compelling career.”

“Working right trumps finding the right work.”

“Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.”

“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.”

“You’re either remarkable or invisible.” – Seth Godin, Purple Cow


Mindmap (click on image for full size)

So Good They Can't Ignore You

So Good They Can't Ignore You