5 Key Insights from So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

We live in one of the most competitive world today where everyone is running a chase! There are plethora of options one can select from, then why should one select “You”. I mean just think about it, when you shop for products whether it is to gift someone or for yourself, don’t you go for reviews, checking the brand and how effective it is, like given the product or service you are investing in. Similarly, when you appear for interviews how would a hiring manager think about you and why would one select you out fifty other who have applied for the same role. 

Hey there, I am Parul and with this book review I hope I can help you comprehend some of the practical fundas and deep insights that I could gauge from this book. Let’s dive right in! I recently read the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by author Cal Newport and I can’t help myself but right my key takeaways from this amazing book. This my second read by the same author and I can’t stress enough the relevance of his writing, his research and the prospective that he brings to the table. Cal Newport is Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown; he specialises in the theory of distributed algorithm. Prior to this he earned his PhD from MIT and graduated from Dartmouth. 

I simply love this book as it brings a fresh prospective to approach our career and makes so many different distinctions. Well, the book has a very unique message, that compels us to think beyond what we call passion and urges to develop skills that can make us indispensable in whatever we do.

The question at the heart of the book is how do people end up loving what they do for living even if it isn’t their passion. Wow! That’s one of the question that always puzzled me in life. I am sure you remember the commencement speech given by Steve Jobs in Stanford University in 2005 right! Where he eloquently explained the importance of the quest to find what we love in order to be successful and happy in life. Therefore, if we don’t find a job that we love we will miss out on a significant amount of joy in our lives. 

Key Insight 1 – There is more to Work than Passion

However, author Cal Newport brings out a different point view. He says passion is actually the by-product of getting better at what one does by developing skills. In order to back it up, he interviewed people who love what they did for a living. To his surprise he found that many of the people who loved what they did for living didn’t had a pre-exiting passion for it. Rather their passion for work developed over the years as they got more experienced and more competent at their jobs. Passion of people grew much later at what they did for their living. Isn’t this contradicting the conventional wisdom especially the advice that we hear to follow our passion? He backs his research with the findings of another scholar from Yale, Amy who surveyed people across professions to comprehend why some people considered their work as a calling, something that they were so deeply passionate about or work is something that would just help them to pay their bills. 

Amy, discovered that same percentage of people across the professions identified their work as their calling after several years of experience. This essentially implies that the college administrative assistant with 10 years of experience was just as likely to describe their work as a calling as a doctor with 10 years of experience. Despite the fact that doctors were far more likely to have a pre-existing passion for their career. Isn’t it true, I mean if you talk to anyone who is a veteran in their field, he or she might always tell you that they are passionate about what they do? 

I got so bombed with this way of thinking that I did a research on Steve Jobs as well, let’s connect the dots watching backwards! If we would have met a young Steve, we would have realised that he wasn’t always passionate about technology at first and Apple was something he stumbled on with! Not to take away anything from the legend and I do admire him for his trailblazing trends that are still golden even today. In fact he also developed his passion for Apple, for technology much later when he actually started to better his craft. 

Key Insight 2 – What Makes People Passionate About Their Work

I can’t help but wonder, what makes people actually passionate about what they do? Cal explains people are passionate about their work if they frequently experience these three traits – creativity, control and impact

  1. Creativity means you have an opportunity to improvise your work and implement your ideas
  2.  Control means you have some say in how the work gets done, when and where your work gets done
  3.   Impact means the work you do has a positive influence on your co-workers or customers

The key takeaway from this theme in the book is that if you go into your career because you have always had a passion for it but you fail to experience these three work traits your passion will soon fade away. You might as well hate what you do for living! For example, let say you have a passion for writing, so you get a job at the local newspaper. After 10 years of coming from 8 AM to 6 PM, five days a week the editor is still telling you what to write about and then buries your work in the back of the newspaper where nobody reads it. In this situation I doubt that you could sustain your passion for writing because of control creativity which might influence the keys for sustaining a level of passion in your work.

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Key Insight 3 – Career Capitalism 

Essentially, how do one acquire these three work traits – Creativity, Control and being Impactful. If you want to attain them then you need to have skills that are rare and valuable. If you want something rare and valuable you need something to offer in return. So how do we develop such a skill set. The answer is we need to first scrap the passion mindset that blinds us with things that interest us instead of exploring what might actually become rare and valuable. Therefore, we need to focus on adapting what Cal calls a Craftsman Mindset. 

The passion mindset is problematic because it causes people to think what can the world offer to them. If a job isn’t providing them with a sustained level of passion, they start looking for the next thing. This makes it really hard for them to gain valuable experience and build a rare skill set. However, a person with a craftsman mindset focuses on what they can offer to the world. They dedicate themselves to constantly improve at their craft so that they can be valuable to their team, their company and their customers. People with craftsman mindset don’t fret about a lack of passion at any given moment. The passion will fade from time to time, hence, they don’t ask themselves do I have passion for this? Instead they ask themselves will I love the process of getting better at this despite how boring and tedious it might become!

My decisions to start making these book reviews wasn’t necessarily based on a passion. Sure, I often feel a level of passion when it comes to reading books but my passion comes and goes throughout the long and tedious process of making these reviews. Especially when you have a five-month-old along, who always keeps you on your toes it gets all the more challenging yet I try to keep up with my writing! The reason I ultimately pursued this path of writing book reviews with my willingness to improve at the craft and develop a set of valuable skills. If my original goal was to just follow a passion, I would have stopped making these reviews after few months when I felt my passions fade during the long painstaking hours of writing what I learnt. It’s a good thing I scrapped the passion mindset and adopted a craftsmen mindset otherwise I would be able to provide the value I can provide today.

Key Insight 4- What Can Differentiate You From Others

Let’s get practical on how to becoming rare and valuable at what we do. Well, the formula is to put ourselves out of our comfort zone. It is all about taking on challenging projects that differentiate you from your peers and force you to develop rare and valuable skills.

In this book Cal Newport details a story of a design executive called Joe Duffy. He worked for a large design firm after college and found it hard to differentiate himself from his peers. So he started volunteering for challenging projects that most people in his office weren’t familiar with. A few of these projects involved international logo designs. After working on several international logo projects Duffy became the go-to person in his company for international logos. He was then recruited by another design firm to lead an international logo design group in his new position. He had creative control over his work and flexibility in his work schedule. His passion skyrocketed and in the years that followed he started a design firm and had a significant impact on the design world. Joe Duffy was able to experience a sustained level of passion throughout his career because he took on challenging projects that few other people were willing to do. Forcing him to learn skills that few other people had. By taking on challenging niche projects he developed skills that were rare and valuable in the design world!

Key Insight 5 – Deliberate Practice

If you are a consistent reader of this blog then you know this funda by now! We went around this while doing the review on the book Outlier by Malcolm Gladwell with the 10,000-hour rule. For the purpose of this blog, you want to incorporate the principles of deliberate practice into your daily work routine if you want to become rare and valuable. The best way to do this, is to carve out periods of undistracted focus where you push your abilities to the edge of what you are capable of by continually cycling between moments of comfort and discomfort and then getting immediate feedback and guidance from people who are more experienced than you like coaches and mentors. Just as you would go to the gym and focus on lifting weights to build muscle you need to approach your work in the same manner and with the same intensity in order build the skill.

Personal Note For My Readers

By adopting a craftsman mindset and taking on challenging projects and then using deliberate practice to improve your abilities you will quickly become rare and valuable within your team and become an asset for your organisation and the marketplace. In fact, you will be so good that no one can deny your request for more creativity and control over your work. Moreover, since your work is so dam good you get paid well for it and it has a significant impact on your co-workers and customers. When you unlock these three-work traits you can’t help but say to yourself Wow I just love what I do for living! Truly, it is a great read and it’s something I would recommend to someone looking to make a career change!

Mother is a world in a word! Although reading and then writing is getting difficult these days! Thanks to Anaisha’s grand mom who not only ensures I get some “Me-Time” but also inspire me to be better  version of myself every day! (So, Thanks Mom, because of you I was able to complete this book of 304 pages!)

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