So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Notes & Review

so good they can't ignore you book cover

So Good They Can’t Ignore You (2012) is a self-help book teaching people how to maximize their talents and how to find their passions. Cal Newport, the author, turns the idea of “following your passions” on its head.

Bullet Summary

  • Don’t follow your passion when you’re skill-less and inexperienced
  • Working right is better than looking for the right job (and more likely to lead to passion and work fulfilment)
  • Passion increases with mastery
  • If you want independence and control, accumulate skills and experience first

Full Summary

About The Author: Calvin Newport is an American associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, he has a PhD from MIT and he is a popular author of self-help books, including Deep Work.

Don’t Follow Your Passion

We all know everyone wants to follow his passion these days. After all, even Steve Jobs said that.
But is it true?

Cal Newport says that “following your passion” is not good advice to find the work you love.
It can actually be very good advice, as it pushes people to search for some sort of “magic passion-stroke” as they jump relentlessly from job to job.
And Steve Jobs himself, he didn’t actually follow his passion. He stumbled upon his passion and he got more and more passionate as he deepened his skillset.

Don’t listen to what Jobs said, look at what Jobs did

Career Passion Are Rare

To being with, says Cal Newport, it’s rare that people start a job because they have a burning passion.
That alone makes it difficult for anyone to “follow their passions” because, for most people, there’s not such an obvious thing as a burning passion ready to drive them.

Skills Trump Passion

Newport says that the happiest employees are those most skilled because there was a relation between years spent on the job and job satisfaction and “passion”.

My Note:
However, it seems to me that Cal Newport makes a major assumption here because, of correlation, but correlation is not causation.

Skills Trump Passion

Passion, says the author, is a side effect of mastery.
Newport quotes Daniel Pink, author of Drive in explaining that the major factors that lead to happiness in the workplace are:

  • Autonomy
  • Competence
  • Relatedness (feeling of being close to your colleagues)

Newport says that you become more competent and autonomous as you get better, which tells him that skills trump passion.

My Note:
But again, what if mastery is also the side effect of increasing passion? Or if the two simply influence each other?

Work right, don’t find the right work

Passion Mindset VS Craft Mindset

Cal Newport says that a craft mindset focuses on acquiring skills and what you can offer to the world. A passion mindset instead focuses on what the world can offer you.

The author says that a passion mindset, when it clashes with reality as it often does, makes you focused on why that job is not right for you, and all you see is negativity.
He urges the readers to set aside the question of whether your job is your true passion and instead you focus on becoming so good they can’t ignore you.

Passion these days focuses on what they can get

How to Get So Good They Can’t Ignore You

Cal Newport then talks about how we can get so good they can’t ignore us.

He introduces deliberate practice (read The Talent Code) and talks about The Tipping Point, Outliers and the 10.000 hour rule.

My Note:
It’s unlucky the author mentions the 10.000 rules as that’s rather poor science there.
Also see “self-help myths“, “pop-psychology” and what the original researcher, Andersson, says in “Peak“.

If You Want Control and Life on Your Terms…

… Get so good they can’t ignore you.

Cal Newport says that the mistake many do today is to “follow your passion” blissful advice without having built what he calls “career capital”.
Career capital is a skillet that allows you to sell something to make a living.

The author says you should pursue more control in your life only if when you can offer something that people are willing to pay for.

so good they can't ignore you book cover

Real Life Applications

Don’t jump from job to job looking for passion
Don’t move from job to job looking for that missing spark of passion. Passion is, often, like love: it develops over time and with the deepening of the relationship.

You gain control through skills
You gain more freedom and control over your life by deepening your skills. Then you have more bargaining power with your employer and, well… With life in general.

CONS

Unconvincing data

The data used to make the point there is not such a thing as a readily available passion didn’t convince. The author mentions a few old interviews, but interviews are not great tools and I don’t remember any numbers being mentioned.

Unconvincing examples

The author uses a few stories to make the point too many quit their jobs to mistakenly follow their passions. There’s nothing wrong with stories… If there are number backing them up.

But it felt to me it was just stories.

The examples of James as the poster child of this generation clearly shows what I mean. The author introduces James, a lifestyle designer who quit his job to live on his way by blogging.
James is clueless about monetizing his blog, and the author says says (I paraphrase for brevity):

A distressingly large faction of these contrarians skipped the development of the means that would support their unconventional lifestyle.

Hmmmm, wait a second, based on what does he say “distressingly large faction”?
It feels like he’s taking a swing at the generation Y trying to pass his perceptions for facts.
And here’s the funny thing: I do agree with him. I have the same perception that this a generation which feels entitled to success. But it’s a feeling, it’s not based on numbers. I wished Cal hadn’t tried to pass feelings for facts.
Also, I didn’t particularly appreciate James got pretty much ridiculed for his supposed failure.

Too Much Meat on The Fire

“So Good They Can’t Ignore You” starts denying that “following your passion” is a good advise.
Then it says that getting skilled is the best way to become passionate. All makes sense here and it’s awesome insight.
Then it goes into explaining how to get those skills, which is a deep topic in itself and feels a bit hastened here.
And finishes off discussing the pitfalls of gaining more autonomy, resembling a bit The Four Hour Workweek. It felt too much to me.

PROS

Top, Top Insights

I loved the idea that passion takes time, something we’ve also seen in Grit by Angela Duckworth.
Cal Newport also hits the nail on the head when it comes to way too many people “following their passions” without any idea or skills to actually monetize those passions.
And again, his advice to be strategic and deliberate on winning your freedom and life control is awesome.

Review

First of all, I’d like to say this: do mind about your passion.

I feel “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” goes too much on the opposite end of the spectrum in denying the role of passion. Chances are there is something that pulls you and draws you more than others.

Like Robert Greene says in Mastery, sometimes it’s something you loved as a kid. Or what you love doing in your spare time.

That being said, this is a fantastic book.

Not only it is informative, but it can spare some major headaches to people who too quickly follow their passions. All the while, it also provides a way on actually finding that passion (ie.: getting good at something).
And it also shows the proper way of conquering more freedom for those of us who can hardly handle a 9 to 5.

Read more summaries or get the book on Amazon

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