Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Develop skills that are so good, that they can't ignore you

A little while ago I went through the book So Good They Can't Ignore You, and why skills trump passion in the quest for work you love by Cal Newport, and these are the main ideas and the lessons I took from the book:

    The book has a few simple rules that can create a successful work life while enjoying what you do. Besides the rules there will be a lot of examples of how different people used these rules in their lives and how they managed to succeed, also at the end is the authors experience with the rules.

The #1 rule as stated in the book So Good They Can't Ignore You is don't follow your passion. Unpopular opinion in these days. When it seems that everyone thinks that ditching their current job and pursuing their greatest passion will give the bliss. Usually "follow your passion" approach applies to very few individuals, as passion in general is hard to monetize and tricky to do as a job. Less than 4% of people have passions that are related to work or education, while the rest of 96% are describing hobby style interests like sports or arts.

The type of work done does not predict how much people enjoy it. Other attributes are more important. According to Wrzesniewski the happiest, and most passionate employees are those who have enough experience and are good at what they do. A good example here could be people who seem to have the perfect job, like gamers or youtubers, who seem to have the perfect job. After a while finding a subjects for new videos, filming them and editing begins to feel more like a chore and a real job. Same with gamers who have to play for hours daily, stream, increase views etc.

People thrive by focusing on question of who they really are. If you focus only on what you don't like about the work, you are on a path of chronic unhappiness, especially in entry level positions, where the projects you will tackle will not be challenging, with little to no autonomy. Being stuck in a job as a junior might not be fun, but as time passes and you accumulate knowledge that is rares and desirable (people are willing to pay for it) you can climb the ladder, while accumulating "career capital". This way you can get a better job that has more benefits, and more control. This will help you create the work you love.

Where these rules don't apply? In jobs where with few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills, job's that focuses on something useless or even bad for the world, and jobs that forces you to work with people you really dislike.

Start with positions that gives you an inside clear look of how things work and are done. Jobs that are allow you to grow and understand the business from end to end. Getting god at something will mean you have to put in the hours of work, you will have to do deliberate practice and real study (practice that is purposeful and systematic, with problems that are at an appropriate challenge level for allowing you to increase your abilities, with consistency and preferably feedback)

Most people will not go through all of the work needed to become really good. They will put in just sufficient work to reach an acceptable level of abilities and knowledge. Doing things that you know to do will be enjoyable but will not allow you to grow. If you are not uncomfortable (mentally) then probably you are stuck at an "acceptable level". If you want to really love what you do you will have to go the extra mile to outshine the average person.

Once you accumulate enough "career capital", and there is evidence that people are willing to pay for it, you can negotiate for more control in your work life. This will create some conflict with the employer, who will resist you most likely. Because it is not in the company's interest for you to gain more control over your work life, but rather reinvest the career capital back in your career to obtain more money and prestige while producing more for the company. Instead of loosing a good employee most companies will choose to negotiate. For example negotiating for more free time to pursue what you love, cherry pick projects to work on and so on.

The final step in truly loving what you do is finding a mission, an organizing purpose to your work life. Every week expose yourself to new stuff in your field, and keep track of the stuff (read a paper, attend a talk, have a meeting). An effective strategy for making the leap from a tentative mission idea to a compelling accomplishments is to use small projects called little bets. A little bet in the setting of mission exploration has the following characteristics.
     It's a project small enough to e completed in less than a month
    It forces you to create new value (example master a new skill and produce new results that didn't exist before)
     It produces concrete results that allow you to gather feedback

Use these bets to explore new ideas, keep only a couple of bets active at a time so they can receive the needed attention. Also it is a good idea to use deadline to keep the urgency of their completion high. Don't procrastinate on this work by turning your attention on more urgent but less important matters.

When a little bet finishes, use the feedback it generates to guide the research efforts going forward.


Don't obsess over finding your true calling, instead master rare and valuable skills. Once you build up career capital invest it wisely. Use it  to acquire control over what you do and how you do it, identify and act o a life changing mission.

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