My highlights from So good they can't ignore you by Cal Newport
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The Passion of the Monk
- The path to happiness—at least as it concerns
what you do for a living—is more complicated than simply answering the classic question “What should I do with my life?”
A Quest Begins
- When it comes to creating work you love, following your passion is not particularly useful advice.
- You need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.
- This book does offer concrete advice, but you won’t find ten-step systems or self-assessment quizzes in these pages.
Rule #1: Don’t Follow Your Passion
Chapter One: The “Passion” of Steve Jobs
- The Passion Hypothesis: The key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion.
- When you look past the feelgood slogans and go deeper into the details of how passionate people like Steve Jobs really got started, or ask scientists about what actually predicts workplace happiness, the issue becomes much more complicated.
- Do What Steve Jobs Did, Not What He Said
The Messy Lessons of Jobs
- When it comes to finding fulfilling work, the details matter.
- If a young Steve Jobs had taken his own advice and decided to only pursue work he loved, we would probably find him today as one of the Los Altos Zen Center’s most popular teachers.
Chapter Two: Passion is rare
- The more you seek examples of the passion hypothesis, the more you recognize its rarity.
The Roadtrip Nation Revelation
- the messy nature of Steve Jobs’s path is more the rule than the exception.
- "In the movies there’s this idea that you should just go for your dream. But I don’t believe that. Things happen in stages. The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase. I feel like your problem is that you’re trying to judge all things in the abstract before you do them. That’s your tragic mistake." - Ira Glass
- "I didn’t go out with the idea of making a big empire, I set goals for myself at being the best I could be at what[ever] I did." - Al Merrick, the founder of Channel Island Surfboards
- Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.
The Science of Passion
- There are many complex reasons for workplace satisfaction, but the reductive notion of matching your job to a pre-existing passion is not among them.
- Conclusion #1: Career Passions Are Rare
Conclusion #2: Passion Takes Time
- A job, in Wrzesniewski’s formulation, is a way to pay the bills, a career is a path toward increasingly better work, and a calling is work that’s an important part of your life and a vital part of your identity.
- it seems that the type of work alone does not necessarily predict how much people enjoy it.
- In Wrzesniewski’s research, the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do.
- Conclusion #3: Passion Is a Side Effect of MasterY
Self-Determination Theory (SDT) tells us that motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs—factors described as the “nutriments” required to feel intrinsically motivated for your work:
- 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
Chapter Three: Passion Is Dangerous
- Subscribing to the passion hypothesis can make you less happy.
The Birth of the Passion Hypothesis
- a good approximation is the 1970 publication of What Color Is Your Parachute? The author, Richard Bolles, was working at the time for the Episcopal Church advising campus ministers, many of whom were in danger of losing their jobs. He published the first edition of Parachute as a straightforward collection of tips for those facing career change. The original print run was one hundred copies.
- the passion hypothesis convinces people that somewhere there’s a magic “right” job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately
recognize that this is the work they were meant to do. The problem, of course, is when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow, such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt.
- The more we focused on loving what we do, the less we ended up loving it.
- I should emphasize an obvious point: For some people, following their passion works.
- Observing a few instances of a strategy working does not make it universally effective. It is necessary instead to study a large number of examples and ask what worked in the vast majority of the cases.
- when you study a large group of people who are passionate about what they do, as I did in researching this book, you find that most—not all—will tell a story more complex than simply identifying a pre-existing passion and then pursuing it.
Rule #2: Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You (Or, the Importance of Skill)
Chapter Four: The Clarity of the Craftsman
- there are two different approaches to thinking about work: the craftsman mindset, a focus on what value you’re producing in your job, and the passion mindset, a focus on what value your job offers you. Most people adopt the passion mindset.
- Upstairs at the Bluegrass Frat House
- In a typical day, if he’s not preparing for a show, he’ll practice with this same intensity, always playing just a little faster than he’s comfortable, for two or three hours straight.
The Craftsman Mindset
- “Nobody ever takes note of [my advice], because it’s not the answer
they wanted to hear,” Martin said. “What they want to hear is ‘Here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script,’… but I always say, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’ ”
- [Eventually] you are so experienced [that] there’s a confidence that comes out,
- I turned my attention from my website to a habit that continues to this day: I track the hours spent each month dedicated to thinking hard about research problems (in the month in which I first wrote this chapter, for example, I dedicated forty-two hours to these core tasks).
- This hour-tracking strategy helped turn my attention back above all else
to the quality of what I produce.
- Studio musicians have this adage: ‘The tape doesn’t lie.’
- If you’re not focusing on becoming so good they can’t ignore you, you’re going to be left behind.
The Passion Mindset
- Whereas the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you. This mindset is how most people approach their working lives.
- when you focus only on what your work offers you, it makes you hyperaware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness.
- the deep questions driving the passion mindset—“Who am I?” and “What do I truly love?”—are essentially impossible to confirm.
- “Is this who I really am?” and “Do I love this?” rarely reduce to clear yes-or-no responses. In other words, the passion mindset is almost guaranteed to keep you perpetually unhappy and confused
Adopting the Craftsman Mindset
- No one owes you a great career, you need to earn it—and the process won’t be easy.
- I am suggesting that you put aside the question of whether your job is your true passion, and instead turn your focus toward becoming so good they can’t ignore you. That is, regardless of what you do for a living, approach your work like a true performer.
- This shift in mindset proved an exciting development in my own quest.
- Jordan had a name for the worries about what his friends are doing with their lives and whether his accomplishments compare favorably: “the cloud of external distractions.” Fighting this cloud is an ongoing battle.
- 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.
Chapter Five: The Power of Career Capital
- if you want a great job, you need to build up rare and valuable skills— which I call career capital—to offer in return.
The Economics of Great Jobs
TRAITS THAT DEFINE GREAT WORK
- Impact: From the Apple II to the iPhone, Steve Jobs has changed the way we live our lives in the digital age.
- Control: No one tells Al Merrick when to wake up or what to wear.
- How do you get these traits in your own working life? One of the first things I noticed when I began to study this question is that these factors are rare. Most jobs don’t offer their employees great creativity, impact, or control over what they do and how they do it.
- If you’re a recent college graduate in an entry-level job, for example, you’re much more likely to hear “go change the water cooler” than you are “go change the world.”
- Basic economic theory tells us that if you want something that’s both rare and valuable, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return—this is Supply and Demand 101.
- It follows that if you want a great job, you need something of great value to offer in return.
- Steve Jobs takes on $250,000 in funding from Mark Markkula and works with Steve Wozniak to produce a new computer design that is unambiguously too good to be ignored.
- “The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase,” Ira Glass elaborated in his Roadtrip Nation session
- Supply and demand says that if you want these traits you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your career capital.
- You need to get good in order to get good things in your working life, and the craftsman mindset is focused on achieving exactly this goal.
From Courage to Food Stamps
- Duffy started his own company with enough career capital to immediately thrive—he was one of the world’s best logo men and had a waiting list of clients. Feuer started her company with only two hundred hours of training and an abundance of courage.
- Both Feuer and Duffy had the same issues with their work; these issues emerged at around the same time; and they both had the same desire to love what they do. But they had two different approaches to tackling these issues. In the end, it was Duffy’s commitment to craftsmanship that was the obvious winner.
When Craftsmanship Fails
THREE DISQUALIFIERS FOR APPLYING THE CRAFTSMAN MINDSET
- The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable.
- The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world.
- The job forces you to work with people you really dislike.
Chapter Six: the career capitalists
- The Closed-Off World of Television Kabillionaires
How Alex Berger Broke into Hollywood
- By accepting an assistant position he threw himself into the center of the action, where he could find out how things actually work
- During the eight months he spent as an assistant he dedicated his nights to working on a trio of different writing projects.
- “I might finish writing at two or three A.M., then have to leave at eight the next morning to get back to my job at NBC on time,” Alex recalls. It was a busy period.
- Alex Berger who first arrived in LA, fresh out of college, did not have this writing-skill capital. By the time he was working for Commander in Chief, however, he was ready for his first major transaction.
- There’s nothing mysterious about how Alex Berger broke into Hollywood—he simply understood the value, and difficulty, of becoming good.
- The Most Desirable Job in Silicon Valley
How Mike Jackson Became a Venture Capitalist
- In the summer of 2009, Mike started a trial period as an intern at the
Westly Group. In October they gave him a full-time position as an analyst, and soon after, he was promoted to associate. Two years later he became a director.
- Mike literally tracks every hour of his day, down to quarter-hour increments, on a spreadsheet. He wants to ensure that his attention is focused on the activities that matter.
Chapter Seven: Becoming a Craftsman
Why Is Jordan Tice a Better Guitar Player than Me?
- The difference in our abilities by the age of eighteen had less to do with the number of hours we practiced—though he probably racked up more total practice hours than I did, we weren’t all that far apart—and more to do with what we did with those hours.
- Even at that young age I realized that my discomfort with mental discomfort was a liability in the performance world.
- Not only did Jordan’s early practice require him to constantly stretch
himself beyond what was comfortable, but it was also accompanied by instant feedback. The teacher was always there
- To get up to speed on the wide picking style he needs for his new tune, he keeps adjusting the speed of his practicing to a point just past where he’s comfortable. When he hits a wrong note, he immediately stops and starts over, providing instant feedback for himself.
- I played. But he practiced.
- “I develop muscle memory the hard way, by repetition,” he said
- “The harder I work, the more relaxed I can play, and the better it sounds.”
How to Become a Grand Master
- To beat Garry Kasparov in 1997, for example, IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer had to analyze 200 million moves per second, and to play a competitive opening, it drew from a database of over 700,000 grand-master games.
- Though grand masters are fantastically efficient at storing chess positions in their minds, their general recall ability is quite average.
- Previous studies had shown it takes around ten years, at minimum, to
become a grand master in chess. (As the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson likes to point out, even prodigies like Bobby Fisher managed to fit in ten years of playing before they achieved international recognition: He just started this accumulation earlier than most.)
- Hours spent in serious study of the game was not just the most important factor in predicting chess skill, it dominated the other factors.
- The “serious study” employed by top chess players sounds similar to Jordan Tice’s approach to music: They’re both focused on difficult activities, carefully chosen to stretch your abilities where they most need stretching and that provide immediate feedback.
- If you want to understand the source of professional athletes’ talent, for example, look to their practice schedules—almost without exception they have been systematically stretching their athletic abilities, with the guidance of expert coaches, since they were children.
- Most individuals who start as active professionals… change their behavior and increase their performance for a limited time until they reach an acceptable level. Beyond this point, however, further improvements appear to be unpredictable and the number of years of work… is a poor predictor of attained performance.
- Put another way, if you just show up and work hard, you’ll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better.
- deliberate practice might provide the key to quickly becoming so good they can’t ignore you.
- To successfully adopt the craftsman mindset, therefore, we have to
approach our jobs in the same way that Jordan approaches his guitar playing or Garry Kasparov his chess training—with a dedication to deliberate practice.
Alex Berger Craves Criticism and Mike Jackson Doesn’t Check E-mail
- You need to be constantly soliciting feedback from colleagues and professionals,
- During his rise, Alex consistently chose projects where he’d be forced to show his work to others.
- In each stage of his path to becoming a venture capitalist he threw himself into a project beyond his current capabilities and then hustled to make it a success.
- The easiest thing to do is to show up to work in the morning and just respond to e-mail the whole day. But that is not the most strategic way to spend your time
- The important stuff still finds its way to him, but on his schedule.
- “I want to spend time on what’s important, instead of what’s immediate,” Mike explained
- The fact that he’s been promoted three times in less than three years underscores the effectiveness of this deliberate approach.
The Five Habits of a Craftsman
Step 1: Decide What Capital Market You’re In
- There are two types of these markets: winner-take-all and auction.
- In a winner-take-all market, there is only one type of career capital available, and lots of different people competing for it. Television writing is a winner-take-all market because all that matters is your ability to write good scripts. That is, the only capital type is your script-writing capability.
- An auction market, by contrast, is less structured: There are many different types of career capital, and each person might generate a unique collection. The cleantech space is an auction market. Mike Jackson’s capital, for example, included expertise in renewable energy markets and entrepreneurship, but there are a variety of other types of relevant skills that also could have led to a job in this field.
- The first task in building a deliberate practice strategy is to figure out what type of career capital market you are competing in.
- Answering this question might seem obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to get it wrong.
- In an auction market, it’s important to build up a diverse collection of capital.
- Mistaking a winner-take-all for an auction market is common.
- The problem, however, is that blogging in the advice space—where his site existed—is not an auction market, it’s winner-take-all. The only capital that matters is whether or not your posts compel the reader.
- When you correctly understand the market where blogging exists, you stop calculating your bounce rate and start focusing instead on saying something people really care about—which is where your energy should be if you want to succeed.
Step 2: Identify Your Capital Type
- If you’re in a winner-take-all market, this is trivial: By definition, there’s only one type of capital that matters. For an auction market, however, you have flexibility.
- A useful heuristic in this situation is to seek open gates—opportunities to build capital that are already open to you.
- The advantage of open gates is that they get you farther faster, in terms
of career capital acquisition, than starting from scratch.
Step 3: Define “Good”
- The first thing this literature of deliberate practice tells us is that you need clear goals.
Step 4: Stretch and Destro
- 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.
- The good news about deliberate practice is that it will push you past this plateau and into a realm where you have little competition. The bad news is that the reason so few people accomplish this feat is exactly because of the trait Colvin warned us about: Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable.
- When I’m learning a new mathematical technique—a classic case of deliberate practice—the uncomfortable sensation in my head is best approximated as a physical strain, as if my neurons are physically re-forming into new configurations.
- As any mathematician will admit, this stretching feels much different than applying a technique you’ve already mastered, which can be quite enjoyable. But this stretching, as any mathematician will also admit, is the precondition to getting better.
- If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level.”
- Pushing past what’s comfortable, however, is only one part of the deliberate-practice story; the other part is embracing honest feedback— even if it destroys what you thought was good.
Step 5: Be Patient
- it’s less about paying attention to your main pursuit, and more about your willingness to ignore other pursuits that pop up along the way to distract you.
- Without this patient willingness to reject shiny new pursuits, you’ll derail your efforts before you acquire the capital you need.
- You stretch yourself, day after day, month after month, before finally looking up and realizing, “Hey, I’ve become pretty good, and people are starting to notice.”
- Musicians, athletes, and chess players know all about deliberate practice. Knowledge workers, however, do not.
- This is great news for knowledge workers: If you can introduce this strategy into your working life you can vault past your peers in your acquisition of career capital.
RULE #3: Turn Down a Promotion (Or, the Importance of Control)
Chapter Eight: The Dream-Job Elixir
- Control over what you do, and how you do it, is one of the most powerful traits you can acquire when creating work you love.
The Mysterious Red Fire Appeal
Cracking the Red Fire Code
- It is, instead, autonomy that attracts the Granby groupies: Ryan and Sarah live a meaningful life on their own terms.
The Power of Control
- Decades of scientific research have identified this trait as one of the most important you can pursue in the quest for a happier, more successful, and more meaningful life.
- Researchers at Cornell followed over three hundred small businesses, half of which focused on giving control to their employees and half of which did not. The control-centric businesses grew at four times the rate of their counterparts.
- If you want to observe the power of control up close in the workplace,
look toward companies embracing a radical new philosophy called Results-Only Work Environment (or, ROWE, for short).
- In a ROWE company, all that matters is your results. When you show up to work and when you leave, when you take vacations, and how often you check e-mail are all irrelevant.
- “No results, no job: It’s that simple,” as ROWE supporters like to say.
- Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.
- To summarize, 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.
Chapter Nine: The First Control Trap
- It’s dangerous to pursue more control in your working life before you have career capital to offer in exchange.
Control Requires Capital
- Control that’s acquired without career capital is not sustainable.
- enthusiasm alone is not rare and valuable and is therefore not worth much in terms of career capital.
- If you embrace control without capital, you’re likely to end up enjoying all the autonomy you can handle but unable to afford your next meal.
- even after you have the capital required to acquire real control, things remain difficult, as it’s exactly at this point that people begin to recognize your value and start pushing back to keep you entrenched in a less autonomous path.
Chapter Ten: The Second Control Trap
- once you have enough career capital to acquire more control in your working life, you have become valuable enough to your employer that they will fight your efforts to gain more autonomy.
Why Lulu Keeps Turning Down Promotions
- Throughout her career, Lulu repeatedly fought to gain more freedom in her working life, sometimes to the shock or dismay of her employers or friends.
- Finding yourself stuck in a boring job is exactly the point where breaking away to pave your own non-conformist path becomes tempting.
- She demanded a thirty-hour-a-week schedule so she could pursue a part-time degree in philosophy from Tufts.
- If Lulu had tried this during her first year of employment, her bosses would have laughed and probably offered her instead a “zero hour-a-week schedule,” but by the time she had become a senior engineer and was leading their testing automation efforts, they really couldn’t say no.
- she was able to demand (and receive) three months’ leave. “There will be no way for you to contact me during this period,” she told her new bosses.
- At this point her skills were so valuable that finding clients was no problem.
Control Generates Resistance
- When she leveraged her value to obtain a thirty-hour schedule at her first job, for example, her employer couldn’t say no (she was saving them too much money), but they didn’t like it. It took nerve on Lulu’s part to push through that demand.
- Her first client really wanted to hire her full-time to work on the project, but she refused. “They really didn’t want a contractor,” she recalls, “but they didn’t have anyone else who could do this type of work, so they eventually had no choice but to agree.”
- The Second Control Trap: The point at which you have acquired enough career capital to get meaningful control over your working life is exactly the point when you’ve become valuable enough to your current employer that they will try to prevent you from making the change.
- In most jobs you should expect your employer to resist your move toward more control; they have every incentive to try to convince you to reinvest your career capital back into your career at their company, obtaining more money and prestige instead of more control, and this can be a hard argument to resist.
- The key, it seems, is to know when the time is right to become courageous in your career decisions.
- Get this timing right, and a fantastic working life awaits you, but get it wrong by tripping the first control trap in a premature bid for autonomy, and disaster lurks.
- It’s possible that you don’t have enough career capital to back up this bid for more control. That is, you’re about to fall into the first control trap. In this case, you should heed the resistance and shelve the idea. At the same time, however, it’s possible that you have plenty of career capital, and this resistance is being generated exactly because you’re so valuable. That is, you’ve fallen into the second control trap. In this case, you should ignore the resistance and pursue the idea. This, of course, is the problem with control: Both scenarios feel the same, but the right response is different in each.
Chapter Eleven: Avoiding the Control Traps
- 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.
Derek Sivers Is a Control Freak
The Law of Financial Viability
- “I have this principle about money that overrides my other life rules,” he said. “Do what people are willing to pay for.”
- Money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, you’re aiming to be valuable.
- If I want to learn to scuba dive, for example, because I think it’s fun, and people won’t pay me to do that, I don’t care, I’m going to do it anyway,
- But when it comes to decisions affecting your core career, money remains an effective judge of value. “If you’re struggling to raise money for an idea, or are thinking that you will support your idea with unrelated work, then you need to rethink the idea.”
- As Derek explained to me, he started by pursuing music at night and on the weekend. “I didn’t quit my day job until I was making more money with my music.”
- His second big move was to start CD Baby. Again, he didn’t turn his attention full-time to this pursuit until after he had built up a profitable client base. “People ask me how I funded my business,” he said. “I tell them first I sold one CD, which gave me enough money to sell two.” It grew from there.
- The Law of Financial Viability: When deciding whether to follow an appealing pursuit that will introduce more control into your work life, seek evidence of whether people are willing to pay for it. If you find this evidence, continue. If not, move on.
- notice that the definition of “willing to pay” varies. In some cases, it literally means customers paying you money for a product or a service. But it can also mean getting approved for a loan, receiving an outside investment, or, more commonly, convincing an employer to either hire you or keep writing you paychecks. Once you adopt this flexible definition of “pay for it,” this law starts popping up all over.
- passive-income websites are more myth than reality
- Unless people are willing to pay you, it’s not an idea you’re ready to go after.
RULE #4: Think Small, Act Big (Or, the Importance of Mission)
Chapter Twelve: The Meaningful Life of Pardis Sabeti
- a unifying mission to your working life can be a source of great satisfaction
The Happy Professor
- Volleyball is not Pardis’s only hobby. In a corner of her office she keeps an acoustic guitar that serves as more than decoration: Pardis plays in a band called Thousand Days
- Pardis stumbled into the emerging field of computational genetics—the use of computers to help understand DNA sequences.
- To the general public, the idea that humans are still evolving can be surprising, but among evolutionary biologists it’s taken for granted.
- Pardis’s career is driven by a clear mission: to use new technology to fight old diseases.
The Power of Mission
- To have a mission is to have a unifying focus for your career. It’s more general than a specific job and can span multiple positions.
- People who feel like their careers truly matter are more satisfied with their working lives, and they’re also more resistant to the strain of hard work.
- 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
- a mission launched without this expertise is likely doomed to sputter and die.
- Hardness scares off the daydreamers and the timid, leaving more opportunity for those like us who are willing to take the time to carefully work out the best path forward and then confidently take action.
Chapter Thirteen: Missions Require Capital
- a mission chosen before you have relevant career capital is not likely to be sustainable.
- just because you really want to organize your work around a mission doesn’t mean that you can easily make it happen.
- The Baffling Popularity of Randomized Linear Network Coding
- We take the ideas we’ve inherited or that we’ve stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape,
- The next big ideas in any field are found right beyond the current cutting edge, in the adjacent space that contains the possible new combinations of existing ideas.
- The isolation of oxygen as a component of air, to name one of Johnson’s examples of a multiple discovery, wasn’t possible until two things happened: First, scientists began to think about air as a substance containing elements, not just a void; and second, sensitive scales, a key tool in the needed experiments, became available. Once these two developments occurred, the isolation of oxygen became a big fat target in the newly defined adjacent possible—visible to anyone who happened to be looking in that direction. Two scientists—Carl Wilhelm Scheele and Joseph Priestley—were looking in this direction, and therefore both went on to conduct the necessary experiments independently but at nearly the same time.
- I’m arguing that in reality, innovation is more systematic.
- “The truth,” Johnson explains, “is that technological (and scientific) advances rarely break out of the adjacent possible.”
The Capital-Driven Mission
- A good career mission is similar to a scientific breakthrough—it’s an innovation waiting to be discovered in the adjacent possible of your field.
- If you want to identify a mission for your working life, therefore, you must first get to the cutting edge—the only place where these missions become visible.
- breakthroughs require that you first get to the cutting edge, and this is hard—the type of hardness that most of us try to avoid in our working lives.
- in her experience, lots of different things can, at different times, seem compelling.
- “If you want to write a thing about having a quality enjoyable life, don’t ask me about my time at Harvard,” she warned. “Harvard was a tough time.”
- What struck me about Pardis’s story is how remarkably late it was in her training before she identified the mission that now defines her career.
- Advancing to the cutting edge in a field is an act of “small” thinking, requiring you to focus on a narrow collection of subjects for a potentially long time. Once you get to the cutting edge, however, and discover a mission in the adjacent possible, you must go after it with zeal: a “big” action.
Chapter Fourteen: Missions Require Little Bets
- great missions are transformed into great successes as the result of using small and achievable projects—little bets—to explore the concrete possibilities surrounding a compelling idea.
Leaping the Gap Between Idea and Practice
- I always keep an idea notebook with me
The Armchair Archaeologist
Start with small projects that interest you and through word to mouth you will get more and more opportunities
Leveraging Little Bets
A Brief Mission Intermission
- To maximize your chances of success, you should deploy small, concrete experiments that return concrete feedback.
Chapter Fifteen: Missions Require Marketing
- great missions are transformed into great successes as the result of finding projects that satisfy the law of remarkability, which requires that an idea inspires people to remark about it, and is launched in a venue where such remarking is made easy.
The Remarkable Life of Giles Bowkett
- Giles, however, adds another layer of nuance to this goal. He approached the task of finding good projects for his mission with the mindset of a marketer, systematically studying books on the subject to help identify why some ideas catch on while others fall flat. His marketing-centric approach is useful for anyone looking to wield mission as part of their quest for work they love.
Purple Cows and Open-Source Rock Stars
- When Giles read Godin’s book, he had an epiphany: For his mission to build a sustainable career, it had to produce purple cows, the type of remarkable projects that compel people to spread the word.
- If you want to make a name for yourself in software development—the type of name that can help you secure employment— focus your attention on making quality contributions to open-source projects. This is where the people who matter look for talent.
- the best way to market yourself as a programmer is to create remarkable opensource software.
The Law of Remarkability
- The Law of Remarkability: For a mission-driven project to succeed, it should be remarkable in two different ways. First, it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking
The Law in Action
- Peer-reviewed publication is a system built around the idea of allowing good ideas to spread. The better the idea, the better the journal it gets published in. The better the journal an article is published in, the more people who read it. And the more people who read it, the more it gets cited, discussed at conferences, and in general affects the field.
- The core idea of this book is simple: To construct work you love, you
must first build career capital by mastering rare and valuable skills, and then cash in this capital for the type of traits that define compelling careers. Mission is one of those traits.
- you can’t skip straight into a great mission without first building mastery in your field.
How I Applied Rule #1
How I Applied Rule #2
- Most knowledge workers avoid the uncomfortable strain of deliberate practice like the plague, a reality emphasized by the typical cubicle dweller’s obsessive e-mail–checking habit—for what is this behavior if not an escape from work that’s more mentally demanding?
- To initiate these efforts, I chose a paper that was well cited in my
research niche, but that was also considered obtuse and hard to follow. The paper focused on only a single result—the analysis of an algorithm that offers the best-known solution to a well-known problem. Many people have cited this result, but few have understood the details that support it. I decided that mastering this notorious paper would prove a perfect introduction to my new regime of self-enforced deliberate practice.
- To combat this resistance, I deployed two types of structure. The first
type was time structure: “I am going to work on this for one hour,” I would tell myself. “I don’t care if I faint from the effort, or make no progress, for the next hour this is my whole world.” But of course I wouldn’t faint and eventually I would make progress. It took, on average, ten minutes for the waves of resistance to die down. Those ten minutes were always difficult, but knowing that my efforts had a time limit helped ensure that the difficulty was manageable.
- The second type of structure I deployed was information structure—a
way of capturing the results of my hard focus in a useful form. I started by building a proof map that captured the dependencies between the different pieces of the proof. This was hard, but not too hard, and it got me warmed up in my efforts to understand the result.
- I then advanced from the maps to short self-administered quizzes that forced me to memorize the key definitions the proof used.
- Instead of seeing this discomfort as a sensation to avoid, I began to understand it the same way that a body builder understands muscle burn: a sign that you’re doing something right.
My Research Bible Routine
- Once a week I require myself to summarize in my “bible” a paper I think might be relevant to my research. This summary must include a description of the result, how it compares to previous work, and the main strategies used to obtain it.
My Hour-Tally Routine
- My hour tally is a sheet of paper that has a row for each month on which I keep a tally of the total number of hours I’ve spent that month in a state of deliberate practice
- By having these hour counts stare me in the face every day I’m motivated to find new ways to fit more deliberate practice into my schedule.
- Without this routine, my total amount of time spent stretching my abilities would undoubtedly be much lower.
My Theory-Notebook Routine
- I use a notebook when brainstorming new theory results. At the end of each of these brainstorming sessions I require myself to formally record the results, by hand, on a dated page.
- The expense of the notebook helps signal the importance of what I’m supposed to write inside it, and this, in turn, forces me into the strain required to collect and organize my thinking. The result: more deliberate practice.
- “productivity-centric.” Getting things done was my priority. When you adopt a productivity mindset, however, deliberate practice inducing tasks are often sidestepped, as the ambiguous path toward their completion, when combined with the discomfort of the mental strain they require, makes them an unpopular choice in scheduling decisions. It’s much easier to redesign your graduate-student Web page than it is
- “craft-centric.” Getting better and better at what I did became what mattered most, and getting better required the strain of deliberate practice
How I Applied Rule #3
- as my postdoctoral advisor told me, “If it’s not in writing, it doesn’t count.”
- In a growing program, you’ll always have a say
How I Applied Rule #4
- If you identify professors with particularly compelling careers, and then ask what they did differently than their peers, the answer almost always involves them organizing their work around a catchy mission.
- As I entered the summer of 2011, I leveraged this new understanding to try to transform my approach to work into one that would lead to a successful mission. These efforts generated a series of routines that I combined into a mission-development system. This system is best understood as a three-level pyramid.
Top Level: The Tentative Research Mission
- a sort of rough guideline for the type of work I’m interested in doing.
Bottom Level: Background Research
- Here’s my rule: Every week, I expose myself to something new about my field. I can read a paper, attend a talk, or schedule a meeting. To ensure that I really understand the new idea, I require myself to add a summary, in my own words, to my growing “research bible”.
- I also try to carve out one walk each day for free-form thinking about the ideas turned up by this background research
Middle Level: Exploratory Projects
- a little bet, in the setting of mission exploration, has the following characteristics:
- It’s a project small enough to be completed in less than a month.
- It forces you to create new value (e.g., master a new skill and produce new results that didn’t exist before).
- It produces a concrete result that you can use to gather concrete feedback.
- I try to keep only two or three bets active at a time so that they can receive intense attention.
- I also use deadlines, which I highlight in yellow in my planning documents, to help keep the urgency of their completion high.
- I also track my hours spent on these bets in the hour tally
- I found that without these accountability tools, I tended to procrastinate on this work, turning my attention to more urgent but less important matters.
Final Thoughts: Working Right Trumps Finding the Right Work
- Thomas was free from the constant, draining comparisons he used to make between his current work and some magical future occupation waiting to be discovered.
- He didn’t need to have a perfect job to find occupational happiness—he needed instead a better approach to the work already available to him.
Career Profile Summaries
- It was after one of these start-ups was acquired by a large company, which promptly added new constraints, that Lulu transitioned to a freelance role. At this point, however, her career capital stores were more than sufficient to support this final bid for even more control.
Disclaimer: I don't always agree with the content of the book, the purpose of sharing my highlights is to help you decide whether to buy the book or not.