Chao Lam

Working on the next small things …

Book Summary: So Good They Can’t Ignore You

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This book wants to teach you how to be able to do work that you love

Starts off with the contrarian career advice: (for most everyone) Don’t follow your passion because most of us don’t have a well-defined passion, and even if we do, we don’t have the skills to do anything about it.

Instead Cal Newport offers the career capital theory, which argues that traits that define great work are rare and valuable, and if you want those in your working life, you must first build up rare and valuable skills to offer in return.

So, we need to have a craftsman mindset and focus on building skills. Basically we need to walk before you run.  But what skills to start with? Newport leaves that unanswered but implies it is mainly circumstantial and opportunistic i.e. be on the look out for opportunities to acquire valuable skills.

Once you do have basic skills, constantly work on improving it via deliberate practice, which is not just practicing the skill, but constantly trying to stretch and improve your skill by attempting to do things you are just slightly uncomfortable or incapable of doing just yet. The is basically Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to get to the top of your profession, but many people forget that 10,000 hours involves deliberate practice and not just doing the same routine over and over again.

Upon acquiring substantial marketable skills (which Newport calls Career Capital), you are then finally able to use it to trade for more meaning work. What is meaningful work? Newport suggests gaining control over what you do and how you do it is critical. How much control you can gain, depends on how valuable your skills are – but whatever you choose to do, you of course still need to do what people are willing to pay for.

The other important trait to meaningful work is a mission. Newport doesn’t explain how to acquire a mission, but maintains that the mission needs to be remarkable (i.e. a Purple Cow). Best ideas for mission are found in the adjacent possible which lies just beyond the current cutting edge. It’s not enough that a mission be remarkable, but that it be launched in an environment that supports its remarkability. This helps spreads the mission (e.g. launching a remarkable open source project, or a kickstarter). A remarkable mission is of course hard to attain, and Newport suggest we make attempts via little bets, just as we iteratively try to acquire our Career Capital.

Actions I’m taking after reading this:

I’ve acquired some career capital through the years, but alas, programming and starting companies are highly depreciable skills because things are so fast-moving, and the adjacent possible is constantly expanding!

Thus, I should be constantly applying deliberate practice (fortunately I really enjoy learning and pushing myself… so is that persuing my passion?!). I’m going to:

This book also raises the question: should Next Small Things adopt a mission (beyond constantly looking for the next small thing!)?

I’m not sure at this point, so perhaps the first action point is to persuade Sachiko and Ming to read this book (minimally this summary) and ponder this question, which is mixed up with all the sub question, this question brings:

  • what mission should we adopt?
  • what is the adjacent possible in our case?
  • what are the little bets we can do right now?
  • what environment should we launch the mission that will best help spread the mission?
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Written by Chao

March 25, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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