This book addresses the question: Why do some people end up doing work that they love, while others don’t? Through personal interviews and third-party research, Cal Newport examined the variables, facts and myths behind fulfilling work and how you can find and do work that you love. In this So Good They Can’t Ignore You summary, you’ll get an overview of the key findings and recommendations in the book.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You: The 4 Rules
In the book, Cal Newport shares how he went about answering the question above and the 4 rules he discovered:
1. Don’t Follow Your Passion
2. Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You
3. Turn Down a Promotion
4. Think Small, Act Big.
In our complete book summary, we’ve organized the key ideas into a 4-part process which you can use to think about and build a meaningful, fulfilling career:
We’ll now take a brief look at what these entail.
Debunk the Passion Myth
Many people believe that to be happy at work, you should figure out what you’re passionate about, then find a job that matches that passion. This is the “passion hypothesis”. In our full 14-page summary, you’ll learn why the passion hypothesis is flawed (i.e. passion does not drive career success), why mastery is more important for career success and motivation, and share examples to illustrate that.
In fact, Newport argues that “follow your passion” not only doesn’t work, but is actually dangerous; people who try to follow their passions can end up switching jobs regularly, feeling lost and frustrated when they fail to find their dream jobs. Hence, the first step is to throw out the passion hypothesis and the search for a perfect job or career. Then, use the next 3 steps to guide yourself to the work you’d love.
Build Your Career Capital
From his research, Newport found that fulfilling and meaningful work involves 3 key ingredients: creativity, impact, and control. He argues that such such great jobs are extremely rare, so by the law of economics, if you want a great job, you must also offer something equally valuable and scarce in exchange. He calls this “The Career Capital Theory of Great Work“. In our complete book summary, we explain what it means to adopt a craftsman mindset and apply deliberate practice to attain mastery and earn a great job. Newport also shares various examples of the craftsman mindset in real-life and a 5-step strategy to become a craftsman.
Gain Control Progressively
Perceived autonomy or control over your work—both in terms of what you do and how you do it—can increase job satisfaction and fulfillment. Hence, to love what you do, it’s important to gain control over your work.
2 Types of Control Traps
In the quest to gain freedom or control, many people fall into one of 2 control traps:
• They try to pursue control without career capital e.g. quit their jobs before they have the skills/experience to succeed in a new venture; or
• They fail to exert control despite having the necessary career capital, e.g. they get convinced to accept promotions that tie them down further into their current jobs.
Avoiding Control Traps
The challenge is to get your timing right, so you don’t push ahead too early nor be trapped even though you have the capital. The trick here is to apply the Law of Financial Viability, i.e. only seek to increase control in an area when you have evidence that people will pay you for it. In the full 14-page version of our So Good They Can’t Ignore You summary, we elaborate on the 2 traps, the Law of Financial Viability, and share examples of people who fell prey to the traps vs those who successfully gained more and more freedom/control over their work while enjoying the financial rewards.
Find and Realize your Mission
Besides having control of your work/life, having a clear mission gives meaning and fulfillment to what you do. Unfortunately, just like how you can’t use a pre-existing passion to find your ideal career, you can’t accurately define your mission until you’ve accumulated enough work and life experiences. Instead, Newport recommends that you take baby steps and use concrete experiments till you get your “aha” moment; then, with clarity on your mission (and the career capital to achieve it), you can take bolder steps to realize your career mission. In the complete summary, we explain the concept of an “adjacent possible”, why it’s essential to gradually build experience and career capital before making the big leap, and how to go about doing that.
In sum, to find/create the work you love, you must first build career capital by mastering rare and valuable skills. Then, apply this capital to progressively gain control and mission-clarity, so you can eventually have the blend of autonomy, mastery and purpose that makes work truly fulling and enjoyable.
Getting the Most from “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”
Ready to find out how to do meaningful and fulfilling work that you love? Get a detailed overview with key insights, tips and examples from our full book summary bundle. It includes an infographic, a 14-page text summary, and a 23-minute audio summary.In the book, Newport includes:
• Various examples and anecdotes of his research and interviews;
• Career profile summaries of key people/examples presented in the book (such as a public radio host, a modern farmer, renowned glass blower, a professor of evolutionary biology); and
• How he applied the 4 rules above to his own quest (which culminated in this book).
You can read more about the 3 factors that drive intrinsic motivation—autonomy, competence and relatedness/purpose—in our Drive summary. Or, check out the Strategize to Win summary for more career strategies and insights.
About the Author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You
So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love is authored by Dr. Calvin Newport—an author and associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University. He completed his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College and received a Ph.D. from MIT in in computer science. He spent 2 years as a post-doctoral associate at the MIT before joining Georgetown University as an assistant professor of computer science. Dr. New port also runs a blog, Study Hacks, which focuses on academic and career success. He has also advocates “deep work” and “digital minimalism”.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You Quotes
“You need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.”
“Working right trumps finding the right work.”
“If you want a great job, you need something of great value to offer in return.”
“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.”
“Unless people are willing to pay you, it’s not an idea you’re ready to go after.”
“Enthusiasm alone is not rare and valuable and is therefore not worth much in terms of career capital.”
“Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable.”
“Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you in your quest to become…so good that they can’t ignore you.”
“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.”