Book Review: So Good They Can’t Ignore You

Cal Newport’s latest book launches today and is titled So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. Having read most of the major career books in the field when writing The Start-up of You, I say with confidence that Cal’s is one of the best yet written. Here are the Four Rules of the book, in Cal’s voice:

  1. Rule #1: Don’t Follow Your Passion. Here I make my argument that “follow your passion” is bad advice. You’ve heard me talk about this on Study Hacks, but in this chapter, I lay out my full-throated, comprehensive, detailed argument against this common advice.
  2. Rule #2: Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Here I detail the philosophy that works better than following your passion. This philosophy, which I call career capital theory, says that you first build up rare and valuable skills and then use these skills as leverage to shape you career into something you love. During this chapter I spend time with a professional guitar player, television writer, and venture capitalist, among others, in my quest to understand how people get really good at what they do. You’ll also encounter a detailed discussion of deliberate practice and how to apply it in your working life.
  3. Rule #3: Turn Down a Promotion. Here I argue that control is one of the most important things you can bargain for with your rare and valuable skills. I discuss the difficulties people face in trying to move toward more autonomy in their working lives and describe strategies that can help you sidestep these pitfalls. During this chapter, I spend time with a hotshot database developer, an entrepreneurial medical resident, an Ivy League-trained organic farmer, and Derek Sivers, among others, in my attempts to decode control.
  4. Rule #4: Think Small, Act Big. In this final rule, I explore how people end up with career-defining missions — often a source of great passion. I argue that you need rare and valuable skills before you can identify a powerful mission. I then spend time with a star Harvard professor, a television host, and a Ruby on Rails guru, all in an effort to identify best practices for cultivating this trait.

Longtime readers may be familiar with links to Cal’s blog. For years, he’s been writing about the world of work with an unusual level of imagination. I relied heavily on his insight when working on The Start-Up of You. And over the past several years, he’s become a good friend and trusted ally to me on all fronts.

If you’re a thinking person who knows you can’t rely on easy (and wrong) answers about what will make your career go; if you’re instead ready to confront the necessity of deliberate practice and real skill development — then buy this outstanding book. If you order the book this week, you’re eligible to win one-on-one time with Cal.

3 Responses to Book Review: So Good They Can’t Ignore You

  1. Colin Post says:

    Not following your passion is definitely unconventional wisdom. Most people say “Do what you love and money will come.”

    A contrary saying would be “Don’t marry your mistress.” Once your passion becomes your life, it loses its appeal. Is the idea along those lines?

  2. Nick Swan says:

    I’ve been a longtime fan of Cal Newport. We have chosen “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” as our book club book for November – you can get involved and discuss the book as you read it here:

    Social Books

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