so-good-they-cant-ignore-you

Here are my notes from So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport.

Two different approaches to thinking about work:

  • The passion mindset: focus on what value your job offers you (most people approach their working lives in this way)
  • The craftsman mindset: focus on what value you’re producing in your job

The passion mindset

Two drawbacks:

  1. When you focus only on what your work offers you, that means you’re tuned into what you don’t like about your work, which leads to unhappiness.
  2. The passion mindset drives two serious questions: Who am I? and What do I truly love? Both of these are “essentially impossible to confirm.” So this leads to unhappiness, too.

“The traits that define great work are bought with career capital […] they don’t come from matching your work to your innate passion. Because of this, you don’t have to sweat whether you’ve found your calling—most any work can become the foundation for a compelling career.”

The craftsman mindset

In the craftsman mindset, you focus on skills that help you do your job better. If your’e a musician, that means tedious practice—an obsession on the quality of what you produce, because quality trumps appearance, equipment and personality.

Three traits that disqualify a job as providing a good foundation for building work you love (it’s difficult to apply the craftsman mindset in these circumstances):

  1. The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable.
  2. The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps evenly actively bad for the world.
  3. The job forces you to work with people you really dislike.

Deliberate practice

Feels like a “stretch”. “If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an ‘acceptable level.'” You have to push past what’s comfortable and also embrace honest feedback, “even if it destroys what you thought was good.”

Results Only Work Environment (ROWE)

Results are the only thing that matters — no results, no job. It’s up to the employee to figure out how to do important work. “When you show up to work, when you leave, when you go on vacation, and how often you check email are all irrelevant.” Lets employees feel in control. Level of happiness goes up. Employee engagement goes up.

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.”

This is because acquiring more control in your working life benefits you, the employee, but probably doesn’t benefit your employer.

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.”

Little bets

Make little bets. Test ideas. Fail quickly, learn from what happened, and move on.

Little bets have the following traits:

  • A project that’s small enough to be completed in less than a month
  • Forces you to create new value (new skill, produce something new)
  • Produces a concrete result that you can use to gather feedback

Hero, Sidekick, Villain

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created a classic trio of characters with his Sherlock stories: hero, sidekick, and villain. For example: Sherlock, Dr. Watson, and Moriarty.

I took a look at other stories to see how closely they fit Conan Doyle’s setup. These aren’t in any particular order and this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list — just off the top of my head.

Story Hero Sidekick Villain
Sherlock Sherlock Dr. John Watson Moriarty
Harry Potter Harry Ron, Hermione Voldemort
Merlin (v1) Merlin Arthur Morgana
Merlin (v2) Arthur Merlin Mordred
Fringe Peter/Olivia Walter, Astrid Walternate
Superman Superman Jimmy Olsen Lex Luthor
Batman Batman Robin The Joker
Doctor Who The Doctor [companion] The Master
Teen Wolf Scott McCall [his pack] [multiple]
Haven Audrey Nathan, Duke the Troubles
Chuck Chuck, Sarah Casey [multiple]
Back to the Future Marty Doc Brown Biff
Dresden Files Harry Murphy, [multiple] [multiple]
Roswell Max [his friends] FBI
Matilda Matilda (none) her parents, Trunchbull
The Sandlot Benny Smalls the Beast
Star Wars (original triology) Luke Han, Leia Darth Vader

Remote

Here are some of my favorite parts from Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

On distractions:

It’s incredibly hard to get meaningful work done when your workday has been shredded into work moments.

On office interactions:

Worth counting too is the number of days you spend at the office emailing someone who sites only three desks away. People go to the office all the time and act as though they’re working remotely: emailing, instant messaging, secluding themselves to get work done. At the end of the day, was it really worth coming to the office for it?

When everyone is sitting in the same office, it’s easy to fall into the habit of bothering anyone for anything at any time, with no regard for personal productivity. This is a key reason so many people get so little done in traditional office setups—too many interruptions.

On employee trust:

Why do companies have no problem working with a lawyer who works in the next town over and yet distrust their own employees to work anywhere other than their own desks? It just doesn’t make sense.

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t hire people you don’t trust, or work for bosses who don’t trust you. If you’re not trusted to work remotely, why are you trusted to do anything at all? If you’re held in such low regard, why are you able to talk to customers, write copy for an ad, design the next product, assess insurance claims, or do tax returns?

Start by empowering everyone to make decisions on their own. If the company is full of people whom nobody trusts to make decisions without layers of managerial review, then the company is full of the wrong people.

On meetings and managers:

We believe that these staples of work life—meetings and managers—are actually the greatest causes of work not getting done at the office.

Constantly asking people what they’re working on prevents them from actually doing the work they’re describing. And since managers are often the people who call the meetings, their very presence leads to less productive workdays.

People with the power to change things need to feel the same hurt as those who merely have to deal with it.

On letting work speak for itself:

This gives back the edge to quiet-but-productive workers who often lose out in a traditional office environment. In a remote setup, you don’t need to constantly boast about the quality of your stuff when it’s already apparent to everyone willing to pay attention. Likewise, if you’re all talk and no walk, it’s painfully clear for all to see.