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

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.

I finished reading Screenwriting 101 by Film Crit Hulk, and I recommend it for anyone who writes stories—not only screenplays.

Below are some of my favorite passages. I highlighted a lot of stuff, so narrowing it down was hard!

Hulk’s working definition of storytelling:

a good narrative is compelling to the audience, economically told, feels real either in terms of emotion, detail, or texture, and speaks to some thematic truth that you recognize in yourself or the world at large.

On inspiration carrying you through to the end of a story:

A finished film is as close to the inspiration that spawned it as that original scribbled note on a napkin. To the creator, they are conceptually the same thing, no matter how much they might have changed. Never forget that. Because the germ of your idea can be the thing that must constantly light the fire underneath you as you go forth. When you are in the slog of working out the logistics, you must find that same inspiration. Even if the project radically changes, the idea itself should be a through-line that saves your script throughout the process. The moment of inspiration is both your motive and motivation.

On endings:

If all the ideas in our films mean something, then your ending should say everything. […] do not look at the ending of your piece as a burden, but as an opportunity. An opportunity to say everything you want to say in your movie. It is an opportunity to be poetic, resonant, and interesting. It is an opportunity to be soulful and underline the purpose of storytelling.

On heroes:

It’s not that anyone can be a hero, but that a hero can come from anywhere.

On the hero’s journey, and how you don’t have to use that model for a good hero story:

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is 1) about a superhero 2) one of the most respected and successful superhero films ever and 3) and it doesn’t even really touch the Campbell model in any strong way. Instead, it’s built around moment-to-moment propulsion of story. It grounds its characterization in theme and keeps things going in a far more involving and modern way.

On forward motion that keeps the audience interested:

So what I’m saying is that you come up with an idea and it’s like ‘okay, this happens’ and then ‘THIS happens.’ No no no. It should be ‘this happens’ and THEREFORE ‘this happens.’ BUT ‘this happens’ THEREFORE ‘this happens.’

On genre:

Every kind of story is different. Every one of them works with a certain set of expectations and catharsis. And part of being able to write any kind of story means you should know how to write every kind of story.

On Tarantino’s mastery of cinematic mechanisms:

People think that Tarantino is always trying to be cool or that he makes “cool” films, but if you ask Hulk this is a spectacular misdiagnosis. Yes, Quentin wants his films to be cool, but that’s not how he actually constructs them! Seriously! Oftentimes, his characters are grounded in a kind of regularity and focus on the mundane. He obsesses in the obscure and the uncool. More than that, he constructs his films in terms of function: his long-form dialogues are just as much about classic innovations of drama and build up and tension. He’s a guy who knows his craft and knows the purpose of every single cinematic mechanism he’s employing.

On the most important thing in writing adaptations:

You want the people of the property to be the same people in the film. That’s everything, really. Audiences just want to recognize the characters they have come to love or be fascinated by.

On getting through the first draft:

Just write the first draft no matter what. Don’t care if it’s good. Don’t care if it even works. Don’t care even if it’s gobbledygook. Just get it done. It doesn’t matter. Get it all up on the page because no one ever has to see it. Remove the paralysis. Get in a place so you can see it all before you. So you can see what needs to be done and how it needs to be changed. And then? Do, like, 7 rewrites… at least.

On having thick skin:

James Gunn said: “The key to show business is to give 110% while simultaneously not giving a shit.” Give 110% percent because you can’t accomplish anything in this business without enthusiasm and genuine intent. Be joyful and take pride when things go well. But don’t give a shit in the sense that you have to take rejection in stride. Don’t let failure bother you.

Chuck Klosterman writes a lot of cultural essays, and I find myself underlining a lot of stuff in his books. Here are some of my favorite bits from I Wear the Black Hat.

His basic definition of a villain:

On the relationship between knowing and caring:

“If a villain is the person who knows the most and cares the least, then a hero is the person who cares too much without knowing anything. It makes every hero seems like Forrest Gump. But it’s not the intelligence that people dislike; it’s the dispassionate application of that intelligence. It’s the calculation. It’s someone who views life as a game where the rules are poorly written and designed for abuse.”

“I am a bad guy because I remember it (and because it informs how I think about everything else). I know it’s wrong and I do it anyway. I do it consciously. I have the ability to think about this person in a thousand different contexts, yet I prefer keeping my mind unchanged. I can see every alternate reality, but I prefer to arbitrarily create my own. I know the truth, but I just don’t care.”

On vigilantes and specifically Batman:

“When considering the vigilante, the way we think about fiction contradicts how we feel about reality. Which should not be unanticipated or confusing, yet somehow always is.”

“Yet Batman never tries to overcome this childhood event. It becomes the only meaningful moment of his entire history, and he doesn’t seem to question why this is the case. ‘I think the refusal to examine the insanity of what he’s doing is the whole point of Batman,’ argues culture writer Alex Pappadamas, paraphrasing the sentiments of Batman screenwriter Sam Hamm. ‘He’s a rich solipsist who can never beat up enough muggers to bring his dead parents back. But because he’s a billionaire, he can afford to keep trying forever. He’s never confronted with the futility of what he’s doing. Were he to examine and work past those motivations, you’d have no story. The guy has to stay broken.'”

“Batman is not a superhero because of his physical abilities and mental acuities; Batman is a superhero because he seems like a moral impossibility. No one believes a real human would live that far outside the law for the good of other people.”

On Seinfeld and satire:

“Most episosdes of Seinfeld circuitously forward two worldviews: The first is that most people are bad (and not very smart). The second is that caring about other people is absurd (and not very practical).”

“If you want to satirize the condition of a society, going after the apex of the pyramid is a waste of time. You need to attack the bottom. […] This requires the vilification of innocent, anonymous, working-class people.”

(x)

Touch – “Tales of the Red Thread” (50 minutes)
Original air date: January 25, 2012

Themes

Fate, destiny, patterns

Setting

Modern day, New York City (with scenes in other places around the world)

Opening 

Narration: voice over by a young boy (11 years old)
– Fibonacci sequence
– Golden ratio: 1.618
red thread of fate in Chinese legend

Characters

Martin Bohm

– baggage handler at JFK airport
– scared of heights
– former report
– Jake’s dad
– wife, Sarah, was a stock broker in World Trade Center and died on 9/11

Jake

– Martin’s son
– autistic and mute
– math genius—uses numbers to find connections between people and make predictions
– likes orange soda, popcorn, and taking apart cell phones

Clea Hopkins

– child services representative
– evaluating the home life of Jake because he keeps getting in trouble at school (going off on his own and climbing cell towers) and Martin’s succession of low-wage jobs can’t provide the resources Jake might need

Simon Plimpton

– from London
– sells restaurant supplies around the world
– lost his phone at the Heathrow airport (London), and wants it back because it’s the only place he has photos of his daughter, Lily, who died the previous year.

Red threads

Globe-hopping telephone

– belongs to Simon Plimpton from London

  • London: Heathrow airport. Simon lost his phone.
  • New York City: JFK airport. Martin finds phone and answers when it rings, but he gets interrupted by a call on his own phone from Jake’s school. Martin leaves Simon’s phone on the luggage carousel.
  • Ireland: Niles uses the phone to record singer Kayla Graham. Then he stashes phone in a business man’s luggage.
  • Tokyo: A girl finds the phone, watches Kayla’s video, and starts a fan club. She arranges to have the phone’s photos and videos uploaded on screens around the city. Then she passes the phone on to a man traveling to Kuwait.
  • Kuwait. (We don’t know what happened to the phone, but it ends up in Iraq.)
  • Iraq: phone become countdown for a bomb strapped to the boy who needs an over for his mother’s bakery

The phone is a red thread connecting Simon Plimpton (the restaurant supplier) to the boy in Iraq (whose mother needs an oven). Bonus: Simon is in Tokyo when the phone’s contents go up on the big screens, so he sees the photos of his daughter.

Winning lottery ticket 

– belongs to Randy, the firefighter who tried to save Sarah. The numbers are the details of when and where he found her. He isn’t sure that Sarah was dead when he left her during the 9/11 attack, so he played the same lottery number every day and decided if he would win, he would give the money to her family.

  • Jake takes the ticket after Randy buys it, copies down the numbers, and then gives it back to Randy.
  • Randy tells Martin that Jake should be kept in a cage. Randy punches Martin in the stomach and leaves.
  • Martin realizes that Jake’s numbers mean something is going to happen at Grand Central Station. He goes there, sees Randy, and they get into a fight.
  • Randy misses his train because of the fight. On his way back to his New York apartment, he sees the overturned school bus and rescues the kids on it.

The winning lottery ticket is a red thread connecting Randy (who wants to make up for leaving Sarah behind) to Sarah’s family (who need money because Martin’s job does not pay enough). Bonus: Jake’s predictions set up Randy to be in the right place at the right time to see the overturned school bus. Randy couldn’t save Sarah, but he has the opportunity to save a group of kids.

318

– school bus number (and date it overturns)
– fire department badge at Sarah’s grave
– alarm clock on Martin’s computer
– address of Teller Institute (who knows about children who find mathematical patterns in everything)
– security footage time on each instance that Jake gets caught at school
– Lily died on March 18, the previous year