The traits that define great work are rare and valuable. Supply and demand says that if you want these traits you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your career capital. The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you,” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital. This is why it trumps the passion mindset if your goal is to create work you love. I enjoyed the book a lot, although I preferred ‘deep work’. Both books are similar in that they manage to be inspiring even as they explain that there are no shortcuts and you are going to have to work hard if you want to succeed. The book tells us to become very good at whatever we do. This is one factor in enjoying our work. It will also make us more valuable, which will allow us more freedom and control, another factor in enjoying our work. Finally, with skill and control we can acquire an overarching mission, the final factor in enjoying our work. There are echoes of stoicism in the craftsman mindset he suggests. If you are to be an X, be the best X you can be. The example of Ryan’s organic farm resonated. I am probably not alone among office in daydreaming about leaving the computer screen and doing “something with my hands”, I think it is important to remind myself that this would not solve any problems, and to instead focus on my life as it is. To end on an inspiring note, I loved the reminder to concentrate on deliberate practice to avoid plateauing. Somehow I do not view my job in this way, whereas it seems obvious for language acquisition, sport, etc. As is said in cycling: It doesn’t get easier, you just go faster. If you are comfortable, you are probably not improving. This generates an exciting implication. Let’s assume you’re a knowledge worker, which is a field without a clear training philosophy. If you can figure out how to integrate deliberate practice into your own life, you have the possibility of blowing past your peers in your value, as you’ll likely be alone in your dedication to systematically getting better. That is, deliberate practice might provide the key to quickly becoming so good they can’t ignore you.
Table of contents:
RULE #1: Don’t Follow Your Passion Chapter One: The “Passion” of Steve Jobs Chapter Two: Passion Is Rare Chapter Three: Passion Is Dangerous RULE #2: Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You (Or, the Importance of Skill) Chapter Four: The Clarity of the Craftsman Chapter Five: The Power of Career Capital Chapter Six: The Career Capitalists Chapter Seven: Becoming a Craftsman
RULE #3: Turn Down a Promotion (Or, the Importance of Control) Chapter Eight: The Dream-Job Elixir Chapter Nine: The First Control Trap Chapter Ten: The Second Control Trap Chapter Eleven: Avoiding the Control Traps RULE #4: Think Small, Act Big (Or, the Importance of Mission) Chapter Twelve: The Meaningful Life of Pardis Sabeti Chapter Thirteen: Missions Require Capital Chapter Fourteen: Missions Require Little Bets Chapter Fifteen: Missions Require Marketing
Loc:156 My question was clear: How do people end up loving what they do? And I needed an answer. This book documents what I discovered in my search.
Loc:164 My quest pushed me beyond identifying what doesn’t work, insisting that I also answer the following: If “follow your passion” is bad advice, what should I do instead?
Loc:281 I don’t doubt that Jobs eventually grew passionate about his work: If you’ve watched one of his famous keynote addresses, you’ve seen a man who obviously loved what he did. But so what? All that tells us is that it’s good to enjoy what you do. This advice, though true, borders on the tautological and doesn’t help us with the pressing question that we actually care about: How do we find work that we’ll eventually love? Like Jobs, should we resist settling into one rigid career and instead try lots of small schemes, waiting for one to take off? Does it matter what general field we explore? How do we know when to stick with a project or when to move on? In other words, Jobs’s story generates more questions than it answers. Perhaps the only thing it does make clear is that, at least for Jobs, “follow your passion” was not particularly useful advice.
Loc:310 One of the students asks Steele if he had started his PhD program “hoping you’d one day change the world.” “No,” Steele responds, “I just wanted options.”
Loc:352 Wrzesniewski looked at a group of employees who all had the same position and nearly identical work responsibilities: college administrative assistants. She found, to her admitted surprise, that these employees were roughly evenly split between seeing their position as a job, a career, or a calling. In other words, it seems that the type of work alone does not necessarily predict how much people enjoy it.
Loc:359 She surveyed the assistants to figure out why they saw their work so differently, and discovered that the strongest predictor of an assistant seeing her work as a calling was the number of years spent on the job. In other words, the more experience an assistant had, the more likely she was to love her work.
Loc:374 SDT tells us that motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs—factors described as the “nutriments” required to feel intrinsically motivated for your work: Autonomy: the feeling that you have control over your day, and that your actions are important Competence: the feeling that you are good at what you do Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people
Loc:415 The more I studied the issue, the more I noticed that the passion hypothesis convinces people that somewhere there’s a magic “right” job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately recognize that this is the work they were meant to do. The problem, of course, is when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow, such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt.
Loc:525 “Nobody ever takes note of [my advice], because it’s not the answer they wanted to hear,” Martin said. “What they want to hear is ‘Here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script,’ … but I always say, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’
Loc:548 Martin’s axiom gave me a reprieve from this self-promotion. “Stop focusing on these little details,” it told me. “Focus instead on becoming better.” Inspired, I turned my attention from my website to a habit that continues to this day: I track the hours spent each month dedicated to thinking hard about research problems (in the month in which I first wrote this chapter, for example, I dedicated forty-two hours to these core tasks).
Loc:569 My goal in Rule #2 is to convince you of an idea that became clearer to me the more time I spent studying performers such as Tice: Irrespective of what type of work you do, the craftsman mindset is crucial for building a career you love.
Loc:577 Whereas the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you. This mindset is how most people approach their working lives.
Loc:596 You shouldn’t just envy the craftsman mindset, you should emulate it. In other words, I am suggesting that you put aside the question of whether your job is your true passion, and instead turn your focus toward becoming so good they can’t ignore you. That is, regardless of what you do for a living, approach your work like a true performer.
Loc:635 TRAITS THAT DEFINE GREAT WORK Creativity: Ira Glass, for example, is pushing the boundaries of radio, and winning armfuls of awards in the process. Impact: From the Apple II to the iPhone, Steve Jobs has changed the way we live our lives in the digital age. Control: No one tells Al Merrick when to wake up or what to wear. He’s not expected in an office from nine to five. Instead, his Channel Island Surfboards factory is located a block from the Santa Barbara beach, where Merrick still regularly spends time surfing.
Loc:643 but if consider your own dream-job fantasies, you’ll likely notice some combination of these traits. We can now advance to the question that really matters: How do you get these traits in your own working life?
Loc:645 these factors are rare. Most jobs don’t offer their employees great creativity, impact, or control over what they do and how they do it. If you’re a recent college graduate in an entry-level job, for example, you’re much more likely to hear “go change the water cooler” than you are “go change the world.”
Loc:649 Basic economic theory tells us that if you want something that’s both rare and valuable, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return—this is Supply and Demand 101. It follows that if you want a great job, you need something of great value to offer in return.
Loc:692 THE CAREER CAPITAL THEORY OF GREAT WORK The traits that define great work are rare and valuable. Supply and demand says that if you want these traits you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your career capital. The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you,” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital. This is why it trumps the passion mindset if your goal is to create work you love.
Loc:919 Rewind the clock further and ask how Alex, as a lowly script assistant, got a script aired on Commander in Chief, and you encounter the writing skill he had developed over the previous years spent obsessively honing his craft—a period where he was often working on three or four scripts at a time, always seeking feedback for how he could make them better.
Loc:924 In this telling, the story of Alex’s fast rise is not one of passion triumphing over setbacks: It’s much less dramatic. Alex, the former debate champion, coolly assessed what career capital was valuable in this market. He then set out with the intensity once reserved for debate prep to acquire this capital as fast as possible. What this story lacks in pizazz, it makes up in repeatability: There’s nothing mysterious about how Alex Berger broke into Hollywood—he simply understood the value, and difficulty, of becoming good.
Loc:982 Mike literally tracks every hour of his day, down to quarter-hour increments, on a spreadsheet. He wants to ensure that his attention is focused on the activities that matter. “It’s so easy to just come in and spend your whole day on e-mail,” he warned. On the sample spreadsheet he sent me, he allots himself only ninety minutes per day for e-mail. The day before we last spoke he had only spent forty-five. This is a man who is serious about doing what he does really well.
Loc:1,003 Jordan picked up guitar at the same point in his life as I did. But by the time he graduated high school, he had been touring the mid-Atlantic with a group of professional bluegrass musicians and had signed his first record deal. When I was in high school, the acoustic group Nickel Creek was thought of, admiringly, by my grade’s music snobs as Dave Matthews for cool people. When Jordan was in high school, he regularly played gigs with their bass player, Mark Schatz. The question hanging over this comparison is why, even though we had both played seriously for the same amount of time, did I end up an average high school strummer while Jordan became a star?
Loc:1,008 the difference in our abilities by the age of eighteen had less to do with the number of hours we practiced—though he probably racked up more total practice hours than I did, we weren’t all that far apart—and more to do with what we did with those hours. One of my most vivid memories of Rocking Chair, for example, was my discomfort playing anything I didn’t know real well. There’s a mental strain that accompanies feeling your way though a tune that’s not ingrained in muscle memory, and I hated that feeling. I learned songs reluctantly, then clung to them fiercely once they had become easy for me. I used to get upset when our rhythm guitar player would suggest we try out something new during band practice.
Loc:1,021 Not only did Jordan’s early practice require him to constantly stretch himself beyond what was comfortable, but it was also accompanied by instant feedback. The teacher was always there, Jordan explained, “to jump in and show me if I junked up a harmony.”
Loc:1,024 To get up to speed on the wide picking style he needs for his new tune, he keeps adjusting the speed of his practicing to a point just past where he’s comfortable. When he hits a wrong note, he immediately stops and starts over, providing instant feedback for himself. While practicing, the strain on his face and the gasping nature of his breaths can be uncomfortable even to watch—I can’t imagine what it feels like to actually do. But Jordan is happy to practice like this for hours at a time. This, then, explains why Jordan left me in the dust. I played. But he practiced.
Loc:1,080 When surveyed, the participants in Charness’s study thought tournament play was probably the right answer. The participants, as it turns out, were wrong. Hours spent in serious study of the game was not just the most important factor in predicting chess skill, it dominated the other factors.
Loc:1,082 The researchers discovered that the players who became grand masters spent five times more hours dedicated to serious study than those who plateaued at an intermediate level. The grand masters, on average, dedicated around 5,000 hours out of their 10,000 to serious study. The intermediate players, by contrast, dedicated only around 1,000 to this activity.
Loc:1,086 In serious study, Charness concluded, “materials can be deliberately chosen or adapted such that the problems to be solved are at a level that is appropriately challenging.” This contrasts with tournament play, where you are likely to draw an opponent who is either demonstrably better or demonstrably worse than yourself: both situations where “skill improvement is likely to be minimized.” Furthermore, in serious study, feedback is immediate: be it from looking up the answer to a chess problem in a book or, as is more typically the case for serious players, receiving immediate feedback from an expert coach.
Loc:1,110 outside a handful of extreme examples—such as the height of professional basketball players and the girth of football linemen—scientists have failed to find much evidence of natural abilities explaining experts’ successes. It is a lifetime accumulation of deliberate practice that again and again ends up explaining excellence.
Loc:1,113 Here’s what struck me as important about deliberate practice: It’s not obvious. Outside of fields such as chess, music, and professional athletics, which have clear competitive structures and training regimes, few participate in anything that even remotely approximates this style of skill development. As Ericsson explains, “Most individuals who start as active professionals … change their behavior and increase their performance for a limited time until they reach an acceptable level. Beyond this point, however, further improvements appear to be unpredictable and the number of years of work … is a poor predictor of attained performance.” Put another way, if you just show up and work hard, you’ll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better.
Loc:1,121 This generates an exciting implication. Let’s assume you’re a knowledge worker, which is a field without a clear training philosophy. If you can figure out how to integrate deliberate practice into your own life, you have the possibility of blowing past your peers in your value, as you’ll likely be alone in your dedication to systematically getting better. That is, deliberate practice might provide the key to quickly becoming so good they can’t ignore you.
Loc:1,136 The other thing I noticed about Alex is that this learning is not done in isolation: “You need to be constantly soliciting feedback from colleagues and professionals,” he told me. During his rise, Alex consistently chose projects where he’d be forced to show his work to others. While still working as an assistant at NBC, for example, he was writing two pilots: one for VH1 and another with a producer he met at the National Lampoon. In both cases, people were waiting to see his scripts—there was no avoiding having them be read and dissected.
Loc:1,158 On the sample spreadsheet he sent me, he divides his activities into two categories: hard to change (i.e., weekly commitments he can’t avoid) and highly changeable (i.e., self-directed activities that he controls).
Loc:1,174 Mike’s goal with his spreadsheet is to become more “intentional” about how his workday unfolds. “The easiest thing to do is to show up to work in the morning and just respond to e-mail the whole day,” he explained. “But that is not the most strategic way to spend your time.”
Loc:1,186 This is a great example of deliberate practice at work. “I want to spend time on what’s important, instead of what’s immediate,” Mike explained. At the end of every week he prints his numbers to see how well he achieved this goal, and then uses this feedback to guide himself in the week ahead. The fact that he’s been promoted three times in less than three years underscores the effectiveness of this deliberate approach.
Loc:1,197 you can imagine that you are acquiring this capital in a specific type of career capital market. There are two types of these markets: winner-take-all and auction. In a winner-take-all market, there is only one type of career capital available, and lots of different people competing for it. Television writing is a winner-take-all market because all that matters is your ability to write good scripts. That is, the only capital type is your scriptwriting capability. An auction market, by contrast, is less structured: There are many different types of career capital, and each person might generate a unique collection. The cleantech space is an auction market. Mike Jackson’s capital, for example, included expertise in renewable energy markets and entrepreneurship, but there are a variety of other types of relevant skills that also could have led to a job in this field.
Loc:1,209 But the entertainment industry is not an auction market; it’s instead winner-take-all. If you want a career in television writing, as Alex discovered, only one thing matters: the quality of your scripts. It took him a year to realize his mistake, but once he did, he left the Lampoon to become an assistant to a TV executive so he could better understand the single type of capital of any value to his field.
Loc:1,224 Some top blogs in this space have notoriously clunky designs, but they all accomplish the same baseline goal: They inspire their readers. When you correctly understand the market where blogging exists, you stop calculating your bounce rate and start focusing instead on saying something people really care about—which is where your energy should be if you want to succeed.
Loc:1,237 The advantage of open gates is that they get you farther faster, in terms of career capital acquisition, than starting from scratch. It helps to think about skill acquisition like a freight train: Getting it started requires a huge application of effort, but changing its track once it’s moving is easy. In other words, it’s hard to start from scratch in a new field.
Loc:1,244 The first thing this literature tells us is that you need clear goals. If you don’t know where you’re trying to get to, then it’s hard to take effective action.
Loc:1,258 If you show up and do what you’re told, you will, as Anders Ericsson explained earlier in this chapter, reach an “acceptable level” of ability before plateauing. The good news about deliberate practice is that it will push you past this plateau and into a realm where you have little competition. The bad news is that the reason so few people accomplish this feat is exactly because of the trait Colvin warned us about: Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable.
Loc:1,262 I like the term “stretch” for describing what deliberate practice feels like, as it matches my own experience with the activity. When I’m learning a new mathematical technique—a classic case of deliberate practice—the uncomfortable sensation in my head is best approximated as a physical strain, as if my neurons are physically re-forming into new configurations.
Loc:1,268 Pushing past what’s comfortable, however, is only one part of the deliberate-practice story; the other part is embracing honest feedback—even if it destroys what you thought was good.
Loc:1,283 Martin expounds on this idea when he discusses the importance of “diligence” for his success in the entertainment business. What’s interesting is that Martin redefines the word so that it’s less about paying attention to your main pursuit, and more about your willingness to ignore other pursuits that pop up along the way to distract you. The final step for applying deliberate practice to your working life is to adopt this style of diligence.
Loc:1,289 Without this patient willingness to reject shiny new pursuits, you’ll derail your efforts before you acquire the capital you need. I think the image of Martin returning to his banjo, day after day, for forty years, is poignant. It captures well the feel of how career capital is actually acquired: You stretch yourself, day after day, month after month, before finally looking up and realizing, “Hey, I’ve become pretty good, and people are starting to notice.”
Loc:1,367 Here’s what struck me about Ryan’s story: He didn’t just decide one day that he was passionate about produce and then courageously head off into the countryside to start farming. Instead, by the time he made the plunge into full-time farming in 2001, when he bought his first land, he had been painstakingly acquiring relevant career capital for close to a decade. This might be less sexy than the daydream of quitting your day job one day and then waking up to the rooster’s crow the next, but it matches what I consistently found when researching the previous two rules: You have to get good before you can expect good work.
Loc:1,385 In other words, the Red Fire appeal is not about working outside in the sun—to farmers, I learned, the weather is something to battle, not to enjoy. And it’s not about getting away from the computer screen—Ryan spends all winter using Excel spreadsheets to plan his crop beds, while Sarah spends a healthy chunk of each day managing the farm operations on the office computer. It is, instead, autonomy that attracts the Granby groupies: Ryan and Sarah live a meaningful life on their own terms.
Loc:1,389 control isn’t just the source of Ryan and Sarah’s appeal, but it turns out to be one of the most universally important traits that you can acquire with your career capital—something so powerful and so essential to the quest for work you love that I’ve taken to calling it the dream-job elixir.
Loc:1,403 If you want to observe the power of control up close in the workplace, look toward companies embracing a radical new philosophy called Results-Only Work Environment (or, ROWE, for short). In a ROWE company, all that matters is your results. When you show up to work and when you leave, when you take vacations, and how often you check e-mail are all irrelevant. They leave it to the employee to figure out whatever works best for getting the important things done. “No results, no job: It’s that simple,” as ROWE supporters like to say.
Loc:1,414 The more time you spend reading the research literature, the more it becomes clear: Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment. It’s no wonder, then, that when you flip through your mental Rolodex of dream jobs, control is often at the core of their appeal.
Loc:1,426 the first control trap, which warns that it’s dangerous to pursue more control in your working life before you have career capital to offer in exchange.
Loc:1,476 One such blogger I found, to give another example from among many, quit his job at the age of twenty-five, explaining, “I was fed up with living a ‘normal’ conventional life, working 9–5 for the man [and] having no time and little money to pursue my true passions … so I’ve embarked on a crusade to show you and the rest of the world how an average Joe … can build a business from scratch to support a life devoted to living ‘The Dream.’ ” The “business” he referenced, as is the case with many lifestyle designers, was his blog about being a lifestyle designer. In other words, his only product was his enthusiasm about not having a “normal” life. It doesn’t take an economist to point out there’s not much real value lurking there. Or, put into our terminology, enthusiasm alone is not rare and valuable and is therefore not worth much in terms of career capital.
Loc:1,491 This story provides another clear example of the first control trap: If you embrace control without capital, you’re likely to end up like Jane, Lisa, or our poor frustrated lifestyle designer—enjoying all the autonomy you can handle but unable to afford your next meal.
Loc:1,498 the second control trap, which warns that once you have enough career capital to acquire more control in your working life, you have become valuable enough to your employer that they will fight your efforts to gain more autonomy.
Loc:1,596 This is the irony of control. When no one cares what you do with your working life, you probably don’t have enough career capital to do anything interesting. But once you do have this capital, as Lulu and Lewis discovered, you’ve become valuable enough that your employer will resist your efforts. This is what I came to think of as the second control trap:
Loc:1,600 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.
Loc:1,633 In which I explain the law of financial viability, which says you should only pursue a bid for more control if you have evidence that it’s something that people are willing to pay you for.
Loc:1,635 Not long into his 2010 TED talk on creativity and leadership, Derek Sivers plays a video clip of a crowd at an outdoor concert. A young man without a shirt starts dancing by himself. The audience members seated nearby look on curiously. “A leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous,” Derek says. Soon, however, a second young man joins the first and starts dancing. “Now comes the first follower with a crucial role … the first follower transforms the lone nut into a leader.” As the video continues, a few more dancers join the group. Then several more. Around the two-minute mark, the dancers have grown into a crowd. “And ladies and gentlemen, that’s how a movement is made.”
Loc:1,643 No one can accuse Derek Sivers of being a conformist. During his career, he has repeatedly played the role of the first dancer.
Loc:1,670 “I have this principle about money that overrides my other life rules,” he said. “Do what people are willing to pay for.” Derek made it clear that this is different from pursuing money for the sake of having money. Remember, this is someone who gave away $22 million and sold his possessions after his company was acquired. Instead, as he explained: “Money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, you’re aiming to be valuable.” He also emphasized that hobbies are clearly exempt from this rule. “If I want to learn to scuba dive, for example, because I think it’s fun, and people won’t pay me to do that, I don’t care, I’m going to do it anyway,” he said. But when it comes to decisions affecting your core career, money remains an effective judge of value. “If you’re struggling to raise money for an idea, or are thinking that you will support your idea with unrelated work, then you need to rethink the idea.”
Loc:1,742 In which I argue that a unifying mission to your working life can be a source of great satisfaction.
Loc:1,801 To have a mission is to have a unifying focus for your career. It’s more general than a specific job and can span multiple positions. It provides an answer to the question, What should I do with my life? Missions are powerful because they focus your energy toward a useful goal, and this in turn maximizes your impact on your world—a crucial factor in loving what you do. People who feel like their careers truly matter are more satisfied with their working lives, and they’re also more resistant to the strain of hard work.
Loc:1,888 We like to think of innovation as striking us in a stunning eureka moment, where you all at once change the way people see the world, leaping far ahead of our current understanding. I’m arguing that in reality, innovation is more systematic. We grind away to expand the cutting edge, opening up new problems in the adjacent possible to tackle and therefore expand the cutting edge some more, opening up more new problems, and so on.
Loc:1,963 Rule #4 is entitled “Think Small, Act Big.” It’s in this understanding of career capital and its role in mission that we get our explanation for this title. Advancing to the cutting edge in a field is an act of “small” thinking, requiring you to focus on a narrow collection of subjects for a potentially long time. Once you get to the cutting edge, however, and discover a mission in the adjacent possible, you must go after it with zeal: a “big” action.
Loc:2,089 Here’s what I noticed: Kirk’s path to American Treasures was incremental. He didn’t decide out of nowhere that he wanted to host a television show and then work backward to make that dream a reality. Instead, he worked forward from his original mission—to popularize archaeology—with a series of small, almost tentative steps. When he stumbled on the old film reels for Land and Water, for example, he decided to digitize them and produce a DVD. After this small step he took the slightly larger step of raising money to shoot exploratory footage for a new version of the documentary. When George Milner played him that fateful answering machine tape, Kirk took another modest step by launching The Armchair Archaeologist project with no real vision of how it would prove useful, other than perhaps as fodder for his intro archaeology courses. This final little step, however, turned out to be a winner, leading directly to his own television show.
Loc:2,098 from Steve Jobs to Chris Rock to Frank Gehry, as well as innovative companies, such as Amazon and Pixar, he found a strategy common to all. “Rather than believing they have to start with a big idea or plan out a whole project in advance,” he writes, “they make a methodical series of little bets about what might be a good direction, learning critical information from lots of little failures and from small but significant wins” [emphasis mine]. This rapid and frequent feedback, Sims argues, “allows them to find unexpected avenues and arrive at extraordinary outcomes.”
Loc:2,111 The important thing about little bets is that they’re bite-sized. You try one. It takes a few months at most. It either succeeds or fails, but either way you get important feedback to guide your next steps. This approach stands in contrast to the idea of choosing a bold plan and making one big bet on its success.
Loc:2,137 In which I argue that great missions are transformed into great successes as the result of finding projects that satisfy the law of remarkability, which requires that an idea inspires people to remark about it, and is launched in a venue where such remarking is made easy.
Loc:2,208 Fowler argued that this community is well respected and highly visible. If you want to make a name for yourself in software development—the type of name that can help you secure employment—focus your attention on making quality contributions to open-source projects. This is where the people who matter look for talent.
Loc:2,211 “The synthesis of Purple Cow and My Job Went to India is that the best way to market yourself as a programmer is to create remarkable open-source software. So I did.”
Loc:2,213 Giles came up with the idea for Archaeopteryx, his AI-driven music creator. “I don’t think there was anybody else with my combined background,” he said. “Plenty of Ruby programmers love dance music, but I don’t think any of them has sacrificed the same ridiculous number of hours to tweaking breakbeats and synth patches over and over again, releasing white-label records that never made a dime, and studying music theory.” In other words, Giles’s ability to produce a Ruby program that produced real music was unique: If he could pull it off, it would be a purple cow.
Loc:2,219 “I basically took Chad Fowler’s advice way too far and went to speak at almost every user group and conference that I could—at least fifteen in 2008,” Giles recalled. This hybrid Godin/Fowler strategy worked. “I got offers from all over the place,” Giles recalled. “I got to work with stars in my industry, I got approached to write a book on Archaeopteryx, I could charge a lot more money than I used to.” It was, in other words, a strategy that made his mission into a success.
Loc:2,232 What’s nice about this first notion of remarkability is that it can be applied to any field. Take book writing: If I published a book of solid advice for helping recent graduates transition to the job market, you might find this a useful contribution, but probably wouldn’t find yourself whipping out your iPhone and Tweeting its praises. On the other hand, if I publish a book that says “follow your passion” is bad advice, (hopefully) this would compel you to spread the word. That is, the book you’re holding was conceived from the very early stages with the hope of being seen as “remarkable.
Loc:2,237 Giles didn’t just find a project that compels remarks, but he also spread the word about the project in a venue that supports these remarks. In his case, this venue was the open-source software community. As he learned from Chad Fowler, there’s an established infrastructure in this community for noticing and spreading the word about interesting projects. Without this conduciveness to chatter, a purple cow, though striking, may never be seen. To be more concrete, if Giles had instead released Archaeopteryx as a closed-source piece of commercial software, perhaps trying to sell it from a slick website or at music conventions, it probably wouldn’t have caught fire as it did.
Loc:2,251 For a mission-driven project to succeed, it should be remarkable in two different ways. First, it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.
Loc:2,372 Driven by this insight, while my classmates contemplated their true calling, I went seeking opportunities to master rare skills that would yield big rewards. I started by hacking my study skills to become as efficient as possible. This took one semester of systematic experiments and subsequently earned me three consecutive years of a 4.0 grade point average, a period during which I never pulled an all-nighter and rarely studied past dinner. I then cashed in this asset by publishing a student-advice guide. These experiences helped me build an exciting student life—I was, I imagine, the only student on Dartmouth’s campus taking regular calls from his literary agent—but neither came from the pursuit of a pre-existing passion.
Loc:2,413 The research driving Rule #2 taught me that these plateaus are dangerous because they cut off your supply of career capital and therefore cripple your ability to keep actively shaping your working life. As my quest continued, therefore, it became clear that I needed to introduce some practical strategies into my own working life that would force me to once again make deliberate practice a regular companion in my daily routine.
Loc:2,427 Here was my first lesson: This type of skill development is hard. When I got to the first tricky gap in the paper’s main proof argument, I faced immediate internal resistance. It was as if my mind realized the effort I was about to ask it to expend, and in response it unleashed a wave of neuronal protest, distant at first, but then as I persisted increasingly tremendous, crashing over my concentration with mounting intensity. To combat this resistance, I deployed two types of structure. The first type was time structure: “I am going to work on this for one hour,” I would tell myself. “I don’t care if I faint from the effort, or make no progress, for the next hour this is my whole world.” But of course I wouldn’t faint and eventually I would make progress. It took, on average, ten minutes for the waves of resistance to die down. Those ten minutes were always difficult, but knowing that my efforts had a time limit helped ensure that the difficulty was manageable.
Loc:2,434 The second type of structure I deployed was information structure—a way of capturing the results of my hard focus in a useful form. I started by building a proof map that captured the dependencies between the different pieces of the proof. This was hard, but not too hard, and it got me warmed up in my efforts to understand the result. I then advanced from the maps to short self-administered quizzes that forced me to memorize the key definitions the proof used. Again, this was a relatively easy task, but it still took concentration, and the result was an understanding that was crucial for parsing the detailed math that came next.
Loc:2,451 More important than these small successes, however, was the new mindset this test case introduced. Strain, I now accepted, was good. Instead of seeing this discomfort as a sensation to avoid, I began to understand it the same way that a body builder understands muscle burn: a sign that you’re doing something right. Inspired by this insight, I accompanied a promise to do more large-scale paper deconstructions of this type with a trio of smaller habits designed to inject even more deliberate practice into my daily routine. > same with running/cycling. It doesn’t get easier, you just go faster. If you are comfortable you are probably not improving.
Loc:2,457 Here’s the routine: Once a week I require myself to summarize in my “bible” a paper I think might be relevant to my research. This summary must include a description of the result, how it compares to previous work, and the main strategies used to obtain
Loc:2,461 Another deliberate-practice routine was the introduction of my hour tally—a sheet of paper I mounted behind my desk at MIT, and plan on remounting at Georgetown. The sheet has a row for each month on which I keep a tally of the total number of hours I’ve spent that month in a state of deliberate practice. I started the tally sheet on March 15, 2011, and in the last two weeks of that month I experienced 12 hours of strain.
Loc:2,476 The insights of Rule #2 fundamentally changed the way I approach my work. If I had to describe my previous way of thinking, I would probably use the phrase “productivity-centric.” Getting things done was my priority. When you adopt a productivity mindset, however, deliberate practice-inducing tasks are often sidestepped, as the ambiguous path toward their completion, when combined with the discomfort of the mental strain they require, makes them an unpopular choice in scheduling decisions.
Loc:2,481 Researching Rule #2, however, changed this state of affairs by making me much more “craft-centric.” Getting better and better at what I did became what mattered most, and getting better required the strain of deliberate practice. This is a different way of thinking about work, but once you embrace it, the changes to your career trajectory can be profound.
Loc:2,545 As explained in Rule #4, a career mission is an organizing purpose to your working life. It’s what leads people to become famous for what they do and ushers in the remarkable opportunities that come along with such fame. It’s also an idea that has long fascinated me. Academia is a profession well suited for mission. If you identify professors with particularly compelling careers, and then ask what they did differently than their peers, the answer almost always involves them organizing their work around a catchy mission.
Loc:2,582 We now dive from the top level of the pyramid to the bottom level, where we find my dedication to background research. Here’s my rule: Every week, I expose myself to something new about my field. I can read a paper, attend a talk, or schedule a meeting. To ensure that I really understand the new idea, I require myself to add a summary, in my own words, to my growing “research bible” (which I introduced earlier in this conclusion when discussing how I applied Rule #2). I also try to carve out one walk each day for free-form thinking about the ideas turned up by this background research (I commute to work on foot and have a dog to exercise, so I have many such walks to choose from in my schedule).
Loc:2,588 This background-research process, which combines exposure to potentially relevant material with free-form recombination of ideas, comes straight out of Steven Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From, which I introduced in Rule #4 when talking about his notion of the adjacent possible. According to Johnson, access to new ideas and to the “liquid networks” that facilitate their mixing and matching often provides the catalyst for breakthrough new ideas.
Loc:2,593 an effective strategy for making the leap from a tentative mission idea to compelling accomplishments is to use small projects that I called “little bets” (borrowing the phrase from Peter Sims’s 2010 book of the same title). As you might recall, a little bet, in the setting of mission exploration, has the following characteristics: It’s a project small enough to be completed in less than a month. It forces you to create new value (e.g., master a new skill and produce new results that didn’t exist before). It produces a concrete result that you can use to gather concrete feedback. I use little bets to explore the most promising ideas turned up by the processes described by the bottom level of my pyramid. I try to keep only two or three bets active at a time so that they can receive intense attention. I also use deadlines, which I highlight in yellow in my planning documents, to help keep the urgency of their completion high. Finally, I also track my hours spent on these bets in the hour tally I described back in the section of this conclusion dedicated to my application of Rule #2. I found that without these accountability tools, I tended to procrastinate on this work, turning my attention to more urgent but less important matters.
Loc:2,633 Working right trumps finding the right work. He didn’t need to have a perfect job to find occupational happiness—he needed instead a better approach to the work already available to him.
Loc:2,637 It wrenches us away from our daydreams of an overnight transformation into instant job bliss and provides instead a more sober way toward fulfillment. > Cal, an inspiring downer.