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Zain Rizvi

Software Engineer, Experimenter, Life-long Student. Working at Google improving GCP AI Platform Notebooks

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These are my notes from Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love

I’m going to skip the persuasive arguments that Cal listed and jump straight to the conclusions that resonated with me

Value your Autonomy

“Find your Passion” is a lie. That’s not how humans work

Reality: We become passionate about any work that can meet certain requirements

The Three Keys to Enjoying Work (from Self Determination Theory):

  1. Autonomy - You have control and make your own decisions
  2. Competence - You’re good at it
  3. Social Connections - You’re connected to others

You’re likely to enjoy any work that gives you the above three.

Going deeper, great work tends to have the following traits:

  • It lets you be Creative
  • The work has Impact
  • You can Control what you do

Note that each of these falls under one of the above three keys

Develop Rare Skills to become Valuable

Develop rare and valuable skills to stand out in your job.

Cal calls these skills “capital” since these are the “money” that you can use to “purchase/acquire” higher value positions.

Developing these rare skills/capital requires stretching your skills and developing rapid feedback loops so you can improve faster.

Steps to stretch your skill:

  1. Identify the skill/capital you’re going after
  2. Define a “good” level of that skill (your goal)
  3. Stretch yourself in that skill via deliberate practice

Traps to Avoid

There are two traps that you might fall into as you try to advance in your career:

Control Trap #1: Grabbing too much responsibility

You can’t sustain control without having the skills/capital to back it up. You won’t be able to deliver on your promises and will fail.

Of course, it’s hard to know when you’re really ready for the next stage. So this really becomes a judgement call

Control Trap #2: Trading away freedom for other rewards

When you become more valuable, employers will want to offer you incentives to get you to keep providing value for them.

This could be a good thing. You may be happy with the extra money, etc. But this may also reduce your freedom & your control over your own life.

The lesson here is to be conscious of the trade-off you’re making so that you know you’re doing what’s best for you

Make your work Remarkable

A great project will be based on a mission. But in order to be successful, that project and mission need to be remarkable

What is meant by remarkable?

  • People will talk about it (remark) in casual conversation (“you have to see this”, viral messages, etc)
    • Controversial things also fall into this bucket. Use this knowledge with caution

Tactic for increasing your product’s chances to be remarked upon:

Spread the word about your project in a venue which supports those remarks. “Supports” could refer to a venue filled with people interested in the project, a venue that makes sharing easy etc. (e.g. a social media forum focused on an area related to your project)