So Good They Can't Ignore You

By Cal Newport

Book Summary/Notes

The passion mindset vs. the craftsman mindset

The craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, whereas the passion mindset puts the focus on what the world can offer you.

Passion seekers experience of feeling of missing out on life. They ask the 'Who Am I' question only to discover it's a question that'll never provide a satisfying answer.

Who Am I is impermanent. Let go of who you think you are so you can be yourself.

Adopt the craftsman mindset

Examples: Jordan Tice and Steve Martin

At the end of the day, all that matters is what you are capable of doing. The results of the work. It's to become so damn good they can't ignore you.

When you notice others who've achieved success, don't envy them, rather emulate the work they did to achieve the success.

In marketing, it's not about the marketing per se, it's about the work that goes into the marketing. When it's damn good marketing, it will work. Spend your time writing killer copy and setting up systems to promote your work, take the focus off the result, and put it into the work.

What's the point?

Cal set out to discover how people end up loving what they do, to the extent they might even to do it despite being paid to. What's funny about that is that often times the highest paid individuals are the ones who do it for the love of it. Getting paid is just icing on the cake.

What did Cal learn?

That the 'follow your passion' is bad advice. It's more important to become rare and valuable, invest in yourself and build career capital.

Bored, valuable, and ambitious - a dangerous combination.


Cal argues that people who love what they do may not have had have a passion for their vocation. That people waste too much time searching for the perfect fit for their passions.

Instead, he proposes that you build career capital, and that this is the key to creating work you love. It's about acquiring career capital so you are so good people can't ignore you. You do this by adopting a craftsman mindset, which demands a relentless focus on creating value for others in what you do. The key is deliberate practice, which is reflected in stretching yourself day after day. It's about doing the hard work most people are unwilling to do. It's often the opposite of enjoyable.

While deliberate practice is common for musicians, athletes, and other performers, it's less common for knowledge workers. Cal reveals this is one of the secrets to creating work you love. If you approach your job as an athlete approaches their sport, you'll start to build a level of expertise that is above average. As a result, you'll start to become so good they can't ignore you.

One important note: Be sure to pick a job that provides opportunities to develop relevant skills you can leverage to distinguish yourself as rare and valuable from the rest. Not every job provides these options.

4 Rules

Cal boils his 'manifesto' down to 4 rules:

Rule 1 - Skills trump passion. Cal shares that from high school, he figured out that focusing on what people are willing pay you for is key.

Rule 2 - Build enough career capital to become 'rare and valuable' in your industry. Your dedication to deliberate practice matters more than intelligence or talent.

Rule 3 - Control. Being able do define what you do and how you do it to a large extent defines job satisfaction. But this 'control' is limited to what people will pay you for (see the law of financial viability below).

Rule 4 - Think small, act big. Take little bets to see if the mission will fly. The law of remarkability.


"Diligence" as defined by Steve Martin refers to the discipline to ignore other pursuits that pop up along the way to distract you. You must be willing to reject the "shiny new pursuits," otherwise you'll dilute your efforts before you acquire the necessary capital to be the best.

Deliberate Practice

It takes time to get good, so be patient.

Deliberate Practice: What It Is, What It's Not, and How to Use It (James Clear)

The Beginner's Guide to Deliberate Practice | James Clear

The Law of Financial Viability

Mantra: Do what people are willing to pay you for.

"Money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, you're aiming to be more valuable." ~ Derek Sivers

Just because you love yoga doesn't mean you should run out and become a yoga instructor. Is there a financially viable path to it?

Deploying Hard Focus - Structures

The key to deliberate practice.

Time Structures are when you commit to doing something for a predefined period of time. "I will work on this for 1 hour." Then let go of the result and focus on doing your best work within the timeframe allocated.

Information Structures is how you assemble information to produce a result. This why I use PubWriter to articulate my ideas into a form that is reusable.

Straining is energy. When I am on a roll, whether it's teaching a new ukulele lesson or writing an engaging piece like this, I feel a surge of energy. Straining is not draining. What's draining is repeating what's already been done.

Cal's 'Research Bible'

Every week, he'd go back to a single document on his computer. His 'bible' was where he summarized everything he head studied that week relevant to his research. It's where he'll compare and contrast what he learns against prior information. It allows him to see the results of his sustained deliberate practice.

Cal's 'Hour-Tally' sheet

A version of the 'Don't Break The Chain' where he tracks the time spent in deliberate practice on a project. This is very much what I do when I track my hours in AuthorDock. It requires a timer and an index card. You write the point of focus on the index card and you set the timer. Keeping a log throughout the day will give you a sense of accomplishment like no other. It will also give you a new appreciation for the true time required to produce remarkable results.

Little Bets


One thing I really love about this approach is that it reinforces a lesson I learned from Mark Sanborn years ago. When he decided he wanted to become a professional speaker, he didn't worry about marketing. Instead, he put his time and energy into delivering the absolute best performance he could every time he stepped on the stage. As a result, he was referred, rehired, and in demand. No question having a best selling book (The Fred Factor) helped too!

Further Reading