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How to Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You [Book Review]

How to Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You [Book Review]

Have you ever wondered why no matter what you do, no matter how productive you are, that you’re not getting ahead? Have you ever thought that while you’re good at what you do, you may not be at the level of being “so good they can’t ignore you”?

I remember when I first started my college education in 2007. I was an “older” student and felt that I was much more prepared to get back to school and make something of myself.

That was until I realized that my productivity wasn’t that good.

I didn’t know how to study, concentrate (on the right things), read effectively, and so on. I searched for better ways to get stuff done and came across sites like Lifehack, Lifehacker, 43 Folders, and a little site called Study Hacks. I took to Study Hacks because the author, Cal Newport, was into the same type of industry I was wanting to get into — and he offered a ton of good advice to make me more effective and productive in school.

Newport has taken his advice and research skills to the next level with his new book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

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Getting to Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You

The basic premise of Newport’s book is that “skills trump passion” and that the age-old adage of “following your bliss”, quitting your job, and doing what you were destined to do, may not be the best advice. Newport argues that rather than try to find work that promotes what you are passionate about, we should try to build valuable skills that lead to “career capital” which will help us create our dream jobs and careers.

Don’t follow your passion because it could be dangerous

We are all told from a young age that we should “do what makes us happy” and that we should make sure that our jobs reflect who we are. Newport tries to disprove this thinking and then goes a step further explaining how it could be dangerous for some. Instead of chasing our dreams and following what we deem as our passion, we would be better served getting really good at something (develop our skills) and then offer our skills to people who deem them valuable.

    Cal Newport

    Passion Mindset vs. Craftsman Mindset

    This is one of my favorite ideas from the book — an idea that I’ll return to regularly. Newport suggests that to create a good career for ourselves we should adopt a “craftsman mindset” rather than a “passion mindset” that is suggested by the mainstream.

    The craftsman mindset offers “clarity”. That is, we see the work in front of us and the skills that we need to get the job done. When we have this clarity it’s easier to know what to do.

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    The passion mindset is ambiguous and pushes us to discover deeper things within ourselves. Things like “Who am I?” and “what kind of job do I need to do to be a better person?” Many of us have no idea what these things are (the vast majority) so we end up chasing something that may not even exist in our current context. Rather than chase, we can develop skills.

    The best way that Newport describes the two mindsets:

    “The first is the craftsman mindset, which focuses on what you can offer the world. The second is the passion mindset, which instead focuses on what the world can offer you.”

    By following a craftsman mindset Newport says we can develop “career capital”, which can be used as the foundation of creating work that we love.

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    “The Control Trap”

    After creating enough career capital and skill from using your craftsman mindset, Newport says the next thing that tends to happen is that we gain some control over our work, which is sort of like becoming a decision-maker (or even your own boss). While this is what many people dream their careers will eventually offer, there is a trap…a fine line that is associated with control.

    First, Newport says that you can sort of jump into control to quickly. This tends to happen when you think you can start your own business, or make decisions, etc. without enough career capital to back you up. Basically, this is like not having enough experience.

    Second, you can gain so much control that if you are in a more “traditional” job setting, your employer may force you back on a path that takes control away from you.

    The way that Newport suggests to balance this control trap is by weighing what you are trying to do (start a business, trying to gain more control in your company) by weighing its financial viability. Basically, if people are willing to pay you enough to do something that requires more control, then it’s probably a good idea to seek it.

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    Putting it all together

    The idea of the So Good They Can’t Ignore You is something new and fresh that shows us quitting your job so you can start a business on a whim or because it is something you are “passionate” about probably isn’t the best idea.

    But it goes further than that.

    Newport’s book is a plan that can be followed and can be used to create your own career capital and control so you can live a life that is truly satisfying. Rather than wishing and hoping for something that may never come (like your “dream job”), you can instead hone your skills and master your craft at this very moment to create your dream job.

    It’s nice to see someone approach this at a different, and possibly more realistic, angle than many of the career/self-help books do. Instead of finding out who you are, what makes you tick, and what is the perfect job for you, you can work your butt off and create all of that for yourself. This is refreshing and is truly motivating.

    So Good They Can’t Ignore You lives up to its title: it is so good that it can’t be ignored.

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    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on April 23, 2019

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

    While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

    For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

    While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

    I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

    Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

    Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

    Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

    The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

    Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

    What Is a Stretch Goal?

    A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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    In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

    For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

    This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

    It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

    The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

    The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

    I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

    Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

    1. Get Outside of Your Head

    If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

    If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

    I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

    Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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    2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

    When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

    I see this in so many areas of life:

    When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

    In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

    “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

    Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

    3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

    When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

    The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

    For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

    We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

    From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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    When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

    Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

    4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

    S.M.A.R.T.

    is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

    While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

    Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

    For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

    By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

    5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

    I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

    The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

    When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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    One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

    Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

    I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

    A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

    As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

    From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

    The Bottom Line

    These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

    For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

    Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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