The book is an excellent collection of rules which the author discovered while finishing his Ph.D. and transitioning into a full-time faculty position.
Working right trumps finding the right work.
Rule #1: Don’t follow your passion
- Passion hypothesis assumes that there is a pre-existing passion and key to occupational happiness is to find a job that matches that passion. If Steve Jobs continued onto his passion, he might have lived a life as a Buddhist monk. (Ashish’s note: During his India visit, Jobs began to admire Edison more than Neem Karoli Baba.) But he pursued building PCs which at least for an initial period of his life was not his passion. The danger of passion hypothesis lies in the fact that as soon as someone starts feeling dissatisfied about their work, they start thinking that there is some other magic job which is their passion and they should pursue that. The passion mindset is selfish. It demands the world to offer you something which you believe is the right job for you. Of course, some rare individuals have passion, but that’s more of an exception than the norm.
- Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is to follow your passion.
- Job – which provides money on day to day basis
Career – a path towards increasingly better work
Calling – a work which is an integral part of one’s life and identity
- Self-determination theory – intrinsic motivation for work comes from three factors – autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Autonomy is the feeling of control over day to work and that your actions are important. Competence is the feeling that you are good at what you do. Relatedness is the feeling of connection to other people.
Rule #2: Importance of skill (Be so good they can’t ignore you)
- Things that define great work are creativity, impact, and control.
- The traits that define great work are rare. To have a rare work opportunity, one has to offer “career capital” in return.
- Career capital – a set of rare and valuable skills pertaining to one’s career which one has developed over time. One develops career capital over time by doing hours (10,000-hour rule) of practice. One should allocate the majority of the time to deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is an organized practice aimed at stretching one beyond his/her capabilities with immediate feedback as opposed to allocated to practicing via real work/competition. Deliberate practice stretches a person beyond his/her comfort limits, and hence, it’s not enjoyable. For a deliberate practice to succeed, one has to focus and concentrate, as opposed to mindlessly spending time, on it. If you show up and work hard, you will soon hit a performance plateau. Career capital markets can either be winner-take-all, which implies only one skill should be improved continuously or auction, where many forms of career capital are valuable. While building career capital try to seek open gates (“easily accessible opportunities”) rather than starting from scratch. Starting from scratch sounds lucrative except it’s much harder to pull off.
- Craftsmen mindset (as opposed to passion mindset) focuses on producing a good outcome and relentlessly improving it irrespective of what you are working on.
- The craftsmen mindset cannot be applied if “job presents few opportunities to distinguish oneself by developing right skills” or (if you believe) “job is useless or adds negative value to the world” or “job forces you to work with people you don’t like”.
Rule #3: Importance of control
- Getting more control over what you do and how you do it increases the sense of happiness, engagement, and fulfillment.
- First, control trap – It’s always dangerous to pursue more control in your life before you have sufficient career capital to offer in exchange.
- Second control trap – Once you have acquired sufficient career capital to obtain more control of work life, the employer will fight your efforts in gaining more autonomy.
- The law of financial viability – When trying to follow a pursuit which will introduce more control into your life, seeks evidence of whether people are willing to pay for it. If you don’t find the evidence, move on. Money is a neutral indicator of whether your pursuit adds any value to their life. Thus, this law helps in evaluating whether a control trap is of the first type or the second.
Rule #4: Importance of mission (Think small, act big)
- A mission without career capital is not meaningful – missions, just like scientific discoveries, are in the adjacent possible of the frontier of cutting edge. Thus, only those who have acquired meaningful career capital in a field can think of a meaningful mission in that field.
Life of Pardis Sabeti – She loved Maths in high school. But for undergrad at MIT, she chose Biology since she heard they had a better emphasis on teaching. Then she went to Oxford for a Ph.D. in Genetics (biological anthropology). There she became interested in infectious diseases in Africa. She returned to Harvard School for MD to become a doctor. But she started working with Eric Lander, a geneticist at MIT, in parallel. She then decided that she won’t become a doctor but would instead focus on using computational genetics to combat diseases in Africa. Of course, this mission became apparent to her because she was working at the frontiers of current work.
- A mission requires little bets – To maximize the chance of success, deploy small (~1-month time frame) concrete experiments which return concrete feedback.
- A mission requires marketing – A mission must be an idea which inspires people to remark about it and one should launch it in a venue where such remarking is easy.
Life of Giles Bowkett – He started his career as a screenplay writer, then moved to web design in 1996. His career stagnated afterward, and he began taking courses at a community college, in both liberal arts and tech. Then He launched an open source version of Archaeopteryx (a Ruby MIDI generator) in 2008 and then spoke at 15 conferences that year about the same. That started his career as Ruby rock star.
- Cal Newport’s mission-development system – Top level, a guiding statement for the mission; middle level, a month-long exploratory work which forces the person to create new value; produces a concrete result so that, concrete feedback can be collected; and a bottom level, which involves regular background research for the mission.