How to be So Good They Can’t Ignore You

As a knowledge worker the way to become “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” is by becoming a craftsman.

Here are the five steps from Cal Newport’s book, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love

Step 1: Determine What Capital Market You’re In

Is it a winner-take-all market or an auction market?

In a winner take all market there is only one type of career capital available, and lots of different people are 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 script-writing capability.

An auction market is less structured with many different types of career capital, and each person can generate a unique collection. Entrepreneurship is an auction market where many different types of career capital can help you succeed in the role (engineering, marketing, product, growth, sales etc).

Step 2: Identify Your Capital Type

If you’re in a winner-take-all market, this is trivial: By definition, there’s only one type of capital that matters.

For an auction market, however, you have flexibility. A useful heuristic in this situation is to seek open gates. This means look for opportunities to build capital that are already open to you.

It helps to think about skill acquisition is like a freight train; it takes a lot of energy to get it moving but once the train is moving its easy to change tracks.

Step 3: Define Good

The way to build career capital is through deliberate practice.

But deliberate practice requires good goals.

As a musician, this could be mastering or learning a new complicated technique.

As an entrepreneur this could be hitting a growth target, a revenue number, hiring talented people etc.

A reminder here that you don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems. So as good as your goals are, ask yourself what is the system you have in place to maintain consistency (more on this in step 5).

Step 4: Search & Destroy

If you “show up and do as you’re told” you will eventually reach an “acceptable level” of ability before plateauing.

The good news: Deliberate practice will push you past this plateau into a realm where you have little competition.

The bad news: Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable.

Here’s a heuristic to determine if you are deliberately practicing: If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an acceptable level.

Pushing past what’s comfortable 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. Take constant feedback to improve. For example, in startups / entrepreneurship the best feedback you can get is… from your customers! Are they using your product? Are they evangelists for your product? Are they paying you? A great mindset to have here is strong opinions, loosely held.

Step 5: Be Patient

The final step for applying deliberate practice is to become extremely diligent.

Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy.

Take playing the banjo. If you played the banjo every single day for 40 years, it would be almost impossible to not become good at playing the banjo. This is how Steve Martin explained his strategy for learning the Banjo.

So be patient.

An important thing to remember here is it’s less about paying attention to your main pursuit (learning to play the banjo) and more about your willingness to ignore other pursuits that pop up along the way to distract you (TV, movies, social media… really anything but playing the banjo).

And eventually, one day, after stretching yourself and being uncomfortable, day after day, week after week, month after month… you’ll realize, “Wow, I’m actually pretty good at X.”

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