Rating 9.0/10

My summary:

Quite the motivational book. Cal opines about the virtues of becoming really good at a thing, anything. Deliberate practice is the name of the game here. The book’s subtitle says it all, “Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love”. A quick read, that constantly makes you want to get off the couch and go produce something!


The narratives in this book are bound by a common thread: the importance of ability. The things that make a great job great, I discovered, are rare and valuable. If you want them in your working life, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return. In other words, you need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.

Of course, mastery by itself is not enough to guarantee happiness: The many examples of well-respected but miserable workaholics support this claim.

Glass emphasizes that it takes time to get good at anything, recounting the many years it took him to master radio to the point where he had interesting options. “The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase,” he says.

The happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do.

SDT tells us that motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs—factors described as the “nutriments” required to feel intrinsically motivated for your work: Autonomy: the feeling that you have control over your day, and that your actions are important Competence: the feeling that you are good at what you do Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people.

In a piano, everything is laid out clearly in front of you; ten fingers never getting in the way of one another. On the guitar, you have to budget your fingers.

If you’re not focusing on becoming so good they can’t ignore you, you’re going to be left behind.

Whereas the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you. This mindset is how most people approach their working lives.

With this in mind, it’s only natural to envy the clarity of performers like Jordan Tice. But here’s the core argument of Rule #2: You shouldn’t just envy the craftsman mindset, you should emulate it. In other words, I am suggesting that you put aside the question of whether your job is your true passion, and instead turn your focus toward becoming so good they can’t ignore you. That is, regardless of what you do for a living, approach your work like a true performer.

The traits that define great work are rare and valuable. Supply and demand says that if you want these traits you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your career capital. The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you,” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital. This is why it trumps the passion mindset if your goal is to create work you love.

That is, deliberate practice might provide the key to quickly becoming so good they can’t ignore you.

The advantage of open gates is that they get you farther faster, in terms of career capital acquisition, than starting from scratch.

This is what you should experience in your own pursuit of “good.” If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level.”

Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.

If you embrace control without capital, you’re likely to end up like Jane, Lisa, or our poor frustrated lifestyle designer—enjoying all the autonomy you can handle but unable to afford your next meal.

“Rather than believing they have to start with a big idea or plan out a whole project in advance,” he writes, “they make a methodical series of little bets about what might be a good direction, learning critical information from lots of little failures and from small but significant wins” [emphasis mine]. This rapid and frequent feedback, Sims argues, “allows them to find unexpected avenues and arrive at extraordinary outcomes.”

This law says that for a project to transform a mission into a success, it should be remarkable in two ways. First, it must literally compel people to remark about it. Second, it must be launched in a venue conducive to such remarking.

Most knowledge workers avoid the uncomfortable strain of deliberate practice like the plague, a reality emphasized by the typical cubicle dweller’s obsessive e-mail–checking habit—for what is this behavior if not an escape from work that’s more mentally demanding?

If I had to describe my previous way of thinking, I would probably use the phrase “productivity-centric.” Getting things done was my priority. When you adopt a productivity mindset, however, deliberate practice-inducing tasks are often sidestepped, as the ambiguous path toward their completion, when combined with the discomfort of the mental strain they require, makes them an unpopular choice in scheduling decisions. It’s much easier to redesign your graduate-student Web page than it is to grapple with a mind-melting proof.

Header photo © uwaterloo.ca
Body photo © amazon.com