Explore Lots of Ideas and Get Feedback, Systematically

It was about three years ago that I discovered study hacks advice on a blog authored by Cal Newport. I have been reading since. Cal is an Asst. Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University.

He has written a few books over the years. The ideas he put forth in his most recent one, while deceivingly simple, are the most interesting to me — because they run counter the prevalent cultural belief that all you need to succeed is to “follow your passion.” 

So Good They Can’t Ignore You debunks that long-held belief and advice we may receive and provides the path for building a body of work we can be proud of, which in turn makes us successful. It hives with my belief that it is success that creates success, and not the other way around.

The story of how the title came about is quite appropriate to the main themes that underpin the path: 1) systematizing idea exploration and constant feedback, and 2) deliberate practice.

Rather than prescriptive list, Cal suggests the Martin Method is a mindset#. It is up to us to figure out what you are — or want to become — really good at doing, and going about honing those skills through deliberate practice.

I have a running notebook I keep on my desk where I annotate the things I am going to work on, the ideas I explore here and in my readings, conversations, at work, during conferences, watching presentations of speakers I admire, feedback I receive, quotes that inspire me.

I write in long hand and build my own bullet points around the themes themselves.

It does not need to be very complicated. After every client presentation, team meeting, talk, panel moderation, and worklab, I jot down:

  • what went well — data points in support (for example, energy in the room, the highest paid person stays the whole meeting)
  • what could go better — feedback (it could even be body language like people shifting in their chairs, or running out of time)
  • what I learned / need to think about — 1-3 key pragmatic and actionable take aways to jot down while the memory is fresh

That is how I get better. What moves you to get better?


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.

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