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How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success

By: Shane Snow

Reviewed By: Bob Ruffolo

As entrepreneurs and marketers, we want fast results. Unfortunately, we aren’t typically praised for our abundance of patience, but our success.

The good news is it’s possible to accomplish tremendous feats in business without following the long, predictable, traditional “path to success.” 

This is the premise of Smartcuts. Author, Journalist, and Cofounder of Contently, Shane Snow, researched hundreds of success stories to identify patterns between those who accomplish great success in short amounts of time.

You know; the hackers, innovators, and icons of the world.

You could say Smartcuts is about working smarter, not harder, but Snow didn’t write it for people who aren’t willing to put in the work. The idea here is to find where hard work pays off quickest, instead of drudging away “paying your dues.” At IMPACT, we call them quick wins. 

One of the primary themes in Snow's book is based on making lateral moves. That is, instead of climbing the ladder of success rung-by-rung, perhaps you can jump laterally to a shorter ladder and climb from there.

It turns out successful people throughout history have used this technique to skip the traditional career path.

The Framework for Rapid Success

"Too many of us place our hopes and dreams in the unreliable hands of luck, but the world’s most rapidly successful people take luck into their own hands." - Shane Snow

According to Snow, there are three ways to reach success:

  • The hard way: This is the traditional approach – work hard, believe in yourself, out-do the competition, etc.
  • The cheap way: Outsource all of the technical stuff and bootstrap the rest yourself.

Then there’s the smart way. 

After looking into the strategies and tactics used by those with unconventional success stories, Smartcuts identifies the nine principles below as a framework to accomplish your biggest goals in the shortest amount of time. 

Principle #1 – Hacking the Ladder

Rapid success requires lateral problem solving. According to Snow, the companies who can pivot, change business models, or create new products while on the upward swing perform significantly better. They don't rest on their laurels, the adapt, change, and keep raising the bar. 

Principle #2 – Training with Masters

Learning from experts in your field, or especially working with a mentor, gives you a massive advantage over your peers.

Snow provides an example where chess students who trained with coaches increased their average ranking 168 points.

While education is essential, nothing can top experience and as important as getting your own is, you should also be willing to learn from those who already have it. 

Principle #3 – Rapid Feedback

Top performers use failure as a way to move forward, not fall back.

A pattern Snow identified shows masters of a trade have a strong preference for negative feedback over positive feedback it is more actionable.

Negative comments give you something to work on, while positive feedback alone provides no incentive for growth. 

Success people can detach their ego from their work and their performance, allowing them to genuinely receive feedback. They also have the confidence to know when negative feedback is justified or not.

Principle #4 – Platforms

As Snow puts it, “most companies are focusing on making faster horses, not automobiles.”

It’s more difficult to have rapid success when trying to build something from scratch, but building on top of existing platforms and ideas gives you a leg up. 

Snow argues that repeating what’s already been done is a waste of time when we can leverage those existing platforms and networks to create something new quicker. Consider them "templates."

Principle #5 – Catching Waves

In his book, Snow compares top performers to surfers as both are constantly looking for the perfect wave to ride.

Instead of literal waves, experts look towards the horizon to spot upcoming trends and position themselves to ride them to the top.

The traditional way to catch a wave is to chase it down by paddling aggressively as you monitor its movement patterns and adjust as you go. The smart way, however, is to track trends, anticipate the wave before it arrives, and casually float to where your paths will connect.

Calm waters can have enormous depth. The lesson is to focus more on how we think, instead of trying to memorize information.

Principle #6 – Super-connecting

By now, we are all aware of the power of networking and how it increases our odds of success in business. However, Snow goes into detail on how to build and leverage networks.

Two notable examples from Smartcuts are Frank Sinatra and JJ Abrams.

Both used networking to advance their careers. Sinatra took the approach of surrounding himself with successful people and used their credibility to establish his own reputation. (Call it early social proof if you will.) 

Abrams built a powerful network around him by continuing to give back. Even after he experienced real success in Hollywood, he continued to co-write and use his credibility to build the careers of others.

Principle #7 – Momentum

According to Snow, “momentum – not experience – is the single biggest predictor of business and personal success." As you’ve heard a million times, an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion.

As you’ve heard a million times, an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.

Small wins build our energy and help us accomplish big goals.

Snow suggests breaking challenges into small tasks and knocking them out one-by-one to build momentum.

Although many small wins seem unimportant, they create progress and steady progress is often as powerful as major breakthroughs.

Principle #8 – Simplicity

Clutter distracts the mind and slows us down.

The most successful people simplify their lives as much as possible, especially in their working environment.

Snow suggests keeping your area of practice clutter-free and organized at all times to keep you focused, but there are endless ways to reduce clutter.

President Obama, for example, only wears two colors of suits. This way he can focus his decision-making on important matters and he never has to waste time picking out a suit. (Although, I’m sure he has people to help with that now.)

Principle #9 – 10X thinking

It turns out small goals are often more difficult to achieve than larger goals and we don’t perform at our peak potential when reaching for the low-hanging fruit.

The reason behind this is simple – there’s far more competition at the bottom than there is at the top.

Snow cites research that found competition in large quantities leads to underperformance, even though it’s logical to think the opposite would be true.

Knowing there are more competitors creates a mindset where we allow ourselves to underperform and not feel as bad about it.

Key Takeaway 

Big goals can be intimidating, but taking Smartcuts is all about having them and making bold, smart moves to make them a reality in the quickest amount of time.

Before you write-off your next big idea as unrealistic, use these ideas to think it through. You may be surprised just how easy it could be to make those dreams a reality.