There is a hard way and then a smart way
The subtitle of Smartcuts
by Shane Snow, a New York-based writer and web entrepreneur, is, “How Hackers, Innovators and Icons Accelerate Success”. We know about innovators and icons but who are hackers? Welcome to a new Americanism (in case you do not know it already) that everyone working in the area of digital marketing and start-ups now uses. Terms like ‘growth hacking’ and ‘life hacking’ are products of this new usage of hack, which probably comes from computerese—hacking. It simply means cracking the code.
We all know that success is about hard work, diligence and talent. But how is it that some people are more successful in cutting downtime, racing multiple steps ahead, finishing faster and so on? To quote some real-life examples, how does a start-up like Snapchat or Whatsapp go from zero to billions of users in just a few months? “How did Alexander the Great, YouTube tycoon (Michelle Phan), and Tonight Show host (Jimmy Fallon) climb to the top in less time than it takes most of us to get a promotion?” By having a hacker’s mindset and thinking laterally.
The traditional route to success is to “work 100 hours a week, believe you can do it, visualize, and push yourself harder than everyone else.” This is an unnecessarily hardworking model today. The world has changed. In the 19th century, it took John D Rockefeller, the oil tycoon, 46 years to make $1 billion. Today, Internet entrepreneurs like becoming billionaires in a fraction of the time-even accounting for inflation.
We are only limited by our thinking. Snow cites futurist Ray Kurzweil’s essay, “The Law of Accelerating Returns”, which argues that in the 21st century, hundreds of years of progress will be compressed in a matter of decades. Communication is faster, tools of progress are numerous.
However, we are all mired in the past. As Snow puts it, traditional thinking says to earn success, we have to pay our dues and take our time moving slowly up the ladder. Snow suggests that we learn from those who become United States presidents, like Barack Obama, without labouring their way through the Senate or the Congress, or web entrepreneurs, or businessmen like Elon Musk who launched his own rockets. They all “buck the norm and do incredible things in implausibly short amounts of time.” This is also why renowned physicist Freeman Dyson says six-year-old kids should be given calculators and not be forced to learn multiplication tables.
With youthful looks and frizzy hair, Shane Snow is instantly compared to Malcolm Gladwell especially because, like Gladwell, he blends academic research with gripping anecdotes of an astounding variety—Cuban revolutionaries to stand-up comedians to cardiac surgeons to racing car-drivers to record-holders of videogames. How do they do it? Snow thinks he has found the formula, which he divides into three sections—shorten, leverage and soar—covering nine chapters.
Shorten: According to Snow, ‘shortening’ doesn’t mean replacing hard work, but eliminating cycles that were previously thought necessary. How do you shorten the course? You try to find shortcuts others have missed, you train with masters and you use rapid feedback.
Leverage: ‘Leveraging’ means getting the biggest bang for your buck for your time, effort and money spent. How do you create the lever that will catapult you to record heights? You use a platform, ride the waves and ‘network’ (now a verb).
Soar: Snow uses this term to describe the use of upward momentum, not experience, to dictate one’s own personal success. How do you soar over the competition? You look for an opportunity to ride the momentum, make your product or service or your appeal utterly simple and, finally, think of a change that is 10 times in magnitude from what is currently practised.
Smartcut is not shortcut. Shortcuts are unsustainable in the long run, whereas smartcuts are sustainable and ethical ways of getting ahead through ‘lateral thinking’, or the act of reframing problems to challenge their basic assumptions. A fascinating book.