The breakthrough power of lateral thinking.
Whereas by dictionary definition shortcuts can be amoral, you can think of smartcuts as shortcuts with integrity.
Abagnale took shortcuts and regretted it. Franklin used smartcuts and got his face on a $100 bill.
I’m convinced that true success has more to do with our becoming better people and building a better world while we do these things than it does with the size of our bank accounts.
I see this book as a simultaneous hat tip and counterpoint to some of the great success and innovation literature out there (check out shanesnow.com/booklist for my recommendations). It’s a re-analysis and first codification of the ways rapid success has happened throughout history.
patterns of lateral thinking (smartcuts)
The players eliminated resistance by breaking the big challenge (acquire something valuable like a TV) into a series of easier, repeatable challenges (make a tiny trade).
“Startups that pivot once or twice raise 2.5x more money, have 3.6x better user growth, and are 52% less likely to scale prematurely.”
Mentorship is the secret of many of the highest-profile achievers throughout history.
Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, studied and stole moves from master retailers fabulously well. He openly admitted it. “Most everything I’ve done, I’ve copied from someone else,” he said. The problem is that two people can study the same business model, watch the same video, or even take the same advice from a mentor, and one person might pick up critical details that the other misses. The late literary giant Saul Bellow would call someone with the ability to spot important details among noise a “first-class noticer.”
Oscar Wilde once said, “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.”
“If you’re not failing you are either very lucky, very good, or not pushing the boundaries enough,” Staats says.
All great successes make mistakes along the way. NBA star Michael Jordan missed more than 9,000 shots and lost 300 games in his career. He was the best, and he failed a lot.
Crucially, experts tended to be able to turn off the part of their egos that took legitimate feedback personally when it came to their craft, and they were confident enough to parse helpful feedback from incorrect feedback. Meanwhile novices psyched themselves out. They needed encouragement and feared failure.
The tough part about negative feedback is in separating ourselves from the perceived failure and turning our experiences into objective experiments. But when we do that, feedback becomes much more powerful.
They know, because they got the feedback early, and often. “Speed is an essential part of our game,” Leonard explains. “The rapid feedback . . . it’s non-stop.”
In an age of platforms, creative problem solving is more valuable than computational skill.
As the saying, attributed to Dr. Seuss, goes: “It is better to know how to learn than to know.”*
“You can build on top of a lot of things that exist in this world,” David Heinemeier Hansson told me. “Somebody goes in and does that hard, ground level science based work. “And then on top of that,” he smiles, “you build the art.”
The best way to be in the water when the wave comes is to budget time for swimming.
Grant would know. He wrote the book on the subject. In his bestseller, Give and Take, he presents rigorous research showing that a disproportionate number of the most successful people in a given industry are extremely generous. From medical students to engineers to salespeople, his studies find givers at the top of the ladder.
“The number one problem with networking is people are out for themselves,” says Scott Gerber, founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, who coined the term superconnector.
“Superconnecting is about learning what people need, then talking about ‘how do we create something of value.’”
No matter the medium or method, giving is the timeless smartcut for harnessing superconnectors and creating serendipity.
“Design for Extreme Affordability,” or how to create products for people who live on less than a dollar a
Innovation is about doing something differently, rather than creating something from nothing (invention) or doing the same thing better (improvement).
The key feature of disruptively innovative products is cost savings (either time or money). But the key ingredient behind the scenes of every disruptive product is simplification.
Like Holmes, hackers strip the unnecessary from their lives. They zero in on what matters. Like great writers, innovators have the fortitude to cut the adverbs. This is why Apple founder Steve Jobs’s closet was filled with dozens of identical black turtlenecks and Levi’s 501 jeans—to simplify his choices. US presidents do the same thing. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” President Barack Obama told Michael Lewis for his October 2012 Vanity Fair cover story. “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing? How could that possibly make one better at governing? Or problem solving? And isn’t variety the very spice of life? What about creativity? Or not going crazy? What he’s talking about has been proven in experiments led by Dr. Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota, experiments that show that making lots of tiny choices depletes one’s subsequent self-control. Students who were forced to decide between products for long periods of time had significantly less willpower afterward than classmates who answered random questions instead.
Notes: 1) understanding minimalism
Apparently, patience and willpower, even creativity, are exhaustible resources. That’s why so many busy and powerful people practice mind-clearing meditation and stick to rigid daily routines: to minimize distractions and maximize good decision making.
Similarly, Apple’s iPod won the MP3 player war with breakthrough simplicity, both in physical design and how the company explained it. While other companies touted “4 Gigabytes and a 0.5 Gigahertz processor!” Apple simply said, “1,000 songs in your pocket.”
Creativity comes easier within constraints
as Musk likes to say, “The first step is to establish that something is possible; then probability will occur.”
“Generally speaking, if you’re gonna make something ten percent better than the way things currently are, you better be great in sales and marketing, because you’re gonna have to talk people into changing their behavior for a very marginal increase in value,” explains Astro Teller.
“If, on the other hand, you make something ten times better for a large number of people—you really produce huge amounts of new value—the money’s gonna come find you. Because it would be hard not to make money if you’re really adding that much value.” This is exactly
Big causes attract big believers, big investors, big capital, big-name advisers, and big talent. They force us to rethink convention and hack the ladder of success. To engage with masters and to leverage waves and platforms and superconnectors. To swing and to simplify, to quickly turn failure into feedback. To become not just bigger, but truly better. And they remind us, once again, that together we can achieve the implausible.
a first-class noticer, a master of tiny details about how shoes are put together and how consumers on the street think about them.
He was in the water before the wave came.