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Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success

Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success [Kindle Edition]

Shane Snow
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Product Description


“As fascinating as it is fun, Smartcuts is an engaging journey through the types of lateral thinking and creative strategies that so often underlie success.” (Maria Konnikova, New York Times bestselling author of Mastermind)

Smartcuts solves a major mystery, illuminating how visionaries and pioneers find faster ways to achieve their goals. With spellbinding stories and relevant research, Shane Snow has delivered one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking books of the year.” (--Adam Grant, Wharton professor and author of Give and Take)

Smartcuts is surprising and awesome. It’s Malcolm Gladwell meets Tim Ferriss. Part Good to Great, part McGuyver, this is a book every 21st century entrepreneur should read.” (Scott Gerber, Founder, Young Entrepreneurs Council)

“Shane is living proof that Smartcuts work. He hacked his way into Fast Company, Wired and Ad Age, built a multi-million dollar startup by age 30, and now he’s written his first of what I’m sure will be many excellent books. Follow this guy!” (--Ryan Holiday, bestselling author of Trust Me I'm Lying and The Obstacle Is The Way)

“Shane Snow is a fresh and future-thinking voice in today’s tumultuous business climate. You must read Smartcuts if you are a social entrepreneur or would like to be one, because what Shane teaches us most of all is to be “bigger than just business.” (--Soraya Darabi, Co-founder of Zady and Foodspotting)

“[Smartcuts] is a manifesto for success for those who do not want to toil away unnoticed.” (Financial Times)

“It’s worth its weight in 10 airport business books, in part because Snow is such a clear, beautiful writer who does not succumb to aphorism and business gobbledygook.” (New York Times Insider)

Product Description

Entrepreneur and journalist Shane Snow (Wired, Fast Company, The New Yorker, and cofounder of Contently) analyzes the lives of people and companies that do incredible things in implausibly short time.

How do some startups go from zero to billions in mere 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? What do high-growth businesses, world-class heart surgeons, and underdog marketers do in common to beat the norm?

One way or another, they do it like computer hackers. They employ what psychologists call "lateral thinking: to rethink convention and break "rules" that aren't rules.

These are not shortcuts, which produce often dubious short-term gains, but ethical "smartcuts" that eliminate unnecessary effort and yield sustainable momentum. In Smartcuts, Snow shatters common wisdom about success, revealing how conventions like "paying dues" prevent progress, why kids shouldn't learn times tables, and how, paradoxically, it's easier to build a huge business than a small one.

From SpaceX to The Cuban Revolution, from Ferrari to Skrillex, Smartcuts is a narrative adventure that busts old myths about success and shows how innovators and icons do the incredible by working smarter—and how perhaps the rest of us can, too.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 410 KB
  • Print Length: 277 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0062302450
  • Publisher: HarperBusiness (9 Sep 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #65,082 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Very badly written - but worthwhile 29 Nov 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
Really badly written book. The author seems to love long overly complex flowery sentences instead of concise efficient writing.

Having said that the actual content is interesting.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read 21 Oct 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Great book with excellent insights backed up by real world examples. Author has a very engaging writing style. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book. Re-reading this immediately 23 Dec 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Really interesting ideas bound up in compelling stories. Great book. Re-reading this immediately.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  141 reviews
124 of 126 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent writing that keeps you going 4 Sep 2014
By Brian R. - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Most business strategy and self improvement books are dry and boring. This one is none of those. It was the right mix of tech language yet some of the more complex ideas were explained in laymans' terms. In each chapter or section, Shane gives multiple examples of what he's trying to explain, and often like a novel, will track 3 or 4 different experiences at once. He'll then bring them all back together by the end of the chapter to make a cohesive point about what he's explaining.

He presents not just the examples that support his ideas, but also gives examples of people who, when faced with similar situations, also fail. This lends some credibility and lets you see what that line is between a "smartcut" and a "shortcut". While there's still a lot of factors that go into creating and capitalizing on a Smartcut, he supports his ideas and the concept well.

At the very least, this book will give you the awareness that climbing the ladder rung by rung is not the only option. It's not always easy to spot and use a Smartcut, but reading this book will help you prepare for doing it. I'd say this book is a lot like Rich Dad, Poor Dad. It's a philosophy and mindset that needs adopted in order to get any benefit. And while it might not always be at the front of your mind, having this knowledge in your back pocket will add to your skillset and strategy as you make your way through your career.

Smartcuts is honestly one of the most well-written books I've read.
95 of 97 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and thought provoking look at accelerated success 30 Aug 2014
By Alain B. Burrese - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I've personally wondered why some things or people rise to the top quickly, and why others never seem to make it. That made Shane Snow's “Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success” a very interesting read. The concept of applying lateral thinking, as computer hackers do, to break rules and reach career heights quickly was not only interesting, but provided some insightful secrets to how some succeeded.

To illustrate the concept of lateral thinking, Snow profiles some unique individuals and businesses and how they achieved accelerated success. I found these stories both fascinating and educational. These profiles included Jimmy Fallon's rise to stardom, David Heinemeier Hanson's quick rise in racing, Michelle Phan's video climb, and D'Wayne Edwards' shoe design quest among others. Cpmpanies include SpaceX, Skrilex and more. All of these stories kept my attention, and illustrated the points Snow wanted to make in this book.

These points, or concepts, cover hacking the ladder, training with masters, rapid feedback, platforms, catching waves, superconnecting, momentum, simplicity and 10X thinking.

There might not be any shortcuts to success, but these stories by Shane Snow prove there are Smartcuts to accelerated career climbing and business growing. Or at least there were for certain individuals and companies. That is the one part of the book that isn't explored, and that is what about people or businesses that do the same, but don't achieve the same rate of success? What if someone's “gut feeling” for catching waves is wrong? How do you ensure your “gut feeling” is accurate and correct?

I really enjoyed reading about the people and businesses in this book, and I liked the concepts. It really is a thought provoking book when you think about how the ideas might apply to other ventures. And that there is the challenge. How can these concepts apply to other careers and companies? The book definitely has ideas, people, and businesses to role model, which could trim years off of the standard “pay your dues” route to the top. However it would be difficult to state that everyone who reads this book and follows the principles will attain accelerated success. But I guess you won't know that unless you give them a try. I do think the stories are motivational, and the ideas are thought provoking, so by reading this book, you just might increase the chances of succeeding much quicker than if you don't read it.
74 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smartcuts is very smart & fun 29 Aug 2014
By Gaetan Lion - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book serves as an original career and entrepreneurship guide in the 21st century (which was not the intent of the author). The main thesis of Shane Snow is that luck does not just happen. Using surfing metaphors, Snow indicates that the ones who catch the wave (luck) are the ones who were ready all along looking for it. These remarkable individuals were bound to catch a good wave (luck) sooner or later. It was just a matter of time. And, the way they went about it; they did not waste much time doing it. They did not pay their dues for decades. They spent no time in stagnant situations. They kept moving forward and often laterally (typically a lot faster than the rest of us). This does not mean they did not work very hard. They did. It does not mean they cheated and cut corners. To the contrary, they maintained superior ethical standards. Snow defines smart cuts as short cuts with integrity. These individuals worked smarter, more creatively, and better understood how to take their next step. Most often, they were guided by a life-passion, an interest, a focus that kept them honed like a heat-missile towards their target.

Snow outlines nine foundational smart cuts principles that can accelerate anyone’s career or one’s company growth. They all make perfect sense, are intuitive, not controversial, and not far-fetched. Snow does not make anything up. Every single of his smart cuts principle is well supported by research and documented by many examples.

The smart-cut thinking is an offshoot of “lateral thinking” as defined and developed by Edward de Bono. And, Snow gives de Bono his due credit for the concept. However, while I have read most of de Bono’s books, and did find them interesting; I find Snow’s book far more insightful.

Each chapter describes thoroughly one of the smart-cut strategies on a stand-alone basis. Of course, they overlap a bit and work well simultaneously. But, it is amazing how powerful each one of those strategies is on a stand-alone basis.

There are numerous passages within the book that are pretty fascinating. The contrast between the careers of US Presidents and US senators is amazing. The Presidents are often outstanding smartcutters with a surprisingly short career in Federal office before acceding to the Presidency (Eisenhower, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush Jr., and Obama among others). Meanwhile, the senators are for the most part stagnant plotters; and, very few of them ever make it to President. Snow even makes the case that some of the Presidents who paid their dues with a lifelong career in politics were some of the worse Presidents (example: Andrew Johnson). Good Presidents mainly acquired leadership credentials outside the field of (national) politics. Meaning, paying your dues career-long is no guarantee of mastery once you get there.

Another interesting fact is that companies who switch fields are often very successful. Moving laterally often causes one to accelerate. The IPhone was developed not by a telecommunication company, but Apple a PC company. Start-ups that “pivot” once or twice raise 2.5 more money, have 3.6 times faster user growth, and are 52% less likely to plateau prematurely.

In another section, you learn about a team of hospital surgeons who learn how to synchronize their surgeries and patient treatments inspired by the exactitude, speed, and efficiency of a racing car formula I team of outstanding mechanics working at the races. Quoting the author: “Before long, the hospital had reduced its worst … errors by 66%.” As an extra, the formula I racers, mechanics, and hospital doctors became very good friends and participated together in fund raisers for various charities.

The whole “Rapid Feedback” strategy (chapter 3) is really interesting. It details the comedians learning processes at The Second City in Chicago. It also shares research on how we learn from mistakes and feedback. Much research show that we actually learn more from the mistakes of others rather than our own. This is because we readily attribute the mistake of others to humans. Meanwhile, we attribute our own mistakes to external circumstances beyond our control so as to protect our own ego. Apparently, what differentiates some masters in whatever discipline from others is their ability to withstand, or even their eagerness to solicit negative criticism. They find negative criticism far more actionable to facilitate their progress.

“Waves” (chapter 5) is at the essence of the book. That’s where Snow goes all out with surfing metaphors that he effortlessly transfers into a multitude of real life and career related examples. He quotes a professional surfer stating: “Being able to pick and read good waves is almost more important than surfing well.” You can see how you could plug in this concept effectively in many situations. There are a couple of specific gems in this chapter that will stay with you. One of them is the amazing power of pattern recognition. If you analyze deliberate trends, use criteria, observe the facts, etc… amateurs undertaking this kind of trend analysis will invariably outsmart experts’ intuition in just about any field. Snow mentions a few weird examples such as the ability to recognize the difficulty level of a professional basketball shots; or the ability to pick out Louis Vuitton fake bags vs authentic ones. Thus, “you can be right the first time” without years of apprenticeship. This will be music to the ears of all the data guys out there (not just the Big Data one). “Deliberate pattern spotting can compensate for experience” as stated by the author. Another gem is that you don’t need to be the first to do something and be successful. Research showed that 47% of first (company) movers failed. By contrast, early leaders-companies that took control of a product’s market share after the first movers pioneered them had only an 8% failure rate. Fast followers benefit from the free-rider effect. Examples: Google beat out Overture in search engine. Facebook beat out Myspace in social networks.

“10 x Thinking” (chapter 9) will turn you into an Elon Musk fan if you are not already. This chapter outlines the genius, perseverance, and sheer bravado Musk demonstrated in pursuing his most daring venture: SpaceX. The concept here is that to revolutionize a field you can’t go for just marginal improvements (10% better, etc…). You have to go for the big swing, 10 x better, or 10 x cheaper, etc… So, it is called 10 x thinking. And, Musk after many failures did just that with SpaceX. His company is literally 10 times more cost effective and 10 times faster in terms of project turnaround time than the former best in the aerospace business: NASA. As a result, SpaceX is now a very viable commercial entity swamped with contracts from all over the world to launch satellites transport resources back and forth to the Space Station, etc… A counterintuitive thought is that sometimes the 10 x improvements are easier than the + 10% one. This is because the former are challenging high-hanging fruits no one dares to go for. While the latter ones are low-hanging fruits crowded with competitors. And, this runs into the N-Effect. The more competitors in a given field the weaker is the individual performance. They found that test takers (SAT, ACT, etc…) perform much better when in a smaller class room with fewer test takers than when in a much larger class room with many test takers.

There is a lot more to the book than what I covered. But, my review should give you a good idea if this book is for you. If you got that far in reading my review, it most probably is.
119 of 125 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Provides examples of people who've succeeded using "Smartcuts" - and then tells how to follow their lead 7 Sep 2014
By Kcorn - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Author Shane Snow spends the first part of Shortcuts demonstrating how some people effectively use "hacker" thinking to shorten their path to success. And then he fills in the details in this tightly written book. A fair amount of this information may up readers' chances of becoming successful. I found some parts of this book to be very compelling. Others left me wanting more.

Snow uses a"show then explain" approach. Each chapter is filled with plenty of examples of people whose lives illustrate the essentials in this book. Their experiences help drive home many of Snow's point. Want to succeed? Then be willing to break the rules, accept and learn from negative feedback, and use lateral thinking. D'Wayne Johnson, one of the youngest design directors ever hired by Nike, is used to sum up Snow's 10 key points. Johnson's life story is vivid and exciting .

Other parts of this book are also intriguing, such as some of the information Snow shares about the 10 top-rated presidents in history. He describes them as "hackers", men who didn't follow traditional routes to the presidency. Instead they "switched ladders " multiple times, using their diverse experiences and various occupations to learn their leadership skills - and to convince others to that these skills were powerful enough to make them worthy of the presidency. According to Snow, this ladder switching not only upped their odds of getting elected but made them more effective leaders.

While I was glad to have read this book, and found some new information which challenged my familiar assumptions about what it takes to succeed, there were some sections which seemed overly simplistic, lacking details. This left me wanting more information, falling short of convincing me that a particular technique or way of thinking was effective. Some of the examples Snow provided still left me wondering if someone had simply been lucky - rather than hacking the ladder, training with masters, or building on momentum (other key principles Snow considers vital to success).
47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Creeping determinism, ignorance of cumulative advantage modeling, inaccuracy, and selection bias - not a recommended read! 17 Aug 2014
By Joel Avrunin - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In SmartCuts, Shane Snow attempts to use numerous proofs and examples from real-life success stories that the key to success is finding a "smart cut" to the top, doing something in a way nobody else has done it. He works through the stories of many savvy inventors, entrepreneurs, actors, and political figures, tracing their path to success and showing how they succeeded through breaking rules and lateral thinking. Many of these stories were interesting to read and I learned some history I didn't know before, but ultimately the book left me feeling hollow.

As I read the book, another recent book kept coming into my mind, namely "Everything is Obvious (once you know the answer)" by Duncan Watts. In that book, he teaches about a bias known as creeping determinism, otherwise known as hindsight bias. One of the earliest examples in the book illustrates it perfectly - the success of Jimmy Fallon. While Snow traces Fallon's career and shows how he did things differently than other comedians, ultimately the message is that Jimmy Fallon succeeded because compared to other young comedians, he was the most like Jimmy Fallon. It's a circular argument (such as Why is the Mona Lisa famous? Because no other painting looks as much like the Mona Lisa as the Mona Lisa!). Snow ignores the hundreds or thousands of struggling comedians who also do great Adam Sandler impressions or dropped out of school to pursue comedy or turned down good jobs to wait for SNL to call. For every 1 Jimmy Fallon there are plenty of Penny's from "The Big Bang Theory" (the character, not the actress). Snow fails to evaluate what happens when a Fallon's trajectory fails.

Snow also ignores cumulative advantage models, which explains runaway success of some YouTube stars like Bieber and how others while away in obscurity. The problem is that history is only run once. We can't repeat any of the careers Snow cites in another universe to see if they would occur the same way again. The same can be said of Twitter, Upworthy, Buzzfeed.... there are so many failed apps and websites. Some develop critical mass to take advantage of the network effect, and others don't. Unless we can repeat history (or at least examine the competition), we can't say there was something special about these market successes.

In other places Snow glosses over historical accuracy in the name of a good story. While analyzing the success of Che Guevara's rebellion in Cuba is certainly a useful conversation (why did villagers trust Che over Batista?), it might be a stretch to laud modern Cuba's literacy rate, and lament that the economics there are just "stagnant". Certainly, stronger words have been spoken about Castro than that he "turned out to be a less giving ruler than a younger version of himself might have hoped". Indeed, Snow proceeds to explain Castro has higher approval than the US Congress, but doesn't really explain why Cubans are risking their lives to come to the US but Americans aren't risking their lives to move to Cuba. Che Guevara comes out sounding like a boy scout.

Elsewhere Snow discusses education, bringing up some recent beliefs that children shouldn't be taught basic math (like the multiplication tables), but rather "how math works in life". More calculators, less learning how to actually do math. I've always noticed that such statements come from educators who already know their times tables. He brings up the example of the schools in Finland, but ignores that it is likely Finnish schools are teaching the basics in math. Of course it is important to teach math concepts and abstract thinking, but the basics of math such as multiplication tables are necessary. In fact, the entire Finland example he uses focuses more on teacher training and hiring and less on curriculum, so it doesn't even prove his point on learning the basics of math.

This isn't meant to be a full dissertation on the book, so I'll end this review by saying that the numerous stories were certainly interesting at times, but they certainly don't teach me how to take a "smart cut". What I see is creeping determinism, ignorance of cumulative advantage, inaccurate portrayals, and just good old fashioned selection bias which fails to prove any sort of thesis and undermines the narrative.
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