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Smartcuts: The Breakthrough Power of Lateral Thinking


Personal Thoughts

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.

Summary Notes

  • On the other hand, some among us manage to build eBay in the time it takes the rest of us to build a house. Pick your era in history and you’ll find a handful of people—across industries and continents—who buck the norm and do incredible things in implausibly short amounts of time. The common pattern is that, like computer hackers, certain innovators break convention to find better routes to stunning accomplishments. The question is, can be finding these better routes be taught?
  • My writing led me to join several groups in that tech scene that I can only describe as “overachiever clubs,” such as the Young Entrepreneur Council and the Sandbox Network (who actually call themselves “Overachievers Under 30”)—kids who quit PhD programs and investment banking jobs to live on ramen and build things that could change the world.
  • LEVERAGE Pretend you’re fixing up an old house, and you need to pry a nail out of the wood floor in the living room. You have a claw hammer, but try as you can, the nail won’t come out. You have a few options at this point. You could give up (maybe pulling the nail is unnecessary), but let’s assume it’s essential we get this nail out. One option is to exert more force, pull harder. Maybe if your life depended on it, you could work the nail out over a long period of time. But then you’ll be too tired to sand the floor. This is what the classic success advice amounts to work 100 hours a week, believe you can do it, visualize, and push yourself harder than everyone else. Claw that nail out with your bare hands ’til they bleed if necessary. This is the hard way. Or maybe you can admit defeat and phone your biggest friend, so he can come over and give the nail pulling a shot. That’s less work for you, but suddenly, you’ve created more network. And what if there’s not one, but 70 nails to pull? This is the other common success advice: outsource the tough stuff, and try to profit from the arbitrage. This is the cheap way. The easiest solution in this case, however, is not to waste energy, not to bother your friend, but to find a long piece of pipe to put over the hammer’s handle and to push on the end of the pipe. The toughest nail will pop out. The law of the lever, as shown by the Greek mathematician Archimedes, says the longer the lever, the less force you need to exert. This is the smart way. Leverage is the overachiever’s approach to getting more bang for her proverbial buck. It’s how brand-new startups scale and young sci-fi geeks become movie directors. It’s how below-average school systems turn around and revolutions are won. It’s how surfers take championships and artists go from homeless to the Grammys.
  • 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). Researchers call this the psychology of “small wins.”
  • The 2011 Startup Genome Report of new technology companies states that “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. Socrates mentored young Plato, who in turn mentored Aristotle. Aristotle mentored a boy named Alexander, who went on to conquer the known world as Alexander the Great.
  • An analysis shows that entrepreneurs who have mentors end up raising seven times as much capital for their businesses, and experience 3.5 times faster growth than those without mentors.
  • So, failing in business doesn’t make us better or smarter. But succeeding makes us more likely to continue to succeed. This, of course, poses a chicken-and-egg problem. How do we increase the chance of success if the best way to do so is to . . . already . . . succeed? 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. And yet, it looks like the advice of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “failure makes you wiser” isn’t actually true.
  • “When interpreting their own failures,” Staats explains, “individuals tend to make external attributions, pointing to factors that are outside of their direct control, such as luck. As a result, their motivation to exert effort on the same task in the future is reduced.”
  • The difference was how much the feedback caused a person to focus on himself rather than the task.
  • 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.
  • In an age of platforms, creative problem solving is more valuable than computational skill.
  • Edward de Bono, who coined the term “lateral thinking” in 1967, put the “Einstein” quote a bit differently: “You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.”
  • The best way to be in the water when the wave comes is to budget time for swimming.
  • Many of the biggest corporate successes in history—including Lerer’s Huffington Post, which became the number one political website in the world, the first for-profit online-only newspaper to win a Pulitzer Prize for reporting, and which sold for more than $300 million to AOL—have been fast followers in their respective spaces. As entrepreneurship scholar Steve Blank points out in his article for Business Insider, “You’re Better Off Being a Fast Follower Than an Originator,” fast follower General Motors surpassed the first mover in automobiles, Ford Motor Company, in market share in the early 1900s. Google, Facebook, and Microsoft were each fast followers in their respective spaces in the technology sector, leaping past Overture, Myspace, and Apple, respectively (until Apple made a comeback).
  • WHICH IS EASIER—MAKING FRIENDS with a thousand people one by one or making friends with someone who already has a thousand friends? Which is faster—going door to door with a message or broadcasting the message to a million homes at once? This is the idea of what I call super connecting, the act of making mass connections by tapping into hubs with many spokes. It’s what Castro needed to do if he ever wanted to convert the Cuban people to his cause. Imagine you’re at a party and you don’t know any of the other guests. You look around at the dozens of people and, if you’re extroverted, you’ll probably strike up a conversation with someone nearby. If you’re a little more timid in unfamiliar territory like I am, you might wander around in hopes that someone strikes up a conversation with you. Now imagine that a friend of yours shows up. She happens to know everybody at the party and she decides to take you around and meet everyone whom you should know. You soon meet a dozen people, with very little effort. Your friend is a super connector.

Smartcuts: The Breakthrough Power of Lateral Thinking

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