How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success

by Shane Snow

If there’s one phrase I can remember hearing over and over in my childhood (besides “Put that book down and go to bed!”), it would be “Work smarter, not harder.” This is probably why I was immediately drawn to this book, “Smartcuts”, as soon as I saw the title. The idea of taking smart shortcuts, as opposed to cutting corners, is worth further exploration.

As soon as I opened the book, I found out that I have a lot in common with the author. Shane starts by telling a story about one of his college roommates breaking the Super Mario Bros. speed record. At the time, Shane was attending school in Rexburg, Idaho, which is my hometown. Shane uses this story as a way to introduce the topic of Smartcuts. He points out that his roommate did not set the Super Mario Bros. speed record by jumping on every single bad guy, breaking every block, and beating every level. Instead, his roommate skipped most of the drudgery by using warp pipes to go around the obstacles and reach the end much faster.

I don’t think Shane could have picked a better introduction to the concept of smartcuts. The conventional way to complete Super Mario Bros. is to beat every single level. That gets tedious, even for gamers. To beat the speed record, Shane’s roommate had to break convention and go around the arbitrary obstacles in his way. Shane calls this “lateral thinking.”

Lateral thinking is finding a way from point A to point B. The conventional path (go to school, get a job, work your way up the ladder) is much like finding a boulder in the road. To remove the boulder, you get a hammer and chisel out and start slowly chipping away at the boulder until it becomes a pile of pebbles and you can be on your way. This could take years! A lateral thinker might backtrack a little way until he found a suitable tree branch that he could use to lever the boulder out of his way. This method might mean appearing to go backward for a short time, but the obstacle gets removed much more quickly.

Shane’s underlying idea is that there is always more than one way around an obstacle and usually there’s a quicker or more effective way than the one you are trying. Shane uses real-life stories and examples to illustrate his points. Even better, Shane compares two seemingly similar cases side-by-side and points out the differences as to why one became an incredible success and the other fizzled and died. (The best one was the comparison of Michelle Phan vs. Paul Vasquez).

All in all, this book is one to read. I will say, though, that it left me looking for more. It almost felt like the book wasn’t complete yet, almost like it’s the first in a series. That’s not surprising, though. Out of the 260 pages, only 200 were used for the actual book and 60 were used for notes, making it one of the shorter books I’ve reviewed. But the content is very good and the writing is engaging. I just wanted more. So Shane, if you’re ever back in Rexburg, let’s go get some hot cocoa in the MC because I want to know more.

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