What are smartcuts?
- Using lateral thinking to achieve a goal.
- Reframing problems to be more solvable (“New ideas emerge when you question the assumptions upon which a problem is based” (6))
- Differ from rapid, short-term gains (shorctuts): instead, they are characterized by working smart, not cutting corners, and creating sustainable success (7)
- Shorten: “eliminate unnecessary cycles”: hack ways to get to where you want to be and use lateral thinking
- Leverage: work smart and leverage resources in the right way
- Soar: be able to use your momentum to achieve what’s next
Statement of purpose:
In the following chapters, I’ll explain why kids shouldn’t be taught multiplication tables, where the fashionable “fail fast and fail often” mantra of the Lean Startup movement breaks down, and how momentum— not experience— is the single biggest predictor of business and personal success. I’ll debunk our common myths about mentorship and paying dues. And I’ll show why, paradoxically, it’s easier to build a huge business than a small one.
Too many of us place our hopes and dreams in the unreliable hands of luck, but the world’s most rapidly successful people take luck into their own hands (even though many are too humble to say so). Too many of us accept the plateaus our lives have offered us and succumb to passivity, to the well-meaning delusion of “ If I work hard enough, something good will hopefully happen to me.”
By the end of this book, I’d like to convince you that serendipity can be engineered, that luck can be manufactured, convention can be defied, and that the best paths to success— no matter how you define it— are different today from what they were yesterday. (13–14)
Part I — Shorten
Chapter 1 — Hacking the Ladder
While the “traditional path” to becoming President is to work your way up the political system, few people actually do this (LBJ being one of them). Presidents come into office sometimes before senators get into office:
Only three other presidents out of the 43 people who have been president at the time of this writing climbed the rungs of all four elected federal offices : Richard Nixon, Andrew Johnson, and John Tyler. Just over half of the presidents were ever congressmen at all. (19)
Many people who win “act more like ladder hackers than ladder climbers” (19). How do we climb this ladder? @hacking
Small wins. Mormon college students use the “bigger or better” techinque to turn a toothpick into a flat-screen TV. Getting one small win can lead to another [each win inherently includes some potential, and some more as there is an improvement between what was and what is]. @tactic
Ladder switching. The Mormon college students traded their toothpick for something sideways. James Patterson was an ad exec that used his marketing experience to create his bestsellers. Presidents climb other ladders of success to then become president. Parlay status in one field to status in another—don’t pay dues for years. @tactic
People who have extensive past experience, e.g. Andrew Jackson, might stick to their ways and be too inflexible.
Chapter 2 — Training with Masters
Jimmy Fallon is the subject of this one. He was so passionate about being on SNL—and so well-studied—that an agent associated with them saw promise in him.
Some people pay dues for years, and others (e.g. Justin Bieber) get popular using YouTube and jump to the top in a year. Why?
Mentorship. In Bieber’s case, he was discovered by Scooter Braun and some other guys in music, who used their influence to elevate Bieber, improve his sills, and mentor him.
Research from Brunel University shows that chess students who trained with coaches increased on average 168 points in their national ratings versus those who didn’t. Though long hours of deliberate practice are unavoidable in the cognitively complex arena of chess, the presence of a coach for mentorship gives players a clear advantage. (38)
Analysis shows that entrepreneurs who have mentors end up raising seven times as much capital for their businesses, and experience 3.5 times faster than those without mentors. (39)
Types of mentoring. Informal mentoring, when individuals meet mentors organically and form personal relationships, are more effective than deliberate programs for mentoring. (Also, vulnerability is important in mentoring.) Long-term:
There’s a big difference, in other words, between having a mentor guide our practice and having a mentor guide our journey. (45)
Back to Jimmy Fallon. Before he had a mentor, he mentored himself using videos of comedians he loved, building a sort of deep knowledge of the “tiny details that would separate his performance from aspiring comics who moved on once their celebrity impressions were ‘good enough.’” (50) [suggesting that deep knowledge is not just knowledge but intuition; building a strong episodic memory].
[Basically, mentorship is getting information and feedback, and rapidly. More on that now:]
Chapter 3 — Rapid Feedback
The “fail fast and fail often” advice popularized by the Lean Startup Methodology has some caveats: entrepreneurs that fail don’t seem to do better on another venture than those who haven’t started something before. People who have succeeded “are 50 percent more likely to succeed in a second venture” (61).
Same thing with surgeons doing a cardiac operation. Surgeons that failed at an operation did not learn from their mistakes: their performance actually continued to decline.
However, things change when surgeons watch their colleagues do that same surgery:
- If the colleague failed, the observer’s success rate improves.
- If the colleague succeeded, the observer’s success rate did not change.
Staats, the one who discovered this, suggested that this is a cause of the coping mechanism that surgeons used to justify failed surgeries: ‘mistakes happen sometimes and that’s just the reality.’
Attribution theory. “people explain their successes and failures ‘by attributing them to factors that will allow them to feel as good as possible about themselves.’” (64)
Attribution differences. When we make a mistake, we attribute away the mistake to the situation (external). When we see someone else make a mistake (e.g. the surgeon), we attribute it to the person and note to ourselves not to make that mistake. [Fundamental attribution error; this is an interesting way to harness that to improve our own behavior.]
Actionable feedback. Difference between feedback that is useful and actionable and feedback that isn’t is: “how much the feedback caused a person to focus on himself rather than the task.” (68) [Avoiding situational attribution?] Experts prefer negative feedback (criticism) and are 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.” (69) OTOH, novices need positive feedback, encouragement, and “feared failure” (69) [potentially because they aren’t set and still wonder if they suck or not].
The improv school Second City trains people to accept negative feedback, to “turn off the part of their brains that says ‘I fail’ when they get negative feedback” (69), allowing them to push boundaries. [This is true, but does it remove personal responsibility? Will it reduce the power of feedback and how much motivation that creates in you? It might be better to remove it and take the it in the power of feedback since ‘failure’ is such a negative motivator that we should do anything to reduce it.]
THE SECOND CITY MANAGES to accomplish three things to accelerate its performers’ growth: (1) it gives them rapid feedback; (2) it depersonalizes the feedback; and (3) it lowers the stakes and pressure, so students take risks that force them to improve. (70)
[Improv maps nicely to the process of improving [huh] in anything, including repetition, training, knowing what’s right, and intuition.]
Part II — Leverage
Chapter 4 — Platforms
David Heinemeier Hasson built Ruby on Rails to simply programming, building a “platform” of levels of abstraction to “multiply their effort”.
Finnish education went from standard to excellent. How? They de-emphasized memorization. Learning systems like Hopscotch (for programming) engage in “constructionism” which allows people to “learn by making and manipulating objects”. Similarly, Finnish education wanted to use calculators to reduce multiplication, which has been shown to improve attitudes. To learn well, we have to be able to play with what we’re learning.
In early education, Dr. David Moursund argues, we spend too much time memorizing and not enough time applying math to situations and creating models and generally engaging in higher-order thinking. Instead: “‘Get the thinking right and the skills come largely for free’… By learning the tool (calculator) first, we actually master the discipline (math) faster.” (91)
Finnish schools also elevated the position of ‘teacher’ to prestigious, requiring a master’s degree. Well-educated teachers in one field (not covering many fields) and teach “how to learn” not “how to memorize” [deeper learning, not shallow learning]
Platforms can accelerate learning. DHH didn’t pay his dues: to move up in racing, he “would spend exactly the shortest amount of time in any given series that I could before it was good enough to move up to the next thing.” (97). He started with GT4, got good enough, went right into GT3, and then GTE, without waiting to win a championship. He reasoned that better platforms would be better environments for learning than trying to improve on an older platform. [Essentially: make sure the learning environment around you is one that is actually challenging you, and move up to a much harder one if not.]
“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.” (100)
Chapter 5 — Waves
Ride incoming waves. Sonny Moore (Skrillex) rode both the screamo and EDM waves. Harness those to improve your performance.
Deliberate analysis trumps intuition. Dane, Rockmann & Pratt used college basketball videos and asked “high expertise” and “low expertise” students to judge shots by “instinct” or “analytical reason”. Turns out, in the analytical stage, they scored the same and both scored better than high-expertise intuition. [Totally against what I know about intuition.] Suggests that intuition (pattern-recognition) is good but it is replicable by deliberate analysis. [Maybe this is because intuition is more useful as thought constructs since they’re more immediately available in mind, but in cases where decisions can be made solely or majority from what’s on the paper, it can work fine in analysis? Perhaps the limitation of simplicity in this psych study is the important bit.]
Fast followers trump first movers. First mover advantage is logical, but fast followers [second movers, perhaps] learn from the trail blazed by the first movers, are less subject to the Innovator’s Dilemma, don’t have the “costly commitment” of the first movement, benefit from infrastructure and education built by first movers, and use their time toward other areas.
Persistence is not everything.
There’s a reason some people practice things for twenty years and never become experts; a golfer can put in 30,000 hours of practice and not improve his game if he’s gripping his clubs wrong the whole time. A business can work five times harder and longer than its neighbors and still lose to rivals that read the market better.” (121–122)
Chapter 6 — Superconnectors
Superconnectors connect people and sometimes can galvanize action. Che Guevara (and Castro) used pirate radio to connect people in opposition to the Cuban government. They were able to galvainze support and collective action as a result—using the radio as a broadcast tool. [Systems of leverage.]
Good superconnectors give back. JJ Abrams did the classic Hollywood thing by making friends, moving up, and moving on. Except he didn’t do the last part: he still lent his credibility to help others climb ladders. cf Adam Grant in “Give and Take,” suggesting that people who are successful are also generous. [People lower than you who also have some power (who are probably pretty close to you in power) that you can create a relationship of reciprocity with?)] Giving back can lead to success: Aaron Patzer at Mint gave information to people about personal finance, and people saw value in that and signed up for Mint. [Residual effect of people seeing value in something, and associating that with another thing.]
Superconnecting requires substance. Guevara didn’t just connect to peasants: they worked with them, taught them, etc. Action > talk. “Castro’s revolutionary message reached a massive audience through a superconnector— a radio— but the rebels won the people’s hearts because they showed that they sincerely cared.” (138) [need a foundation or substance behind your superconnecting.]
Part III — Soar
Chapter 7 — Momentum
Billionaires tend to be depressed after making their money. Why? We need progress, no matter how small. “[B]usinesses need to help their workers experience lots of tiny wins.” (146) [In prospect theory, this would be many small gains form of hedonic editing.]
We value momentum. A company that goes from $6M to $20M is rated as better (double) than one that goes from $12M to $20M in the same amount of time.
Perception of momentum is sometimes as real as the thing itself. Oreo’s marketing company sent a tweet, but they used the resulting news articles about the tweet to parlay even bigger news appearances (not actual substance).
Momentum plus a wave. Michelle Phan used an understanding of YouTube’s algorithm for top videos, her existing fan base, and the wave of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance video to propel her makeup video. But she really won beacuse…
Momentum needs to be sustained. Phan had a lot of quality content on her channel, which people liked. It was “potential energy” that was unlocked at a certain point. [Improving potential energy until you hit some point. Also tied to behavior of YouTube users: looking at past videos when you find something of value, so it’s structural as well.]
Chapter 8 — Simplicity
Constraints. Jane Chen at Stanford wanted to design a better incubation chamber for babies. The norm were $20–40,000 glass boxes. Instead of designing a better glass box, she went back to first principles and thought: what is really important? Keeping a baby warm. So she used a sleeping bag using a regulated heat pad. 25 bucks. [Fucking smart.]
This teaches us something important about breakthrough success: simplification often makes the difference between good and amazing. (160)
Innovation is about doing something differently , rather than creating something from nothing (invention) or doing the same thing better (improvement). (161)
Innovation from constraints. “Innovation” would have meant better plastics, but it really means (potentially) dealing with constraints, which forces you to “throw convention out” and come up with something better. [Not going with the well-worn mental grooves and instead creating a novel path. Fucking cool.]
Reducing choices. Making lots of small choices reduces self-control stores.
Speaking to what is really important. iPod won because it’s not about GHz and MB. It’s “1000 songs in your pocket.” [Speak to the emotional angle, pathos, and back that up with substance.]
Chapter 9 — 10X thinking
Oh man, this is a great chapter just because it’s basically Elon Musk all the way through. Here we go:
Elon Musk wanted to get to Mars, but he thought he had to make spaceflight cheaper first. So, he learned a ton about rocketry, became an expert, and collaborated with people to “put together a Ocean’s Eleven–like team of rocket scientists.” (171) Traced where the money was going that made spaceflight so expensive (the Lockheeds of the world who are trying to pay back R&D costs), and vertically integrated SpaceX to lower cost 2x+. He created momentum by talking big, and also having substance behind it.
Astro Teller, Google[x]: “It’s often easier to make something 10 times better than it is to make it 10 percent better.”
Incremental progress, he says, depends on working harder . More resources, more effort. 10x progress is built on bravery and creativity instead. Working smarter. In other words, 10x goals force you to come up with smartcuts. (178)
Getting to first principles. The important part is that 10x thinking requires you to get back to first principles. Not faster horses, faster transportation. Not cheaper plastics, cheaper incubation systems. “First principles force us to let go of paradigms,” Teller says [related to the rejection of paradigms that constraints also place.] They force us to think about the context of the problem and try to reframe it.
We perform better when there are fewer competitors. The N-Effect shown by Garcia & Tor says that we underperform when there are lots of competitors.
The “high-hanging fruit” approach, the big swing, is more technically challenging than going after low-hanging fruit, but the diminished number of competitors in the upper branches (not to mention the necessary expertise of those that make it that high) provides fuel for 10x Thinking, and brings out our potential. (180)
10x thinking is attractive. People like big swings and find them attractive. But you have to back them up with motivation and telling “provocative stories.” @directionexecution. The other thing is that it’s an uphill battle to convince someone to change their ways for a 10% improvement, but a 10x improvement is inherently attractive, says Teller. And that makes a company that does 10x a very good proposition.
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. (186)