I read Shane Snow’s “Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators and Icons Accelerate Success” over the holidays. The book lays out several strategies that high achievers have used to achieve success faster than their peers. It’s a fast, but very interesting, read that draws on examples from Ben Franklin to Elon Musk.

Snow is a journalist who’s written for Wired, Fast Company, The New Yorker and numerous other publications. He’s also an entrepreneur, a co-founder of Contently.com. A lot of the inspiration for the book comes from his time spent interviewing, writing about and hanging out with entrepreneurs. But, to his credit, Snow’s take on accelerating success also draws from other fields, such as entertainment and politics.

The book’s premise is that individuals and organizations that have been able to accelerate success do so because they harness one or more of nine key “smartcuts.”

  1. Hacking the ladder: Instead of spending all your time climbing up one ladder, step by step, move up faster by switching to other “ladders,” using what you’ve already learned to make the transition and climb faster.
  2. Training with masters: Be successful faster with the help of mentors – real, in-person mentors as well as what you can learn by studying others who have been successful.
  3. Rapid feedback: Get feedback on what works and what doesn’t, and use that to hone your approach.
  4. Platforms: Build on what others have created and what you’ve already accomplished yourself, rather than spending a lot of time re-creating something from scratch.
  5. Waves: Learn to recognize trends – economic, cultural or whatever category – and surf those waves to success.
  6. Superconnectors: Connect with others by providing value. This sounds like standard networking advice, but the examples in Smartcuts go beyond that.
  7. Momentum: When you achieve a goal or success, find a new target and keep going.
  8. Simplicity: Sometimes you can achieve success by focusing on less and doing more with it.
  9. 10x thinking: You might achieve more success by shooting for the moon (even if you fail), then merely trying to get off the ground.

Richly reported

As a writer, the number and depth of the anecdotes, research and background in Smartcuts blew me away. Beyond just the smartcuts themselves, I picked up all sorts of interesting stories and facts. In addition to the material in the chapters, there’s a pretty extensive set of endnotes that are worth perusing.

Snow is an engaging storyteller, and the book really shines in that respect. My only trouble with this approach is at times I felt as though I got lost in the anecdotes and had to remind myself of what smartcut a given story was supposed to be illustrating. Each chapter could have done with just a bit more straightforward exposition on the smartcut itself.

This book isn’t any kind of scientific or academic study of success, so there’s no way to say definitively whether the nine smartcuts Snow identifies are “the” critical ingredients for accelerating success, or whether there are others. But intuitively, and based on 20 years of journalism and business experience, I’d say the nine that Snow documents in the book are pretty good.

That said, this is not a how-to book. While there are enlightening examples of how various people used “superconnecting” as a way to accelerate success, the book doesn’t provide a step-by-step guide for applying that in your own career or business. If you want that, you’ll have to look at other books that specifically address those topics. Perhaps Snow is planning follow-on books that address that.

In fairness, I think getting the right balance of narrative and anecdote to specific how-to content is tough in a book like this. It’s easy to drift too far to one end or the other, and I think that books that are commercially successful probably tend to lean more toward the storytelling approaching.

Worth reading?

If you’re looking for a tactical manual, Smartcuts is not it. But if you’re looking for a strategic compass, then this book might be right for you.

It’s easy to imagine reading this, considering the nine smartcuts Snow identifies, and then choosing one or more of them to focus on in your life or your business. Some of them won’t apply to you, some of them won’t be suitable. Almost any ambitious person will find something valuable in this book.

Also, if you like puzzles, Snow has posted some bonus chapters at his website. But they require a little detective work to unlock. So far I’ve gotten access to the first bonus chapter, and I’m working on the others.

On Amazon: Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators and Icons Accelerate Success *