Smartcuts – How Hackers, Innovators and Icons Accelerate Success

Smartcuts - How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success


Written by Shane Snow, this masterpiece was released on September 9th 2014. I had the chance to get it firsthand, courtesy of the Science, Industry and Business branch of NYPL.

The funny thing is that I read it in 2 days (a premier to me). And I did it not because the book is short (it has ~200 pages), but because it’s very catchy and straight to the point.

I had the privilege to study it in two of the places in which it was mostly researched and written, at NYPL on Madison Avenue and at the Starbucks on 49th Street with 8th Avenue, New York City. This post has been drafted at the same Starbucks (you get a nice view of the 8th Avenue if you stay by the window).

As you may suspect from the title of the book, Shane teaches you to reach whatever goal or dream you may have in a smart way, by cutting corners.

Achieving mastery in a field takes years, thousands of hours of hard work, persistence through failure and stubbornness for not giving up when every cell in your body tells you to.

Many great individuals throughout history (outliers) have proven the contrary. Hacking the ladder is possible. You have to master the techniques though. You have to know how to find the backdoors and warp pipes (like in Super Mario Bros. – thanks Shane).

Don’t think this will save you from hard work. Smartcutting, if I may, implies hard work, but in a smarter and accelerated manner.

Shane Snow’s book describes 9 major steps to approach mastery. I dare to say that his book is as good as, if not better than, Robert Green’s Mastery.

So, all you apprentices out there, unite!

The Smartcut Approach

1. Hacking the Ladder

The first and foremost chapter of the book is where we meet unconventional U.S. presidents – those who spent relatively little time climbing the political ladder until reaching the supreme goal, the presidency of U.S.A.

As boring as you may think it is (I thought it was gonna be a boring chapter), it isn’t; because, as we get deeper into the reading, we learn how a stupid Mormon game can turn toothpicks into used cars. WTF?

Well, yes. This is a perfect example of ladder hacking (note: the word hacking is used in a positive constructive light throughout my blog post and throughout Shane’s book).

Mormon’s game implies knocking on people’s door and asking them to trade stuff. First, you get to someone’s door holding a toothpick (or a very insignificant object in your hand) with the intent to trade it for another similar object (sometimes of a little more value).

Shane tells how some of the Mormons started with a toothpick and traded it with pack of chewing gums. Then, on the second door, the chewing gum was traded with a pen. Then the pen with a hat, and so on. By the end of this not-so-stupid game, one of these guys ended up with a used car. Imagine that!

The idea was to progress in small increments. Nobody would have traded the insignificant toothpick with a car. Yet, many of us want overnight success. We want to jump over 100 story buildings while we are still in our infancy.

Very few achieve it. But if you apply this clever principle of small increments (Brian Tracy talks about it for financial gains here – The Law of Incremental Returns), you may get to mastery or to your dream much faster than conventionally.

2. Training with Masters

As you may have guessed (again), becoming a master and doing it at an accelerated pace implies mentorship. Finding the best people in your field and having them as your mentors will help you craft your skill based on their brilliant feedback.

Instead of going through trial and error for years in a row, instead of learning from your own mistakes and improving very slowly, a mentor will help you cut corners and eliminate years of hard work.

Sounds great, right? Not so fast. You have to know how to approach the best people in your field. They are very busy folks. And unless you do it the smart way, you’ll never be able to get 10 feet or closer to them.

Shane is a story teller. He’s a clever guy and he knows that to engage an audience, you have to tell them stories. It’s one of the best way to acquire knowledge on something. In this chapter we learn from the mentorship stories of Bieber and Usher, Joshua Waitzkin (chess prodigy) and Bruce Pandolfini (chess master), and Steve Jobs and Bill Campbell.

Some people like Jay-Z or Sam Walton can do it with low or no mentorship. But, are you one of them?

3. Rapid Feedback

De-centralization (or de-personalization) is the magic word here. It’s about the ability to move away from yourself and your mistake, to become cold blooded, to become objective and be able to quickly improve on the feedback you receive.

Here we learn from a comedy band called The Second City.

At the end of their shows and after receiving a well deserved round of applause, Second City stepped away from the stage for a moment. Quickly after, they stepped in again, but with a different purpose.

They started rehearsing for their next show. Surprisingly, the audience remained still in their seats for extra time providing valuable feedback to the band.

The stakes were low. The pressure was also low because there was no money in it. The audience only paid for the show, not the extra time. So, the band was able to improve tremendously. Brilliant, huh?

4. Platforms

Technology and the Internet provides unimaginable power to the humble user today. Lateral thinking, as Edward de Bono teaches it, may offer the same thing too.

We see it clearly from the story of a bright computer programmer turned pilot racer, as well as from one of the most efficient educational systems in the world, that of Finland (which was an average one just a few years ago).

I’d come and say that platforms exponentially enhance our powers. You wanna learn something? Do it interactively. There are dozens of MOOC sites online (massive online open courses) where illustrious professors from top Universities teach. Check out Khan Academy, Coursera, Code Academy (if you want to learn programming), EDx, and many others.

I personally watch recorded lectures from top universities and top experts in my field of interest. I gathered a huge amount of information over the past 12 months.

Personal Finance, Business, Personal Fitness, Productivity, you name it. All of them are enhanced through technology.

5. Waves

We have two stories here. The one of a celebrity Sonny Moore (haven’t heard of him before) and that of a surfer who knew how to listen to the sea and to the weather to win a surfing championship.

Ocean waves behave in two different ways, as Shane points out: they can either cancel each other out or they can combine into a bigger and more powerful wave (concepts of constructive and destructive interference).

Becoming a good surfer means being able to properly read the conditions of the environment, as well as decoding the patterns of the waves to know the right moment to leverage on them.

Richard Branson’s analogy of the buses is similar: If you miss one bus, you may as well just wait for the next one.

Meaning that: opportunities are not exclusive or unique. They always come and go. You just have to act! Damn it! ACT!

6. Superconnectors

This is my favorite part of the book. It’s about visibility and exposure. It builds upon the mentorship chapter because experts and top achievers in every field, if approached appropriately, could provide massive exposure for the apprentice.

You may not see what I’m trying to say. In the book, Shane describes the story of Fidel Castro and Ernesto (Che) Guevara and how the radio (technology) gave their little rebellion (300 people) the power to open to the population of Cuba and turn them against the oppressive regime of Batista (and his army consisting of thousands of trained soldiers).

This is the exponential power that both technology (and the Internet) and mentors (experts) can provide to you (!!! if used appropriately).

This is a double edged sword though. Getting exposed too early and too quickly to a massive audience can be overwhelming.

Usher was a superconnector for Bieber, who, as an artist, accomplished in one year what others haven’t in a lifetime. But getting so rich and famous so quick is unnatural. Hence, the scandals Bieber was involved in.

There’s a very thin line between success and failure here.

7. Momentum – Depressed Billionaires

Shane teaches us about the paradox of failure. This chapter is a great link to the previous one. It offers a solution to those rich guys who have everything, but are very depressed. Some of them commit suicide, while others live disorganized lives and become addicted to drugs.

This is what happens to some folks when they know they couldn’t spend all their money during their lifetime + the next few dozens of life times.

The answer to this dilemma is purpose. To solve this issue, some of the rich individuals turn to philanthropy, while others engage in learning and mastering skills in different areas of their lives.

It’s about never becoming inert; never standing still. One has to always build a momentum. Then they have to maintain it. Jim Collins talks about this concept in his amazing best seller Built to Last.

8. Simplicity

You know this already!

Shane puts it in the perspective of smart shoe designers (Nike) and how they use colorless pen sketches when drafting new shoes. They don’t want to get distracted by color and technology when first working on a new design.

As these first sketches are finished, they start leveraging on technology by transferring their drawings into specialized software, by adding color, texture, and rendering to give personality to their creations. It’s a multi-layer process.

9. 10x Thinking

Last, but not of least importance, is the ninth chapter of the book. It could have never been more epic. Shane shares the story of Elon Musk’s SpaceX failures. If you don’t know who Elon Musk is, he’s the guy behind PayPal (the online payment processor). He sold PayPal to Ebay for $1.5 billion dollars. Then, he put all his energy into SpaceX, the first privately funded space company.

He tried to launch the first ship (Falcon 1) into space but it was a major failure. The second launch of Falcon was another failure. Elon has put all his personal fortune into these launches and he only had money for another launch, which failed too.

Shane dedicates 20 pages of his book to tell you how Elon Musk got the first privately owned ship into orbit (the 4th attempt of Falcon) and how each space mission runs on 5% the funds that a NASA ship would require for such an event. He also talks about the contracts that NASA signed with Elon after the successful launch for amounts of money you could never imagine.

I’ve been familiar with the concept of 10x Thinking from Grant Cardone and his book The 10x Rule. It goes hand in hand with lateral thinking. For me, these are the two most powerful tools for achieving mastery and great success in whatever your endeavor may be.


Shane’s Smartcuts brings a very fresh and genuine perspective on the art and science of personal achievement. It’s a book full of stories from ancient times to present times, which if applied and followed appropriately in a personalized manner will provide a blueprint for major achievements.

Cutting corners, being and outlier, and doing it in a unique way, your personal mastery journey will be an ever entertaining and never boring process.


1. Shane Snow – Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success

2. Grant Cardone – The 10x Rule – The Only Difference Between Success and Failure

3. Malcolm Gladwell – The Tipping Point – How Little Things can Make a Big Difference

4. Malcolm Gladwell – Outliers – The Story of Success

5. Robert Greene – Mastery

6. Edward de Bono – Lateral Thinking – Creativity Step by Step

7. Raj Ajaj – Elon Musk: SpaceX wants to build a city on Mars

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One Response to Smartcuts – How Hackers, Innovators and Icons Accelerate Success

  1. […] Smartcuts – How Hackers, Innovators and Icons Accelerate … – Personal review on Shane Snow’s masterpiece book Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators and Icons Accelerate Success…. […]

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