Have you ever looked at someone who achieved rapid success, and with awe or even jealousy, wondered, "How did she do that?"
You know what I'm talking about. How did Gina get promoted to VP when she's ten years younger than you? How did Ramit get the Sales Director position when you've been in the company five years longer? How come Chris got the product manager job even though you've got your MBA and she doesn't?
In our own companies we see HiPo's (high potentials) all around and wonder how they're doing it. Why did they get tapped for the fast track? In the business world at large it's even easier to see the outliers, like Fortune 500 CEOs who are in their 30s and aren't co-founders.
Journalist and entrepreneur, Shane Snow, sets out to answer these questions in his book, Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success. Snow is a gifted storyteller and makes his case with numerous examples and mini case-studies. His quips are both entertaining and enlightening. As he points out, "...some among us manage to build eBay in the time it takes the rest of us to build a house."
Snow condenses his lessons into 9 specific "smartcuts".
1. Hack the Ladder
Snow points out that the average age of U.S. presidents is younger than that of U.S. senators. This wouldn't be the case if the most effective path to the White House was gaining experiencing climbing the political ladder. Instead, there are many cases of "lateral thinking" where someone who has achieved success in one field, makes the jump to the top of the ladder in another. Think Ronald Reagan or, dare I say, perhaps Donald Trump.
2. Train with Masters
There are no lone wolves when it comes to extreme achievement. Snow points out that while traditional, formal mentoring programs have shown to produce few results, informal, organic mentoring can have a dramatic impact. He also points out that we can accelerate our development from "mentors" who don't even know we exist, by watching and studying what they do. Louis C.K. learned to tell authentic stories by copying George Carlin. Jimmy Fallon pursued his goal to join Saturday Night Live not by just studying what those comedians did, but who they surrounded themselves with.
3. Rapid Feedback
Today's corporate zeitgeist is strength's based leadership, yet Snow makes a convincing case the companies and individuals alike view feedback as a critical way to improve in an area and get better results. Similar to how online publishers will test dozens of headlines to get to one that works best, individuals depersonalize feedback and seek it out. One of the best I've seen at this in my own career was my old partner, Rudy Karsan. After delivering a rousing speech, within seconds of the applause dying down, he'd approach me in the back of the room and ask, "If you had to tell me one thing I could have done better in that speech, what would it be?"
4. Use Platforms
Snow uses the platform metaphor to suggest that those who excel quickly often have thoroughly mastered the rules rather than the convention of a field. He explains how Heinemeier Hansson was able to quickly leap ahead in auto racing. While all the other drivers would stay in their competitive class until they felt they mastered it, Hansson would just "level up" as soon as the rules allowed. While this meant he was always in a beginner mindset, and didn't outright win many races, he completely changed the slope of his achievement curve.
5. Catch the Waves
Those who achieve great things quickly have usually caught a wave. It might be a cultural wave that thrusts a DJ or boy band into the spotlight. It might be a technology wave that mints a new set of young billionaires. In our everyday work world it could be having a keen eye for what the priorities of our CEO are and aligning our work to those areas. It could be seeing which areas of the corporate budget are growing faster than others. It could be understanding the buying patterns of customers and focusing on future services that align.
6. Connect to Superconnectors
How long might it take you to go out and get 500 strangers to give you their support (sign-up for your newsletter, sign a petition, invest in your campaign, etc.)? How long might it take you to connect with one person who has 500 friends? Or five people who each have 100 friends? Connecting with those who already have a constituency, a fan base, a "tribe" will have the effect of leverage while shrinking time.
7. Momentum -- Keep Moving
Whether it's lottery winners, one-hit wonder bands, or viral video producers, history is full of examples of people achieved lucky breaks, only to fall to new lows and often depression. Snow suggests that a key to success is to always be moving, leveraging one win into building many more things. Almost all overnight successes were made over a decade of very hard work.
Snow makes the case that disruptive innovation in products is typically related to cost savings, and predecessor to cost savings is simplification. Those who hack success are often great minimalists. They are masters of the 80/20 rule and always know what the greatest use of their time is.
9. 10x Thinking
Machiavelli wrote, "Make no small plans for they have no power to stir the soul." The path to success is often accelerated by "10x thinking." A company that has a better product -- but only a slightly better product -- will have to excel at sales and marketing to convince people to switch from their tried and true solution. Conversely, a company with a 10x better product will succeed without sales and marketing as new customers are gained from referrals. Who do you want to follow at work -- the predictable plodder or the leader who is going for the home run? Which would be more fun? Which, if successful, would leapfrog you towards the top?
Too often we may ascribe others' success as just luck; we may accept our own steady pace and plateaus as necessary dues to pay. But if we decide to look more closely and to take inspiration from these high achievers -- those who routinely flaunt convention and utilize "smartcuts" -- we may just find our own momentum and achievements reaching new highs.