Rating: 3.5

Shane defines shortcuts as avenues for rapid, short-term gains (often at the expense of others). He contrasts that to “smartcuts,” which can be thought of as “shortcuts with integrity” and “sustainable success achieved quickly through smart work.” In his book Smartcuts, Shane breaks down a three-part system with a total of nine tactics used by others to achieve success in a shortened amount of time. Shane embodies much of the writing style I’ve come to love – science and storytelling combined. However, the one element this book lacks, which is present in someone like Dan Pink, are neatly formed takeaways for the reader – think the exercises Dan provides in between chapters at in To Sell is Human. Shane leaves it up to the reader to apply the lessons learned in the book, which can work, but I feel some may come away from this book with a bunch of stories and fail to apply the underlying principles.

Here are the three parts and nine total tactics Shane describes:


Hacking the Ladder

This tactic advises readers to think differently about our traditional view of career ladders. Instead of thinking of them as straight up, think of climbing one then moving laterally and climbing a different ladder. To do this, we can use small wins to build momentum and credibility to switch ladders:

By itself, one small win may seem unimportant…A series of wins at small but significant tasks, however, reveals a pattern that may attract allies, deter opponents, and lower resistance to subsequent proposals.

Training with Masters

Shane details when mentorship is actually helpful for success. Here was a main takeaway:

In fact, one-on-one mentoring in which an organization formally matched people proved to be nearly as worthless as a person having not been mentored at all. However, when students and mentors came together on their own and formed personal relationships, the mentored did significantly better, as measured by future income, tenure, number of promotions, job satisfaction, work, stress, and self-esteem.

Formal mentorships seem forced. On the other hand, personal bonds allow both the mentor and mentee to discuss their fears openly (which builds trust).

The late literary giant Saul Bellow would call someone with the ability to spot important details among noise a “first class noticer.” This is a key difference between those who learn more quickly than others.

Rapid Feedback

Feedback obviously encourages learning, but it’s important how we interpret that feedback. Shane demonstrates that through a series of studies that looked at doctors performing a new surgical technique (immediate feedback on performance).

paradox of failure…It turns out that the surgeons who botched the new procedure tended to do worse in subsequent surgeries.

Screwups got worse. When colleagues screwed up, observers got better. When a doctor succeeded, she did better on subsequent surgeries. When her colleagues did well, it didn’t affect her.

The explanation here is called the attribution theory:

The theory says that people explain their successes and failures “by attributing them to factors that will allow them to feel as good as possible about themselves.”

I also really loved this quote from Oscar Wilde:

Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.

Here are three tips to accelerate growth with feedback:

  1. Make the feedback rapid.
  2. Depersonalize it.
  3. Lower the stakes and pressure (so people take risks that force them to improve).



Fact-based knowledge isn’t important in today’s age where everyone has a computer. Shane uses the example of a calculator – it’s relatively less important that kids know how to do long division. It’s more important that they know how to use a calculator and then explore long division if it interests them.

What’s important today is knowing how to use platforms to retrieve the information we need…In an age of platforms, creative problem solving is more valuable than computational skill.


Shane examines why first movers don’t always have the advantage pulling examples from surfing and the backstory behind EDM legend Skrillex.

Pioneers often miss the best opportunities, which are obscured by technological and market uncertainties. In effect, early entrants may acquire the wrong resources, which prove to be of limited value as the market evolves.”

Followers, on the other hand, learn from the first movers. One thing that can help – pattern recognition (learning more about the market and recognizing patterns similar to how a surfer learns about the ocean). Also, I would add making tiny bets.


Snow uses the example of Fidel Castro to demonstrate how the right tools and people can make a world of difference. For example, Fidel used a radio to spread the word and gain popularity among poor Cubans for his revolution. He touts the benefits of giving:

No matter the medium or method, giving is the timeless smartcut for harnessing superconnectors and creating serendipity.



Once you have a big hit, you have to be ready to capitalize on it. Otherwise, the opportunity will be wasted. For example, if you have a blog post featured on Hacker News, you better keep that wave going (with awesome archives of content and new material). One-hit wonders are all too common.

The “secret” here is potential energy, which can be summarized by doing the work long before your big break. He uses the example of Michelle Phan, who posted makeup videos on Youtube for years before one video was picked up by large publications. Her backlog and new content continued to keep readers interested and helped her ride the wave.


This principle highlights the importance of simplicity and constraints in decision making and the creative process. Again, he highlights the Finnish education system as an example (also in Platforms):

Over the decades, Finnish education, in fact, had gotten simpler. Instead of teaching kids a little about a lot of things — like most schools do — the Finns started teaching deeply in fewer subjects.

10x Thinking

10x Thinking is the art of the extremely big swing. To use a baseball analogy: instead of trying to get on base — or even aiming for a home run — it’s trying to hit the ball into the next town.

The benefits of 10x thinking include:

  • It forces you to think differently about a problem – For example, Elon Musk wanted to drastically reduce the cost of space travel so he built a rocket that can return and land itself.
  • It builds up momentum behind you – People are attracted to big thinkers.
  • It reduces competition – Rather than competing where everyone else is playing, you create your own ball field.

This last point, reduced competition, was illustrated by an experiment wherein students took standardized tests either in a room full of hundreds of people (high perceived competition) or few people (lower perceived competition).

(The researchers) showed that merely knowing there are more competitors in a competition decreases our performance.

This is referred to as the “N-Effect.”