“Can you remind me of what a smartcut is?” I asked.
I needed to lay down a foundation for our conversation.
This is Shane Snow’s third time on the podcast. And we had a lot to cover.
“Smartcuts is this idea that you don’t make breakthroughs by playing the same game that everyone else is playing,” Shane said.
The “same game” he’s referring to is the linear life path. College. Internship. Starting from the bottom. And then rising up slowly through the ranks.
“We have this system. We have this game you have to play,” Shane said, “where you have to climb through certain steps in order to get where you want to go. But you’re not going to do that faster or better or make a new way to do that by playing within the same framework as everyone else.”
If you go the slow, methodical path, you’re probably not going to get to the top. So Shane told me his methods to skip the line and get to where you want to be in life faster:
1. DON’T GO WITH TRADITION
Some people get ahead by taking a shortcut. Just look at the U.S. presidency: Obama, Eisenhower, Kennedy. They had some of the shortest runs in public service before becoming president. And look at Trump. He had NO time in public service. He didn’t climb the presidential ladder.
And Shane Snow (my guest today) didn’t climb the corporate ladder.
I’ll tell you Shane’s story.
He wanted to be a journalist and write for WIRED Magazine. But he didn’t have enough experience. They turned him away.
And he realized that it would take years to actually get up to the position he wanted. He’d have to get an internship and then wait for promotion after promotion after promotion.
He couldn’t wait that long. So he built a shortcut.
He started small. He wrote for a crappy tech blog for free. That helped him, because when he approached another crappy tech blog, he could show he’d been published. He did this over and over again. All for free. That was step 1 of his “smartcut.”
Then he went to bigger names. And showed his work. Only a few months had gone by. But he managed to get approved by Mashable and Fast Company. They gave him some freelance work.
This is the crazy part.
Just four months later, he got his article printed in WIRED. He cut the linear path by three years. And got exactly what he wanted.
2. PERCEPTION MATTERS
I’ll give you another example from Shane’s book: Andrew Jackson. He took the traditional route. And turned out to be one of the worst presidents ever. He outlawed imports and exports and ended up bankrupting America.
“You would assume, based on the way the system is set up, that the way you become president is you get elected in a really small office and then you slowly win elections to bigger and better offices until you become president,” Shane said. “But it’s not actually the experience. The statistics show it’s actually divorced from the amount of experience you have. People vote based on perceived leadership qualities.”
Key word: perceived.
“John F. Kennedy had these perceived leadership qualities. He came from this family with a legacy. He was great-looking. He had risen very quickly. And that momentum gave him this perception of having been a congressman and achieving all these things and he’s only 40. That made him seem like a great rising leader.”
And he won. His reputation won.
That’s what Shane did in his own career.
Shane wrote all about this in his book, “Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success.”
In every chapter of his book, Shane attacks myths about success. He interweaves his research with these stories and applies it to every industry.
3. THINK LATERALLY
Shane said there’s a trick to finding everyday smartcuts. And that it all depends on how your mind thinks or how you train it to think.
He told me that people who rise do something called “lateral thinking.”
“It’s about breaking things down to their fundamental problems,” Shane said, “and finding alternate, better ways to do things that have been done traditionally. Lateral thinking means approaching a problem from a new or different angle.”
“And how do you train yourself to think that way?” I asked.
“You trick yourself into doing it. You get inspiration from other people. There are questions you can ask to fundamentally reinvent the approach you’re taking. And then those questions will kick you out of normal mode. And force you to assess the problem from a lateral angle.”
This concept directly ties into Shane’s upcoming book, “Dream Teams: Working Together Without Falling Apart,” which is coming out in June.
This is where “Smarcuts” and “Dream Teams” connect.
“Everything is about teamwork,” Shane said. “Everything that you do, the things that you’re using, they were all made by people. And you could consider that all part of your team. Everything you’re working on is building off of other people’s work.”
Shane told me what makes a strong team. And he also told me how to know whether you’re an “ideal” person to work with. I’ll dig into teams first.
4. FIND AN OPPOSITE
Shane told me that “dream teams” usually have a dissenter. These are the people who are the devil’s advocate or go against the grain. And it doesn’t matter if the dissenter is right or wrong, the dissenter improves the overall function of the team. It forces everyone else to think a little more deeply about the problem.
And that is the application of lateral thinking. It happens everyday. In every industry.
For example, Shane told me about a study they did with juries in court.
“They’ll take the jury who’s all agreed on the verdict. And then they’ll throw in a new person who’s like, ‘No, I disagree.’ And even if that person is wrong, the jury will spend more time deliberating and they’ll make a more accurate assessment.”
The press is another great example.
“We often call it the fourth branch of government. The press’s job is to show you what you don’t want to see. And to get the public angry enough to push the government to do the right things. Their job is to expose things that are wrong inside the government. It’s this dissenter kind of system we’ve built into Team America.”
I can’t stress how important it is to have this dissenter on every team to help you push beyond the boundaries of your ideas. And spark unconventional solutions.
It’s what Shane calls “expanding the land of possibility.” Find someone with a crazy point of view. Throw in a wild card to your brainstorming session. Bring in people outside your industry. These are all great ways to grow as a team. And to bring new ideas to life.
5. DEVELOP INTELLECTUAL HUMILITY
Shane said, “The key ingredient that you need in a team is the ability to change. Intellectual humility is this virtue.”
He broke it down into four components:
- Be able to respect someone’s viewpoint
- Don’t be overconfident intellectually
- Be willing to revise your viewpoint
- And be able to separate your ego from your intellect
“If you can do those four things, then you’re kind of the ideal person to be working with. And if everyone in your group has those things, then you can almost be unstoppable.”
Shane has a great story in the book that I think is one of the best examples in history of this “intellectual humility” principle.
It’s the story of Malcolm X.
He was a victim of systemic and personal racism his whole life. His father was murdered by the KKK. His house was burned down by white supremacists. He had every reason to be bitter about racial issues and not want to change his mind.
He converted to the Nation of Islam. It was somewhat culty at the time. He was still young and in jail at this point. But it was the first hint at him being able to change his mind.
Once he got out of jail, he became an Islamic preacher.
“He upturned this movement into this massive thing,” Shane said. “And at the end of his life he had another huge change of heart where he decided that this movement was incorrect. And he changed religions again. Then he became this great civil rights hero. The question I had was how does someone do that… how do you change deeply held beliefs?”
He did a pilgrimage. He went to Mecca. This is part of seeing life in a new way. And getting some distance from the way you’ve always seen the world.
“He put himself out of his homeland where all of his ego and his ideas were attached to him.”
He lived in Africa for several months. His daughter said about him, “The more he traveled the freer he became.”
Traveling and immersing yourself in a different environment will detach your ego from your intellect. You’ll see how other people live. And see that it’s OK to do things differently.
Shane believes if you have the chance to travel and go live in another part of the world for a month, you should. But that’s hard for a lot of people. If you don’t have the money, resources or the time to travel, then read books. Watch Netflix. Immerse yourself in the stories of people not like yourself.
This changes your brain. It makes you a new thinker. All you have to do is explore new perspectives. “Taking in stories of people who are not like you is a good way to reinforce the neural pathways in your brain that say there’s more than one way to do things,” Shane said.
Shane tried this himself. He moved to Mexico City for a few months and immersed himself in the culture. He got to know the people. And he says this helped improve his own intellectual humility.
Shane’s second time on the podcast was last August. Almost a year ago. And we talked about this book that’s about to be released. The working title was “The Power of Difference.” Now it’s “Dream Teams.’”
It’s so interesting getting to see how his ideas developed over the course of a year.
His initial ideas were about breakthroughs. But he already had this big overarching idea of the diversity of thought. And how we can either make magic or chaos. We’re all different. But there’s an opportunity to be able to build a top-performing team.
I’m going to keep playing the devil’s advocate. And I should think about traveling more. But for now, I’m going to keep reading constantly. And enjoying Netflix.
And I’m going to keep bringing Shane on my podcast.
Links and Resources
- Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success by Shane Snow
- Dream Teams: Working Together Without Falling Apart by Shane Snow
- Contently– the company Shane co-founded
- Take The Open Mindedness Teston Shane’s Website
- Ep. 168 – Tony Hawk: Don’t Stand Still
- The Peekaboo Paradox by Gene Weingarten
- Malcolm Gladwell
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin (how Shane learned to be a better writer)
- JJ Abrams
- John F. Kennedy
- Rizza of the Wu Tang Clan
- Malcolm X
- Martin Luther King
- Bayard Rustin
- 12 Rule for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson
- The Captain Class: A New Theory of Leadershipby Sam Walker
- Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Lifeby Nassim Taleb
- Elijah Muhammad
- Hamilton the Musical
- Bob Dylan
- Elon Musk