Ever slaved away at a job in hopes of a promotion that never came? Tired of watching noobs surpass your skill in FIFA 14? Change the game quickly with a newer, more cerebral approach, says Shane Snow, entrepreneur, journalist, co-founder of multimillion-dollar start-up Contently and guy in the image above. His just-released book, Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success, shows you how. And in the interest of saving you even more time, we hit him up for his very best tips.
1. Learn to recognize patterns.
A less-experienced surfer who can spot a large wave can score an upset against a seasoned pro. This principle holds true outside of sports as well. “Deliberate pattern spotting can compensate for [lack of] experience,” observes Snow. Research in organizational behavior and decision-making shows that a group of non-experts performs just as well as experts in analytical tests if they’re using careful reasoning. Competing against someone with more expertise? Study the details, but also step back to look for any trends that can give you an edge. (If the ‘expert’ is overconfident, that helps, too.)
2. Find the superconnectors.
Meeting the right people opens all sorts of doors. Shaking hands with everyone over drinks is one thing; befriending the guy who can introduce you to key folks who can really help you is another. But how do you get the most popular guy at the cocktail party to actually want to help you make those valuable connections? Snow recommends—instead of asking for a favor—finding ways of providing value to him. “The networking paradigm of the 21st century that works is one of giving rather than asking. If you give enough, real relationships are built such that you can access a lot of people.”
With some exceptions, “people who end up in their dream jobs are not the ones who go through the traditional ‘pay your dues’ process.”
3. Hack the ladder
If you’re spinning your wheels in a mediocre job, you may want to find another way to raise your level. Instead of staying put for an arbitrary period of time, consider switching companies—or positions—and leveraging your experience and skills into a job that’s a moderate step up. Do this enough times and you’ll be climbing to the top in no time. Striking out on your own is also an option. With some exceptions, “people who end up in their dream jobs are not the ones who go through the traditional ‘pay your dues’ process,” notes Snow.
4. Train with the masters
With online tutorials, and more types of workshops and classes than ever, the options for learning these days are limitless. But in Snow’s view, studying with someone who’s the absolute best in a field—or a fast riser with the momentum to get there—will get you more bang for your buck. Who do you think’s going to be a better fighter—the guy trying to learn MMA skills from a YouTube video or the one studying with Jon “Bones” Jones?
5. Find a mentor
“A mentorship experience that really makes a difference is when you have a mentor that doesn’t just guide your practice but guides your journey,” says Snow. This type of relationship is often informal. Be on the lookout for someone who wants to do more than just transfer their knowledge, but help you learn from their mistakes. Another approach is to really study people who have accomplished what you’re working toward. Look at the details beyond the craft. Their attitudes, ideas and habits can set you on a promising path.
This is Snow’s book. Get it here.
“Doing big things by nature sounds complicated and scary, and simply changing your perspective sometimes allows you to do big things very quickly,” says Snow. Rewriting the rules can sometimes allow you to accelerate your success in a very dramatic way. If you’re trying to solve a big problem, ask yourself, ‘If I had to do this 100 times cheaper, what would I cut out?’ That approach has led to innovations like a $25 infant warmer (for countries that can’t afford incubators), a simplified Apple mouse and the file-sharing software Dropbox. Simplification doesn’t have to mean creating a world-changing solution, though. Just look at the problem you’re facing from a different perspective. Figure out what the most important part to solve is, and wrestle with that for a while. You may just find a simple solution.
7. Fail without failing
‘Fail fast, fail often’ is a popular adage in Silicon Valley, but according to Snow’s research, failure in and of itself does not increase your chance of future success. “You may tell yourself stories that’ll make you feel better and externalize the reasons for your failure,” he warns. Instead of the sink or swim approach, try setting up a series of opportunities by getting rapid feedback in a low-risk environment. Then build on your little wins and learn from the small losses. Rehearsing with an introductory improv class, for example, is better than waltzing onto a stand-up open-mic stage cold.