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Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success by Shane Snow

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Why do businesses and individuals succeed? Why do some people take success a step further and succeed wildly and quickly, rising to the top of their fields while others plod along making incremental progress? In Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success, journalist and entrepreneur Shane Snow answers that question by tracing the meteoric rise of some of the world’s most visionary leaders, artists, and entrepreneurs.

There are many books about leaders and success. What puts Smartcuts ahead of the pack, and really in a whole different league, is how Snow identifies the crucial moves that each individual made to achieve success and breaks them down into simple, repeatable patterns. Snow calls these patterns “smartcuts” — the intelligent, honest, outside-the-box ways that individuals and companies bypass unnecessary steps in their journeys. These smartcuts are the common tie that propelled such disparate figures as Benjamin Franklin, Skrillex, Elon Musk and Fidel Castro to lead countries, top music charts and remake the world.

Smartcuts is not a simple how-to book. Instead, it’s a book of stories. Snow adeptly weaves vignettes from the lives of successful smartcutters into his description of each step in the smartcut path. His writing style is conversational, but it’s his knack of putting the reader inside the situation that makes Smartcuts such a fun read. A description of “what it takes to succeed” would be boring. Instead, you can feel your pulse quicken as a racecar driver slides around a wet track, and hold your breath with engineers and scientists as they watch a SpaceX rocket launch.

Above all else, Smartcuts is an homage to lateral thinking. It sweeps away the ideas of “paying dues” to succeed, that you need to climb the ladder rung by rung and that it’s better to memorize facts instead of learning how to leverage platforms. In doing so, it explains the difference between our youngest and oldest presidents, how video game world records are set in one-fifth of the previous time and why Finland’s schools are among the world’s best (hint: they don’t learn multiplication tables). The book is difficult to put down, and you’ll walk away energized, inspired and possibly a bit teary-eyed over the power of human potential.

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