How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success

Shane Snow

Summary in 100 words or less

New ideas emerge when we question the assumptions. Successful mentorship happens when we have a mentor guide our journey, not just our practice. Negative feedback spur improvement but we need to separate ourselves from the perceived failure and learn from it objectively. While hard work is important, deliberate pattern spotting can compensate for experience. Giving makes us a superconnector and creates serendipity. Momentum is the predictor of success. Simplification gets what we do from good to amazing. Constraints make us more creative. Going after a 10x goal forces better thinking and attracts supporters.


My Highlights

We’ve decreased the time it takes innovative people to achieve dreams, get rich, and make an impact on the world—and this has largely been due to technology and communication.

Despite leaps in what we can do, most of us still follow comfortable, pre-prescribed paths. We work hard, but hardly question whether we’re working smart.

New ideas emerge when you question the assumptions upon which a problem is based.

Lateral thinking doesn’t replace hard work; it eliminates unnecessary cycles.

Throughout history, fast-rising companies, rock-star executives, “overnight” movie stars, and top-selling products have outrun their peers by acting more like ladder hackers than ladder climbers.

Bigger or Better illustrates an interesting fact: people are generally willing to take a chance on something if it only feels like a small stretch.

Mentorship is the secret of many of the highest-profile achievers throughout history. Socrates mentored young Plato, who in turn mentored Aristotle. Aristotle mentored a boy named Alexander, who went on to conquer the known world as Alexander the Great.

We can spend thousands of hours practicing until we master a skill, or we can convince a world-class practitioner to guide our practice and cut the time to mastery significantly.

Equal amounts of research support both assertions: that mentorship works and that it doesn’t.

There’s a big difference, in other words, between having a mentor guide our practice and having a mentor guide our journey.

The key is to developing a deep and organic relationship that leads to journey-focused mentorship and not just a focus on practice. Both the teacher and the student must be able to open up about their fears, and that builds trust, which in turn accelerates learning. That trust opens us up to actually heeding the difficult advice we might otherwise ignore.

Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes. —Oscar Wilde

Even though an individual failure experience may contain valuable knowledge, without subsequent effort to reflect upon that experience, the potential learning will remain untapped. Further, since individuals tend to seek knowledge about themselves in ways designed to yield flattering results, even if someone were to engage in reflection after failing, he might seek knowledge to explain away the failure.

When failure isn’t personal, we often do the opposite. When someone else fails, we blame his or her lack of effort or ability. When we see people succeed, we tend to attribute it to situational forces beyond their control, namely luck.

The difference was how much the feedback caused a person to focus on himself rather than the task. The closer feedback moves our attention to ourselves, the worse it is for us.

Experts—people who were masters at a trade—vastly preferred negative feedback to positive. It spurred the most improvement. That was because criticism is generally more actionable than compliments.

The tough part about negative feedback is in separating ourselves from the perceived failure and turning our experiences into objective experiments. But when we do that, feedback becomes much more powerful.

In an age of platforms, creative problem solving is more valuable than computational skill.

Effort for the sake of effort is as foolish a tradition as paying dues. How much better is hard work when it’s amplified by a lever?

Luck is often talked about as “being in the right place at the right time.” But like a surfer, some people—and companies—are adept at placing themselves at the right place at the right time. They seek out opportunity rather than wait for it.

There are two ways to catch a wave: exhausting hard work—paddling—and pattern recognition—spotting a wave early and casually drifting to the sweet spot.

Deliberate pattern spotting can compensate for experience. But we often don’t even give it a shot.

When market and technology growth are smooth and steady, the first mover gets the inertia and an advantage. When industry change is choppy, the fast follower—the second mover—gets the benefits of the first mover’s pioneering work and often catches a bigger wave, unencumbered.

Conventional thinking leads talented and driven people to believe that if they simply work hard, luck will eventually strike. That’s like saying if a surfer treads water in the same spot for long enough, a wave will come; it certainly happens to some people, once in a while, but it’s not the most effective strategy for success. Paradoxically, it’s actually a lazier move.

Being a giver doesn’t require extraordinary acts of sacrifice. It just involves a focus on acting in the interests of others, such as by giving help, providing mentoring, sharing credit, or making connections for others.

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

Momentum isn't just a powerful ingredient of success. It’s also a powerful predictor of success.

The secret to harnessing momentum is to build up potential energy, so that unexpected opportunities can be amplified.

Sometimes bigger is not better. Sometimes more of a good thing is too much. Sometimes the smartest next step is a step back.

Something important about breakthrough success: simplification often makes the difference between good and amazing.

Patience and willpower, even creativity, are exhaustible resources. That’s why so many busy and powerful people practice mind-clearing meditation and stick to rigid daily routines: to minimize distractions and maximize good decision making.

Constraints make the haiku one of the world’s most moving poetic forms. They give us boundaries that direct our focus and allow us to be more creative. This is, coincidentally, why tiny startup companies frequently come up with breakthrough ideas. They start with so few resources that they’re forced to come up with simplifying solutions.

It’s often easier to make something 10 times better than it is to make it 10 percent better.

Incremental progress, he says, depends on working harder. More resources, more effort. 10x progress is built on bravery and creativity instead. Working smarter. In other words, 10x goals force you to come up with smartcuts.

The “high-hanging fruit” approach, the big swing, is more technically challenging than going after low-hanging fruit, but the diminished number of competitors in the upper branches (not to mention the necessary expertise of those that make it that high) provides fuel for 10x Thinking, and brings out our potential.

Human nature makes us surprisingly willing to support big ideals and big swings. That means more customers, more investors, and more word-of-mouth for the dreamers.

Not every big dream gains followers or comes true. Just because you’re righteous doesn’t mean people will support you. You have to motivate them. You have to tell provocative stories.

More book notes

Four Thousand Weeks
The Accidental Creative
The 4-Hour Work Week
Smart Choices
David and Goliath

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