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By Eric Barker
December 3, 2014
IDEAS
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

We all want success. And we’d like it fast. But we can only work so long and so hard. The more-more-more ethos only goes so far. What to do?

I decided to ask someone who knows about this stuff: Shane Snow.

Shane’s the bestselling author of Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success.

He did the research and looked at how people and companies achieve success quickly by trying new things, breaking the rules and taking shortcuts — or, as Shane calls them, smartcuts.

What’s a consistent theme throughout the book? Lateral thinking. The secret to succeeding faster isn’t working more, it’s working different.

Here’s Shane:

The book is loaded with proven, counterintuitive strategies to help you get better faster. Shane and I talked about six of them.

Okay, you know the drill — let’s break them down.

1) Forget “Paying Your Dues”

If paying your dues was essential, there would be no child prodigies or Zuckerberg billionaires.

Looking at the research, Shane realized the best US Presidents had the least experience in politics. Here’s Shane:

And this lines up with the research of Harvard professor Gautam Mukunda: it’s the renegade outliers who make the big changes.

Often when people talk about the importance of paying dues, they’re afraid of failure or afraid of breaking rules.

Playing it safe can help you do “pretty good” — but it’s rarely the way to get to the very top or to get there fast.

(For more on what the most successful people have in common, click here.)

So you don’t have to suffer for years before you can take your shot. But you do need to learn. Where’s the best place to get help?

2) Find Your Yoda Outside The Office

The research Shane initially looked at said mentors don’t help you get ahead. And Shane reacted the same way I did…

Mr. Miyagi didn’t help? Morpheus didn’t help? Yoda was useless? HERESY.

So Shane dug deeper. Turns out formal mentorship didn’t work. That guy they assign to guide you at the office? Zero effect on your career.

But the mentors you seek out on your own? Boom. They take you to the next level in a big way. But what’s the difference between the two?

Mentors need to care about you.

Here’s Shane:

And caring goes both ways.

If you don’t feel a bond with your mentor and you don’t open up, you won’t get the most from them. You need to care about them too. Here’s Shane:

Forget the silly “mentor” that work or school assigned to you. Hitch a ride to the Dagobah system. Go “wax on, wax off” an old Japanese man’s cars.

Find a teacher who you care about and who cares about you and you’re not just on your way to a great career, you’re on your way to a primo life.

(For more on how to find the perfect mentor for you, click here.)

So informal mentors can really make a difference. How else can you keep improving? The answer might surprise you…

3) Watching Others Fail Helps You Succeed

Not making others fail, mind you. But seeing others screw up helps you learn.

It’s a shortcut to getting around a little known cognitive bias Shane discovered in his research.

When surgeons tried to learn a new procedure, which ones improved the most? The ones who saw others make mistakes.

Here’s Shane:

Huh? So unless you’re good from day one the only way to get better was to watch other people fail? Why?

Because your brain is trying to stop you from feeling bad about yourself. So it lies to you.

When you screw up, you make excuses. “Not my fault. Sun was in my eyes.” When you see someone else do well, you say, “Well, of course, I’d do it just like that.”

But when you see someone else bomb you say “Whoa, better not do that.” Here’s Shane:

It’s one of the fundamental differences between the beginner and the expert mindset. Beginners need encouragement so they don’t quit.

But experts love negative feedback. That’s the secret to how you keep improving. Here’s Shane:

Turn failure into feedback and then turn feedback into actionable steps.

(For more on how to have an expert mindset, click here.)

Mentors, watching others fail… so you’re learning a lot. But what if you’re just too late?

4) Forget First Movers. Be A Fast Follower.

“I had that idea but they beat me to it.” Ever said that? Okay, you’re now officially a whiner. Because you were dead wrong.

You were actually in the better spot. Research shows the guy who starts second is more likely to win.

Via Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success:

When you’re first you have to waste a lot of time and energy figuring out best practices. When you’re second, you can just play “follow the leader.”

Dan Coyle said the two most important words when it comes to getting better are “reach” and “stare.”

  • Reach: Keep trying to get better.
  • Stare: Study and emulate those who are better than you.

You’re not too late. You’re right on time.

(For more on the attitude that produces success, click here.)

So timing isn’t as big a deal as you thought and you can learn from those who came before you. But what about when you need original ideas?

5) Want To Be More Creative? Add Constraints.

When you have limitations you can’t take the easy route. Constraints force you to think. And often, unless forced, we don’t think much at all.

When challenged, we have to be original.

Via Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success:

One of the most insightful DVD commentaries I’ve ever heard was Robert Rodriguez discussing his movie, El Mariachi.

He made a 90 minute film with only 7000 dollars. Such an incomprehensibly small budget forced him to rethink every part of filmmaking.

He didn’t have a dolly so he attached the camera to a wheelchair.

The critics loved his editing but the only reason he cut the film like that was because his cheap recording equipment would lose sync during long shots.

You don’t need the freedom to be creative. You need the constraints.

(To learn the four principles that will take you to breakthrough creativity, click here.)

So creativity comes from limitations but your goals, well, they need to go in the total opposite direction…

6) “It’s Easier To Make Something 10 Times Better Than To Make Something 10% Better”

That line is from Astro Teller, head of Google X. Those are the guys who build driverless cars and other supercool stuff.

When you try to make something 10% better, your brain is burdened with all the baggage that came before. You have no room to maneuver.

When you say 10 times better, you have to reinvent the whole process. It makes you think big. You toss out the old rules and start fresh. Here’s Shane:

And when you dream big, people want to join you. The media wants to talk about you. Venture capitalists want to throw money at you. Ambition is a force multiplier. Here’s Shane:

And, perhaps most importantly, when you think 10x instead of 10%, you behave differently.

Research shows when you set bolder, more audacious goals you work harder than when you’re reasonable. Here’s Shane:

So dream big. No, even bigger.

(For everything you need to know about setting and achieving your goals, click here.)

These are some great ideas. Let’s round them up and finish with the one thing you absolutely need to remember.

Sum Up

Here are Shane’s tools for achieving bigger, faster success:

  1. Forget “Paying Your Dues”
  2. Find Your Yoda Outside The Office
  3. Watching Others Fail Helps You Succeed
  4. Forget First Movers. Be A Fast Follower.
  5. Want To Be More Creative? Add Constraints.
  6. “It’s Easier To Make Something 10 Times Better Than To Make Something 10% Better”

That’s a lot to remember. So if you forget everything you just read, what’s the one thing you need to keep in mind? I asked Shane that and here’s what he said:

So look around today at the things that are important and ask why you’re doing them that way.

Is there a better way? A way that’s quicker, more effective, and more fun?

More often than not, I’ll bet you there is.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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