Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Notes taken on "Smartcuts" - a brilliant book by Shane Snow.

Hacking the ladder
Bigger or better is a scavenger hunt, a sort of trick-or-treating (young) adults. Players divide into teams and begin with a small object, like a toothpick, then disperse and knock on neighborhood doors, one house after another.
      At each answered door, the players introduce themselves with something on the order of, "We're playing a game called Bigger or Better. Do you have something in your house that's slightly bigger or better than this..." (display object) " ...that you want to trade with us?"
      The first few houses are the toughest. People relaxing at night in their homes aren't often searching of toothpicks. Even in the friendly Rocky Mountains a homeowner can be put off by such a request. But before long, a stranger will good-naturedly offer a piece of gum or that toothpick, and the game is on.
      At the next house, the gum becomes a ballpoint pen. At the next: a pack of Post-it notes. Then: a copy of last month's Nylon magazine. The magazine becomes a bouquet of flowers left by an unwanted admirer. The flowers get swapped for an old hat, and the hat is exchanged for novelty T-shirt. In this phase of the game, the players benefit from a bit of curiosity, a little charity, and the fact that people were planning on getting rid of most of these objects anyway.
      But after enough trades, the players hold objects of significant value in their hands. Now the boy who opens the door sincerely wants the T-shirt. He trades his lava lamp for it. The girls next door like the lava lamp and decide to part with a vintage mirror. The old woman down the street collects antiques; she accepts the mirror exchange for an old BMX bike in the garage.
      When time is up, the players return home to compare results. After a dozen or so trades, teams have turned toothpicks into a stereo system, a set of golf clubs, and a television set. One group even drags in a full-size canoe.
      Not bad for a sober night out.

Training with Masters
Rapid Feedback

Effort for the sake of effort is foolish as a tradition as paying dues. How much better is hard work when it's amplified by a lever? Platforms teach us skills and allow us to focus on being great, rather than reinventing wheels or repeating ourselves.
      "You can build on top of a lot of things that exist in this world," David Heinemeier Hannson told me. "Somebody goes in and does that hard, ground level science based work.
      "And then top of that, " he smiles, "you build the art."

Another academic duo, Peter Golder and Gerard Tellis of the University of Southern California, published a study in 1993 to see if historical evidence backed the claim that market pioneers were more likely to succeed. They researched that market pioneers were more likely to succeed. They researched what happened to 500 brands in 50 product categories, from toothpaste to video recorders to fax machines to chewing gum.
      Startlingly, the research showed that 47 percent of first movers failed. Only about half the companies that started selling a product first remained the market five years later, and only 11 percent of first movers remained market leaders over long term.
      By contrast, early leaders-companies that took control of a product's market share after the first movers pioneered them-had only an 8 percent failure rate. Fifty-three percent of the time in the Golder and Tellis study, an early leader became the market leader in a category.
      Like early pioneers crossing the American plains, first movers have to create their own wagon trails, but later movers can follow the ruts. First movers take on burden of educating customers, setting up infrastructure, getting regulatory approvals, and making mistakes-getting feedback and adjusting.
      Fast followers, on the other hand, benefit from free-rider effects. The pioneers clear the way in terms of market education and infrastructure and learn the hard lessons, so the next guys can steal that works, learn objectively from the first movers' failures, and spend more effort elsewhere. The first wave clears the way for a more powerful ride.
. . . .
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.
      There's a reason some people practice things for twenty years and never become experts; a golfer can put 30,000 hours of practice and not improve his game if he's gripping his clubs wrong the whole time. A business can work five times harder and longer that its neighbors and still lose to rivals that read the market better. Just like a pro surfer never wins by staying in one spot.
      "I think that being able to pick and read good waves is almost more important than surfing well,' Moore tells me. "If you don't have a good or better platform to perform on than your opponent, you are going to lose."
      Her secret, and Sonny's (and Google's and 3M's and General Motor's), isn't practice-though that certainly helps. It's going to the beach to watch the waves and getting into the water to experiment.
      And if you're in the sweet spot when that superwave does come, Sonny says, "It's pure energy."


10 x Thinking
The secret sounds a bit crazy. Says Teller, "It's often easier to make something  10 times better than it is to make it 10 percent better."
. . .
"The way of doing about trying to make something new or better often tends to polarize into one of two styles, " Teller says. "One is the low-variance, no surprises version of improvement. The production model, if you will. You tend to get '10 percent,' in order of magnitude, kind of improvements."
      "In order to get really big improvements, you usually have to start over in one or more ways. You have to break some of the basic assumptions and, of course, you can't know ahead of time. It's by definition counter intuitive."
      Incremental progress, he says depends on working harder. More resources, more effort. 10x progress is built on bravery and creativity instead. Working smarter.

The brilliant "Smartcuts" by Shane Snow.