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This book serves as an original career and entrepreneurship guide in the 21st century (which was not the intent of the author). The main thesis of Shane Snow is that luck does not just happen. Using surfing metaphors, Snow indicates that the ones who catch the wave (luck) are the ones who were ready all along looking for it. These remarkable individuals were bound to catch a good wave (luck) sooner or later. It was just a matter of time. And, the way they went about it; they did not waste much time doing it. They did not pay their dues for decades. They spent no time in stagnant situations. They kept moving forward and often laterally (typically a lot faster than the rest of us). This does not mean they did not work very hard. They did. It does not mean they cheated and cut corners. To the contrary, they maintained superior ethical standards. Snow defines smart cuts as short cuts with integrity. These individuals worked smarter, more creatively, and better understood how to take their next step. Most often, they were guided by a life-passion, an interest, a focus that kept them honed like a heat-missile towards their target.
Snow outlines nine foundational smart cuts principles that can accelerate anyone’s career or one’s company growth. They all make perfect sense, are intuitive, not controversial, and not far-fetched. Snow does not make anything up. Every single of his smart cuts principle is well supported by research and documented by many examples.
The smart-cut thinking is an offshoot of “lateral thinking” as defined and developed by Edward de Bono. And, Snow gives de Bono his due credit for the concept. However, while I have read most of de Bono’s books, and did find them interesting; I find Snow’s book far more insightful.
Each chapter describes thoroughly one of the smart-cut strategies on a stand-alone basis. Of course, they overlap a bit and work well simultaneously. But, it is amazing how powerful each one of those strategies is on a stand-alone basis.
There are numerous passages within the book that are pretty fascinating. The contrast between the careers of US Presidents and US senators is amazing. The Presidents are often outstanding smartcutters with a surprisingly short career in Federal office before acceding to the Presidency (Eisenhower, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush Jr., and Obama among others). Meanwhile, the senators are for the most part stagnant plotters; and, very few of them ever make it to President. Snow even makes the case that some of the Presidents who paid their dues with a lifelong career in politics were some of the worse Presidents (example: Andrew Johnson). Good Presidents mainly acquired leadership credentials outside the field of (national) politics. Meaning, paying your dues career-long is no guarantee of mastery once you get there.
Another interesting fact is that companies who switch fields are often very successful. Moving laterally often causes one to accelerate. The IPhone was developed not by a telecommunication company, but Apple a PC company. Start-ups that “pivot” once or twice raise 2.5 more money, have 3.6 times faster user growth, and are 52% less likely to plateau prematurely.
In another section, you learn about a team of hospital surgeons who learn how to synchronize their surgeries and patient treatments inspired by the exactitude, speed, and efficiency of a racing car formula I team of outstanding mechanics working at the races. Quoting the author: “Before long, the hospital had reduced its worst … errors by 66%.” As an extra, the formula I racers, mechanics, and hospital doctors became very good friends and participated together in fund raisers for various charities.
The whole “Rapid Feedback” strategy (chapter 3) is really interesting. It details the comedians learning processes at The Second City in Chicago. It also shares research on how we learn from mistakes and feedback. Much research show that we actually learn more from the mistakes of others rather than our own. This is because we readily attribute the mistake of others to humans. Meanwhile, we attribute our own mistakes to external circumstances beyond our control so as to protect our own ego. Apparently, what differentiates some masters in whatever discipline from others is their ability to withstand, or even their eagerness to solicit negative criticism. They find negative criticism far more actionable to facilitate their progress.
“Waves” (chapter 5) is at the essence of the book. That’s where Snow goes all out with surfing metaphors that he effortlessly transfers into a multitude of real life and career related examples. He quotes a professional surfer stating: “Being able to pick and read good waves is almost more important than surfing well.” You can see how you could plug in this concept effectively in many situations. There are a couple of specific gems in this chapter that will stay with you. One of them is the amazing power of pattern recognition. If you analyze deliberate trends, use criteria, observe the facts, etc… amateurs undertaking this kind of trend analysis will invariably outsmart experts’ intuition in just about any field. Snow mentions a few weird examples such as the ability to recognize the difficulty level of a professional basketball shots; or the ability to pick out Louis Vuitton fake bags vs authentic ones. Thus, “you can be right the first time” without years of apprenticeship. This will be music to the ears of all the data guys out there (not just the Big Data one). “Deliberate pattern spotting can compensate for experience” as stated by the author. Another gem is that you don’t need to be the first to do something and be successful. Research showed that 47% of first (company) movers failed. By contrast, early leaders-companies that took control of a product’s market share after the first movers pioneered them had only an 8% failure rate. Fast followers benefit from the free-rider effect. Examples: Google beat out Overture in search engine. Facebook beat out Myspace in social networks.
“10 x Thinking” (chapter 9) will turn you into an Elon Musk fan if you are not already. This chapter outlines the genius, perseverance, and sheer bravado Musk demonstrated in pursuing his most daring venture: SpaceX. The concept here is that to revolutionize a field you can’t go for just marginal improvements (10% better, etc…). You have to go for the big swing, 10 x better, or 10 x cheaper, etc… So, it is called 10 x thinking. And, Musk after many failures did just that with SpaceX. His company is literally 10 times more cost effective and 10 times faster in terms of project turnaround time than the former best in the aerospace business: NASA. As a result, SpaceX is now a very viable commercial entity swamped with contracts from all over the world to launch satellites transport resources back and forth to the Space Station, etc… A counterintuitive thought is that sometimes the 10 x improvements are easier than the + 10% one. This is because the former are challenging high-hanging fruits no one dares to go for. While the latter ones are low-hanging fruits crowded with competitors. And, this runs into the N-Effect. The more competitors in a given field the weaker is the individual performance. They found that test takers (SAT, ACT, etc…) perform much better when in a smaller class room with fewer test takers than when in a much larger class room with many test takers.
There is a lot more to the book than what I covered. But, my review should give you a good idea if this book is for you. If you got that far in reading my review, it most probably is.