Did you ever wonder why one YouTube sensation is able to turn a viral video into a sustainable business while most flame out after a one-hit wonder?

Or how incredibly young entrepreneurs achieve success quickly, sometimes cashing out for billions of dollars after a few short years?

Or why one athlete excels when others who seem equally talented do not?

You’ll find the answers in Shane Snow’s “Smartcuts, How Hackers, Innovators and Icons Accelerate Success.”

In this book, Snow identifies 9 principles to help explain how some of today’s most successful innovators—comedians, business people, designers, inventors, athletes and more—are able to use less effort to achieve much more.

A former journalist turned content marketing entrepreneur, Snow has an undeniable talent for compelling story telling. After graduating from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, he wrote for Fast Company and Wired. Then in 2010, he co-founded Contently to help brands produce audience building content.

Snow first started writing about “smartcuts” (although he hadn’t coined the term yet) as a budding reporter in New York when that city’s tech community was just beginning. He covered Foursquare as it grew to a million users over six short months and Tumblr whose 26-year old founder cashed out for over $1 billion. He joined tech-themed networking groups, meeting founders and inventors of world-changing companies.

And he began to ask himself how these individuals were able to succeed so fast.

This curiosity, along with hours of research, hundreds of interviews, and the review of numerous academic papers, led Snow to find the common patterns within rapidly growing technology companies.

The secret, he says, is to use lateral thinking to shorten your path to success instead of following conventional advice to work a hundred hours a week.

Snow recommends looking for ethical short cuts to kick-start your career or your business. He clearly outlines the differences between short-term gains and sustainable success using Frank William Abagnale Jr., the protagonist in Spielberg’s movie Catch Me If You Can, as an example. Abagnale, Snow suggests, cheated his way to a false success by impersonating doctors, lawyers and airline pilots.

Citing stories from politics, business, sports and entertainment, Snow builds a compelling case for his thesis.

In the absence of a formal mentor, Jimmy Fallon studies video tapes of his favourite comedians to hone his own performance skills. A college student uses “warp holes” in Super Mario Brothers to bypass the levels he’s already mastered to finish the game in a record-breaking 6 minutes. And a champion surfer studies the ocean for hours before a competition in order to identify how the waves break so she can catch the right one when the judges are scoring.

I liked Smartcuts. It was a quick, compelling and interesting read. Snow uses original sources to support his principles and knows how to create suspense, not an easy task in a business book.

To Snow’s credit, “smartcuts” aren’t another recipe to get rich quick. He recommends, albeit briefly at the end of the book, that we avoid using “smartcuts” simply for personal gain. The 9 principles he outlines are valuable tools to make our world a better place, too. He encourages us to apply them to macro problems such as poverty, pollution, climate change and racism.

The one criticism I have of the book is that the ideas aren’t really new:

  • Find a valuable mentor
  • Make an effort to learn from your mistakes, rather than blaming external circumstances for missteps
  • Use “rapid feedback” to correct your mistakes

While it’s true we’ve heard these suggestions before, Snow packages them in a fresh and interesting way.

If you’re interested in reading some interesting stories, packed with practical advice for business and self-improvement, pick up a copy of Smartcuts and get ready to be entertained.