IT TOOK THE OIL tycoon John D. Rockefeller 46 years to make a billion dollars. He clawed his way to the top of the 19th-century business world. Starting with a single oil refinery in 1863, over two decades, he constructed oil pipelines and bought out rival refineries until he’d built an empire. Seventy years later, the 1980s computer baron Michael Dell achieved billionaire status in 14 years; Bill Gates in 12. In the 1990s, Jerry Yang and David Filo of Yahoo each earned ten figures in just four years.
It took Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, three years to do it. And in the late 2000s, Groupon’s Andrew Mason did it in two.
Sure, there’s been inflation since Rockefeller, but there’s no disputing that 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.
“A serious assessment of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential,” writes the futurist and author Ray Kurzweil in his famous essay The Law of Accelerating Returns. “So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).”
At the same time, many industries remain decidedly stuck in the past. Most large businesses stop growing after a few years. Formal education, in many cases, is so slow or out-of-date that venture capitalists pay bright people to skip school and start Internet companies. Conventional wisdom—outside of the technology industry—on innovation and career building has hardly evolved since the 19th century.
This dilemma is an exercise in lateral thinking. It’s the kind of puzzle in which the most elegant solution is revealed only when you attack it sideways.
New ideas emerge when you question the assumptions upon which a problem is based (in this case: it’s that you can only help one person).
Lateral thinking doesn’t replace hard work; it eliminates unnecessary cycles.
The law of the lever, as shown by the Greek mathematician Archimedes, says the longer the lever, the less force you need exert. This is the smart way. Leverage is the overachiever’s approach to getting more bang for her proverbial buck.
These principles explain how rocketeers and makeup artists defy expectations and become world-class icons. They’re how tech geeks save lives and community college flunkies catalyze global change.
Momentum—not experience—is the single biggest predictor of business and personal success.
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.
"This example" illustrates an interesting fact: people are generally willing to take a chance on something if it only feels like a small stretch.
This is like an intern applying for a CEO job, or a brand-new startup bidding on a NASA contract. The players eliminated resistance by breaking the big challenge (acquire something valuable like a TV) into a series of easier, repeatable challenges (make a tiny trade).
Researchers call this the psychology of “small wins.” Gamblers, on the other hand, would call it a “parlay,” which the dictionary defines as “a cumulative series of bets in which winnings accruing from each transaction are used as a stake for a further bet.”
“By itself, one small win may seem unimportant,” writes Dr. Karl Weick in a seminal paper for American Psychologist in 1984. “A series of wins at small but significant tasks, however, reveals a pattern that may attract allies, deter opponents, and lower resistance to subsequent proposals.” “Once a small win has been accomplished,” Weick continues, “forces are set in motion that favor another small win.”
But the key to success was not just rapid cycle time, it is alsothe direction they traded: sideways
The players didn’t simply parlay toothpicks for pieces of wood of increasing size; they traded toothpicks for pens and mirrors for old bikes. They didn’t wait around for the owners of a vacant house to show up, so they could ask for a trade, and they didn’t knock on the same door over and over until a “no” became a “yes.” When a door was shut to them, they immediately picked another one. When the ladder became inefficient, they hacked it. And that is what made them successful so quickly. The key to Bigger or Better, in other words, is the “or.”
But, according to behavioral biologists, speed is not the cheetah’s biggest predatory advantage. As science writer Katie Hiler puts it, “It is their agility—their skill at leaping sideways, changing directions abruptly and slowing down quickly—that gives those antelope such bad odds.”
Business research shows that this kind of ladder switching generally tends to accelerate a company’s growth. Companies that pivot—that is, switch business models or products—while on the upswing tend to perform much better than those that stay on a single course.
The 2011 Startup Genome Report of new technology companies states that, “Startups that pivot once or twice raise 2.5x more money, have 3.6x better user growth, and are 52% less likely to scale prematurely.”
Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success
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“We all are learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire. You must force yourself to consider arguments on the other side.
— Charles T. Munger”
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