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I was passing by my favourite local bookstore (Hager Books) the other week when I noticed a couple of boxes of discounted items just outside the entrance. Not being able to resist a good sale I started combing through the small collection. It wasn’t long before I came across the following:
I won’t reveal the substantial discount publicly since I bought the book as a birthday present for my son. I also read it before giving it to him, which I know he doesn’t mind. We do this often, buying each other thoughtful mind-bending/altering books that we then lend to each other. Most books were purchased in Munro’s bookstore in Victoria, where we used to live. Some of the authors that have passed between us are Daniel Levitin, John Brockman, Charles Duhigg, John Higgs, Michael Pollan and Yuval Noah Harari. Unfortunately for him, but luckily for me, he occupies a small apartment in downtown Vancouver, while I enjoy the use of two extensive bookcases. As a result, I end up holding onto these idea-stimulating works.
Now, let’s get back to Shane Snow. I’d never heard of him and the book was published in 2014, so several years old by this date. So how did I know it was destined for my son? Three small but significant words in the very first paragraph: Super Mario Bros.
Any parent who’s raised a child (especially a boy) in the 1980’s and 90’s will know of Nintendo and its wonderful, amusing video games. Let’s call it an addiction; my son was no exception. I’d like to think it helped lead him onto his current career with computers, as a UX designer and much, much more (now with a game company). Mr. Snow goes on to discuss an attempt by a college mate in Rexburg, Idaho, to beat the world record time for completing the game. The trick involved bypassing multiple levels in the game (of which 32 exist, covering eight different worlds) to speed ahead, in essence making a lateral move or taking a shortcut. Hence the title and the thesis of the book – the need to look at things differently, avoid the steps that are no longer essential in life, use “superconnectors” and “10X thinking” and find those shortcuts to success. This is of course what the industrial and computer revolutions have been all about, finding new, more efficient and less expensive ways of doing things.
For those interested, here’s a very recent list (August 2022) of the top ten Super Mario games, according to Techraptor. Unfortunately the list doesn’t include the only one I was ever any good at: Mario Kart.
Mr. Snow explores several different fields and talks about many people, some famous, some not, to explain his thesis: Finland’s success in teaching grade school mathematics; Jimmy Fallon’s rapid ascent to the top comedic rung; the success of the Upworthy social media site; the evolution of computer programming; what it takes to become a successful surfer; Saturday Night Live; Lady Gaga; Fidel Castro’s 1958 revolution in Cuba; J.J. Abrams; Oreo cookies; Brian Lam of Gizmodo and The Wirecutter fame; Elon Musk/SpaceX; Astro Teller; and Kosta Grammatis. It’s an eclectic mix, to say the least, and he presents each story most entertainingly. In sum, the book is a quick read; and well worth the purchase for its many insights.
And telling a great, motivating story in itself is part of the answer, because people “are surprisingly willing to support big ideals and big swings.” (p. 180) Not to forget, of course, excellent powers of observation, hard work and several other attributes (read the book to find out).
Since I’d never heard about Shane Snow, I decided to look him up online. The back page of the book talks about his masters degree in journalism from Columbia, his regular contributions to Wired and Fast Company and being a “sought-after keynote speaker” and “influencer”. It also notes he’s the co-founder of Contently (“Those Who Tell the Stories Rule the World”).
Here’s his personal website. He’s now become a “world-renowned keynote speaker on innovation and human behavior” (my bolding), with three books to his name, a media company and business-skills training company, to boot. So I guess he’s doing all right.
And since these posts are generally about writing and authors, I can’t ignore noting that, on his website, he also provides sets of book recommendations, with various categories, like best innovation, best pop-science, guides for writers, etc.. Since he includes Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes among his list of favorite (modern) fiction, he clearly has excellent taste. A man after my own heart.