Highlights from “Smartcuts”

Venkatesh-Prasad Ranganath
3 min readSep 25, 2023

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This book got me out of my recent reading slump :) It is a quick read and contains sensible and actionable advice. Instead of summarizing the advice (go read it!), here are few of my highlights from the book.

  1. “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.” — Oscar Wilde
  2. Attribution theory says that people explain their successes and failures “by attributing them to factors that will allow them to feel as good as possible about themselves”.
  3. The closer feedback moves our attention to ourselves, the worse it is for us.
  4. The research showed that experts — people who were masters at a a trade — vastly preferred negative feedback to positive. It spurred the most improvement. That was because criticism is generally more actionable than compliments.
  5. The tough part about negative feedback is in separating ourselves from the perceived failure and turning our experiences into objective experiments.
  6. “Funny is right at the line. Just a little bit uncomfortable. Just at the place the where it could fail,” she says. “And just like a muscle, you have to fail a little bit in order to improve.”
  7. “Mathematics is a way of thinking about problems and issues in the world. Get the thinking right and the skills come largely for free.” — Keith Devlin.
  8. In the age of platforms, creative problem solving is more valuable than computational skill.
  9. “You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.” — Edward de Bono
  10. The platform amplifies that effort and teaches skills in the process of using it.
  11. Deliberate pattern spotting can compensate for experience.
  12. “One of the main things that you do when you learn to compete is learn how to pick out conditions. Know that the tide is getting higher. Counting waves, how many waves come in a particular area that fit your eye that you want to ride.” — Pat O’Connell
  13. When market and technology growth are smooth and steady, the first mover gets the inertia and and advantage. When industry change is choppy, the fast follower — the second mover — gets the benefits of the first mover’s pioneering work and often catches a bigger wave, unencumbered.
  14. No matter that medium or method, giving is the timeless smartcut for harnessing superconnectors and creating serendipity.
  15. Innovation is about doing something differently, rather than creating something from nothing (invention) or doing the same thing better (improvement).
  16. Often, the thing holding us back from success is our inability to say no.
  17. Like Holmes, hackers strip the unnecessary from their lives. They zero in on what matters. Like great writers, innovators have the fortitude to cut the adverbs.
  18. Incremental progress, Astro Teller says, depends on working harder. More resources, more effort. 10x progress is built on bravery and creativity instead. Working smarter.
  19. “The first step is to establish that something is possible; then probability will occur.” — Elon Musk
  20. The thing about giant swings is they come with increased odds of failure.
  21. You can make incremental progress by playing by the rules. To create breakthrough change, you have to break the rules.

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Venkatesh-Prasad Ranganath

Engineer / Ex-Academic / Ex-Researcher who is curious about software and computing.