Ever noticed how frequently pinnacle performers are way, way younger than the ‘also rans’? That’s because these people didn’t get to the top the slow, traditional way. They did something a little different. They took what author Shane Snow calls 'SmartCuts.'  

In order to radically shorten our learning curves, we should study and emulate the industry greats. But there is a tipping point in the development of your own knowledge and talent at which copycatting becomes counter-productive.  

In the student-phase, you need the guidance of role-models. Once you’ve reached sufficient competence, copying the icons can only make you a ‘pale comparison of.’ As they innovate, you copy, rendering you consistently six months to a year behind.  

The time-lag is not the only issue. You also look like them. There’s little gain in people saying, ‘Oh, so you’re like a mini version of (insert icon).’  

At a certain point in your competence, you need to start practicing what Snow calls ‘SmartCuts’ (also the title of his excellent book). A ‘smartcut’ is a non-linear leap to the top, as opposed to the slow, grinding process of getting there through predictable, step-by-step progression.  

What’s your next SmartCut? If you were to think laterally and deny the inevitability of a long, tedious slog, what lateral, alternative route might you take in order to make a quantum-leap jump to the front? 

Don’t think in terms of owning your industry ‘one day.’ Think in terms of doing it in a year from now. Ask yourself which abstract and unconventional approach might get you there; what lateral move could take you to the top with decades to spare?