By @SimonCocking

Interesting book looking at possible routes to rapidly grow and ‘scale’ your businesses. There has been a lot of jargon, and jargon busting around ‘Growth Hacking’, ‘Traction’, ‘Virality’ and many other sexy words for achieving rapid growth and success for your product and startup. We wanted to dig a little deeper into what was hype and what was useful. Shane Snow @shanesnow author of the book, and contributor to  Fast Company, Wired, The New Yorker among other high profile tech / business publications, kindly agreed to talk to us and kick the tyres about the hype. 

Shane Snow, headshot. Photo credit: Martin Bentsen.
Shane, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Your perspective is interesting as you have both written about this area, and are also currently trying to grow your own new media company Contently.

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Question, 12 months on from writing the book, there is a feeling that Growth Hacking / Smartcuts might achieve a temporary spike, but lasting growth will only come on the back of a platform of preparation – which then takes advantage of that viral moment.

I guess this makes for a less snappy sound bite, but overall would be it be fair to say that’s something you broadly agree with? (Chapter 7, Momentum seems to illustrate this idea that virality alone won’t lead to sustained achievements).

One of the conclusions I arrived at while researching Smartcuts is that “overnight success” is a myth. Any success that appears to have happened overnight either will fade away quickly (and therefore, can we really call it success? Certainly not sustainable.) or has been a long time in the making. In Chapter 7 of the book, I call the preparation behind momentum-launching success “building potential energy.” The key is to always be accruing that potential energy while you wait for opportunity to strike. This works especially well with things like content (you build a backlog of great material over time) or kindness (you build a critical mass of supportive relationships—and karma—over time).

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The offices of Contently

 Andrew Keen’s latest book ‘The Internet is not the answer’ suggests that the current startup ecosystem is leading to an even more polarised society. With a few people becoming fantastically wealthy, while a larger number find their jobs outsourced.

Question. If everyone is striving for Smartcuts, will this mentality exacerbate this polarisation of resources? Kids in school will prefer to find the hack. Rather than realise that part of learning, is learning how to learn things, rather than looking to find the answers page (metaphorically speaking!)?

This is a great question. I’ve found that people who’ve skimmed the book or who’ve pretended to read it all but actually haven’t tend to talk about the “hacks” and the clever tricks, but the main theme of the book (by the end especially) is that in order to accelerate success or make breakthroughs we need to teach ourselves how to think laterally—different—rather than look for shortcuts to make jobs easier.

Learning how to learn is the most crucial thing schools should teach, and learning how to think from other perspectives is the thing that will lead to more successful companies and startups and inventions and so forth. So I’d hope that we become less polarized by nature of people being more inclined to look at the world from different perspectives. But that’s easier said than done.

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Your Finish schools example makes great reading, but when you consider education in Ireland, UK & US  we’re not great at considering pedagogy. Maybe if we had a more Montessori style education, then we would encourage more independent thinking, – which in turn might create a nation of Smartcutters? What do you think?

I’m not an expert on Montessori, but I believe that one of the best things kids can do in school is go places they’d never normally go and interact with people they’d not normally meet. Exposure to different cultures and perspectives—rather than different textbooks—is immensely helpful to learning lateral thinking, and to learning how to learn. That’s how we might create a nation of Smartcutters.

Contently  (your new company) seems to reflect the growing realisation of the value of companies telling their story well, in order to engage customers and clients. Would this be a fair characterisation of what you’re trying to achieve?

Yep!

Where do you hope to go with it in the future?

We like to say that we’re in the business of building a better media world. There are a lot of people who have a stake in that. So in addition to helping companies make good media (telling stories), we also actively work to help creative people do what they love, do it better, and survive while they’re at it. A third and important part of our mission is the nonprofit that we run on the side, The Contently Foundation for Investigative Journalism. We’ve already won an award for investigative reporting in our first few months, and we plan to expand the foundation’s footprint and make a big impact on public-interest journalism, which is the kind of stuff that’s first to go when newspapers get financially crunched.

How do you get to become a contributor to contently?

First you build a portfolio (go to contently.net). You can use it as your own home page, use it to get your own work, resume, whatever. If you’re interested in contributing to our clients, you need to check a box indicating your availability for freelance work. Then when we have an opening that fits your portfolio, we’ll reach out. But you can (and should) also get to know our talent team through their freelancer events, our conference, and online, so you can be top of mind when opportunities do come.

You came to Ireland for the Web Summit, how did you get on?

Web Summit was fantastic. I especially loved it because it my first visit to the country, and when I was there, I learned that part of my family comes from Ireland. My mother’s family are Porters. It’s a beautiful country, and Dublin was a blast.

Anything else you’d like to add / or I should have asked you.

This is great. I’m happy to do this, and flattered at the interest. Thank you, and my best wishes!

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