Why MANY smart people take shortcuts and how you can avoid that trap

Shortcut (def): shorter alternative route

If the right shortcuts are taken, it’s a good thing. For example, you are driving home everyday on a particular route. One day, your friend tells you about a shorter alternative route. If you take that route, you might save time AND money. Using a shortcut of this nature is perfectly fine and in fact, if you are not using it, you may be incurring a cost.

Most shortcuts that people take are not the type that I mentioned above. They are options that you are choosing when you know that choosing the “right” options will require more time, energy, thinking and hard work. Alternatively, shortcuts are typically or more of the following:

  • more entertaining
  • easy
  • too good to be true
  • logically does not make sense
  • the odds are not in our favor and we know it (by a wide margin)
  • there are times when shortcuts seem to have worked (there are always exceptions)
  • they promise uncommon returns

But wait. The above are not the reasons why many smart people take shortcuts. They are intelligent enough to know that the odds are against them and rationally thinking (even a little) they know that taking a shortcut won’t make much sense. But they do take them. One reason is simply because the “perceived cost” and “risk” of taking a shortcut is less ( remember: it’s called a “shortcut” for a reason)  and they can always move on if the shortcut does not payoff. The thinking is simply that one could easily write-off the “investment” on taking the shortcut. In other words, the “loss of taking a shortcut is minimum.” Besides, it’s not like they have to announce to the world that they are taking a shortcut. If it does not work, nobody needs to know. But if it works, they win big time – a HUGE return for a SMALL investment.

So, what’s the point.

The point is that it is easy to miss that the “real cost” of taking a shortcut is way higher than the “perceived cost” of taking one.

Let me explain.

When you engage in something, you have two benefits – one is direct and the other one is indirect. The direct benefit is something that is very evident. You and everyone that is included can see it – at least most of the times. The indirect benefit is your increased capacity for future action – be it some or related. You will experience the benefit of indirect benefit over a period of time. Sometimes you may not even realize it. You would have heard of the term “unconscious competence” – the state where you are so competent that you don’t even realize that it is “competence.” Gaining “unconscious competence” is typically an indirect benefit that you derive after working for a long period of time.

Think about it. Everyone (including you) are born with limited capacity. Over the years, each one gets different capacities to perform based on where they put their focus, attention and practice.One becomes a singer, the other becomes an engineer. Yet another one becomes a mountaineer. And one more person becomes a singer, engineer and a mountaineer – all in one.

But none of this “becoming” happens overnight. It takes time.

When you engage in “real” activity, you accomplish someting but also increase your capacity to perform. If you invest in the right activities, slowly and steadily, you become more valuable to the marketplace. Over years, you continue this practice and the marketplace places a premium on you.

On the other hand, take a shortcut and you lose twice. First, because rarely shortcuts succeed. The odds are against the ones taking the shortcuts. Second, every investment in a shortcut (before you take the shortcut fantasizing about the possible outcome if you succeed, during taking the shortcut, after taking the shortcut thinking about how cool it would have been if it paid off) robs of you of an opportunity to “build capacity for the future.”

In short:

The “real cost” of a shortcut is the loss of an opportunity to become better for the future. If it is too good to be true, it probably is.

Have a great week ahead.

You may also be interested in other mini-research outcomes:

1. Why some smart people are reluctant to share? (Dec 26, 2009)

2. Why nice people will win BIG TIME in the long run? (Jan 15, 2010)

3. Why some people work hard but don’t get appreciated for that work? (Feb 22, 2010)

4. Why some smart people don’t take action? (Mar 14, 2010)

5. Why many smart people are taken for granted? (Mar 28, 2010)

6. 9 Reasons why MANY smart people go nowhere (Mar 29, 2010)