Over the course of our life, we have likely been reminded that there are no shortcuts to meaningful achievement and that those who take shortcuts tend to be lazy (e.g. don’t want to work for what they want) or selfish (e.g. success at the expense of others). I’ve been told that there are no shortcuts to success, but I have repeatedly seen instances where the willingness and ability to create shortcuts is exactly what enables success.

If you look in the dictionary, a shortcut is nothing more than “a route more direct than the one ordinarily taken” or “a method or means of doing something more directly and quickly than and often not so thoroughly as by ordinary procedure.” I don’t know about you, but given a choice I usually prefer the most direct route and I won’t deny that often times the “ordinary procedure” is neither the most efficient nor effective. Certainly, there are many instances where looking for or taking shortcuts is irresponsible, negatively impacts the outcome, and can even result in the loss of life. It may very well be that the current way of doing something is, in fact, the quickest and most direct route to achieving the desired objective. Before accepting that to be the case, we ought to care enough to look for potential shortcuts. The paths, processes, and procedures we have today are in place in most cases due to the efforts of smart, inquisitive people who have gone before us. That said, times have changed, technology is exponentially improving, and we continue to learn through extensive experimentation (or at least we better be).

It wasn’t all that long ago that the US Postal Service was a shortcut (e.g. a more direct route than personal delivery) to communicating with our distant friends, family, and colleagues. Then came UPS, FEDEX, mobile phones, and the internet…each a shortcut at one time. The neighborhood store was at one time the solution to our shopping needs. Then came malls, big box stores, E-bay and Amazon…each by definition shortcuts. Even now many of us use the mouse to navigate the computer when we have countless keyboard shortcuts at our fingertips and the ability to write tailored scripts to automate routine tasks. The point is there are a growing number of alternatives to achieving our objectives on any given day. Some require hard work and strict adherence to a proven path established years ago. Yet, some require smarter work and demand that we create what by definition is a shortcut.

I sincerely appreciate the medical professionals who continue to create shortcuts for curing/preventing illness. I am grateful for the entrepreneurs in every field who create solutions to challenges we face as a society. And I am thankful for those who make continual improvement a deliberate part of their day. On the other end of the spectrum, I have trouble with those who continue to blindly follow the path established by others without considering their responsibility to develop a more direct route, a shortcut. Yes, that well-worn path made sense in a different era. But just because it made sense doesn’t mean it makes sense.

I am not advocating that we go out there and find loopholes, cheat, or hurt others in the name of taking shortcuts (in fact quite the opposite).  I am merely acknowledging that the most direct route of yesterday need not be the route taken today and that the shortcuts we make today may be the worn path of tomorrow.

Given the true definition of a shortcut…

  • What shortcuts are you taking today?
  • Which well worn paths are worthy of protecting?
  • Which well worn paths ought to be redirected?