The corporate world is fond of hardline sayings such as “There is no such thing as a shortcut to success.” That brand of machismo is prized among people who want to be perceived as smart, realistic and hard-working.
The problem with sayings like that is they are often wrong. Any endurance athlete can tell you that taking shortcuts or choosing tangents is the best way to navigate a race course.
Open water swimmers learn to “sight” by raising their heads to choose the straightest course. Cyclists and runners learn to ride and run the tangents, cutting corners from point to point in order to cut down on the distance covered. All these methods involved taking the shortest course possible. And they are legal. But they are also very different from taking shortcuts that are not legal. It is important in this world to know the difference.
And what can we learn from these methods that are applicable to real life?
Apple versus PCs
I think back to that period in technology when the Macintosh was first emerging on the market. Mac users fondly used a mouse to navigate freely around documents. Yet there were people who flatly refused this shortcut because they thought scrolling by using the arrow keys was a more efficient, and perhaps more honest way of using a keyboard.
That brand of reticence came to symbolize the battle between PC (originally IBM, known as Big Blue) users and those who embraced Apple products. Apple promoted its innovations with phrases such as “Think Different.”And some people hated them for it.
There are still plenty of people who hate Apple. For a long time, the main contention was that Apple products, especially Macs, were not powerful enough for business use. That was a big defense of PCs and business machines. The Intel chips were better.
Then Apple made the leap to the more powerful Intel chips… and that may or may not be an issue anymore. It’s practically irrelevant. Apple took a shortcut to success by running tangents from one personal interest to the next. The creative world embraced these products and the entire publishing industry was revolutionized.
So in essence, Apple won. To this day, Apple remains a key inventor of products that deliver shortcuts to enjoyment of everything from reading to music to productivity.
Music versus tunes
Ancillary products such as iTunes have also revolutionized (for better or worse) the structure upon which the entire music industry depended.
One could argue that the shortcuts enabled by digital music destroyed that industry. Likewise, creative artists struggle to make money with recordings of their music. It is too easily traded and stolen by anyone with the simplest computer.
That revolution has had an interesting byproduct. Artists now depend on touring to make money from their music. So the destruction led to a recreation. It’s almost as if the music business has been forced back in time, or gone through a creative wormhole at the least.
Taxi versus Uber
All these aspects of progress are both the cause and symbol of creating shortcuts. The ride-sharing app Uber took a shortcut on the taxicab business. Yet taxi companies are now adopting similar technologies to improve their service. Some blamed Uber for cheating. But now the taxi business may become better for it.
If we wanted to stick our heads in the ground, it might be possible to defy all this change and progress. But we also know that someone is always ready to embrace change. Getting left behind holding the buggy whip is no way to live.
Clean versus doping
Yet we also want to know that people are not taking shortcuts that give them an unfair advantage in competition.
The doping scandals that continue to plague cycling and track and field as sports are clearcut examples of taking unfair shortcuts to success. When athletes take a drug that makes them 10% faster on the bike or on the run, that makes for exciting viewing, but the results are falsely manipulated. They’re cheating, in other words.
Whether the paradigm that doping is cheating actually sticks is a question for the ages. Baseball, football, and other sports that are not so intrinsically measured by absolute results such as time also have problems with dopers. Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa lit the baseball world on fire one summer, racing to a season home run record that drew massive attention to a sport that frankly needed it. They took the shortcut to success and were rewarded with fame. Baseball thrived in that limelight, making more money and returning briefly to its glory as America’s Pastime.
But we know that shortcuts of that nature also come with a cost. Steroids can have physical and emotional effects that can lead to destruction of the individual. Men like Lyle Alzado and others have learned that taking shortcuts can cut short your life. Sammy and Mark were later shamed for their doping, and Barry Bonds too. Shortcuts often catch up to you later on.
Red Bull versus sanity
The Red Bull company is making great public relations hay out of risk-related sports that emphasize the brand image of high amp adventure. Many of their sport-related events features athletes doing the opposite of taking shortcuts, jumping out of high-flying objects in wingsuits, or diving off tall cliffs in just a Red Bull Speedo.
Yikes. They put themselves at unnecessary risk just to see if it can be done. Taking the literal high road in these forms can produce dangerous results. It can be a shortcut to death.
But that’s what makes it all so thrilling to watch. Those Tour de France cyclists barrelling down mountains in July with newspapers tucked in their kit jerseys to keep down the cold are cutting tangents on the bike to cut down time and gain speed. The fact that their shortcuts down the mountain take them to the edge of a precipice time and again makes us cringe in our own bike shorts. And we admire their guts.
Liberalities versus liberalism
That’s how the world works, and what human nature craves. We admire the bold and the risk-takers. We largely respect the innovators once we figure out what they’re doing.
Men like Steve Jobs recognized potential in the fact that people often don’t even know what they want, and if you create something cool enough, they’ll certainly want it bad. And often. And lots of it. iThis and iThat.
Even the bikes we ride and the shoes we put on our feet are attempts to circumvent the rules. We want to “cheat the wind” with aero frames and bikes lighter than air. Regulatory commissions thus have to make rules governing these innovations or cyclists and their teams will find new ways to cheat.
Horse racing has its handicapping methods to manage weight differences in jockeys. Even strip clubs have rules about who can touch the dancers (male or female) and who cannot. NO shortcuts!
Of course, much of that governance has to do with how much money you’re willing to spend, and that’s where things get tricky, so to speak. The world’s oldest profession(s) even have rules for cheating. But in the end, they’re all shortcuts to sex, and some people take issue with that basic fact.
Which leaves conservatives, as a rule, to stand back and wonder what the hell the world is really all about. Strippers and escorts reportedly love big political conventions on both sides of the aisle. Human sex trafficking picks up during these events. These bold liberalities are signs of a society confused about its moral foundations.
And certainly men like Lance Armstrong, who took liberalities with doping rules, have been put through the ringer by both liberals and conservatives for doing great things the wrong way. But taking liberalities is far different from taking a liberal approach to thinking. We’ve learned that the hard way in America, and on multiple levels.
Risk versus solvency
See, taking liberalities with the rules is a far different thing taking a liberal approach to thinking. The economy crashed in 2008 in part because the financial industry took liberalities with foundational rules governing mortgage loan investment packages.
The new movie The Big Short documents why this “shortcut” to financial success, which depended on packaging high-risk loans and reselling them to unsuspecting buyers, had such a high cost to society. You should go see that movie if you want to know how all that worked, and why it ultimately didn’t.
“You’re betting against the American economy,” one character notes during the flick. And that’s about all you need to know if you’re too lazy to go to the theater.
Indeed. Such is the case with all liberalities. They are either the product of laziness, which is common, or greed, which is just as common. Often these two also go together. People cheat and take shortcuts with money, truth and power all the time, and grow to admire those that appear to be good at it.
Conservative versus liberal
Yet there are shortcuts that cannot be tolerated if the world has a right to expect some level of consistency. That’s the truly conservative way of thinking, according to its actual definition. Conservative: holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.
It’s a conservative (by definition) thing not to let banks or athletes run amok by cheating, financial rules or flaunting doping laws. It’s also a conservative thing not to let bullies run amok using government to redistribute wealth. But here’s the problem with that slogan: ne0-conservatives claim to hate social welfare but seem to love corporate welfare, and billions in American wealth has already been redistributed from the Middle Class to the top 1%. Neo-conservatives took a shortcut to oligarchy.
I’m the first kind of conservative, one that believe in prudence and social justice in term of individual rights. I’m also conservative about politics and religion, with a keen understanding that the United States Constitution has an establishment clause that says there shall be no state religion but also allows free expression of faith. Yet people calling themselves conservatives (and Christian) lie about the Establishment Clause all the time, especially claiming that American is a Christian nation. That’s taking a shortcut past the Establishment Clause. And it’s wrong.
Heroes versus villains
Yet it’s sad that some people still view the crooks, cheaters and liars that often dominate our society with some sort of admiration. Why else would a man like Donald Trump be leading political polls?
Manipulators excel at grabbing attention. It happens in business as well as sports. And Americans, in particular, seem susceptible to this brand of thinking. Some seem incapable of separating fact from fiction at all, even to the point of going to war for the wrong reasons. All it takes to foment war mongering and madness is a slogan or a lie repeated boldly enough to make it appear to be a shortcut to success.
“They have weapons of mass destruction” worked pretty well as a slogan to convince Americans that starting a war in Iraq was a good idea. Even though that nation had nothing to do with the 9/11 tragedy––the attackers were largely from Saudi Arabia (with whom we supposedly have diplomatic relations) millions of Americans were duped into the idea that attacking Iraq was the right thing to do. See, engaging the Saudis meant taking the long way round through negotiations and complications in the oil industry. So we avoided that route to gaining revenge for being attacked. Saddam was an easy target, a shortcut to glory for a standing President, and a way to look good in the eyes of Israel, our strange proxy for a Christian nation in the Middle East when it is actually a Jewish State.
War versus peace
So we took a shortcut to satisfy America’s bloodlust and swept into Iraq city behind a veil of seemingly victorious bombs. We swept away their army (who turned up later as terrorists) and let the dictator we’d orginally installed be hung in the public square. Then our President stood on a battleship with his crotch bulging in a flight suit in front of a banner that declared “Mission Accomplished.”
And some people bought it.
Ten+ years later that shortcut to supposed peace in the Middle has backfired in ways we never anticipated. All of America, not just the conservatives who led the charge in that war, is guilty of taking that seeming shortcut to Middle East peace.
Cheaters versus the World
We cheered American Lance Armstrong to seven Tour victories (because he hated the French) while turning a blind eye to rumors that he was doping. Lance excelled at promulgating that lie. He did grand work in the fight against cancer. Some might argue that leveraging his fame to that cause was justification for the lie upon which he depended for his success.
That’s the problem with shortcuts, you see. They cut across gray areas where the truth is not so black and white. And yet, we know that a Rosie Ruiz taking a subway train to win the Boston Marathon without breaking a sweat is wrong. Yet we find it hard to imagine that an American hero such as Alberto Salazar might somehow be involved in competitive manipulations of one kind of another.
Truth versus the American Dream
We’d all like to know the shortcut or the simplest tangents to accomplish the American Dream. When we’re in a running race, we look from corner to corner on the streets because that is allowed.
But when we stumble on the fact that the company where we work is engaged in shady methods, or our church pastor is sleeping with the choir director, we wonder about the right things to do. Should we take the long way around and hope it all goes away? Or do we take the shortcut to honesty and call people out?
Black and white versus grey areas
See, shortcuts work both ways, and tarsnakes await on every road we travel. The world is not so black and white world as some people like to present it. “God says it, so I believe it” can turn out to be the grandest lie of all when it falls into the hands of those determined to make money from the authority of the Bible. Preachers claiming they need to fly in private jets in order to talk to God are taking liberalities with the truth that should be confronted. And either you have the courage and righteous anger to call those people out or you take the shortcut to complacency. And there you sit. All conservative and happy and safe. Don’t ruffle feathers. Don’t try anything that might get you into to trouble.
Don’t run faster than you think possible. Don’t ride up hills you can’t climb. Don’t swim in open water. See, there are questions of character waiting around every turn, and at every fork in the road. And you can take the tangents, because those are allowed. But beware the shortcuts, because those can kill you.