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If You Want To Get To The Top, Stop Working Harder

Tam Pham
Tam Pham
3 min read

We’re told over and over that the best way to succeed is to start young, work hard, and move up the ranks. But everyone loves a shortcut — and taking one can actually make you more desirable to companies.

Smart cookies find ways to jump rungs on the work ladder. But the smarter ones figure out how to skip the rungs completely.

Tech entrepreneur and self-proclaimed “hacker” Shane Snow is the bestselling author of Smartcuts. Shane went on a quest to deconstruct how some people and organizations are able to achieve incredible things in an implausibly short time frame. There, he originated the Sinatra Principle.

Artist Frank Sinatra explains the meaning in his song New York, New York:

These little town blues
Are melting away
I’ll make a brand new start of it
In old New York

If I can make it there
I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you
New York, New York

Frank shares how if he can make it in New York, where “only the strong survive,” he can make it anywhere. The Sinatra Principle borrows credibility from other industries and uses it to jump ladders in a new company, publication, or virtually any field.

Instead of climbing imaginary ladders, successful people switch between ladders after they’ve proven their worth to get higher up in the chain. This works because people are more willing to take small chances on you. Companies will hire a project manager to become a director but they won’t promote an intern straight into a director position.

So the strategy is that you can use the Sinatra Principle to switch ladders consistently and “hack” your career. Here are some people who perfected this strategy.

The youngest Fortune 500 CEO, Marissa Mayer, got her job at Yahoo! using her credibility as a young executive at Google.

Zoe Saldana avoided years of auditions by leveraging her credibility as an accomplished ballerina to land the role of a ballerina in her first film, Center Stage. After that role, Zoe transitioned to acting roles where she won several notable awards.

After getting rejected from the film program at his university, Zach King directed and produced short videos for YouTube. Instead of climbing the Hollywood ladder for 10 years and waiting to pitch his movie to executives, Zach started creating content online and grew a following. With over 100 million views, he now works with big brands and ad agencies, skipping the ladder entirely.

Charlie Hoehn wanted to learn from and work with successful entrepreneurs, including Tim Ferriss, but wasn’t sure how to get there. Charlie decided to intern for bestselling author Seth Godin to springboard into a job with successful entrepreneur Ramit Sethi. That experience took Charlie a different route and helped him get noticed by bestselling author Tucker Max and eventually Tim Ferriss.

Even Donald Trump has used The Sinatra Principle to his advantage. Trump started out as a real estate developer, then founded Trump Entertainment Resort. Building off this, he wrote a #1 New York Times bestselling book and starred in NBC’s reality show, The Apprentice. Not the most traditional route to president, but it gained him enough attention to make him a viable candidate.


This is how so-called “overnight success” happens. People work hard in their field and then switch ladders to level up.

Staying at a job for 10 years and moving up the ranks is no longer a viable path if we want to compete and innovate. We need to work smarter, not just harder. Hacking the ladder is a mindset you can use to get to the top.

If you're interested in learning more lessons like this, I love the rest of the book, Smartcuts by Shane Show.


Tam Pham Twitter

I'm a writer and bachata dancer currently bouncing around Latin America. Trying to make the most out of my one wild and precious life.

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