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How to Master New Skills & Achieve Success with Ron Friedman

Ron Friedman, Ph.D. is an award-winning psychologist and founder of ignite80, a consulting firm that helps smart leaders build extraordinary workplaces.

An expert on human motivation, Friedman has served on the faculty of the University of Rochester, Nazareth College, and Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Popular accounts of his research have appeared on NPR and in major newspapers, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Vancouver Post, the Globe and Mail, The Guardian, as well as magazines such as Men’s Health, Shape, and Allure.

He contributes to the blogs of Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Forbes, Psychology Today, and 99u.

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How do you crack the secret to greatness and unlock your genius?

When it comes to greatness, you hear a lot about talent, determination, and the power of practice. Those things are important, but what if there was a way to help you decipher the systems you can create in order to achieve more?

Our guest today is an award-winning social psychologist, Ron Friedman. He’s here to talk about his brand-new book, Decoding Greatness: How the Best in the World Reverse Engineer Success.

If you’ve ever wanted to know the science of learning faster, whether it’s a subject or a skill, or both, this episode is for you.

Listen in as we talk about this new game-changing approach to mastering new skills and reaching success faster.

*** Do you want to stay up to date with every new episode and get my brand new Kwik Brain Accelerator Program? Go to www.KwikBrain.com/podcast to get instant access. ***

"I want people to stop thinking greatness is for someone else. You don’t need to be born with natural talent or rely on 10,000 hours of practice; you can start decoding greatness now."


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A Third Path To Success

  • There are two main stories you’ve likely heard throughout your life.
  • The first story is talent.
  • This is the story where you have certain inner strengths and the key to finding your greatness is simply finding the field that allows those strengths to shine.
  • The second story is the Malcolm Gladwell story.
  • This is the story where 10,000 hours of practice leads to success.
  • If you have the discipline and the right practice regiment, eventually you’ll succeed.
  • But there’s a third path that’s gone under the radar, even though it’s stunningly common path for inventors, entrepreneurs, and artists.
  • That path is reverse engineering.
  • Reverse engineering is simply this:
  • Finding extraordinary examples of the work you want to pursue.
  • Breaking those examples down to their core components.
  • Figuring out why they work.
  • Applying that insight to your work and creating something completely new.
  • Finding people who have done extraordinary things and learning from them is a way to fast track your success.

Reverse Engineering At Work

  • There are countless examples of work you can study and learn from.
  • It doesn’t have to be direct contact, or a masterclass.
  • You can study a website, a well-written email, or something more complex like a recipe.
  • Reverse engineering is incredibly common across industries.
  • Photographers study photographs all the time.
  • But they’re not looking at the objects or models in the photos.
  • They look at reflections in the model’s eyes to identify where the light source was placed to create that photo.
  • They’ll also look at the shadows created, which provides additional clues.
  • They’re deconstructing the elements that are behind the lens, not what we see.
  • Chefs take a similar approach.
  • They’ll order dishes to go and then spread the foods or intricate sauces across white plates to identify the various ingredients.
  • Writers do the same.
  • They’ll break down story elements or go to the end notes and study the sources that went into creating the book.
  • These strategies teach you that by looking backwards and figuring out the clues of how something was created, you can elevate your skills to match the performance level of others.

Genius Leaves Clues

  • Reverse engineering is all about identifying winning products or winning executions, and then working backwards until you figure out how they were created.
  • But the most important piece is how you can recreate them within your own work.
  • Kurt Vonnegut is a fascinating example of reverse engineering in writing.
  • He would map out popular stories by graphing the protagonists fortune over the course of the story.
  • Let’s look at Cinderella as an example:
  • At the beginning of the story, things are going badly for Cinderella.
  • She’s low on the graph when she’s being abused by her stepmother.
  • But then she goes to the ball and things are looking up.
  • She leaves the ball, midnight strikes, and she goes back down the graph.
  • Then she’s rescued by Prince Charming and lives happily ever after.
  • You’re able to see the emotional trajectory of the story by looking at what’s happening to the protagonist.
  • When you break down Annie, you find it’s the same story with different characters.
  • An orphan who gets adopted, only to get kidnapped before getting rescued and living happily ever after.
  • By graphing stories, Vonnegut discovered there were basically six common stories that were being retold again and again.
  • Another famous example is Harry Potter.
  • It’s a story about an orphan who lives with his aunt and uncle, who’s rescued, discovers special powers, and then fights a villain.
  • Which is also the story of Star Wars.
  • It’s easy to become transfixed by incredible characters, amazing settings, and compelling storylines.
  • But when you reverse engineer the components, you notice similar elements behind every successful story.

The Power Of Reverse Engineering

  • When done correctly, you can uncover what makes anything work.
  • There are hidden patterns in everything. Cuisine, photography, writing, even TED Talks.
  • The book uses the world’s most popular TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson as another example.
  • By analyzing his talk, Ron could quantify some of the features.
  • Over the course of an eighteen minute talk, he gives the grand total of one persuasive fact.
  • Rather than load up with a ton of persuasive arguments to make his point, he does a ton of storytelling and joking around.
  • He delivers up to 40 jokes.
  • If you were just listening, you may not have picked up on this pattern.
  • Once you make a template of his talk’s emotional trajectory, you can use that template to dissect and understand other successful TED Talks.
  • It’s important to understand that you can’t simply copy one formula and expect to be successful.
  • In Robinson’s talk, he has the academic knowledge to deliver 18 minutes in a compelling and meaningful way with only one persuasive point.
  • By creating a template and comparing it to other successful talks, you can find the elements that work best for you.
  • This template can become your roadmap for success, which will help move you faster towards greatness than if you just faced a blank page.

Jumpstart Creativity

  • It may seem like copying means you’re not being original, but that’s not what happens.
  • A study out of the University of Tokyo reached the conclusion that copying actually makes you more original and creative.
  • They invited amateur artists into the lab and divided them into two groups.
  • The first group was asked to create original art three days in a row.
  • The second group was asked to create original art the first day. On the second day, they were asked to copy the work of an established artist and resume original art on the third day.
  • To test the results, they brought in professional artists and had them evaluate the art created on the third day.
  • They found the group that had paused to copy was more creative. By copying, their art ended up going off in entirely new directions compared to their first day.
  • So why did copying make their art more original?
  • The practice of slowing down and comparing your initial instincts against the decisions of a master, opens your eyes to completely new ideas, opportunities, and directions that you had never considered before.
  • Reverse engineering isn’t copying and pasting to recreate their success for you.
  • It’s understanding how they formulated success and using that formula in your own unique way.
  • This roadmap opens your creativity and reduces your struggle.

Where Do You Start

  • You can take anything and reverse engineer the results.
  • Start with reading and research.
  • Reverse engineering is working smarter, not harder.
  • The first step to reverse engineer anything is to become a collector.
  • Copywriters collect headlines. Designers collect logos. Writers collect words.
  • Find an easy way to collect your focus.
  • Ron uses a Google doc with powerful openings, transitions, and conclusions.
  • Make it easy.
  • The key is to have one central location that connects to other locations.
  • For example, have a spreadsheet with hyper links to websites or your Google doc. Whatever you’re collecting.
  • Your collection is the first place you go to study the elements of what you’re trying to reverse engineer.
  • The second step is differentiating the ordinary from the extraordinary.
  • You compare what’s in your collection to everything in your field, you can start to see what makes the extraordinary stand out.
  • Look for what makes it different.
  • You can do this with anything. Headlines, logos, presentation decks, memos, emails, photographs, recipes. Anything.
  • From there, you create a template of success.
  • What are the key elements that make it successful?
  • Then you use that template to evolve your own work.
  • Those are the steps to decoding greatness.
  • Stop thinking greatness is for someone else.
  • You don’t have to be born with talent or have time to put in 10,000 hours, you can start decoding greatness today.
  • Be sure to check out the unedited, extended episode on YouTube, here.

Share With Us

  • Take a screenshot of this episode, tag us on social media (@RonFriedmanPhD & @JimKwik), and share one way you are going to start reverse engineering greatness.
  • I’ll be reposting my favorites and will gift a copy of Ron’s book to one lucky listener.
  • Get your copy of Decoding Greatness: How the Best in the World Reverse Engineer Success, here.
  • Get more information and visit Ron, here.


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