3 Key Lessons on How You Can Reverse-Engineer Success

As a person who creates a lot of content, I used to get down on myself quite a bit…

“I’m not saying anything truly original or that hasn’t been said before, so what’s the point?”

“If it’s not completely new and innovative, it doesn’t have value.”

“Who cares what I have to say?”

These are all thoughts that have gone through my head NUMEROUS times. Several of the assessments I’ve taken have pegged me when it comes to innovation; I’m someone who can create and innovate when I have something to get me started but do not do as well with a totally blank canvas. 

While I had a bit of a sense of relief in learning this about myself, I also felt like there was something wrong with me. And I know I’m not alone, as there is a stigma associated with sifting through and unpacking the work of others. But the truth is that I do frequently struggle when left to create something out of thin air. I do so much better and thrive when I can take pieces from various things that inspire me and connect the dots, expand upon them, or say them in a slightly tweaked way that resonates with people in perhaps a different way than before.


And maybe that’s okay.


I’ve heard countless successful speakers and TEDx organizers state that an effective talk doesn’t have to be completely novel but have a slight twist on something and a new way of looking at a situation. Yet, I still would find myself struggling to get off go – thinking that what I have to say isn’t unique enough (despite what others say to me).

So when I recently read Decoding Greatness: How the Best in the World Reverse Engineer Success from Ron Friedman, it was like the skies parting with relief, clarity and validation. Here are some of my key lessons that I hope help you as well:


  • The Most Successful People Reverse-Engineer Their Success. Reverse engineering is about studying structures and patterns that reveal how things are designed and how they can be recreated. In fact, the only way to get better is to study others and figure out why it is that they’re successful and then apply that to your work. Even Steve Jobs practiced reverse engineering. In fact, some of the most successful, widely deemed innovative people have benefitted from reverse engineering. Friedman says that the alternative isn’t originality; it’s operating with intellectual blinders. But we’re not talking about abusing this and completely copying someone else. Simon Sinek refers to having a “worthy adversary” – someone who is your competition and inspires you to elevate your game and be better. This is the key – to be inspired to grow but not to compare or try to become someone else; this is about becoming the best version of you.


  • Creativity Doesn’t Require a Blank Canvas. Creativity actually happens when we look at what is going on in other fields and genres and combine various elements that are working into unique and novel combinations. Read that again… creativity can be building on and expanding on what already exists and finding ways to make it better or say it in a different way. I will tell you that when we revamped both of our websites, we scoured other sites for inspiration and pulled out what we liked and what we didn’t to help inform how we conveyed what makes us uniquely us. I did the same for my podcast, Show Up as a Leader and my Rosie-in-my-Pocket video and podcast series. And you know what, it resonates for people and adds value – even though it started with inspiration elsewhere. 


  • Radical New Stuff Tends to Overwhelm People. When something is too different or new, it can be hard for people to digest or not feel relevant. It makes sense, because we’ve learned over the past few years that, in our disruptive world, our capacity to handle change has drastically diminished. This means people are seeking out something more familiar and calming. Simply copycatting and doing the same old thing isn’t the answer either. What tends to get noticed are things that are generally familiar with a minor variation. This idea was helpful for me, as my entire career has been challenging the status quo; finding the balance between inviting people into discomfort while normalizing their experience and providing some familiarity has been my jam.


Putting This Into Practice In Your Life

Here are some things I invite you to think about and/or use to help you reverse engineer your own success in life:

  • How can you capture what inspires you in a meaningful way that allows you space to reflect – on how it applies to you or how you could build upon it with a slightly different variation?
  • Where are you diminishing yourself or selling yourself short because you don’t think you have anything original or meaningful to contribute? 
  • What might open up if you allowed yourself to have your voice be heard?
  • What successful product, idea, service or business inspires you? What can you learn from their success that can help you find the next level of you and/or your ideas?

One thing I continue to learn time and time again is the power of N=1. One person can make a powerful difference. Your voice matters! Your ideas matter! 


Stay brave. Stay human. Stay safe. And never dull your sparkle!


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