Learn how to master your craft, regardless of industry or job role, by learning from people who are already successful. Ron Friedman shares knowledge on how the most accomplished people in the world use a different framework of learning to reverse engi...
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Srini: Ron, welcome to the unmistakable creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us.
Ron Friedman: My pleasure. Thanks so much.
Srini: Yeah, it is my pleasure to have you here. I found out about your work by way of one of our mutual friends. And at this point I can't even remember who it is because so many people that have been guests have referred other ones.
Srini: I think it might've been Dorie Clark, but she told me that you had a new book out called decoding greatness which is all about the science of reverse engineering, all of which we will talk about. But as from having heard the show, that is definitely not where we're going to start. I thought I'd start by asking you, what did your parents do for work and how did that end up shaping and influencing the choices that you've made throughout your life in your career?
Ron Friedman: My dad is a neurologist and my mother is a pharmacist and how their decisions and their careers ended up shaping my life. Is that when I was about seven years old, I think I was just turned seven. My dad decided to move the family from Israel to New York because there were better career opportunities in New York city.
Ron Friedman: And so I was an. Didn't speak the language and was placed in a religious Jewish school, a Shiva. And I was not, I didn't come from a religious upbringing. And so that led to a sort of double outsider status where I didn't speak the language and I didn't fit in culturally. And it was an interesting experience.
Ron Friedman: It was not a happy experience, but it did teach me the value of just taking risks in the sense that I didn't I just accepted after a while that I wasn't going to be I don't wanna say liked, but just accepted as one of the more popular kids. And that enabled me to take some risks and just be like, all right that's not gonna happen.
Ron Friedman: So I'm just gonna pursue the things that I find interesting. And it really flipped around high school where I had identify what my interests were and wasn't concerned about what other people thought of those interests and what I found to be really interesting. And I'm, I've been reflecting on this a lot recently because my daughter has just this week entered high school.
Ron Friedman: And so it was around early high school where this flipped and people just started respecting the idea that I was not concerned with their opinions. And it wasn't like in their face ha I don't care what you think it was like, I just had a identified interest and was willing to invest in those interests.
Ron Friedman: And that I think is a unique differentiator, particularly at that.
Srini: What I wonder is you, most people at that age are incredibly concerned about what other people think about them, particularly, seventh, eighth, ninth, grade people are incredibly concerned. They're worried about, how they're being perceived by their peers.
Srini: And you made this conscious decision to let your interest guide you without letting that influence what those interests were. Why do you think that you were self-aware enough to have that realization at such a young age and why don't other people.
Ron Friedman: Yeah I wouldn't say that I was self-aware in that it was conscious.
Ron Friedman: I was like, oh, okay, I'm going to make this. This is me reflecting right now, looking back at what was happening, with my understanding as a social psychologist of what people go through and how they make their decisions. But I think ultimately what it came down to was identifying different group with whom I wished I want, I would belong.
Ron Friedman: And that is a really key indicator, like a, just a direction and an arrow of where you want your life to go is who you identify with and who you long to be, what, which groups you long to be part of. And so it no longer was my peer group in high school and the case, in my case, in, in, at that age, it was more of musicians.
Ron Friedman: That was the group that I identified with most closely and later on. It was probably motivational thinkers as high school kind of developed. And so I'm thinking of this as growing up in the 1990s, for me, it was pat Riley. So pat Riley was then the coach of the New York Knicks. I was really into the New York Knicks went to the championship in 1994.
Ron Friedman: That was my junior year of high school. That was a big factor in my life at that point. And so I started reading his books or book at the time, the winner within that was his book that he became known for. And there were a lot of really interesting motivational ideas there. And that had a big influence on me in terms of thinking that I could achieve certain things that I never really had considered before.
Ron Friedman: And then also being willing to take those risks and fail and utilizing the feedback that I got out of those failures to improve in the future.
Srini: Yeah. So one other thing that I wonder about is. On that you moved from Israel there when you were seven years old. And I didn't imagine, as a seven year old, like the idea of culture shock is probably not as prevalent as it is when you're an adolescent.
Srini: So for example, I moved right after my freshman year in high school, and I've always thought that was a really disorienting experience that made it such that I, I don't really have fond memories of high school for that reason, but I wonder if, when you are able to reflect on it as an adult what do you see as the differences across cultures when you came from Israel versus here in terms of value systems, in terms of beliefs and in terms of how people are socialized,
Ron Friedman: it's interesting question.
Ron Friedman: I haven't had an opportunity to really reflect deeply on this, but one thought that immediately jumps out is, and I don't know that this is a cultural difference that I would necessarily generalize to all of the United States as compared to Israel, but certainly in the community, in which I was placed.
Ron Friedman: The focus on money and status was really palpable. And I remember the first memory I had of this. I think this was like third grade and some of the other kids were pointing out that my parents did not have a good car. It was, I think it was a Dodge Aries. If I recall correctly and it just never dawned on me to even consider what type of car they had a vehicle is supposed to get you from point a to point B.
Ron Friedman: And this was a very wealthy Jewish community. And, it was all BMWs and Mercedes. And if you had a car that wasn't a sign of status, it indicated, and this is something that I learned really quickly is if you didn't have a brand name associated with who you were not a successful person.
Ron Friedman: And. I rejected that for a very long time, particularly as it led to my decision to pursue a degree in psychology, academics don't necessarily make a lot of money. Most of them do not. And I was a hundred percent okay with that because it was a way of rejecting the ideas that had essentially.
Srini: Yeah. The funny thing is I think that there is, there are a lot of similarities between Indian culture and Jewish culture, just based on the conversations I've had with podcast guests.
Srini: I think that the joke was that somebody basically said somebody gets elected president and the sun is, somebody basically there's a vice-president who happens to be Jewish and his mother's there. And she says, see, that's my son. He could have been a. So I, I wonder based on that one, did your parents encourage any particular career paths?
Srini: And also, I think that whole idea of status is very prevalent in the Indian community as well. It's one of those things that basically, the narrative is you go to the most prestigious college, you can get into, you get the most prestigious job you can get that looks as impressive as possible on a resume.
Srini: And I think that to me, there's this great emphasis on, what David Brooks in his book, the road to character talks about as resume values, that the things we were just talking about, status money, do prestige, and there's very little emphasis on character values or what he calls eulogy values, which I don't think we start to really think about until we get older.
Srini: Why do you think that is and how do you begin to unwind that narrative within a culture? Because I think it leads people to a great deal of unhappy.
Ron Friedman: I love that distinction that Brooks raises of the eulogy versus resume values. And I do think it does certainly contribute to a great deal of unhappiness, particularly since I think a lot of people, when they do get sick towards the end of their life, they look back and they feel like why I wasted a lot of time pursuing things that really didn't matter a whole lot.
Ron Friedman: And I, I should have invested more in family, et cetera, why that is, is I think generally speaking, it's a lot easier to pursue some of those things that impress other people. There's a certain short-term is a certain short-term benefit that you get from impressing other people, whereas you don't necessarily impress other people because you have a really stable family and you have strong relationships and you pursue some of those things that make you truly happy.
Ron Friedman: And I think that is generally driven by security, right? The fact that we are such an achievement based society is driven by the fact that we long to be accepted. And it feels to us like the best way of gaining acceptance is to impress other people with our achievements. Ironically though, there's research on this, that when people hear about your achievements, they're intimidated by those achievements often.
Ron Friedman: And it takes a certain type of person to be really be truly be impressed and not be intimidated. And so we think, but people go on LinkedIn and they talk about how honored they are and, these sort of like humble brag emotions, and then go on to announce their latest achievement.
Ron Friedman: They think people will like them more for that, but in fact they like them less for it. And it's the. Are kind and who are open and willing to embrace others. Those are who tend to be like the most. So ironically in pursuing greater status, we undermine our relationships.
Srini: Yeah. So you mentioned earlier that, you chose to pursue the things that interested you, regardless of people's opinions.
Srini: You mentioned you have a daughter that is going to high school. So naturally I had to ask you for parents listening to this who have kids who have weird interests that are not typically, socially accepted at school, like playing Dungeons and dragons or things like that. What would you say to those parents about kids who are in situations where they feel they're not, accepted by their peers because they have these bizarre interest.
Ron Friedman: I think it's really difficult to predict where the economy is going and what jobs are going to be valued in 10 years. I think we have some sense that it's the folks who are better at relating to others. We're going to be able to do the things that computers can't do, but in many cases, the things that don't feel like they are achievements at this age actually can set you up for success later on.
Ron Friedman: And I'll give you a great example of this, which is my daughter, which is my daughter is, had a really tough year during COVID was a good student before then was not a great student during COVID is now going back to school. We have high hopes for her this year, but she's really good at connecting with others.
Ron Friedman: And she really prioritizes social relationships above academic success. That's really troubling for my wife. I'm a little bit more willing to be patient and to see where things develop because. Academic success doesn't necessarily mean life success. Whereas being really effective at connecting with others and being able to talk to anybody and to build strong relationships, may in fact be the best indicator of someone who's going to be successful later in life.
Ron Friedman: So I would just start to people to be a little bit more patient with their, with the people in their lives, particularly over the last year, given the circumstances and how unusual those meet the new Microsoft surface pro eight designed to help you add versatility and power to whatever comes your way, work the way you want with the intuitive touch screen built-in kickstand and signature keyboard that even stores your surface pen, all sold separately.
Ron Friedman: Get ready to stand out and show the world what you're made of with surface pro aid. Check it firstname.lastname@example.org forward slash surface pro eight.
Srini: Yeah. No, absolutely. So you mentioned that your dad was a neurologist, your mom was a pharmacist and you ended up becoming academic. Yeah. Which is it's funny because my dad's an academic, he's a professor and the narrative around our house, which I've heard is standard around Jewish houses to his doctor, lawyer engineer.
Srini: Those are your career paths, which one are you going to choose? So what did your parents encourage in terms of your career paths and what was the trajectory post high school that brought you to, to where you're at today?
Ron Friedman: Okay. The second part of that question is a lot more interesting than the first and it's.
Ron Friedman: I don't really remember my parents encouraging me to do much of anything. I think they were really focused on making it, that just moved from Israel to America. It was tough financially. My dad was working really long hours as was my mother. I w I don't think that I was focused. I'm not faulting them for that.
Ron Friedman: It was a tough time. And I think certainly appreciate all that they were going through mass roughly now at this age, looking back at how difficult that experience was really actually remarkable to just at the age of mid thirties, just pick up, move to a different country and hope that you make it that's truly remarkable in terms of my career trajectory.
Ron Friedman: It was not at all one that was destined to be to move into academics. I after high school, I was not a particularly good high school student in part because I didn't fit in. It was tough for me to and also because half the day was devoted to Jewish studies, which I didn't relate to.
Ron Friedman: So I was I just accepted that school was not my thing. I was thinking about going to music for a while, and then I got to college. And then that's when. Switched a little bit in that I became a really good student and it was because I was able to choose the topics I wanted to study. So the autonomy part of the autonomy aspect really kicked in and that enabled me to become a much better student, which has changed the trajectory of my career because now I was hanging around with different, a different cohort.
Ron Friedman: And that cohort was one that was focused on achievement. And whereas previously in the high school, I was with the outsider as the folks who had just given up on making it, that was really critical. So I get to college and I start reading different about different topics going to different classes.
Ron Friedman: I was became interested in politics. This was around when bill Clinton was running for reelection against Bob Dole. I watched the convention got really into it. And so I took a political science class in the political science class. My political science professor is a volunteer is not a volunteer.
Ron Friedman: He's a he's a, he's associated with Hillary Clinton camp in some way. This is a little bit later. So I'm, we're getting a little closer to the year, 2000. And yeah, in 2000. So at this point he, I asked him, how do I get into politics? He says, go to your community board, see if you can meet some elected officials and ask them to volunteer.
Ron Friedman: So I followed his advice. I do that. I ended up connecting with an elected official. I volunteer to work in his office and I really just hit my stride and do really well. Within four months I'm running his reelection campaign for city county. A year later, he runs for Congress. I work on that campaign and that he wins in a very tight race and takes over for Chuck Schumer who gets elected to the Senate.
Ron Friedman: This is 1998. And so I become as chief of staff. So I'm 21. I am leading the, this district office for a member of Congress, million dollar budget, office of 15 people. So it was really, it really changed everything, but then nine 11 happens. And after that I get to see, okay, wait a second. I am.
Ron Friedman: Kind of, this is now three or four years later, I'm reliving the same year every year. I'm not really learning anything anymore. I kinda figured out the role, the guy who I was working for the Congressman was going to be reelected for the foreseeable future. There weren't gonna be any interesting races and I decide I'm going to go into psychology.
Ron Friedman: And so that is what led me to academics and how I joined the university of Rochester, where I studied with ed DC and Richard Ryan. These are the guys who were covered in Dan Pink's book drive and. Just change the trajectory of my life. I then become really focused on psychological needs, write my first book, the best place to work.
Ron Friedman: And we could talk about how that led me to this new book to Cody greatness. Yeah.
Srini: So a couple of things sound from this. So you mentioned that you discovered what it is that you wanted to do in college and that autonomy made you a better student. And that the contrast so dramatically to my college experience where I had the autonomy, but I think I'd been so conditioned to think about college as the path to, what I was going to do with the rest of my life that I made every choice based on what I thought would get me a job.
Srini: And so I wonder why do you think it is that some people actually discover what you did so early on? And why is it that so many others seem to miss the boat
Ron Friedman: for me? The contrast between not being allowed to study what I wanted to study and being allowed to study. What I wanted to study just changed everything because it empowered me to then pursue my interests.
Ron Friedman: I was not focused on my career at the time at all. There were no longer long-term thinking. So this might, you might categorize this on on the on the downside of having long-term thinking is that you put a lot of pressure on yourself to be successful. Which isn't to say that long-term thinking is effective.
Ron Friedman: I'm a big fan of long-term thinking, but in this case early on where that you're put, there's so much pressure put on you to figure out your path. That can be really debilitating. I didn't have any of that pressure because again, my parents weren't providing me direction. They were just happy that I wasn't failing out of school for once.
Ron Friedman: So there's that, that changed my view. So for me, that contrast was really stark, I think, to your point, One of the challenges of having parents who were really involved in are really invested in your career is that places an implicit pressure on you to be successful. And that can be really hard for folks.
Ron Friedman: And so one of the unexpected benefits of having parents who were so consumed with their own lives in my case was that I really was free to just explore what I wanted to explore. The other thing I'll say is that one of the first professors I had in that in my first year at city college said something to me that was really eyeopening.
Ron Friedman: And it was, I, as I mentioned, I was, it became interested in. Psychology. And I'll just mention, just for clarity sake that I was going to school while I was working as the chief of staff. So I was able to do both. And so I was interested in psychology. And so I went up to one of my professors and I said, Hey, would you consider teaching a class on positive psychology?
Ron Friedman: I'm really interested in it. And he said something that really opened my eyes, which is, he said, why do you need a professor to teach you about a topic? Why don't you just get some books and read them on your own? And what he, I remember the quote, he said, why do you need some asshole standing in front of the class, telling you what he read in a book?
Ron Friedman: And I'd never considered that before. The idea that I could just go get a book and read about a topic I was interested in today. Obviously that's ridiculous because you've got YouTube, you've got all these resources that you've got the net, right? There was no email back then. So that really opened my eyes to the idea that I could just self-educate and pursue my own name.
Srini: As somebody who has been through academia, who has, basically been re brought through our academic system, there's no way that you and I can get out of this conversation without talking about the education system. And this is something I seem to want to ask every academic I talked to, and that is if you were tasked with redesigning the education system and bringing it into the modern era so that it's updated, and it leads to its intended outcomes for people to actually thrive at the future of work and, in their life, what would you change about it?
Ron Friedman: It's a huge topic, but the first thing I w I would argue is that. We're misusing classroom time. And where much of what happens in classroom time is that a teacher lectures at students and students write down their notes. And then they are asked to basically regurgitate what the teacher told them, where I think we could do a lot, a much better job is have the lecture portions recorded so that people could watch them anytime they wanted from anywhere they wanted at whatever speed they want and use classroom time for discussion so that people get to sharpen their critical thinking skills because having.
Ron Friedman: Having a school system that's based on memorization, isn't serving anybody. Whereas people can use critical thinking skills and other parts of life. You don't think I would suggest is having classes on decision-making. There's so many tools that we now have and understand about how we can make better decisions yet.
Ron Friedman: Very few of those skills get passed on to children. That's a tragedy and obviously basic life skills. It's remarkable to me that we are still teaching trigonometry, but we're not teaching people the basics of how to manage their bank.
Srini: Yeah, absolutely. Before we get into the book, there's one last question I have about this, and this is your time about your time in politics.
Srini: So this is something that I always wonder. I feel that often politicians don't make interests in the make decisions or shape policy that are, that's actually in the interest of citizens. And they're often shaping policy that has no direct effect on them. Like Steve Mnuchin, making treasury policy and, dealing with unemployment benefits is that makes no sense to me.
Srini: It's wait a minute, you have $300 million in the bank for policies you're making do not affect you in the least. And I also know that I'm not seeing it from the inside. So what is it that you think people in the public eye have that are misperceptions about what is happening in politics and what do we not see?
Ron Friedman: I can't speak to Steve , but what I will say is, in fairness to Steve Minutian, I don't think you necessarily need to be somebody who is struggling financially to make better decisions about the economy as a whole. So just because he's been successful financially, I don't think we should fault it for that.
Ron Friedman: We should follow them for other things, plenty of other things, but maybe not that I will say about politics that I think would I don't know if this would solve all the problems, but I think it's a critical piece where people may not necessarily appreciate, which is that the political system really went off the rails when fundraising went online.
Ron Friedman: And part of it also is where that in connection with 24, the 24 hour news cycle in all of these news channels, because what ends up happening is that if I say something remarkably controversial, I am going to be rewarded financially for making that controversial statement in a way that is exponentially larger than if I said something that was reasonable, but on uncontroversial.
Ron Friedman: In other words, it doesn't stand out. It doesn't make waves. And it's because of the connection, the linkage between me going on a news channel saying something crazy. And then people being able to find me online and send me money for my campaign. And so the system now rewards. Who stir up controversy financially, right?
Ron Friedman: They're more likely to be successful if they say crazy things. Whereas the moderates are not rewarded financially because nobody gets excited. Nobody wants to send them money. In fact, they get upset with them and they want to unseat them. And so until we correct that problem, until we correct the reward structure, we're not going to get any sort of traction in a way that really benefits the country, or at least it will be much more difficult.
Ron Friedman: And so that's the, I don't know necessarily have a solution for that, but I think it's a critical piece that people need to appreciate about why the political system is broken.
Srini: Yeah, absolutely. Let's get into decoding greatness. So you mentioned there was a first book. What led you to writing this book as the next book and why write it.
Ron Friedman: Yeah. So my first book is called the best place to work the art and science of creating an extraordinary workplace. And that book came out of my experience of leaving academics and joining the corporate world. And in realizing that there was a massive divide between what we know from the science of what leads people to be more successful, more productive, more engaged in how most organizations are run.
Ron Friedman: It's everything from the way that companies hire to the way that managers motivate to the basic layout of the modern office. Just a massive gap between the two. So in the best place to be. I translated over a thousand academic studies into plain English. So regardless of whether you are someone who leads a company or is thinking of starting a company, or it's just someone starting out, you have access to the best science about how to elevate your performance and build a great workplace.
Ron Friedman: But there was something missing in that book. And what was missing is that even within the best workplaces, there's a range of performance levels. Some people are top performers, others are not. And so I was curious in this book, decoding greatness, what is it the top performers do differently than everyone else?
Ron Friedman: And what I discovered in doing the research is that the stories we've been told about top performance are wrong. There are two big stories that we've been told throughout our lives about what it takes to achieve at the highest levels. The first story is that greatness comes from talent. This is the idea that we're all born with certain innate strengths and that the key to finding your greatness is finding a field that allows those inner strengths to shine.
Ron Friedman: The second big story is that greatness comes from talent. This is the idea that if you just practice hard enough and you have the right practice regimen, you have enough discipline to do this for years and years that eventually you'll rise to the top, but there's a third story. And it's one that is not often told yet.
Ron Friedman: It is the path through which a remarkable number of top performers in all kinds of fields from inventors to entrepreneurs, to artists have risen over the course of their lives. And that path is reverse engineering and reverse engineering simply means finding extraordinary examples in your field and then working backward to figure out how they were made and distilling down the lessons of that you identify in the works of others to create something entirely new.
Ron Friedman: Breaking barriers is a new podcast from MatchWorks exploring remarkable stories about why work matters and how it's changing the lives of some incredible people. Join me, Nat Jones. As we talk to some inspiring people and businesses who were changing perceptions in unexpected ways, we promise it will be life-changing.
Ron Friedman: Listen now.
Srini: Yeah. So I appreciate the fact that you just said, that it's to identify parts of what in the work of others to create something entirely new. And obviously as somebody who wrote a book called unmistakable about why only is better than best one of the things I talked about is how often, what ends up happening is reverse engineering leads often not to modeling, but to mimicry.
Srini: So how do you let's start there before we get into the actual frameworks. How do you make that distinction between the two and prevent yourself from using it? Because I can tell you, I had a friend who was a guest on the show who sent me a list of a dozen clients of hers, who all were potential guest recommendations.
Srini: When I put their websites all up to the next, each next to each other, I said, all of these look exactly the same, and I have no idea what the hell, any of these seasons.
Ron Friedman: First, I just want to congratulate you on your subtitle. I really love your subtitle. Why why only is better than best.
Ron Friedman: That's fantastic. And I really appreciated when it came out. So I thought that was great. I think you're asking a great question. And this is one of the, this is one of the concerns I had frankly, about writing this book because I know. Reverse engineering is how a lot of people learn is how I've learned to write academic journal articles.
Ron Friedman: How I learned to write books is how to learn, to write articles. Hyler to give speeches. I've been using it every stage of my life. And I know from talking with other entrepreneurs that they do the same and yet no one talks about it. And the reason I think no one talks about it is because there's a huge concern that if all I do is learn through reverse engineering, if I share that with others and people are gonna think I'm a hack or that I'm stealing ideas.
Ron Friedman: But the truth is that this is how learning happens is by understanding why someone else is successful. You can distill down the strategies that made them successful and apply them in new ways. Now, applying them in new ways is really critical. And I think this is the point you're hitting on, which is there's a key difference between.
Ron Friedman: Mimicry and evolution. And in the book I talk about why simply mimicking others. Isn't likely not going to be successful. And there's two major reasons for why that's the case. One is that audience expectations shift with time. So if you, if I mimic the Mo the particular layout of this show, right?
Ron Friedman: If I do it exactly the same way as you do, I'm probably not going to be as successful as you were. And it's because when you started doing this, audiences were expecting a particular type of show and it was unique, right? And now you've built an audience doing it this way today. If I were to copy this show, it would likely not be particularly unique.
Ron Friedman: In fact, there are many shows that are using a similar approach. The reason why simply mimicking others is likely not to be successful is because I don't have the skill set that you have. So what often happens when you try to mimic someone else is that you have different strengths in different life experiences.
Ron Friedman: Personality, then that person who you're modeling off of. And so what I argue in the book is what you're trying to do is not simply reverse engineer in order to mimic it's to reverse engineer, to identify what makes something work. Because unless you're doing that hard analysis of understanding why something is successful, you're missing an opportunity to improve your skills.
Ron Friedman: How we get to evolution is by combining formulas from different people and different models, and it's in those unique combinations, then you can hit upon something new and those models can come from all sorts of different fields. It doesn't have to come from the same field. So for example, if I wanted to reverse engineer this show and maybe reverse engineer, a seasons are a standup comedy, I might come up with something genuinely unique by combining what makes those two distinctive.
Ron Friedman: And I think we often conflate originality with creativity. Originality often fails, and it's because we, as a species are distressful of. And there's research on this, showing that the most novel ideas tend to get rejected. People are just really uncomfortable with novelty. They don't know what to do with it.
Ron Friedman: It makes them uncomfortable and they tend to ignore it. Whereas formulas that are similar to previous iterations, but slightly different, those tend to be a lot more successful.
Srini: Yeah. So there's one follow up to this. When we talk about, modeling versus mimicry and looking at models and applying them in different ways and that's context, and you brought up podcasts, which is a perfect example, there's a lot of people who teach courses on podcasts and.
Srini: Often, one of the things that happens to your point is people just try to copy the format of the person teaching the course, and then they don't get the same results. And one of the reasons I realized is because they ignore context, they don't consider, what that person's gifts are, what assets that person has in place that they don't.
Srini: So for example, there are certain people are these huge shows who are encouraging people to start podcasts. And the funny thing is they all have massive email lists and the F and so their podcasts would be successful no matter what, but people forget that context or they just ignore that context completely.
Srini: Why do you think that is and how do you think they can stop, ignoring context?
Ron Friedman: Yeah, I think that's a great point. And I'll tell you that I often work with authors on developing their books and everybody wants to be. And I assume that the book is what made James clear, successful, and it was a really good book, atomic habits, but that's not what made chains clear successful.
Ron Friedman: What made James clear successful is that he invested a really long period of time putting out original content and developing his mailing list. And when you have over a million people, a million subscribers selling 10,000 books, your first week is not all that hard. You can do that with a couple of emails.
Ron Friedman: So I think you're raising a really good point. And I think that we often, I mentioned earlier, there'll be conflate originality with creativity. Another thing I think we conflate is commercial success with quality work and reverse engineering is about what makes a work distinctive. It's not about what is it that made it successful, right?
Ron Friedman: So that's a really important distinction, your job in understanding why, what it is that someone is doing differently is going to help you eliminate the factors that resonate with you. If you apply those in a completely new context, there's no telling how well that will do. However, it is a methodology that allows you to get a little bit clearer on what it is that resonates with you, so that you can start applying that to your work.
Ron Friedman: And here's why, one of the first things that I recommend as part of this process is not to start by reverse engineering, but start by simply starting a collection. And what I mean by that is anytime you encounter work that is remarkable or distinctive in some way, capture it. You can use the, you can do this on online.
Ron Friedman: Bookmarking certain websites that resonate with you, you can start a Pinterest account capture images that are you consider important. I think when we think about collections, we think about physical objects. We think about things like stamps and shoes and wine and maybe artwork. But that definition is too narrow.
Ron Friedman: I can tell you that I know all sorts of copywriters who collect headlines. I know designers who collect logos. I know presenters who collect presentation decks, and the value of having that collection is that when you have that collection of work, that stands out for you, it's really easy to identify commonalities.
Ron Friedman: Compare, aye. The objects in your collection against objects that didn't make your collection. It's almost like playing spot. The difference. That game we played as kids. We have two images side-by-side and your job is to figure out what's different about one image versus the other. Here. Your job is to play spot the difference with whatever category you're interested in.
Ron Friedman: And it becomes really easy to identify the ingredients that make a word compelling when you're comparing the ordinary against the extraordinary meaning the items that are not in your collection, against the items in your collection, you can identify some commonalities, you can see what makes them unique and all of a sudden it becomes a lot clearer to figure out what it is that makes work.
Srini: Yeah. So one of the things that you say early on in the book is that studies indicate that it's novice entrepreneurs who focus on novelty, more experienced entrepreneurs. Those who spend decades leading successful businesses and reliably launch profitable ventures every few years, focus on something completely different viability.
Srini: And I really appreciated you said that because it reminded me of this Dan Kennedy quote that he talks about in one of his wealth attraction seminars, where he says, he said, businesses have to be, market-driven not personal passion driven. I'm passionate about betting on horses, lying in a hammock and eating pizza.
Srini: My passion for those things could multiply and nobody would pay me to do them. But I think that, this sort of follow your passion narrative has caused people to ignore viability. And I'm just curious what your view is on.
Ron Friedman: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. And I think that I was thinking about this again, in the context of my daughter and the better advice is, figure out what you're good at that comes easily to you and see how you can really invest in that as opposed to seeing what it is that you are passionate about, which in her case would probably be Netflix.
Ron Friedman: One of the things I discovered while doing the research on this is that entrepreneurs. Really good at identifying patterns and the patterns that they're especially good at figuring out are the patterns that make certain businesses successful. So an example of a pattern that a smart entrepreneur might notice is that the success of companies like Starbucks and Chipola rely on the same underlying principles.
Ron Friedman: So at first glance, those two examples seem like they have very little in common. One sells food drinks, another one's sells food, but Starbucks and Chipotle, they were built on the same business strategy. And that business strategy is find a customer experience that works somewhere else and import it into your hometown.
Ron Friedman: So in the case of Starbucks, Howard Schultz goes off to Milan, sees the espresso bars that are so popular in Italy and thinks, Hey, I wonder if this can work in the U S and he brings it back to Seattle. In the case of Chipotle, Steve ELLs is in the San Francisco in the San Francisco area where he identifies that Brita bars are.
Ron Friedman: And he thinks, Hey, I wonder if this can work in Denver and need belts, AAA, that sort of approach to thinking about why certain businesses succeed, empowers entrepreneurs to generate new business ideas quickly. So it seems to someone who's not an entrepreneur like this person could just come up with an idea on a dime and the answer is they can, and it's not because they are, I have just a wealth of ideas.
Ron Friedman: It's because they're thinking in formulas and that's what reverse engineering allows you to do is it allows you identify the underlying formula within that's varied within a work, and you can do this for anything. You can do this for successful websites. You can use for successful TV shows. You can do this for successful Ted talks.
Ron Friedman: And in fact, in decoding greatness, I do that. I show you how to reverse engineer. One of the most popular Ted talks of all time. And I show you what that pattern is. That's actually driving it and critically, once you are get good at reverse engineering and identifying underlying formulas, you can turn those those underlying formulas into templates.
Ron Friedman: So rather than staring at a blank screen, the next time you're writing an article or an email or a presentation, you have a kind of Madlibs where you can just plug in what needs to go in order to get your start. Now you may not end up using that formula, but it certainly will give you a lot better direction than if you were just starting from scratch.
Srini: Okay, so this raises another question about formulas, and this is something I've thought a lot about is this distinction between formulas and frameworks, because in any formula that somebody applies, there's one variable that is inevitably going to alter the results of that formula and that's themselves.
Srini: And we see this all the time where people, again, that takes us back to contexts where people overlook the most blatantly obvious variable that will throw off every single formula for success. So how do people make sure they're aware enough of the fact that they're going to be the variable that throws off the formula and treat that formula like a framework to use what you call the last step in this pattern recognition component, which is to generate
Ron Friedman: predictions.
Ron Friedman: It will, first of all, I would say that sometimes that differentiator, meaning you can actually work to your advantage. And it's a great example of this in in the book where I talk about how Malcolm Gladwell developed his writing style. I'll just share that story quickly. So he had spent years working as a science reporter, and then he moves to the new Yorker where he's asked to write these really long elaborate stories.
Ron Friedman: And he struggles with this. He doesn't have the confidence to do it. He's not sure how he's going to fill the space. And so what he ends up doing is he ends up telling stories and then interlacing academic journal, article summaries, inside those stories. And he finds a way of making that work and weave them together.
Ron Friedman: That style is now known as Gladwell and it's however, almost every nonfiction book is written. Everyone wants to somehow write the next Gladwell book and his approach to writing. Wasn't an intentional approach in that. In other words he did not set out to develop his own distinctive style. He was competent.
Ron Friedman: By trying to recreate a formula and somehow stumbled on this new iteration that ended up being wildly successful. And so the lesson there is that sometimes you don't need to try and recreate everything in order to be distinctive. Sometimes just leaning into your distinguishing attributes can actually help you come up with something that is completely new.
Srini: Yeah. So that, that sounds to me like the concept of what you call reverse outlining. Correct.
Ron Friedman: Reverse outlining. And let me just explain that idea. So reverse that link is one of the tools that can help you reverse engineer written works. And so everyone's heard of outlining is the idea of bullet pointing.
Ron Friedman: What you're planning to put in a finished piece, reverse outlining is taking someone else's finished work and then going, using it to work backwards and figure out what bullet point what's going on in the piece. So if you're looking at it at a book, for example, you can full point what's happening in each paragraph.
Ron Friedman: If you're doing this for a television show, you can bullet point what's happening and you'd seen, you could use for a movie. If it is for a podcast, the type of questions that are being asked, you could do this for this show, in fact, and. That tool reverse outlining forces you to gain some distance and see the totality of a program or a piece of a product or an artwork all at once.
Ron Friedman: And it, that view of zooming out of taking everything in at once help you understand the progression of a piece and see it in a way that you simply can't when you're reading it word for word or listening minute by minute. And it's a tool that's remarkably effective because it forces you to take a, something like a Gladwell article and reduce it down to 10 bullet points.
Ron Friedman: And all of a sudden you can understand, okay, this is Gladwell's blueprint. He's telling a story at the beginning. Connecting it to this article. Then he connects it to a different story. All of this in the next section, he's connecting the two stories and now he's got some kind of actionable recommendation.
Ron Friedman: I don't actually think he has. He doesn't do extra recommendations very often. But the point is that you can see the formula and once you understand the formula, you can either choose to embrace it. You can choose to evolve upon it. You can reject it, but it's a different framework for viewing that work.
Ron Friedman: And it's a tool that helps you see the totality of it, see the formula and learn from it more quickly. And you can trust that with how most people try to study Gladwell, which is they read Gladwell pieces or they'll take a Gladwell chorus. And I would argue that reverse outlining a Gladwell piece will help you learn more about Gladwell style at any of those other words.
Ron Friedman: Yeah.
Srini: So let's talk about the other three components of this framework, which are, questioning feedback and metrics. And you talk about the types of questions we should ask experts. So let's start with questioning. How do we use that to how do we use that and apply it to the process of reversing?
Ron Friedman: First thing I would say is that one of the things you need to realize when you're talking to an expert in you're trying to learn from that expert is that there are tremendous limitations in the way that experts communicate. And for example, if I somehow managed to get in a conversation with you for an hour and try to understand the art of podcasting chances are I'd be up against some pretty difficult barriers.
Ron Friedman: And it's because experts suffer from the curse of knowledge, meaning that things that are really obvious to them are not understood by novices. And so they tend to speak in a way that is harder for novices to understand. So the curse acknowledged is defined as. The challenge that people that experts have in appreciating the novices mindset, because it's knowing something, makes it impossible to imagine, not knowing it.
Ron Friedman: And so if you've ever in the book, I talk about if you've ever had a conversation with a doctor or a home Depot or a executive, a home Depot sales person, or a garage mechanic and everything they said went over your head, the curse of knowledge was the problem. It's not that they were trying to be deliberately evasive.
Ron Friedman: It's just that they have a hard time communicating with somebody who doesn't have their knowledge. The second big barrier when communicating with experts is that experts supply shortcuts that they're just not aware of. And so if I ask you what it takes to record a really good podcast, some of the things that are really important may not even make it to the list because you just do them automatically and you don't think.
Ron Friedman: Yeah. So there's research showing that experts lead out 70% of the steps that, that goes into their shop. And they're not even aware of it, but there's a solution to this by the way, which is interview multiple experts and chances are that number will go down to as low as 10%. But so the point is that you're up against it when you're talking to an expert and it's not because they're trying to be difficult, but because there are limitations to the way that they communicate.
Ron Friedman: And so you need to come prepared with the right questions. And there are three categories of questions that I talk about in the book. And I give you examples of all these questions so that you can go into your next interview expert and really get some great information. Those three categories are journey questions, meaning you want to understand the expert's roadmap for success.
Ron Friedman: By taking them back to where they first started and then ask them step by step, how they went about it in order to better understand their journey. The second types of a type of question is process questions. So that means drilling down on the specific steps that the expert applies to bring their work to life.
Ron Friedman: So for example, if I were interviewing you, I might say, okay, how do you choose your guest? How do you research your guests? What type of questions do you ask? What do you do next? What do you do after that? Just really making you go step by step. And then the third type of question is discovery questions, which has to do with unexpected revelations that you realized along the way.
Ron Friedman: So an example of a discovery question might be something like looking back, what was the most surprising to you? And so then just try and get you to focus on things you weren't expecting because often it's in those unexpected insights that I get the best actionable recommendations. And so this is a, you can use these questions when talking to experts.
Ron Friedman: When trying to reverse engineer your career, by talking to the people whose work you want to emulate, getting a better understanding of how they go about doing their work. These questions will help.
Srini: It's funny to hear you talk about this out loud, because I feel like unconsciously, this is literally the exact framework that I used for how I do interviews with people.
Ron Friedman: Huh. That makes sense. And listen, I'm, you've been doing this for a long time. That makes complete sense and escaped your attention because it's part of the 70% you would have told them. Exactly.
Srini: It's funny, you mentioned that because sometimes friends will say, Hey, will you teach me how to surf?
Srini: And there's one thing that any surfer will tell you is there's literally nobody worse to teach you how to surf. Then your friends who surf because the minute there's a good wave, there'll be nowhere to be found. And it's incredibly hard to deconstruct the entire process of popping up on a wave because it's so second nature after you've done it a thousand times that you can't even think about it as a series of steps that happen in sequence because they just all happen.
Ron Friedman: And there's an assumption that somebody who's successful knows what it is that made them successful. But often that person doesn't know, they have a different idea about what makes them successful. And so that's why it's often not the expert to make the best teachers. I have the example of.
Ron Friedman: Marlon Brando in the opening story of that chapter on experts, why experts make terrible teachers and Marlon Brando, obviously very famous actor, very successful actor. He tried to put on a workshop for other actors and it was debacle. People walked out and it was actually quite embarrassing.
Ron Friedman: There's some really funny stories about that that I share in the book, like for example, he tries to pull a homeless people off the street and teach them how to act in full view of all of these other luminaries who are in the in the audience. He asks them to act out scenes and then he interrupts them constantly yelling at them and berating them.
Ron Friedman: And he, when he doesn't like a scene, he doesn't say try doing it this way. He just screams out lies, because I guess they weren't authentic enough. So the point is that. The people who are often at the top of their field are not going to be very good at explaining how they got there. So you need to have come in, come prepare with the right questions.
Srini: Yeah. Let's talk a bit about metrics and feedback. I think that, it brings us almost full circle in a way to something we brought up at the beginning of our conversation is that we live in this very achievement oriented world in which people are very metrics obsessed when they measure their self-esteem, by the value of how their business is doing, they get caught up in vanity metrics like followers on Instagram followers on Twitter retweet.
Srini: How do you actually make effective use of metrics without causing those metrics to make you lose your fucking mind? Because vendors metrics can be like a huge source of anxiety. This probably as an author, when your book comes out, you're obsessed with book sales. And I realized that constantly checking how many copies my book had sold was basically just a recipe for disaster.
Srini: It made me miserable. And Cal Newport even told me recently when I was on his podcast, he said one of his biggest secrets as a writer is that he basically never figured out how to use the author portal at our publisher and never looked at it.
Ron Friedman: That's funny, so you're making a really good point, which is that metrics are really powerful and that's, there's a chapter in my book called the scoreboard principle.
Ron Friedman: And in that book, I talk about how, if you want to get better at anything, the fastest way to do that is to start developing metrics that hold you accountable to the specific actions you need to take in order to achieve. And it's because metrics are incredibly powerful at capturing our attention. And there are all sorts of evolutionary reasons for why this is the case.
Ron Friedman: We evolve to pay lots of attention to numbers and it's because it helps keep us alive. So an example of this is when you encountered a tribe in the Savannah quickly, getting a determination of the size of that group told you whether it was important for you to try to allow yourself or to try to overtake them or to try to run away.
Ron Friedman: That was a critical, they're all other, I go through a whole bunch of other examples. There's actually specific neural mechanisms that help help you evaluate numbers quickly. And it's an unconscious process. It's one that you are just completely dialed into. Social media apps have taken taken advantage of.
Ron Friedman: That's why games that have no reason to have scores. It's not a sport game. They won't give you a score. You'll get, and you'll see your score rise. When you do take actions that the app wants you to take it's because they know that will help addict you to the app. This is why Instagram, social Twitter, although Facebook, all of these apps have numbers associated with how many likes you got, because they know those numbers will keep you interested.
Ron Friedman: So there's a lot of value in metrics if you harness them correctly, but there's a lot of danger in metrics because unless you select the metrics that you want to hold yourself accountable to, you are apt to fall prey to some of these other traps, like the ones you mentioned, meaning social media and in the case of authors, looking at your sales.
Ron Friedman: And so you asked how do you prevent that from happening? And the answer is it's really difficult and it's difficult because we are so easily captivated by numbers. The solution I've come up with. And it's one that I argue in the book is that unless you develop metrics for yourself, you're in danger of falling prey to someone else's metrics.
Ron Friedman: And so the critical thing is to take some time to think about what is it that makes me successful in the longterm. What is it that I'm hoping to achieve this year? What does a successful day look like? And to develop a scoreboard for yourself that you can harness to keep yourself on track? And so an example of this, and you mentioned Cal Newport, all I'll also cite Cal Newport on this.
Ron Friedman: He keeps track of his unfocused minutes at work and having that metric of how many minutes have I spent on focused work being meaning no distractions, just being knocking out, whatever was the most important at that moment that number holds them accountable and also makes them face up to the fact that maybe he hasn't had very many focused hours at work over the last week and that sparks shame, and motivates you to succeed to to reinvest and be more successful in the future. And so developing your metrics. Is a really powerful tool because it sets you free from other people's metrics. And so you might consider, if you're a writer, it's how many words that I write today. How many uninterrupted minutes?
Ron Friedman: I liked that one. So I would value that if you're an entrepreneur, it could be how many minutes did I spend working on the business versus in the business. And so the more metrics you have that are genuinely attuned to what it is that makes you successful, the more successful we'll become.
Srini: Yeah, absolutely.
Srini: One other thing that I want to talk about is something that really struck me that you wrote about, and this was the idea of visualizing a process rather than an outcome, because I think that flies in the face of a lot of the new age nonsense that we get about law of attraction and business, vision boards, which I think leads to a lot of delusional optimism.
Srini: So why is it that visualizing a process for how you achieve something is much more effective than actually visualizing the actual.
Ron Friedman: It's because when you visualize process, you anticipate obstacles and can start solving for those obstacles before you get in the moment. And so just to make this concrete, there's a study I talk about in the book that was conducted at UCLA, where they had.
Ron Friedman: Introductory psychology students come into the lab. They divided into three groups. The first group was asked to visualize themselves achieving a high score on the test. So that's the visualizing success condition. The second group was asked to visualize themselves studying for the test. So they were asked to think about when and where they'll be studying.
Ron Friedman: How they'll prepare, really get into the moment of visualizing that studying process. And the third group was simply asked to report how much they. And what they found was that the group that visualized the process was the highest score by far. Whereas compared to the control group, the group had just talked about how long they spent studying the group that visualized success.
Ron Friedman: Achieved the lowest score. And it's because what happens when you visualize yourself succeeding is that you're temporarily sated. You get that emotional boost in that moment of seeing yourself achieving that high score. And then you're actually less motivated to do the work necessary to be successful.
Ron Friedman: In contrast, when you visualize process again, you're anticipating obstacles, you're solving for those in the case of studying, it might be okay, where am I going to do this? Oh, I'm going to need to bring which books do I need to bring? Oh yeah, that's right. I need to bring these three books. Where am I going to put my phone?
Ron Friedman: What snacks am I going to bring? So I can stay focused for two hours, that sort of thing. But you're also giving yourself an emotional preview of how you're, you'll feel when that time comes so that you're prepared to take action. So for all of those reasons, don't want to visualize success.
Ron Friedman: You want to visualize process. And in the book I talk about. Visualizing success just has gotten really a little bit out of hand. You hear about all these success stories like Jim Carrey, talking about how he wrote himself a check for $10 million when he was a struggling actor. And right before that check was about to expire.
Ron Friedman: He got his role in dumb and dumber, Bianca and dress, a famous tennis player. When the U S open couple of years ago, talked about how she believes that we can control reality with our minds because she visualized herself winning the us open. In fact also wrote herself a check, and a few years later, lo and behold, it came true.
Ron Friedman: What we don't hear about is the thousands and thousands of unsuccessful tennis stars and unemployed actors who also visualize success, the fraction of those results. And in fact, beyond con dress who just got knocked out from the us open last week. And I'm sure she did a lot of visualizing. Obviously it didn't work and I'm not trying to rag on either Jim Carey dress code.
Ron Friedman: I have to like both of them. But I think that we're looking at a sample size that is not reflective of the true population. And so don't waste your time visualizing success. You're far more likely to achieve the results you're looking for, if you visualize process. Yeah.
Srini: Let's wrap this up by talking about feedback, because I think particularly for creative people and entrepreneurs, receiving feedback is one of those things that takes a lot of time and receiving, being able to separate feedback on your work, from feedback on you as a person, I think is one of the great challenges.
Srini: A lot of people have. I knew this just from having worked with a writing coach who gave very brutal feedback in the writing process. And it took me about a month before I realized she was doing the job that I hired to do.
Ron Friedman: I think that getting good feedback is really hard and it's because there's generally two types of feedback that two groups of people we ask for feedback.
Ron Friedman: One are people who are close in our life and those people are incentivized consciously or unconsciously to protect the relationship above, above helping ensure that you're successful. So it's really hard to get good, honest feedback from people who are your friends beyond that they may not be your target audience.
Ron Friedman: And so you may be getting honest feedback from a group that isn't reflective of who you're trying to reach. So for example, if I had my mother read the coding, great, because the feedback might be good, might be bad. It would be irrelevant. She's not a business book for you here. And so you want to be careful about who your targeted audiences.
Ron Friedman: So I mentioned that the people close in your life as one group, the other group is people online and online people prioritize looking smart over being held. And the best, the easiest, not the best, but the easiest way to look smart is to attack someone or to find fault with some work as opposed to like genuinely offering helpful advice.
Ron Friedman: And so what we need to do is we need to train ourselves and the people around us to give us the feedback that we need to improve. And so I have a few tips in the book on how you can train the people around you to give you better feedback so that you could improve more quickly. And the first I'll just give a couple of these tips, which is one is you want to ask about, you want to ask specific questions about the type of feedback that you want.
Ron Friedman: So don't ask what do you think, or do you like it instead? The does this opening paragraph draw you in? Alternatively, you can ask for advice as opposed to feedback at all. One of the best recommendations that came out of doing the research from this book is that people are more likely to offer you helpful, actionable recommendations when you ask them for advice.
Ron Friedman: And if you ask them for feedback and that's because when you ask someone to give you advice, they compare you to what your potential might be. Whereas if you ask them to give you feedback, they're comparing your performance against your past performance. And so they're less focused on finding actionable recommendations than they are.
Ron Friedman: If you ask them for advice, don't ask for feedback, ask for advice. The last thing I want to share is the last tip is that you want to make it easy for people to give you negative feedback. You may not want to hear that negative feedback as the case with you and your writing coach. And I can appreciate.
Ron Friedman: Feedback negative feedback is not an enjoyable experience, but it does help you improve and you want to make it easier for people to give you that negative feedback. And so one of the great questions that I found while doing the research into coding greatness is Mike Birbiglia has questioned the famous comedian and playwright.
Ron Friedman: He, when he she shows friends, something he's working on, he doesn't ask them, do you like it? He asks them, when were you bored? And in that question, he makes it easier for them to identify specific areas that he can improve. And so you want to frame your question in a way that actually makes it easier for others to criticize you in a way that is helpful.
Srini: Wow. You have just packed this with so much actionable insight and wisdom. So I want to finish with my final question, which I know you've heard me ask, what do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable.
Ron Friedman: Abel being willing to pursue the things that genuinely resonate with them. And this is the reason I wrote this book is I wanted to give people the tools to better understand what works in the examples that they find impactful. And when you can figure out what it is that resonates with you, and you have enough trust that if it resonates with you, it'll resonate with others.
Ron Friedman: That's a recipe for creating unmistakable work.
Srini: Amazing. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and share your story, your wisdom and insights with our listeners. Where can people find out more about you your work, the book, and everything else.
Ron Friedman: The best place to go to find about me as Ron Friedman, phd.com, or you can go to my company's website, which is ignite 80.
Ron Friedman: And the reason it's called ignite 80 is because 80% of employees are not fully engaged at work. And so our mission at ignite 80 is to teach leaders and their team teams, a science-based strategies for helping people become healthier, happier, and more productive, and obviously decoding greatness available at bookstores.
Srini: Amazing. And for everybody listening, we will wrap the show with that.