Back in high school, teachers would tell you to really “learn” the material otherwise you’d be at a disadvantage. Their strategy was to teach concepts and by looking into the back of the book for answers you were harming your future self. Unfortunately, that is terrible advice. The reality is that finding the “answer” and working backward is actually a good way to build up. In finance there is a phrase “bottoms up” and “tops down” when building a picture and believing that tops down never works is simply false. With this we’ll apply it to your life in general.
Find the “Top Down”: Generally speaking, you’re never going to find an exact ideal of who you want to become. You’re going to find guys who you respect from a money making perspective, style perspective, athletic perspective etc. You can’t really become any singular individual as their skill set is also quite different from yours (genetics as well).
All of that aside, we still recommend finding people who are around 10-15 years older than you. This will narrow the pool to a few people who you would like to emulate. Ideally you’ll choose three of them. Perhaps one is good in your particular career/business, one has a lifestyle/work-life balance you’re envious of and another is simply in great shape and you’d be happy if your fitness level was on par with them in 10-15 years (notice if you’re 15 years younger, your bar is naturally higher).
At this point you can calibrate for what you plan on doing in the future. If you have a “role model” the chances of success are slim since your skills are never going to align with a singular person. Instead if you have a general picture, you can then find where your skills are better or worse vs. where your plans are. If you’re already naturally fit, you can reduce hours here to increase your social skills. Or. If you’re already making a lot of money but have fitness issues… you would reverse them. Either way once the picture is built “the answer” you work backward.
Step 1 – Be Smart Before Incorporating: Generally speaking, successful people are talented. If talent didn’t exist then everyone would be able to train to break a world record in athletics or create the next Amazon. This is where we’d say the vast majority of people mess up. They mess up *bad*. Take a step back and ask yourself if the person is actually talented or if they learned the skill. This is not the same, will never be the same and is not up for debate.
Self-awareness is the only way to tell the difference between talent and learned skills. The average person is not self-aware as they constantly think they are better looking, smarter and more talented than everyone in the room (the chances of even one of these being true in a room of 40-50 people is practically zero).
So. Take a look at the handful of people you’d like to emulate and decide “is this person simply too talented or did they figure it out through effort”. If the answer is they simply had talent, you have to delete them from your list of people to emulate. This causes a lot of ego destruction because you’re admitting that someone has significantly more talent in a particular area. Most won’t pass this first test and simply have a list of role models that they will never be able to emulate (copying a life path with less talent is a guarantee for failure).
Before moving on, the key easy indicators of someone having talent is as follows: 1) they are able to produce more than everyone in their field – same level – while working 50% as much or less, 2) the individual claims that everyone can catch up if they just worked hard enough – this is what talented people believe since things come easily to them, 3) their productivity actually increases with higher work loads, what this means is they can efficiently reorganize without any performance drain… similar to good software code and 4) take the results that are being delivered and ask if a person with similar attributes could achieve the same with 2x the amount of time. If the answer is no… again they are too naturally skilled to emulate. As usual, none of the prior four items are “guarantees” but this filter should help you get a clear picture of the future.
Step 2 – Find the Process: Building on step 1, if you’re sure the person doesn’t have any innate talent in the area in which he’s successful you can work backward from their end result. Instead of wasting valuable time trying to recreate the wheel, take the core competencies and integrate them immediately. Coming up with your own spin is not going to work on day one since fundamentals need to be built up first.
You can narrow down the fundamentals by observing how they operate relative to their peer group in a particular environment. If their social skills are high quality, then look at the word choice, body language and style of clothing relative to the group. Until you can find 5-6 items that are definitively different, there is no point in integrating any mannerisms. Copying blindly doesn’t work as the only competitive edge is going to come from differentiation.
If you’ve done this correctly you can now integrate the fundamental differences into your daily life. It takes roughly 6 months to make something a habit. There is no point in trying to create an “on and off switch” since it just leads to underperformance. To make a sports analogy, it would be similar to having two different golf swings, one for practice and one for competition… This makes little sense. If you find something that works, integrate it and move on.
Put the process on repeat. It is unlikely that you’ll find all the differentiation in a single event. You have to repeat this process to pick up on all the changes over the course of a few months. When you start to see results in your immediate life, you’re effectively done with the basics. Sticking with the same example, once you have copied the habits in a particular social environment and you see a big change in the results you’re looking for, you’ve got the direction right which is good enough. No need to look for additional tricks that unlikely exist anyway.
Step 3 – Thinking For Yourself: This is where most people hit a road block. Copying fundamentals is a good starting point but to differentiate you have to take advantage of your own personal skills. For example, maybe you’re a better communicator and lower energy. You probably want to put yourself in environments where there are fewer individuals making it easy for your speaking skills to be seen. On the other hand, maybe you’re a polarizing figure. If you’re polarizing, you want to be in an environment that address a wider distribution as it increases the chances of finding the right person to connect with.
These are nuances that most people don’t think about. It takes a lot of work and requires a lot of introspection. If you see your general results increase, you have to then take it to a micro level and specialize. Without specialization you can’t differentiate which is the entire goal (going above normal expectations). By way of example, your “look” and “personality” needs to match the environments you frequent. This applies to work, dating and even your normal social life. By copying a single individual’s preferences you reduce (dramatically) your ability to improve your life.
Step 4 – Simple Top Down Example: The reality is that our example will likely go over the heads of an average person. The average person thinks they can “learn” anything even though it is simply not true. You have to specialize in any particular task to improve your results. So we can use a sport as an example, we can go with basketball since that’s a commonly known sport in the USA.
If you’re trying to become a better player, the first thing you should do is master the basic fundamentals. Instead of looking for a role model, you have to video tape yourself learning all the basics: shooting form, footwork, basic positioning when on defense and a sense for what type of moves you’re faster at (some people have better foot work so spins are better than crossovers etc. – common for taller athletic people)
If you’ve got the basics down, now you can look for someone to emulate. Most people just choose the “best person” in the game which doesn’t help. The chances of matching your skills to someone who is actually the best in the world… practically zero. So you find a top 50 player and decide if your style can mirror them. A good example of this is trying to emulate LeBron James versus someone like a JJ Reddick. Their style couldn’t be more different and we’ll bet everything that starting with LeBron won’t work.
Continuing on, we’ll assume that you’re actually not fast but you’ve got good foot work and an accurate shot. What does this mean? It should narrow down your search to players with more methodical styles and less reliance on athleticism. Clear examples would be a Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan and Nicola Jokic. If you’re looking for shorter versions of the same style you’re probably looking at someone like Mark Jackson who was a strange point guard with some speed but played a lot in the post.
At this point, you take film of the individual most similar to where your advantages are and see how they react in particular situations (basically, the person you’re emulating is the answer at the back of the book). Since they are not fast or all that athletic, they will have different strategies when catching the ball at the top of the key, in the post, or off a pick and roll for example. For fun you’ve really mastered the basics of “copying” their style when you play and people say your playing style is similar to them. The reality is that anyone who actually learns how to play basketball (mastering the fundamentals) – or any other sport for that matter – is going to be better than 90% of the population in general.
To conclude, at this point you’re now able to become “yourself”. If your style of game is similar to person A and people go out of their way to say you’re similar to person A… you have to make changes that take you to one level higher. The only way you can do this is find another relative strength. Assuming your style is too similar, there is going to be at least one or two areas where you have some differentiation, say jumping length (while height may not be good). In that case you can practice passing lane steals and chase downs to prevent fast breaks. Or maybe you’re an extremely good corner three point shooter but the rest of the floor is not accurate. In that case you’d play a lot of mid-range and then go out to the corner where people will leave you open.
As you can see at this point it gets extremely specific and since the average person 1) won’t learn the fundamentals of any task and 2) believes they can be world class by mirroring someone who is not similar to them… they never get any better.
Concluding Remarks: Unfortunately, sports are the easiest example for a short post like this. That said, it can be applied to stating a business and making money as well (we’ll cover that very shortly). But to avoid 5,000 word lengthy articles this should be a good start. Take a step back and ask “where am I most similar” then scale up from there. This will work a lot better versus the average person who thinks they can learn and become good at anything (simply not true). Talent is real and winners figure out where they are talented despite “liking” or “disliking” the activity. Since the end goal is to be successful regardless of how exciting it is.