Ron Friedman, PhD: Decoding Greatness To Turbocharge Your Life
How To Use Reverse Engineering To Achieve Legendary Results
This Pirate Profile is inspired by Ron Friedman on Christopher Lochhead's Follow Your Different podcast.
Pirate Profiles is a series by Category Pirates spotlighting legendary Category Designers across a wide range of industries and disciplines.
In these Pirate Profiles, you will discover:
Untold stories of Category Designers who shaped the world we live in today (that you probably have never heard of before—but whose products, services, and platforms you have used thousands of times!).
The radically different POVs these Category Designers evangelized in the world—and the obstacles they had to overcome to move people’s thinking FROM where it was TO somewhere new.
Their strategies, frameworks, and mental models for successfully designing & dominating new categories of consequence.
Every legendary entrepreneur, executive, investor, and creator of any kind is a Category Designer.
We want to tell their stories—because the best way to become a Pirate is to study other Pirates.
Dear Friend, Subscriber, and Category Pirate,
You've likely been told there are only two paths to success—talent or practice.
The talent path says you were either born with the skills (to be a musician or athlete or entrepreneur) or not. It’s encoded in your DNA.
The practice path says you must spend 10,000+ hours practicing a skill to become a master.
Yes, both your DNA and your practice time can help you along the way.
But according to social psychologist Ron Friedman, both theories are overrated.
Friedman says you don’t need to give up on your dreams because you believe you lack the talent for something. Nor do you have to tally up 10,000 hours of practice as if it were a magic number. This number is quite arbitrary, actually, and depends largely on a combination of talent and focused preparation. (You can dive deeper into research on the 10,000-hour rule in this article by Malcolm Gladwell.)
If you want to achieve great things, there’s a proven shortcut you can take: reverse engineering.
Reverse engineering means finding extraordinary examples in your field, taking them apart, working backward to figure out how they were created, and then applying those lessons to create something entirely new.
This is the premise of Friedman's bestselling book, Decoding Greatness: How the Best in the World Reverse Engineer Success. This science-based book features stories of athletes, artists, entrepreneurs, and even criminal masterminds who used reverse engineering to reach the top of their careers—and the methods and models they used to become successful. Friedman was a guest on Pirate Christopher’s Follow Your Different podcast, where they discussed how to gain a competitive edge and innovate faster by following a previously-laid path to greatness.
This revolutionary way of thinking rejects the premise of innate talent and makes peak performance accessible to everyone.
Ready to learn how it works and radically change your life? Let’s go.
Ron Friedman, Ph.D., Is An Award-Winning Social Psychologist Specialized In Human Motivation
Friedman began his career serving on the faculty of the University of Rochester, Nazareth College, and Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
But after years of researching human motivation in the lab, he left the academic world to work with Barack Obama’s chief pollster on measuring public opinion. Since then, he has consulted for Fortune 500 companies, political leaders, and the world’s leading non-profits.
Here are highlights of Friedman's career:
2007: Friedman received the Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Teaching as a graduate student. He also completed his doctorate degree in Social and Personality Psychology from the University of Rochester.
2012: Founded the Friedman Strategy Group, a strategic research consultancy that fuses psychological insight with cutting-edge research to deliver actionable marketing recommendations.
2014: Published The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, which was selected by Inc. Magazine as one of the best books of the year. He also founded ignite80, an education company to teach leaders evidence-based practices for achieving top performance.
2020-2021: His book Decoding Greatness became a national bestseller, received an Axiom medal for business innovation, and was selected by Amazon’s editors as one of the 10 best business books of 2021.
Friedman is a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review, CNN, Forbes, Fast Company, and Psychology Today. His work has been featured on NPR, The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and The Guardian, as well as in magazines such as Men’s Health, Shape, and Allure.
Let’s explore his legendary ideas about decoding greatness.
The Fallacy of Practice, Practice, Practice
Malcolm Gladwell dug into the complexity of the 10,000-hour rule of practice in his book, Outliers.
He shared that Bill Joy, for example, likely accumulated 10,000 hours of coding practice in his youth before founding Sun Microsystems. But his practice was compounded by fortunate circumstances, like having access to one of the first computers in the early 1970s. "He has talent by the truckload,” wrote Gladwell. “But that’s not the only consideration. It never is."
Gladwell based his book on research done by Anders Ericsson.
Ericsson didn’t advocate for a specific time of practice, but for the quality of the practice—what he called deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice means identifying your weaknesses and focusing on practicing until you turn that weakness into a strength. Athletes and musicians use deliberate practice all the time, but you can apply it to business or any other area of your life.
According to Friedman, deliberate practice is not enough because we live in an age where roles and fields are rapidly evolving. Even if you practice and learn to execute at the perfect level, the field will have evolved. So that practice may no longer serve you.
For example, let's say your goal was to make it big in the music industry. It wouldn’t be enough to master the electric guitar by practicing riffs for 10,000 hours. That could have worked 30 years ago. Today, successful musicians delve into electronic sounds, showmanship, social media, and more.
Practice is no enough longer, so Friendman suggests a different path to success.
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