It is common wisdom that one route to success is to emulate the success of others. Find someone who inspires you and who has achieved the things you want to achieve and then follow their exact footsteps to get the same for yourself. Model yourself on other successful people and you’re sure to be successful, right?
Well, actually this is not the view that all self-help gurus take and there is in fact a fairly strong argument for not doing that, and for instead doing the precise opposite…
The Problem With Success
The idea of working from a ‘blueprint’ for success is a good concept in theory and seems straightforward enough until you realise that no such blueprint really exists. Not only is every single person different, but so too is every single situation, every single industry and every single aim. Just as different workouts work better for different people, so too do different paths to success – in fact that’s even more true in this case.
You might decide for instance that you want to be the next Steve Jobs – it’s a noble aim and one shared by many other people. As such then you might decide to try and follow his specific route to success, but what you would discover is that the circumstances just aren’t there for you to thrive by doing this. It may be that if Steve Jobs was starting out today, even he wouldn’t be successful. Steve Wozniak for instance was highly instrumental in Jobs’ early success and without your own equivalent with the same skills you might not achieve the same success.
Likewise, when Jobs was starting out the computer industry was completely different. The first Apple computer was designed to bring computing into the mainstream and to make it commercially viable. Obviously that’s not a problem today, so you’d need to have a new ‘angle’ to find your successful niche. Sure, you could try and ‘think like Steve Jobs’ and identify an emerging market before the competition do, but if no emerging market is forthcoming, or someone else happens to get there first… then you’ll probably struggle to capitalise on just such an opportunity.
Then there are the unique skills that Steve brought to the table: his design sensibilities, his dogged determination to make things perfect, his ability to spot new trends before anyone else did… Not only are these very rare traits that are incredibly difficult to emulate or learn, but they are traits that were precisely what he needed to thrive in the market at that time, with the help of Steve Wozniak.
Still think you can just copy Steve Jobs? Steve Jobs couldn’t copy Steve Jobs!
Dangers of Emulation
So the big problem with emulating success directly is that it generally can’t be done (and that is a big problem…). But actually the issue goes further than this, as attempting to emulate success can in fact hamper your ability to succeed and have the precise opposite effect to the one you want.
Continuing with the example of Steve Jobs, you might find that you become so wrapped up in the idea of being ‘the next Jobs’ that you fixate on the technology industry. This could then lead you to actually miss another opportunity that was in a better position to be exploited and that better lent itself to your particular skillset and situation.
At the same time, trying to emulate someone else necessarily also means that you are suppressing your own creative drives and your own ideas. By trying to fit the mould made by someone else, you can end up being a square peg in a round hole and underperforming as a result. Most success actually comes from people who are willing to 100% commit themselves to their own vision and their own ideas rather than trying to appease the ideas of others. You must have faith in yourself and be individual if you want your work to have integrity and to reflect the best of what you have to offer.
How to Learn From Others
So if you can’t really emulate someone else’s success, how can you learn from other people?
Well one thing you can do is to learn from their attitudes, their approaches and their advice. These are more ‘general’ concepts that may be vital ingredients in the recipe for success, but they don’t set you down a specific path either.
You should also recognise the limitations of your heroes and the dangers of ‘hero worship’. Don’t follow anyone precisely and make sure that you do take note of their failings as well as their strengths.
And actually something you can safely learn from is the mistakes from others. You might not be able to learn precisely where to go from your heroes because you possibly won’t have the same opportunities available to you to go down those paths but what you definitely can do is to learn where you shouldn’t go and what to avoid. Even the most successful people on the planet will have had failures – many of which are probably quite public. Knowing where others have made mistakes will then enable you to avoid making similar mistakes yourself, thus taking a much more direct route to success and hopefully avoiding some of the pitfalls along the way.
So forget about watching the successes of your heroes closely, and start paying attention to where they trip up instead!