Every person you meet is a teacher. Everyone has unique skills and distinctions that you can learn from. Modeling a specific few of those people by observing what gives them their skills and distinctions can allow you to replicate that ability quickly and effectively. By carefully selecting role-models and using simple methods to elicit their strategy can give you rapid improvement.
This is the third part in a four part series dedicated to a powerful and uniquely human skill, modeling. In the first article, I discussed the basics of modeling and what things to look for when trying to imitate a result. In the second article, I discussed the most powerful method of modeling, guided instruction. Having a mentor or coach allows you to gain skills far faster then you otherwise could.
Imitate Your Way to Success
But often the perfect coach isn’t willing or available. Many great instructors of certain fields charge huge fees and others simply aren’t available. In other cases the method of instruction may be unsuitable. Trying to teach exercising habits through a seminar room won’t give the same value as getting personal instruction in exercise. In these cases becoming excellent at modeling through observation can give you the edge.
What if the model you want isn’t available. Great historical and literary figures can serve as excellent models for patterns of excellence. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison or Leonardo DaVinci aren’t around anymore but this doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the examples they set.
The first step is to pick out who you want to model. This could be a friend who has a certain charisma, skill or discipline you lack. He or she could be a famous person who inspires you. All that matters is that they have certain distinctions that you would like for yourself.
A big mistake people make when picking role-models is they look for complete life models instead of specific models. Nobody will be perfect to you. You have a very unique combination of values and history that makes finding a perfect role-model impossible. Although there have definitely been men and women who espoused excellence in virtually all areas, you can’t find perfection.
Jesus Christ or the Buddha may have been extraordinary men, but even they aren’t perfect models. Unless, of course, you plan to be completely celibate.
The best role-models are those who you have the most contact with. I model small distinctions from many of my close friends because I have the best viewpoint to observe them from. Far off heroes can be great for modeling extremely high degrees of excellence, but if you want to get started on improving, look at what the people around you are doing better than you.
Because no complete model exists, you need to pull apart the distinctions that produce a result in other people. Determining exactly what makes them successful in a particular area and distilling this off from the other areas of their life can be difficult. You need to start by finding distinctions, testing them and then personalizing your approach.
The first step involves looking at your model and figuring out how they think, feel and act differently then you. As I discussed in the introduction for this series, these three areas are the key to finding out how someone produces a result. In particular, looking at how they think, feel and act while they are producing that result is where you should start.
As part of my current quest for interpersonal mastery I recently met with a friend of a friend who had an incredible ability to captivate the people around him. I wanted to model his ability to do this by pulling out distinctions he had in the way he thought, felt and acted that gave him this result.
I’m not privy to his thoughts and emotions, but you can generally get an idea of a persons belief structure, mental tools and state through the way they interact. I realized that this person was captivating in part because he was really good at telling stories. He consistently thought of new anecdotes to tell (thinking) while staying in a state of comfort and mild enthusiasm (feeling), at the same time he delivered his stories with a compelling hook and conclusions with a focus on brevity (acting).
By disassembling his ability I could pick out the key distinctions that allowed him to produce the result. Unfortunately, I can’t be completely sure whether these distinctions are key ingredients for him to produce that charisma or whether they were simply correlated with other, more important distinctions. This is why you need to…
After you’ve picked out what you believe makes someone successful, you need to try it out. The easiest step is to start by testing the behavior. Just do as they do and often you will stumble upon some key distinctions that actually work. Once you figure out what they believe (thinking + feeling), the mental tools they use (thinking) and the emotional state they are in (feeling), you need to test these distinctions as well.
Personalize Your Approach
A friend who happens to be a professional speaker, commented to me recently that you can usually tell when someone has been through the Toastmasters program because they tend to follow a particular style of speaking. Being a member of Toastmasters I could see this to be the case.
Toastmasters is a program for beginning speakers and reinforces a set of distinctions aimed at preliminary to advanced improvements. Without doing that final step in the modeling process you are still left a clone to the person you modeled.
But once you test the distinctions that work you need to take another step and personalize them. This often means breaking the “rules” that you had come to believe in the initial testing stage. Many great speakers break the distinctions reinforced in Toastmasters but are still great orators.
Modeling is like watching someone build a house. You can see how that person does it and then borrow that persons tools. But unless you want an identical house, you are going to need to modify the tools and processes. Many people get all the way to this step but then forget that the person they were modeling was building a gazebo and they wanted a mansion. Initially you can learn from the gazebo maker, but eventually you must find new tools if you want to continue.
Once you’ve learned to produce some results with your new found distinctions, you need to reintegrate them into your personality. Figure out which ones suit you and creatively modify those that do not. As a wise person once said, “It is the poor student who cannot eventually beat the master.”
In the fourth and final article on modeling, I’ll discuss modeling through osmosis. This is a passive form of modeling where you can gather distinctions and make improvements without consciously focusing on it. Effectively using osmosis can give you amazing skills with only a small amount of outside strategy, but its misuse could spell disaster.