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How to steal

“Art is theft.” ---- Pablo Picasso

May I suggest a good read? "97,196 Words Essays" by Emmanuel Carrère. One of the many articles tell a story of a man pretending to be a doctor and working in the World Health Organisation (WHO), but in reality, he dropped out of medical school in the second year. The amazing thing is that he did a great job to get all the knowledge he needed to be the one he was pretending to be. He lived a double life for more than 20 years without anyone noticing it, including his wife, who had known him since they were teens and his friends who work in the health sector. None questioned his duplicity.

His life didn't end well, neither was his family. This story triggered this post because I admired that he was the person he pretended to be, except for his title. If I were to do the reverse-engineering of this story, it could be a story of a man finally becoming the person he has been pretending to be after 20 years.

In Austin Kleon’s book “Steal like an artist”, the author emphasizes the point that nothing is entirely original. When I was an art student, we always start by copying the paintings from the album at the beginning of the journey because copying is a means of learning. Same for practising instruments, we follow the channels of our favourite musicians and mimic the techniques they use. However, copying is not plagiarism. Plagiarism is trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own. Copying is about practice, a learning experience that sparkles better work.

Wellington Harbor 丨 Kun Lu

For individual development, “fake it ‘till you make it” is probably the best advice I can give as a motivation for execution. If you want to be a designer, ask a real designer about their daily routine. Then, go through the routine by yourself. If I want to be an excellent Thai boxer, I won’t solely look at how my favourite Thai boxer fight in the ring. I will look at his daily training routine and do the same training routine as similar as I can. Drinking the same coffee brand as my favourite Thai boxer will not help me become an excellent Thai boxer.

For business development, there is a handy technique called benchmarking. Benchmarking is a technique that managers can use to enhance the performance of their team or company by studying successful rivals, making comparisons, and initiating improvements. For example, the world of Formula 1 motor racing is highly competitive, with just fractions of a second making the difference between winning and losing. Reducing the time taken during pit stops is therefore critical. In 2012, it took the best teams around 2.4 seconds to change all four wheels on a racing car. This time has since been reduced dramatically, partly by teams meticulously studying what the fastest ones are doing and how they are doing it. Today, four wheels can be changed in less than 1.9 seconds.

Nevertheless, the benchmarking technique comes with a pitfall for organisations. On the one hand, managers tend to be selective in what they should learn from the benchmarks. For example, a business can be copying the performance management framework of the benchmark companies but ignoring the resources and systems that support the framework. On the other hand, corporate strategy can also be distracted by copying activities that do not align with their competitive advantages. That being said, benchmarking should be a technique that helps organisations improve their business model and operation, not becoming their benchmarks.


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