The Failed Logic of Reverse Engineering

I see what they’re doing – let’s just copy that.

It seems simple enough. Let’s just look at a competitor’s marketing and simply do what they’re doing. It happens all the time and in the field of ideas –  it’s common.

Going deeper, we look at an idea or an approach to a market and we analyze what they’re trying to accomplish from the outside in, or “reverse engineer” it and we seem to come upon what we think they’re trying to accomplish. But we’re wrong.

We’re wrong because we don’t get results. We’re wrong because they’re winning and we’re not. We’re wrong because it’s just not working. We’re wrong because reverse engineering is not linear.

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There’s a failure in trying to reverse engineer things. It’s not a matter of accuracy or ability in the quality of your engineering. I believe it’s deeper than that. I believe it has to do with where you start, and starting at the end is never a good idea.

From the Beginning

There’s a concept stirring around in my head that I’m trying to articulate. The basic premise is seen in so many different ways, but the best I can explain at this time is that form follows function and is non-linear. We’re familiar with the mathematical theories or laws, such as A plus B equals C . Yet does C minus B equal A? Maybe in math, but not always in logic.

Another way of saying this is that you can’t always understand the illness by dissecting the symptoms.

We are in a highly competitive world where ideas are capital, and there’s a real tendency to want to simply copy and build off of what we see around us with over-exuberance by reverse engineering those concepts and ideas for our own purposes. But the fatal mistake that’s lying right around the corner is that we probably won’t get it right – which means lost time, effort, energy, and results, the loss of which we have little tolerance for.

Safer Engineering

The alternative to reverse engineering is simply building it yourself. Starting with the ideas and concepts we want to accomplish, we can arrive at a form and function or campaign that will aim to our results. We can’t simply go through the motions of the campaign hoping to get the results without the score of results.

One of the biggest blockades or problems in reverse engineering is fear. Fear is what drives us to not take risks, but to simply adopt the concepts and forms around us. We see this every day in all aspects of our lives. Conformity can almost ensure safety, yet we neglect to look deeper into the “why” or the rationale behind the form. We simply adopt it thinking that we will achieve a result.

So the real call to action is to be bold. To release fear.

And this gets to the point of the matter. If you are not willing to take the real risk of “engineering” your own solutions, you will never win.  I’ve been in business and worked with enough businesses to know from just a few meetings how the company will fare in the long run – if they will be a leader or simply a marginal business that never reaches greatness. And much of it has to do with how they solve problems around them. Are they struck by fear and do they try to mitigate risk by copying other business? Or do they mitigate fear by stepping into a real and deep process of problem solving, hoping to come out ahead of the competition?

If you copy the competition, the best you’ll ever do is second place.

That is the difference. That is why reverse engineering can be wise, but in the same stroke, it can be a limiting proposition to the growth of the company.

Solving Problems Better

So if you take copying the competition off the table, what is left? That is a topic for another blog post, but I can tell you one of the main methodologies that is moving through the work and problem-solving sphere is Agile. And you can apply agile problem solving to just about any problem with some minor training and research. In fact, I find most people do some aspects of Agile and might not even know it. But it can produce great results and mitigate risk at the same time.

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Yet no matter what you choose, choose to not copy the competition. Set your own path. When you are looking back at your competition from the top,  you’ll be glad you did.

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