Stealing like an artist

When the team started planning the Brisbane 2032 version of the greatest show on earth, the first thing they did was look at the last Olympics and the one before that. And now, they will take a very close look at 2024, and then, the 2028 versions.


Because like every Olympics that has ever been held, they will be copying what they can, and adding what they need.


Which is smart, as every event that we create will be a version of one before it. And while we all need to look ahead and evolve, looking back is ok. In fact, it's smart, it’s efficient, and it’s not just copying. It actually can and should still be, the best path to creative innovation.


Decoding Success


.Copying and creating isn’t a new thing, in fact, it’s the basis for many great success stories. Steve Jobs did it, so did Barak Obama, and winners like Roger Federer and Serena Williams relied on it. And like every Olympic Games since 1896, and many successful events, they’ve all used the same tricks, and so should we.



Steve Jobs and Bill Gates copied and improved a Xerox computer to bring us Macintosh and Windows. Barack Obama learnt his presentation style from the preachers in Chicago churches, and Roger Federer rebuilt his backhand game modelled off other top players.


Copying Greatness


As Ron Friedman calls out in his recent book ‘Decoding Greatness -the Hidden Strategy for Achieving Extraordinary Success’, many successful people and organisations do it on a regular basis. ‘Deformulation’ of products or ‘competitive benchmarking’ is all a standard process for most industry leaders, and it may be something you should do as well.


Understand it and evolve it


What we are talking about here can be called, ‘reverse engineering' which is where you can take apart something that you admire, understand what makes it work so well, and then make a version of your own.


I followed this process in my first book, and looked at the world-leading events, to pick out some common elements, that we can all apply to our events and experiences, no matter how large of small they are.


We looked at why some events are more successful, how some become more iconic. How they stand out from other events, to become truly influential events.




Copying the best

So, if you’re looking to design or redesign the experiences you are providing, it may be best to decode what your favourite events have done, and, what your leading rivals are doing.


The first thing to do is to curate your best examples, unpack them, and then, importantly, you need a framework, that will allow you to capture what makes it work, and then, make something of your own.




Create Templates and use Frameworks

One key step in this process is developing a framework to help you identify the features of an experience that you aspire to. By doing this you can develop a template that you can then apply to design your our event experience, mapping out the ‘winning formula’ that you can apply in your own way.

‘Nearly every example you admire was developed using a blueprint: chefs utilize recipes, writers employ outlines, web designers work off site maps. Instead of attempting to re-create a fully realized work, inject a level of abstraction and draft a high-level outline.
By working backward and crafting a blueprint, you will find patterns that demystify complex works’.

- Ron Friedman PhD on DECODING SUCCESS



It's all just a better version of something else

Arguably all the Olympics have followed a similar framework, and most sports events, from major events to community sport, are very similar. Many of the leading music festivals follow a similar formula, and conferences (well probably too much so).

*there are endless Event Plan templates out there, but not many that embrace the design and delivery of the end-to-end holistic experience.


Your Blueprint – the PEOPLE Model

We’ve actually done that work for you, as we use a few frameworks in our work, with the PEOPLE model being a favourite for event providers.



When you are decoding your favourite events and experience make sure you have a framework that will allow you to curate and organise your insights, so that you can turn them into clear actions and outcomes.


Unpack the ingredients

The winning formula is PEOPLE first, providing EXPERIENCES they value, to achieve the aims of your ORGANISATION.

Across PHASES of time, interacting in physical and online LOCATIONS, within an ECOSYSTEM you are operating in.



Make your own


With the right blueprint, you can look at the whole recipe, and you can play around with each ingredient.


For example, like if you’re running a new sports event or activity, you might compare yourself with another leading event or experience. You might learn that they have clearly identified the people they are targeting, and the experience they need to provide. You might decide that you need to make your experience more social, and find some emotion and peak moments that are lacking in your event. You might recognise your event needs to show up more online, and that you need some insights to develop your capacity to compete with these leading events.


After you identify these broad observations, you might note some more specific features of popular events. Common things that may be missing from your event, like how an engaging event always has a peak moment at the start and builds to one at the end.


You might then look for a pattern of how the moments play out between these key pillars, and then you can get more specific than that, down to analysing the minute by minute run sheet of your favourite experiences. You might also zoom in and unpack a key moment, using their script as a template for your own key moments. Whether you are looking at the big picture, or the details, unpacking other relevant winners will help you succeed as well.



Your Success


The same approach can apply to you. If you have a vision or goals of where you want to be, looking at what other successful people look like in those areas is a valuable process to go through. If you can do your own 'Vision vs. Ability' gap analysis, you can see what it is you need to get where you want to go. Reverse engineering isn't just for the leading organisations, it can provide a clearer roadmap for you as well.

Copying is OK

– just add your touch on top

But just to call out, this is not about being the same. It’s actually about giving your the opportunity to be different, in your events, or in yourself, to be very clear and focused on it.


As called out in another great book, 'Steal Like An Artist', author Austin Kleon tells us that any great artist is a collector of great ideas and a master of remixing.


We don’t all want to be the same, and yes there is a need to evolve, and often to disrupt things.




Be new enough


A key idea here is having 'optimal newness', where what you are creating is different enough, but also similar enough to something so that people are familiar with it.




Being completely different may seem like a great goal, but the reality is that most successful innovations are in smaller, but significant steps. If you think about your favourite events, they probably follow the same format as many others, or previous years, but they have added a few magic elements to surprise, delight, and evolve what you experience.



Start with the known ingredients, then add yours


If you look at the primary elements of successful things, decoding others is a good place to build from. You can pick the elements which are in play and work out how they will work best for you. And then, you can change it up, and add your own secret sauce.


If you want to see how we can do it for you, please just let me know…



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