Reverse-Engineering Your Future

There are many ways of creating new methods and strategies for doing things well. One form of innovation is to take a powerful strategy from one area and apply it usefully in a completely different one. In that spirit, I have borrowed a concept from the field of engineering and will present you with several ways in which it can be used to plan and create a better future.

That concept is ‘reverse engineering’. Normally when a person engineers something, they start with a purpose, a need or a problem and create something which embodies that purpose, satisfies that need or solves the problem.

Reverse engineering is essentially the opposite process. You start out with the finished product and go backwards, retracing the creative method to find out how it works.

This is what happens when a company like Sony produces a new gadget. A competitor buys one and takes a screwdriver to it, taking it apart in order to find out the principles behind how it works. Then they can produce their own version built on similar principles.

Suppose you were to apply this process to one of your current goals. Assume the goal is complete at some point in the future and reverse engineer the pathway to that successful accomplishment. Here are three ways of doing the ‘reverse engineering’ process.

1) The Magic Pill Scenario

I’m not sure where this method originates, though I often use it with coaching clients to get past a problem.

It involves a simple question and some imagination.

The question is this:

“If I were to give you a magic pill that meant you would wake up tomorrow with the problem completely solved, what would have changed?”

This enables them to start thinking about the problem as solvable. This also presupposes that there is a solution and that it’s possible for them to get past their current obstacle.

They are then free to discover for themselves what changes they need to make. All we have to do after that is agree on how to make those changes, set up resources and a timeframe.

Then they are completely free to move into action, knowing they are going in the right direction in an acceptable timeframe.

2) Timeline method

Imagine that your future is stretched out in front of you on a line, where days, weeks, months and years are arranged in order. One day follows another. This is a representation of your timeline – your inner sense of time. Your mind uses your timeline to plan and schedule. It’s a bit like a ‘mental diary’ or planner.

First, assume that at some point in time, you will reach your goal.

Then move forward along that timeline until you get to a point in your future where the goal is accomplished.

At this point, check that it happens in a way that you’re happy with. If it’s not okay, change it until you’re completely happy with it.

Now turn around and look back along the timeline, noticing all of the events that took place before your goal – those actions which allowed you to accomplish your goal.

Be aware of what you did each step of the way. Your mind will fill in the details as you go.

Now you know how you will get there and have a complete plan.

To make this even better, look at your new plan. Are there any distractions or unnecessary steps involved? Use your awareness of this to streamline the plan further until it is at its best.

Write down the plan and move in to action!

(For more about this method, refer to my NLP Primer on timelines)

3) The Chunkwise Method

Henry Ford once said: “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs”. He went on to prove his statement by working out all of the jobs involved in building a car and putting that knowledge to practical use. The result was the world’s first mass-produced car.

You can apply this process by breaking your goal down into a number of pieces, then subdividing those into smaller tasks. Then all you need to do to make that knowledge into a plan is to apply the three ‘power questions’.

I’ve detailed the full process below, using “creating a new ebook” as an example.

1 – Identify your goal
Example: creating a new ebook

2 – What are the major pieces needed or stages involved? (3-5 pieces)
Example: Research, Design, Writing the detailed text.

3 – what are the major pieces of each of those?
Example: Research – (Market research, Topic research)

4 – Apply three power questions to each piece :
Example: Topic research segment

A – How do you accomplish this piece?
Search internet, read relevant books, conduct studies in real world

B – How long will it take?
3 months

C – What order does this come in the bigger scheme?
After market research and before the design phase

Of course, you would go through all of the steps for each piece of every stage until you had a complete and comprehensive plan. Then you can decide if the time and effort involved are worth it. If not, you can work at ways of minimising the time taken in certain steps or do other steps in a more enjoyable or appealing way.

As a consequence of using the metaphor of reverse engineering, several strengths are revealed.

The process presupposes that the aim is possible and achievable, so we instantly bypass any doubts that could have stalled creative thoughts about a solution. If it’s really not possible, you’ll find out in the process.

You get to decide whether it’s worth it, which you can only assess fully if you know the full process involved in getting there. After all, it’s important to enjoy the journey as much as the final outcome.

You need to envision the outcome fully before you start, so you can adjust it and decide if you really want it that way. Needless to say, this saves a lot of time and effort.

Also bear in mind that none of these processes need to take very long – it’s all about finding a clear and acceptable path to your goal.

I hope these strategies are helpful in allowing you to decide on the great things you want in your future – and making them happen!

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