People learn by copying. Research shows that other mammals — monkeys, in particular — learn the same way humans do: by copying their parents.
No matter what your parents told you — you, probably, didn’t listen to them (although you should have). Instead, your mind subconsciously remembered what they did — and it became one of your mental patterns.
For example, it always amuses me to watch some Russian parents scold their children for not reading books. It goes like this:
“Why are you not reading anything! You should read! Read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky! Look at other kids — they are smart because they are reading books!”
And then they turn on the TV. It’s hilarious.
Parenting just doesn’t work that way. Kids look at what you do, not what you say. So to be a good parent — generally, just be a good person. But that’s a whole another topic.
Copying and imitating others is natural. That’s how we learn to speak, to walk, and later in life, to live and make decisions. But when we grow up and mature, there are limitations to how far you should go copying others.
There is nothing bad with imitating others as long as you are aware that you are doing it. Ever seen Instagram profiles that look just like Gary Vee (you know, with short videos on the white backgrounds and colored progress bars)?
That’s what I am talking about.
You can’t imitate thinking
I am currently reading Paid To Think by David Goldsmith and there was a quote in the beginning that I really liked:
When you watch others perform and then imitate what they do, you are learning to do what they do, but you are not learning how they think — the mental conclusions behind their actions.
No matter how perfectly you copy Gary Vee’s micro-content strategy, you are not Gary Vee. You don’t have Gary Vee DNA, you don’t have his brain, you didn’t have his experiences (or his brother growing up).
In other words: even though you can copy actions, you can’t think like the person whose actions you are copying. And that’s an important thing to remember.
By the same token, no idea can really be stolen. I laugh at founders when they fear that their “idea for the next Facebook” can be copied by someone else, so they don’t tell it to anyone. That’s bull.
No idea can be stolen because you can’t steal the thinking behind it. Mark Zuckerberg’s case is an exception and, to be honest, we are all better off that he “stole” the idea because the Winkelvoss twins wouldn’t have created Facebook. They would have created something completely different (and I bet they always knew it). It was Zuck’s perspective of their idea that created Facebook and it has nothing to do with the original one.
Principles outlive tactics
When the landscape changes, if all you have is tactics — you are in trouble.
You can copy Gary Vee content model for as long as it works. When it stops working, Gary will change his mind and create something new. What will you do?
Instead of focusing on the shallow things (tactics, actions, words), try to understand the principles behind them. The thinking behind the actions. The “why” behind the “how”, behind the “what”.
As Gary Vee himself says: “Don’t listen to what I am saying, watch what I do”.
If you grasp principles, you’ll be able to stay afloat in any situation.
I actually have a tattoo on my left arm that says this: be yourself. A constant reminder that no matter what happens, being yourself (unapologetically), not trying to imitate anyone or show anything off, is the best strategy.
The only way you can make original things (businesses, content, ideas) is by being yourself.
You copy others when you don’t really know who you are. That’s what’s important.
But don’t blame yourself for doing that. It’s natural. Just keep it in mind and start figuring out who you really are and what you personally want in life.
I spend a year copying Gary Vee (yeah, I joked about it so much because I know what it is!). I created micro-content just like him and did video blogs on YouTube just like him. I even said the same words and cursed, just like him. Oh, well…
But you know what? Even though I feel embarrassed as hell for being such a dick at my 19, I learned a lot, too. I learned how to create content at scale, how to shoot and edit videos and I even started teaching content marketing at a business school in Moscow.
I know, it’s hilarious.
When I was 16, I tried copying my father. He was a big shot in Russia (pezzonovante for those in the know) and I wanted to be just like him: I dressed the part, walked the part and talked the part. It’s actually funny, considering that we have similar looks. We looked like the same person, 20 years apart in time.
But, again, you know what? I learned a lot here, too. I learned how to not be afraid of people older than me (my father is a bold guy), ask for and get things that I want. There is an upside here, too.
So go ahead, learn by copying. But remember that every learning has an end to it. Once you are done learning — stop.
Don’t be Mr.Ripley.