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From Barack Obama To Kurt Vonnegut, Book Reveals How World's Most Successful People Achieved Greatness

(CBS Local)-- There seems to be an endless fascination with success and how to achieve it. Psychologist Dr. Ron Friedman dives into this topic and examines the world's most successful people in fields like politics, sports, technology and business in his new Simon & Schuster book "Decoding Greatness: How The Best In The World Reverse Engineer Success."

Dr. Friedman looks at people like President Barack Obama, tennis star Serena Williams and author Malcolm Gladwell to make a larger point about how to reverse engineer success by studying those before them in order to pick up on hidden patterns and themes. CBS Local's DJ Sixsmith caught up with Dr. Friedman to discuss the book, what was most fascinating about his research and what this conversation says about us as a society.

"My first book 'The Best Place To Work' looked at all the science of how we can create a great workplaces, but there was something missing in that book," said Friedman. "Even in the best workplaces, there's a range of performance levels. Some people are top performers and others are not. In Decoding Greatness, I looked at what the top performers in the world are doing differently and how can we all apply their strategies to develop better workplace habits and be more effective at our jobs."

"There are two big stories we've been told about success," said Friedman. "The first story is that greatness comes from talent. This is the idea that we are all born with inner strengths and the key to finding your greatness is finding a field that allow your inner strengths to shine. The second story is the idea that if you practice long enough, you'll be great. There's a third story and that's the focus of Decoding Greatness and it is reverse engineering. It simply means finding great examples and working backwards to figure out how they were created and how you can apply those insights to producing better work."

One of Dr. Friedman's favorite stories from the book is about author Kurt Vonnegut. He used to reverse engineer popular stories and he would turn stories into a graph. He would plot the protagonist's fortunes on a graph. He did it from the beginning to the end of the story and he found that so many of the stories we've fallen in love with follow the same pattern.

"Another example is Cinderella vs. Annie. Both of them follow the exact same pattern," said Friedman. "In the beginning things are going poorly for the character, they get rescued, all hell breaks loose and then finally they live happily ever after. It's the same story and we don't even realize it because we fall in love with it. You see the pattern here. Take something that works and add your twist and this book talks about how you can do this in your field."

"This is a far better approach to creating original work than staring at a blank screen," said Friedman. "A lot of us want to write a book or a movie and have no idea where to begin. This is why we need these analytical tools to look at some of the stories and how they were created. One example of something surprising is when I analyzed the most popular TED Talk of all-time. What is it that makes this different from other TED talks? You discover is that it has almost no facts. The thing that makes a TED Talk popular is the anecdotes."

Dr. Friedman's book is available now wherever books are sold.

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