The Secret to Becoming Great 14

This secret is often overlooked because it’s so simple and easy, and even those who do stumble upon it often ignore its potential. As children, we employed this little secret to our benefit — but as we get older, we tend to use it less and less. I’ve even come across authors, much to my astonishment, who try to convince us never to use this particular secret (this is especially true in voiceover books). But I have a different opinion…I say use this secret with reckless abandon…you’ll love the results. Here it is:

Find someone who is great at whatever it is in which you desire similar greatness, and as best you can, imitate every single thing they do.

It’s so profound, that I’m going to present it once more:

Find someone who is great at whatever it is in which you desire similar greatness, and as best you can, imitate every single thing they do.

As you do this, leave nothing to chance; ignore nothing in your quest to imitate your hero; attempt to uncover the reasons they did whatever they did (more on this topic in my next blog); in short — try to really “become” that person — at least for a little while. And I don’t care what anyone says: this is not “wrong” or “bad” to do.

Here’s my testimonial: As a young drummer in high school, I “became” the drummer Neil Peart from RUSH. I accumulated every single drum, cymbal, and percussion instrument in his arsenal (which took years); I slowed down his recordings and painstakingly wrote out and learned every single note — even the little tiny mistakes (yes, there are some!); using my old boom box, I practiced along with him — trying to literally clone his performances; I recorded “us” performing together in this fashion, then listened back for differences (hopefully there wouldn’t be any); and eventually I was able to play just like him. I repeated this process with many other drummers as well.

Later, in college, I did the same thing with Dave Weckl, Buddy Rich, and Vinnie Colauita. The goal each time was to clone their parts so that every single note I played lined up perfectly with theirs. And again, my goal was to literally “become” that drummer for a few minutes at a time. It worked.

Now, I’m doing the same thing in voice work, and it is having the exact same effect. This secret is so simple, yet I’m constantly confounded by the fact that so few people enjoy its benefits.

If you want to be great, don’t wait a single minute longer! Find someone great and imitate them! Become them! If you do this long enough, you’ll soon be great as well. It really is that simple.

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14 thoughts on “The Secret to Becoming Great

  • Alan

    Hey man, I think this is an awesome post, but I think you should modify your thesis.

    Find 2 people who are great and imitate everything they do.

    This is, in fact what you did, very successfully. And even in the VO department, I remember you imitating Don until you discovered your current role model.

    The reason I think this important: in many creative industries total clonism isn’t looked upon favorably. For example, Gene Colan was one of the greatest illutrators of all time. You know his work without knowing it. He was the illustrator who co-created Blade for Marvel. Another guy named Butch Guice showed up at Marvel with Gene’s chops. He was told “why do we need you? We’ve already got Gene Colan. He left and created a hybrid style that set him apart and got him the gig.

  • Tom

    Hey bud! Thanks for your input!

    I see your point.

    The unwritten part of my post is simply this: despite our best efforts to “become” someone else, we will ultimately fail–but the result is still a big win–and it’s often a bigger win than if we were to actually succeed at cloning the other person. And that’s because WE will ultimately shine at the finish line…”peek through”, if you will, as our true selves. In the end, obviously we will still be “us”, but hopefully a much better version of “us”–having copied preceding excellence.


  • Alan

    I totally agree. Interestingly, Michael Manring said something nearly identical to this. He said that he spent years trying to be exactly like Jaco, but no matter how hard he tried there was one little element of his playing he couldn’t get to be like Jaco. Eventually he realized that element was himself, and rather than purging it he expanded on it.

  • Cassi

    I guess you could do it in business by reading business books but alot of people don’t let you know how they got to the top.

  • James

    Great advice Tom. This process is painstaking and frustrating yet our inspirations are the best teachers, I’ve found. Ultimately this process is priceless. I used to get the tabs to all my favorites Lifeson, Hendrix and Page, when I was a teenager.

    It’s impossible to be someone else. Even if you had all the same gear as your inspirations you could never sound identical and that’s a good thing.

    • tom knight Post author

      Thanks James!

      Yes, it’s painful at times, but worth it. And yeah–we never really “get there” in terms of cloning another’s success, but what happens to us in the process is often just as good.


  • Rozeg

    There is a special character in the legendary arcade game Mortal Kombat. The powerful sorcerer who was given the ability to take AND USE other people’s knowledge, skills and appearance. Unfortunately, he used that ability for fighting and not for making music