In our everyday conversations, we may be asked about our role models, being the people that we look up to. However, when are we ever asked about our reverse role models – the people in which we study so that we may not repeat the same mistakes as they did?

In any typical fantasy or fairy tale, we may observe a protagonist who is the archetypal hero (usually 99% of the time is the main character) as well as the antagonist, who is your archetypal villain. In some cases the antagonist is the literary foil of the protagonist, where the characteristics of the antagonist are used to contrast with the characteristics of the protagonist. An example of this may be that the greed and lust for power of the villain provides a sharp juxtaposition to the benevolent honesty of the hero.

In real life however, we may not have the mythical tropes of the hero and villain, however a comparable equivalent would be role models – the acclaimed ‘heroes’ of our lives, as well as reverse role models – the ‘villains’. Much like how the protagonist takes a lot of the screen time, our conversations are often filled with people that we look up to – our role models. In this we lose the valuable lessons that could be learnt if we talked more about our reverse role models.

In Robert Kiyosaki’s investment/business book “The Cash Flow Quadrant” (I recommend you to read his first book “Rich Dad Poor Dad” first), he introduces the idea of the reverse role model in quite an astute manner:

Just as there are mentors who are excellent role models, there are people who are bad role models. In most instances, we all have both types in our lives.

For example, I have a friend who has made more than $800 million in his lifetime, but today he’s bankrupt. I have had other friends ask me why I continue to spend time with him. The answer to that question is because he is both an excellent role model as well as an excellent reverse role model. I can learn from both role models. One teaches me what to do, while the other serves as an example of what not to do.

Robert Kiyosaki, The Cash Flow Quadrant

Reverse role models are just as important as role models themselves – we can learn equally as much from both of them. This is actually an extremely powerful realisation because we can learn something from anyone that we come across and talk to. We are able to learn what they have done right and so aspire to that, as well as what they have done wrong and so take heed of their mistakes. However in comparison to role models, reverse role models have the added benefit of not having survivorship bias – in which reverse role models are thus able to provide a unique perspective.

(If you don’t know what survivorship bias is, here’s two YouTube videos by Eddie Woo and Veritasium motivating the idea)

In reality, there is no single person who is 100% a role model, nor 100% a reverse role model. There is actually a spectrum in which every person sits – however, the insight that could be gained by both is invaluable. We should make an effort to study reverse role models and weave them into our daily conversations – where when complemented with the study of our role models, they together can provide a robust and realistic picture of their respective fields of expertise.

If you’ve read this far, I encourage you to contemplate on the reverse role models of your own life. Are the lessons that you have learnt from reverse role models just as valuable to the lessons learnt from your role models? (Feel free to add a comment below if you’ve found any great insights! 🙂 )