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  • Purnima Thakre


Reverse engineering. The term smacks of clandestine military operations, gleeful scientists in white coats, reversible programming. And indeed, the beauty of the reverse engineer is her ability to appropriate such images, his talent at moving from completion to the start. Simply put, reverse engineering is taking something apart to figure out how it works, in order then to duplicate it or make it somehow better. But at refine+focus we see reverse engineering as a mindset, a way of moving forward. We analyze desired outcomes and devise strategies to get you there. We use the knowledge of the past to bring us forward towards the future. William Blake wrote, “Without contraries is no progression,” and though we’re not sure what he would have thought of the modern world, the internet, and social media, we are happy to take our cues from a poet.

Here’s reverse engineering and some examples of how it really works:

Jerry cans: During the Second World War Allied forces found that German cars had superiorly designed gasoline cans. Working backwards from captured models, they created these better cans themselves. In homage, of a sort, they christened them “Jerry cans.”

Slater’s textile mills: At 10, in 1778, Samuel Slater was working in a cotton mill in England. By 21 he knew just as much as anyone in the country about the mechanics of textiles. In 1789, he jumped ship for New York, after memorizing the plans for the miraculous machines, and brought the industrial revolution to America, rebuilding the secret machines there. By the time he died he was master of 13 spinning mills and even had a town named after him: Slatersville, RI.

V2 Rockets:V2 Rockets were the first man-made objects to make it to outer-space, and the first long range ballistic missiles. During the beginning of World War II they were used by the Germans to target London. After the war, when British and American forces got hold of the missiles, they reverse engineered them for their own purposes, beginning the space race.

The Rosetta Stone: Created in Memphis in 196 BCE, rediscovered in 1799 by a French soldier during the construction of a fort, the stone has the same short text repeated in three different languages. After the ancient Greek was translated, it was short work to decipher the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, which allowed us access to a hitherto forgotten tongue. The term Rosetta Stone is now often used as a marker for the key to new areas of knowledge.

Calculus: Evaluating integrals, perhaps a high school or college student’s worst nightmare, is a practice in reverse engineering. To evaluate, the student needs to find the antiderivative of the integrand—in other words, the function that, when you take the derivative of it, becomes the integrand. It’s a reverse engineering process, starting from the end and working backwards.

The Fisher Space Pen Company: Legend has it that, during the space race, Soviet and American astronauts needed special writing utensils to write in space. The legend goes that the Americans spent boatloads of money on developing such a product, while the Soviets just used pencils. In reality, while pencils were used, their graphite dust and point shards can be dangerous in zero gravity. The Fisher Space Pen Company received no money from NASA, or even outright encouragement, but developed a product that they later convinced NASA to try. The need came first, and then the product answer.

How can reverse engineering help your company? What’s a new way for you to move forward? At refine+focus, we’re committed to all the ways of helping you succeed. Tell us where you want to go. It’s our business to get you there.

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