In the early 1950s, Britain led the world in jet engines.

The best of these was the Rolls Royce Nene, the most powerful jet engine yet developed.

The Russians didn’t have a jet engine for their air force.

The cold war was just beginning.

They wanted an engine like the Rolls Royce Nene.

But it had taken Sir Frank Whittle a decade to design and build it.

They didn’t have that long to catch up with the west.

Russia’s top aero-engineers asked Stalin to buy a Rolls Royce Nene.

Stalin said “What sort of idiot would sell us his secrets?”

But the Russians asked anyway.

And, as luck would have it, just such an idiot was the Minister of Trade.

Sir Stafford Cripps.

He had been Ambassador to Russia during the war.

He sold the Russians the Rolls Royce Nene, plus blueprints, on the agreement that they would manufacture them under licence.

This deal was worth £207 million (over £9 billion today).

But of course the money was never paid.

Because the Russians never manufactured them under licence.

They simply reverse-engineered the Rolls Royce Nene.

In other words, they took it apart, worked out how it ran, and built their own engine.

This engine then powered the MiG 15, the first fighter capable of 1,000 kph.

It could fly higher and faster than anything the USA or Britain had.

The British Chief of Air Staff said “The Russians have achieved a lead of at least four years over us”.

Eventually, around 15,000 MiG 15s were produced.

In the Korean War, MiG 15 pilots shot down hundreds of allied aircraft.

In fact, just 3 soviet pilots got 58 kills between them.

All thanks to Sir Stafford Cripps.

Like the Russians, I’m a big fan of reverse engineering.

That’s how I always learned.

Whether anyone wanted to teach me or not.

I’d study what they did and take it apart.

Over the ten years I worked for, and with, John Webster that’s exactly what I did.

“Why did John think of that and I didn’t?”

“Why did John put that music with that picture?”

“Where did he get that animation technique from?”

“How did he come up with that sound effect?”

“Where did he find that voice?”

“Why did he carry on thinking when I would have stopped?”

“How did he rewrite that brief?”

“Why didn’t he do a conventional strapline?”

“Why didn’t he mention all the product points?”

Like the Russians, I was convinced if I took apart what John had made I could work out how to make it too.

Which bit went where?

Where did it come from?

How did it fit?

Of course I never did learn everything John knew, because John was intuitive.

Out thinking John was like trying to nail a jelly to a wall.

But I did learn a lot by trying.

I learned a lot about being creative by developing that muscle.


By reverse engineering solutions I admired.