Why We Need To Understand What Really Goes Into The Creative Process


Sunday, 9.25pm

Sheffield, U.K.

There’s no one way to be creative. Any old way will work. – Ray Bradbury

Is anyone else finding that being at home with the kids all the time makes it hard to work the way you always do?

I think that’s because kids always want to check out what you’re doing and if it’s more interesting than what they’re doing.

If you’re using a screen – a phone, a computer – they want some of that action.

So, because we want them to spend time playing and reading and all that kind of stuff, we turn the screens off.

And that makes it difficult to do things that involve screens – especially if you like drawing or writing and tend to use the computer a lot for that kind of thing.

But, if you use paper and pencil, that’s much less interesting.

They might join you at the table doing something that looks like schoolwork they’ll either start doing the same with you or they’ll get on and play – either way you get them doing something that kids should be doing.

And what I do at times like these is instead of getting on with working I start looking around for how other people do their work.

You will remember, for example, that Roald Dahl wrote all his books with Dixon Ticonderoga pencils on yellow legal pads.

I bought a box of HBs and was quite disappointed with the quality of the modern Ticonderoga.

Japanese alternatives like the Tombow Mono 100 or the Mistubishi Hi-Uni are silky smooth and beautiful to write with.

Pencils are great because you can lie on the sofa and write upside down but they lack the impact of ink.

And that’s just the mark making tools.

What about paper – do you go with the legal pad or standard A4?

If you read Robert M. Pirsig’s Lila, you learn about how he collected information on 4×6 slips of paper, thousands of them, from which structure of his book emerged.

Or you could read about Ryan Holiday’s notecard system which is based on what he learned from Robert Greene.

Then you have John McPhee and his approach which involves first taking notes and coding them, then cutting them up, moving the pieces around, in a highly customised editor – the equivalent of a pair of scissors.

This has echoes of a Zettelkasten – another note taking method that was an early version of hyperlinked pages implemented using index cards.

Now, you will realise that I have already gone quite deep into things that probably don’t matter – unless you’re one of those people for whom it matters very much.

The point I’m trying to make is what you see is not what there is.

For any person who takes on the task of creating something – an article, a book, a business – there is lots you don’t see.

But there are three crucial things you have to get right if you are one of those people.

The first is to realise that the product is what comes out at the end of the process.

If you start trying to get your product perfect the very first time, you will probably paralyse yourself into inaction.

Take writing, for example, the chances are that the first thing you write is going to be rubbish.

But, if you don’t get that rubbish down, you’ll never get to the next stage – the rewriting and editing which results in better, tighter, cleaner text.

So, you need a method to create your product – a method that helps you work through the broad idea of what you are trying to create and break it down into smaller, doable parts.

The third essential thing you have to do is create a way to join up the parts you create – you need a kind of glue to keep them together.

All the elements I described above are parts of people’s methods.

Interestingly, when I searched for images of McPhee and Kedit, the editor he uses, the image from one of my articles about writing came up.

I use a method that is a combination of McPhee’s, Pirsig’s, the Zettelkasten, and the tools that make up a Unix based programming environment.

It’s not a method I would recommend that anyone else uses because it’s customised to fit the way I work – and I’m trying to combine analogue and digital tools in a way that helps me create the kind of work I want to do.

I like literate programming, a way of creating stuff that separates out the thinking and doing.

For example, you might have thoughts about what to put in a chapter – ideas, musings and so on.

Then there is the actual stuff you write, the text you want to go into the printed document which is based on the thoughts you had.

I like having both these in the same file and extracting the bits that are going to make their way into the final document.

Angst and output kept together, but able to be separated when needed.

And, of course, with text processing tools, it’s a doddle to glue everything together – I’m not sure there is much use in using index cards for that purpose, unless you really like the analogue approach there.

So, here’s the thing about being creative.

If someone likes what you’ve made at the end of your process – that’s a huge bonus.

But everything that matters is in your process – however that works for you.


Karthik Suresh

How To Tell A Story So People Will Listen


Saturday, 9.13pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled. – Raymond Chandler

Do you ever get the feeling that some things people write are too flat, too thin to really be of any use?

Like management theories, for example.

You can pick up a textbook and see models, two by two matrices favoured by professors and consultants, that try to capture what is going on in the world out there.

But, in reality, they don’t – but why?

Terry Pratchett, in one of his books, talks about some cultures having a view that taking a picture of people was like stealing a bit of their soul.

And he said that if you looked closely at people who had a lot of “exposure”, who had lots of pictures taken of them, they seemed less substantial, less real.

And I think that’s what happens to ideas as well – as they’re passed on and refined and made more general, they lose their substance – they stop being rooted in something real and become fading memories of something someone once understood.

Which is why fiction matters so much – why writers who look again at the reality out there, even if its a reality they construct in their own minds, are much closer to what’s going on than these lofty theoreticians.

And if you want to get a feel for how this plays out you only have to watch a course on Coursera on writing and then watch this TEDx talk by Ryan Gattis.

Gattis talks about the elements of immersive story – five things you must have to make a story work.

These five things are the kinds of things you will learn in any introduction to writing class – they’re craft skills that you refine through practice and effort.

You have to start with hooks, things that snag your audience’s attention.

You need a few of these and you might to wait till they take hold before you start to reel in the reader.

Your writing cannot be predictable, be boring – you need to take the reader down one path and then change things around – keeping them guessing and therefore interested.

But you also need to have a chain of events – you need cause and effect if you want to avoid simply having a random series of things happening and confusing your reader.

It’s not enough to be a master at describing what you see out there – the facts of the case.

You also need to connect with your reader on an emotional level – and that means sharing and creating feelings.

And throughout your writing you have to have specific, concrete detail – that’s what makes your story believable.

To see how these elements are used by someone who knows what they’re doing watch Gattis’ presentation – it’s hard to turn off and stop halfway through.

And that’s because anyone can have these elements – but the thing that holds them together, Gattis says, is authenticity – how real you are.

And he has an interesting approach to what it means to be authentic – on the lines of it’s when you show others who you really are rather than what you want to show them or what you believe they should see.

Now, this resonates with something else I was watching which was Brandon Sanderson on plot.

He said that people were sometimes surprised that editors very quickly rejected their work, and he argued that was actually completely understandable.

Bring up a piano, he said, and have someone play who has been learning for a year or so – someone who’s worked hard to improve and practised their stuff.

Then bring up a concert pianist, a professional with a score of years experience, and listen to them play.

How long will it take before you can tell the difference between which one is better?

And it works the same way with a novel – you can tell in the first few pages whether the writer is good or not, experienced or not.

And it works the same way in most places – you can tell people who have business experience, who know their stuff from the people who are new or that are full of hot air.

You have to spend the time working on your craft, whatever that craft is.

When you’ve spent that time then you’re in a position where you can use these elements in an effective manner – when you have the skills to do the basics.

Which is when you can take down your defences, when you can start to let the real you out, the one that people can connect with.

Because it’s one thing to know what these elements are – it’s an entirely different thing to have mastered how to use them.

As a lecturer said to us once when we had completed an MBA course – “You now have a Masters in Business Administration – that doesn’t make you a master of business administration.”

That comes later, with time and practice and perseverance.

Which is why I think that you should take the time to go deep into ideas, into situations – because it’s only when you do that that you will get the really interesting stuff.

The stuff that you can use in a story that people will stop and listen to.


Karthik Suresh

Why You Have To Get Everything Important Right For Things To Work


Friday, 9.53pm

Sheffield, U.K.

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing. – Theodore Roosevelt

A post on social media recently introduced me to the work of Frederic Vester, a German biochemist who did work on networked thinking – combining elements of complexity, systems thinking and cybernetics.

He is not that well known because he published mostly in German and his book The art of interconnected thinking is hard to find.

A summary of the ideas, however, on his website makes for interesting, if not easy, reading.

His basic argument is that we need a new kind of thinking, one that recognises two things.

First, more things are connected to each other than we realise.

Second, the connecting strings between things are more important than the things themselves.

To see how this works look at the puppet in the picture above.

The puppet is made up of things – a head, limbs, a body and so on.

These are connected through links, ball joints and the like.

Now, you can see that the upper arm is connected to the torso, but so is the lower arm – through the first connection.

If you want to make the puppet dance, you attach strings to the things – which gives you the ability to move them.

With this picture it’s clear that the strings are the most important element if you want to make the puppet dance.

The way in which you control and move the strings will govern the kind of result you get from the puppet.

If you pull on just one string – you’ll only get a little movement – no matter how good you are at giving that string the right amount of pull.

You need to pull on all the strings – all the important ones – to get a smooth movement and bring the puppet to life.

Now, that might seem obvious with this example – but we often forget this simple rule when confronted with real life situations – ones that are more complex.

And, as a result, we make mistakes – predictable ones.

Vester draws on the work of Dietrich Dörner who used simulations to come up with common mistakes that experts made in situations.

For example, instead of trying to improve the system as a whole, they tried to solve specific problems as they saw them.

That’s akin to making a leg or arm move better while forgetting about the whole body.

Or they spent too much time collecting lots of data and carrying out endless analysis rather than looking for patterns, for the fundamental character and controls in the situation.

Sometimes they focused on a particular thing and forgot about everything else – they just didn’t notice or became blind to other data or factors.

Because their minds were locked into a particular path they didn’t think about side effects – what other consequences there might be.

If what they tried didn’t work quickly, they tried other, more powerful methods.

But when they realised that the first things they tried took time before they had an effect they stopped things just as fast.

And, when they had the power they used it to force through a particular approach they believed in – but things don’t often happen just because you want them to – however strong your force of will.

These ideas are important and the insights timeless – because we see them happening all the time.

As human beings, we’re designed for short-term, survival based thinking.

That’s what we’re good at – living for another day.

Living better – living in a way that helps our children and grandchildren needs long-term thinking – something that we can do as human beings.

But not something we can do in a hurry or in a panic.

Some of the rest of Vester’s work seems quite complicated – and I don’t know enough to know if it needs to be so complicated.

Maths is of less help in many situations, especially social ones, than you might think.

Understanding people is probably more relevant.

And seeing the strings that pull people perhaps even more so.

But if you can see those strings – then you can get better at pulling them – to improve the situation you’re in.

And that’s when you know that what you’re doing is working.


Karthik Suresh

What Does Maslow Have To Tell Us About Businesses Now?


Thursday, 9.30pm

Sheffield, U.K.

First you find out what you have, Dad would say. Then you figure out how to make it work for what you need, ’cause you don’t get what you want. You get just what you have and no more. – Lilith Saintcrow, Betrayals

I was starting to wonder how to approach the world that’s unfolding in front of us now.

Is it too soon to start to examine what’s happening or should we have started to look at this earlier?

A few social media comments by others have, however, led me to think there is value in doing a little analysis, which is what I might do in the next few posts.

Let’s start with Maslow.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as you know, is a theory of human motivation – looking at the things we need as humans.

We start at the bottom with basic physiological needs – food, water, shelter.

Then we need safety, some kind of security – a fixed abode, a trade.

If these are met, then we start looking around for friendships and relationships – for belonging.

And along the way, we look for acceptance and admiration from people – the things that feed our self esteem.

And at the top is self-actualisation – where we add value to ourselves and others in the best way we can.

Maslow saw these criteria as building on each other – you had to complete one level before you could work on the next.

But clearly, when you’re in a crisis, you might drop a level or five depending on what you’re facing.

If you’ve built up a reputation over the years as a pillar of society – meeting your esteem and self-actualisation needs – and then you do something naughty that gets everyone very cross – then you might drop down the love/belonging level and have to make amends and rebuild your life.

Or – something like a virus could come along – and drop you all the way down to the safety and physiological levels.

For many people they’re now wondering about how to meet their basic needs – where will their food come from and will they be able to pay the rent on their homes.

Depending on where you are in the world your experience will vary – and life is no doubt very tough for many people.

If we as individuals are facing life in those bottom two levels, what might a similar hierarchy be for businesses?

I thought I’d take a stab at building up a hierarchy and see if it made sense.

For a business, at the bottom, cash is what matters.

If you’re not bringing in some money then you don’t have the makings of a business – you need cash to cover your costs.

At the next level you have earnings – you’re bringing in more money than you are spending and you have the operating earnings needed to grow the business.

Now, your business is grown up when you start to think of yourself as being part of an industry – where your contribution is recognised as being something people want.

When people get to the point where what they want is you, then you’ve got yourself a name, a brand – you’re a trusted provider of a product of a service.

And right at the top you have a moat – your business is more than just a provider – but it has value that is more than the net assets it has.

Right now businesses and individuals have crashed down to that safety level – and for both, safety now means having earnings or having reserves to draw on.

If you still have a job, or your business is still trading or you get support from the government or you have the money in the bank to cover you for a while, then you’re safe.

If not, you’re in that space where you don’t know where the next meal is coming from – or you’re running out of cash and will go bankrupt.

Warren Buffett wrote “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”

Many people and businesses have spent their time believing they’re in the top two or three levels of their hierarchy of needs.

They’ve run businesses on thin margins, high leverage and paid out healthy dividends.

And now, they don’t have the resources needed to ride out a storm.

But the way our economies work is that letting such businesses fail would cause so much hardship that it’s better to support them for the sake of everyone else.

Human nature isn’t going to change – there might be a short term increase in the number of people who become more conservative over the next decade or so – but the memory of this will fade.

But principles don’t – and some of us will continue to believe that you can’t get to the top three levels unless you have got the bottom two really sorted.

It’s simple really.

When you live through a season of plenty, put away something for the famine that is to come.

That’s a timeless message if there ever was one.


Karthik Suresh

Do People Really Get How Computers Can Be Useful To Them?


Wednesday, 8.44pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Most of the time spent wrestling with technologies that don’t quite work yet is just not worth the effort for end users, however much fun it is for nerds like us. – Douglas Adams

I have spent a lot of time playing with computers – mostly because time has just passed without really taking any notice of my opinion on the matter.

Throughout that time the terminal has been my friend – the command line and plain text – have been all I have needed for my own purposes.

To work with others, however, I’ve had to slow down, to use graphical user interfaces and do things more than once – which if you have spent any time programming is not the kind of thing we like to do.

We’d rather spend three hours coding something that will do something you could do in five minutes manually.

My thoughts on this were sparked by a Twitter comment by Paul Graham, the founder of YCombinator, on the lines of tech people don’t really use that much tech – we only use what’s needed for the problem we’re working on.

And I think that’s true – we have more computational power for the jobs we have to do most of the time.

Problems that really need some heavy duty computational hardware are probably not ones being addressed by the average individual or business.

The problem is that most of those individuals or businesses don’t really get the real power of a computer.

A lot of people use applications that help them do the things they would do using paper pretty much the same way using an application.

And I guess that makes sense – I wrote a few days ago about how tech companies build tools to let people do things the way they do them now – and why should that be different for individuals?

Why wouldn’t you design software that helped people take notes the way they would on paper, or let the write in the way they would longhand?

The point I’m reaching for is that technology builders build things that people can see themselves using – and as a result they don’t really get that much more productive.

And, in real life, they don’t get much faster but they’re also restricted by all kinds of security policies and technology shackles that they end up worse off than before.

There are lots of people out there who have spent much of today in critical roles – jobs that involve protecting and saving lives – trying to make their technology work rather than doing their job.

But one problem is that for many people it’s not worth their time trying to get better at understanding and using the technology – and they’re comfortable doing it the long, hard way.

Now, I don’t know what makes someone go one way or the other – I suppose it has something to do with temperament.

Today, for example, a small person wanted to use a computer.

If you give one of them a regular machine, with a browser and everything else – they’re onto some kind of website with games in a second.

So I fired up one and logged into a terminal.

And the small person was fine, pressing keys and making letters scroll around – and along the way he invented a game – hiding a word inside that random bunch of letters.

It took a while but he did it.

So, the next time round, I got him to write a program – one that generated random strings of a certain length for a certain number of lines – and then replaced a set of characters with the words he wanted to hide.

And I watched his eyes.

They didn’t really tell me anything – he went through the task and then wanted to do something else.

Which was fine.

The thing I was wondering, however, was whether he “got it” – whether he could do something in a few minutes that had previously taken ten or fifteen – whether he could do it again and again in seconds – now that he had created a program that did what he was doing manually.

Because that’s the real power of a computer – not in helping you do the things you can do but in doing things that you can’t.

But I’m not sure people really get that yet.


Karthik Suresh

How A Lifeline Can Help You Make Sense Of Where You Are


Tuesday, 9.12pm

Sheffield, U.K

Any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with. – Douglas Adams

I was watching a video on YouTube of a visual facilitator and one of the exercises he started people off on was drawing their career history in a single line – something I’m going to call a lifeline.

It’s an interesting way to look at the ups and downs of what one has gone through.

When I look back at my experience it’s not really that exciting.

If I look back over the years, there are ups and downs.

I was lucky to have a background with lots of books – and I liked reading, which made it easier to learn things.

I didn’t know what I really wanted to do so I did what was expected of me.

Not enough though, because I didn’t get into certain majors but I studied how to study – and got the marks I needed.

That didn’t help all that much because I couldn’t find a job and started a PhD – which was pretty boring.

But I learned some things that were interesting along the way – mostly around driving computers and that was useful when it came to business problems involving data.

But then I had to learn how to manage people and that was much less fun than playing with code – and so I went back to uni and the books and learned some more about organisations.

And these days I write and draw and keep trying to learn – which is where you find me writing these words now.

Like I said – nothing very interesting.

But at the same time, it hasn’t been boring – not to me anyway.

Because there is so much out there now – so much to read and consider and learn – available in forms and ways that make it easy for you and me to follow whatever tendrils of thought happen to interest us.

And there’s an echo of this in Donald Knuth’s book Digital typography where he writes about why it’s important to find something of interest in what you are doing – and how it’s no one else’s responsibility but your own to do that.

Now, I also think there are a couple of interesting things about lifelines.

I suppose it would be nice to build from where you are rather than going downhill.

Some people seem to be able to skip the long plod, rocketing up to something they call success.

And somewhere along the way do you reach a point where you have enough, where you happy?

Or were you happy all the time?

Or were you waiting for things to happen to make you happy.

And, of course, people’s lifelines are ideally more complex – you’ve hopefully had relationships and families and all the things that matter.

And every once in a while it rains.

If you’re in a dip when that’s happening – I suppose it’s all the more reason to feel down.

When I look at this lifeline chart I think it tells you quite a lot about where you are right now.

Imagine it was a chart of a company’s stock price.

If you have a business with a decent product that people want you will probably grow over time, experiencing ups and downs along the way.

If you are a high growth business, fuelled by hope, then you might rise into the air, hoping that gravity doesn’t notice what you’re trying to do.

Or you might be in the wrong industry or get your timing wrong or make some bad decisions – and find your chart dipping down and to the right.

In the first and last case, time will tell what happens next.

In the middle case, however, which is probably the vast majority of us, the thing to remember is that dips are normal – even steep dips.

But if we’ve built what we have over time – then that lifeline should eventually start trending back up.

We just need to keep faith.


Karthik Suresh

What To Do To Jumpstart Being Creative Right Now


Monday, 6:00 pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use – do the work you want to see done. – Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

If you are in a difficult place right now then it may be time to start being creative.

But how do you go about doing that – surely only some people are creative and the rest aren’t?

That isn’t the case, according to Edward de Bono – as I dug out his book Serious creativity to remind myself how this works.

I’m not always sure what to make of De Bono’s writings – apparently he’s very clever and he seems to think so.

Lots of people copy his ideas, he says, and he came up with lots of stuff before science caught up.

So, I don’t know – but I watched a video of him talking and drawing once – and well – you might as well listen to his stuff and judge for yourself.

He says that you can deliberately be creative – you don’t need to sit around and wait for inspiration.

What you’ve got to do is get your mind out of the grooves it’s currently rolling along – look at things in a new way.

There are three main approaches he suggests: challenge, alternatives and provocation, along with tools that help you with them.

You’ve probably heard of a few of them – six thinking hats, for example.

But right now I want to look at the top level criteria and see where that takes me.

Take challenge, for starters.

This comes down to looking at everything that is the way it is now – and asking why it is so.

Why do you do things a certain way – why is that process followed – why do you create this document?

In many jobs in many organisations you do not have permission to question what is happening – to question the status quo.

If you do you will probably get told off.

That’s the way we do things around here and all that.

But, you have to give yourself permission to question, to be a pain in the proverbial – if you want to do something different anyway.

Then you have the idea of alternatives.

What else could you do? How else could you get there? What other options are there for the thing you want?

At one time you had to rely on yourself for all this thinking.

These days you have the Internet on your side.

For example, I once wanted to get a microphone holder – but was too cheap to pay.

It turns out that if you bend a coat hanger in the right way you get a very effective, zero cost microphone holder.

And finally you have the idea of provocation – starting with the opposite approach or a confrontational option.

Right now a provocation many are using is “I run my business from home”.

Such a provocation will often result in many thoughts about why it’s not possible – and you have to work through them to get to the new ideas that are possible.

Our way of life as we knew it is being put on pause.

It is time to get creative.


Karthik Suresh

What Creating A Game Can Tell Us About Creating Value


Sunday, 9.10pm

Sheffield, U.K.

We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing! – Benjamin Franklin

Somewhere along the way I stopped playing games – they were things I engaged in when other people wanted to – not something I thought of doing myself.

Or is that not really true?

I played games when I had time – before small people came into the house.

And small people love games but you can’t really always figure out what game they’re playing.

I spent an hour yesterday playing a game that was a graft of a video game interface onto a set of plastic toys – really being there as a presence that the small person involved was going to beat.

Today, I was pulled into yet another home made game – and I have to confess I was not looking forward to it.

But that’s not the kind of thing you say to eager young things that are desperate to spend time with you.

So, I decided I might as well pay attention and take notes – start writing a match report of this game I was going to play.

And something interesting happened.

As I took notes and started paying attention to what the small people were saying, I started to see what they were on about.

They had put in a huge amount of time into what they had created – they knew everything about their characters and setting.

This wasn’t some hastily put together rubbish – but a product of deep knowledge about a topic that I, as a grown-up, was completely ignorant about.

And, as I wrote, I started to get into it – to discuss finer points and debate the rules and structure.

By the end of the day, after five rounds and a special extra round, we had a game that we could sit and play for half an hour – and it was actually really quite interesting.

At which point the other half was drafted in to play.

At this point, I was fully into it – reading off the rules like an expert – while my other half listened politely and pretended to be interested – probably much like I was at the start of the day.

Now, the game itself doesn’t matter – mainly because we still have some work to do to get everything set up – it’s a project to do with the kids – one that I am quite keen to carry on with.

But it did get me thinking about what a game is – what makes it fun – and I am not sure there are very many good analyses out there.

There’s a hint in this paper about factors that matter and a sort of analysis here which leaves me a little cold.

So, here are the factors that seemed to make our game work.

First the basics.

You have to have assets, points, things you collect, powers you have.

These are the things you play with.

You have to have rules that govern how you play – constraints on what you can and cannot do.

And you eventually have to be able to get to a point where you win, lose or draw.

Then the bits from the first paper.

Playing the game has to engage your imagination – get you to create a fantasy world that you like to visit.

And it has to have elements of surprise – if you can predict everything then it’s no longer a game – unpredictability has to be a core part of the game.

And it has to have a flow, a rhythm.

Now, when you set out the components of a game like this, without an example, it becomes really quite dry.

But, you can probably imagine a game you like and see if it has these qualities.

Because I don’t think the point I have to make has anything to do with games at all.

It has to do with assumptions and routine and what is normal.

We live in a world where our concepts of ourselves, what we do, how we live, what we contribute, are probably being questioned – and we’re wondering what it’s going to do to us.

If you know the game you’re playing, if you’re comfortable where you are – if you’ve grown old and stopped playing – this is the time to start afresh.

You may not want to do so – you may be reluctant, resistant, hoping to do what you have always done.

But when you’re faced with change the knowledge you need is not inside you.

If it were, you would have changed.

The knowledge you need is with others – as it was with the small people who invited me to play.

I should have been grateful, happy to join – but I wasn’t.

I’m glad I made myself, though, I’m glad I took the time to listen and take notes – because I learned what mattered to them.

And when I learned that, I also learned how I could contribute – how I could add value.

Value that mattered to them.

If you want to stay relevant – this is the only thing you need to remember.

Add value to someone else.

Not work – don’t think of what you do as work.

There are two kinds of things you do that could be called work.

One of these is what Professor John Seddon called “Failure demand”.

Failure demand is the work you do because something has gone wrong somewhere else.

It’s the bug fixing, the query chasing, the cleaning and sorting – the sort of stuff that says something is going wrong somewhere upstream and causing this problem here.

Value demand, on the other hand, is the stuff your customers want and need.

If you can provide that, then you will create a customer.

And isn’t that the point of you being in business?


Karthik Suresh

Do You Think Covid 19 Will Change The Way We Live?


Saturday, 8.31pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Long-term commitment to new learning and new philosophy is required of any management that seeks transformation. The timid and the fainthearted, and people that expect quick results, are doomed to disappointment. – W. Edwards Deming

This is a fascinating time to watch what is happening with businesses as they respond to the impact of the Covid 19 virus.

We’re in a position where we can see what people think, how they’re affected, what they’re feeling and doing because they tell us on social media.

Now, we have to remember that there is real suffering, real tragedy – and people trying very hard to keep the world’s population safe so that more people don’t die.

And while it’s tempting to try and point fingers, to blame individuals and their behaviour for the reason we are where we are, what we need to always remember is that’s the most basic error we usually make.

We blame people for how things work out rather than the system – their situation.

We are where we are because of the system – the systems involved.

The systems of global transportation, of holidays, of long supply chains, of office work, of entertainment – the myriad other systems of modern life.

All these systems create the conditions that enable the spread of this virus – and it’s not surprising that the way governments have chosen to contain it is by stopping those systems from functioning at all.

Which leads to the obvious question.

What stops this from happening again when those systems are restarted?

Now, we’re not going to solve all those global systemic questions in one go, but an interesting and topical one to look at is the way in which we work.

For the vast majority of people who do non-critical jobs there is now a way you used to work.

You might have commuted to an office and spent the day in front of a computer.

You might have had meetings with a manager, with co-workers, with suppliers and clients.

You might have socialised, gone out for drinks, gone to networking events.

What’s happening now, it seems from the number of pictures that are being put up of brand new home working spaces, is that the office has come home.

People are jumping onto team calls, having chats with managers, setting up social mixers online.

Nothing has changed except for the physical distance between people.

As someone online said, it’s social distancing, but not distancing yourself from society.

In effect, there’s a thin layer of remote working technology that enables you to carry on working exactly as you’re doing now.

So that’s good for people who like how it is now.

It’s good for managers who like having the ability to check up on people – perhaps to the extent of having a tool that takes screenshots of their screen every so often to make sure they’re still working.

It’s quick and easy and people are finding that this whole remote working thing is quite easy after all.

They just thought it was hard – and it turns out there is no difference at all.

And that shouldn’t surprise you.

It’s easy because the large tech firms have spent the last several years trying to create tools that let you do the same thing you’re doing in the office using their technology.

If you weren’t doing it that didn’t mean the tech didn’t exist – it just meant you weren’t aware that it did.

And now you are – subscriptions for these tools are skyrocketing and demand has increased.

They built something that would work for you now – and unsurprisingly, it does.

The tragedy is that it does.

Because we’re going to miss out on the real potential that this crisis offers us – a way to change the way we’re doing things entirely.

In reality, we could be arranging work so that it works to fit the unique circumstances of each individual.

We could create working practices that enable more diversity – that use the same kind of remote working technology but that make it easier for disabled people to participate in work, for disadvantaged groups to access opportunities.

And, for your own workforce, you could create working practices that work for them – rather than for the most vocal or for the dominant managers.

But that’s not going to happen unless you change the system – and that’s the responsibility of management.

Will management respond in a way that looks to improve the system?

Or will they look for the quickest way to carry on doing things the way they’re working now.

The answer shouldn’t surprise you – because the other option requires the willingness to learn and study and try and few people have the time to do that.

So, in the short term, the forced stoppages of systems will clear the air, remove pollution, heal the planet.

And then it will go back to normal.

Won’t it?

The fact is that without changing the system the underlying mechanism will remain the same and produce results that are the same as before.

If we want to create better, more fulfilling lives for people – we have to work on improving the systems they live in.

If we want a cleaner planet, one where we pollute and emit less and where we consume fewer resources, we have to work on the systems.

This virus is not going to change our world.

It may interrupt how we live for a while.

But if it’s short-lived, we will probably go back to normal quickly.

If it lasts for a longer time then we may start rethinking how we do things.

But the change will still have to come from us.


Karthik Suresh

How A Crisis Reboots Our Entire Way Of Thinking – With Stories


Friday, 9.32pm

Sheffield, U.K.

People like to think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around. Stories exist independently of their players. If you know that, the knowledge is power. – Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

You have probably all noticed the scramble for attention online – the rapid repositioning of resources as companies deal with their inability to be in the same space at the same time as others.

Organisations that specialised in face to face services now have to change their models overnight to distance communications and no-contact delivery.

And they’re doing it amazingly well.

Close to us is a sustainable food business that used to be based on group catering that has transitioned to offering delivered meals – a full week’s menu.

Organisations that did conferences have moved to webinars.

Meet ups that required you to go down to a space now have a call in.

So, we’re rapidly reconfiguring the way in which we network with others.

On the one hand this has the effect of a tidal wave swamping our existing communications.

On top of the regular stuff we get there is a lot of additional material as the newly digital promoters tell us what they’re offering.

And maybe things will subside – after all most of these organisations have customers and lists they have built over decades and they are talking to the people who already care about what they offer.

It’s just that the story they’re telling about what’s going on has changed.

Or has it?

Terry Pratchett’s book Witches abroad has the penetrating vision of his other books – as an impossible land filled with impossible characters that play out their impossible lives – while revealing fundamental truths about how we live ours.

We’re surrounded by people, things, events and institutions.

We don’t often question these – wonder how they came into existence.

Most of them seem like they’ve always been there – and they have been – for our lifetimes anyway.

Things like democracy, a parliament, libraries and the NHS.

But what created them in the first place?

What’s there, binding everything together, like an invisible ribbon coiling around the world we think we live in, is a story – many stories.

The stories that have created the way we think now.

What happens in a crisis is that some stories start to fray and rip and others take their place.

We replace stories about how important it is for managers to see what their workers are doing with stories about better remote working and mental health.

We dig out forgotten stories about community and helping others which we didn’t need when we all had cars and supermarkets and could get everything we needed without speaking to a single person.

When you think about it this is something we’ve always known.

Stories are like a programming language for our brains.

We use them to program our children – with language, with ideas, with thoughts, with ways of being, with kindness.

And when we’re older we still crave those stories – although we think that we’re too old for them now.

For a few decades now I’ve read mostly non-fiction – and over the last couple of years I’ve started to realise just how thin and translucent and fragile most non-fiction is.

Fiction, on the other hand, is deceptive – while it seems like a child’s pastime, like something you read on holiday at the beach – it captures the human experience far more completely than any dry analysis of the situation.

With Pratchett, who I rediscovered recently, I started with the book on the left and started moving right.

And then they closed the libraries…


The point I think I’m trying to make is that life is complex and wonderful and deep – but while we’re experiencing it it’s too hard to understand what’s going on.

A fish, for example, probably doesn’t have a word for water – even though it spends its life in the stuff.

A story, on the other hand, picks out a few essential lines from that complex life picture and shows us more with those few lines than we could ever see by living the whole.

And that’s how it shapes how we think.

And that’s why stories have power.

Use them wisely.


Karthik Suresh