What Should You Do If You Want To Be Free?

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Monday, 9.35pm

Sheffield, U.K.

There are two ways to be rich: One is by acquiring much, and the other is by desiring little. – Jackie French Collar

Sometimes a stray statement, a position taken by someone, can make you wonder whether we’re shackled by anything more than our own thoughts.

Not, of course, if you’re literally in chains but, assuming you live in a free and democratic society, when it comes to everyday living.

There is a famous photo of Steve Jobs taken in 1982 which shows him living in a sparse, unfurnished space despite already being rich.

Some people see that minimalist streak in Jobs brought to life through Apple products, with their emphasis on design, minimal interfaces and intuitive use.

So, when you hear of someone complaining that they don’t have a desk to work at, what do you think? What does that say about how free they are?

There is a story about Amazon, about when they started and needed desks. But desks were expensive and doors weren’t. So they bought some doors, fitted some legs and used them as desks.

Frugality is still a big thing at Amazon, as are desks made from doors, even though they are now one of the most valuable companies on the planet.

If you’re the kind of person that, when you don’t have a desk, can work anywhere else without complaining then you have what it takes to start and run a business.

If you can think of alternatives, come up with suggestions, sit and work on the floor if you need to, then no one can stop you from getting things done.

Because much of business is about being resourceful and inventive, about seeing opportunity where others see nothing. About solving problems, big ones and little ones, day after day.

And there are certain principles that are worth remembering when we try and deal with what comes at us every day.

When you’re selling, for example, after a while you’ll realise that most people you meet have pretty much the same questions about what you have to offer.

There’s also little excuse for not doing your homework before you meet someone. There’s so much information that people put out about themselves and their businesses that you can get a good idea of what they are all about before you meet them.

So, if you know what questions they have and have done some homework on who they are then, really, the main thing you need to do is to listen to what their problems are and see if you have a solution.

Your presentation becomes less about you and more about trying to get them to open up and engage with you. You know it’s working when they start asking questions, ideally ones to which you have the answer on the next slide.

There is a difference between this kind of approach and one that tries to tell your prospect everything about you.

It’s like a child with a box of toys, every one of which is special and important to him, so he wants to talk to you about each and every one.

You listen politely, but really, your mind is somewhere else.

But when that child wants something from you, his tactic changes. Now he is laser-focused on that one thing – that one toy and nothing will divert him from it.

What do these different concepts – minimalism, frugality, focus – have to do with anything?

Well, if you can craft a message that shows your prospect just what is important to them, shows them how you make it for them, at the lowest cost possible, and how it solves a problem that they are focused on, how do you think they will respond?

And I wonder whether if you want to be the kind of person that can pare down a message to just what is important, you also need to be the kind of person that can pare down what you have to just what is important.

Because, of the two ways to get rich quoted at the start, the second is the one more likely to set you free.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Do You Realise How Much What You Do Shapes Who You Are?

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Sunday, 9.10pm

Sheffield, U.K.

We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us. – Marshall McLuhan

I am not fond of gardening.

Gardens are nice to sit in when everything is tidy and the lawn is cut but, when it’s not, they remind you in silent reproach that it’s all your fault and you should do better.

There is a tree in front of our house, a large ash, and every autumn it deposits all its leaves with no apology on our garden.

Now, I would much rather be curled up with a book or stood at my computer reading or writing than almost anything else.

The keyboard is a tool I’m comfortable with. I know its parameters and its limitations. I learn more every day I write.

A rake, on the other hand, is much more problematic.

So, today I offered one of the small people that lives with us an opportunity to go to the cinema.

He said no.

I tried to bribe him, with popcorn and ice-cream and juice.

He still said no.

Exasperated, I said we couldn’t just sit in the house. If he didn’t want to do anything we’d just have to go out and rake leaves, expecting that the cinema would suddenly become more appealing.

Except it didn’t. He ran excitedly for his wellies and we then spent the next hour raking and sweeping leaves. You’d think it was the best thing he’d done all week.

And then he said ‘when I grow up daddy, I want to be a sweeper, just like you.’

The point, I suppose, is that whatever you do becomes your business.

I was at a networking event a few years ago and the keynote speaker was someone who had built her cleaning business from scratch into an operation now employing hundreds of people.

You could be forgiven for assuming that a rake is less complex than a computer and that one skill is worth more than the other but the fact is you can make money from both.

We know that work in the future that people do will be of two types: creative work, that needs imagination and insight; and dexterous work, making use of our hands to do things robots can’t.

The rest will be done by the machines. Unless, of course, you can’t afford one.

Then again, that might not happen at all.

William Gibson wrote: The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed. A quote much loved by the technocrats who’d like to shape us to fit their world.

What happens, however, is that whatever technology you choose then has an impact on what you do.

And, in many parts of the world, it feels like people are turning to technology that helps them be more human, like bicycles and cloth bags and recycling bins.

No one has ever had much luck predicting how the future is going to look.

It could be one where we’re all immersed in augmented reality and the majority of interaction is through a machine, or it could be one where we’re better informed, better connected and better people.

Who still probably have leaves to rake when we’d much rather be writing.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Do You Tell When Something Is Good?

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Friday, 9.06pm

Sheffield, U.K.

There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don’t know. – Ambrose Bierce

Do you think we live in a world where what we see and read is better than ever before?

There is clearly more stuff. More people are writing and creating words, music and video. They are coming up with games and apps and platforms.

All shiny and new.

So, what makes one creation better than another? Why do you sit and watch one box set, unable to turn away, for week after week while others you abandon after the first ten minutes?

One test – much loved by the analytics folk – is to look at what people do. If they can watch your behaviour, see how you vote with your mouse and remote and money, then they can figure out what you like and give you more of it.

The thing with analysis is that it looks back at what has happened. You can try and do more of what worked in the past but, as the financial folk keep reminding us, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Also, this whole thinking in aggregate, in big numbers, in terms of markets is applying statistics to people. And no one really wants to be a statistic.

Take consumer behaviour, for example. In his book Buy.ology, Martin Lindstrom writes about Socrates and how he told his students to think about a mind like a block of wax. If an image is pressed into the wax and stays there, then we remember it. If not, it’s like it was never there. In other words, it leaves an impression.

Lindstrom goes on to describe how the things that leave an impression on us, from touching a hot stove to being embarrassed when we told someone how we felt about them, shape the way we start to respond to things.

But, while we share many of these things none of us have exactly the same. Imagine all these experiences like strands hanging down in front of you. You pick and weave your experiences into your own unique sense of identity.

So, while a statistical approach can be approximately right the ideal approach is one that is made just for you. Not one that is designed to make you feel special but one that actually is special.

John McPhee is an American non-fiction writer. I heard about him in a podcast and was interested enough to take a look at the cover of his latest book, Draft No. 4: On The Writing Process, but not interested enough to buy it.

Until I read this review by Michael Dirda on the Washington Post that had these lines:

“However, its opening two chapters, in which McPhee presents his various systems for structuring articles, do require a bit of perseverance. There are graph-like illustrations, circles, arrows, number lines, maps and even an irrelevant excursus about an outmoded text editor called Kedit. The upshot of it all is simply: Take time to plan your piece so that it does what you want.”

There are two points that the writer makes: drawing pictures is a waste of time; and text editors are irrelevant.

Well, if you have read this blog for a while, you’ll know that drawings are a big part of how I write. And I write with a text editor, possibly one even older than the outmoded one that the writer of the Post excoriates.

So, of course, I had to buy the book. Because now I desperately needed to read those two chapters.

And that’s the funny thing about people. They don’t act in the way you want them to. Just because you think things should be one way doesn’t mean everyone is going to agree.

So, that takes us back to asking how we know when something is good. And one answer is that it’s good if it’s been around a while.

Like pencils.

Pencils?

If you’re a writer, you know how to use a pencil.

What’s newer than a pencil?

Pens, text editors, Microsoft Word, some kind of SAAS program?

If you write with a pencil your words will still be legible a few hundred years from now.

Penned words may start to fade.

Plain text will be readable as long as we have computers.

Your Word documents from even ten years ago are probably lost.

And that SAAS company went bust not long from now.

In other words, choose things that have some history because they have shown they can last.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Approach Should You Take If You Want To Succeed?

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Thursday, 9.01pm

Sheffield, U.K.

All things are ready, if our mind be so. – William Shakespeare, Henry V

The English insult is different from that commonly seen in much of the world.

Instead of a middle finger raised aloft, they hold up the index and the middle, palm facing inward.

This custom, apparently, comes from days when the longbow was used in battle and the French would threaten to cut off those two fingers of any prisoners to ensure they never drew a bow again.

And so, in battle, the longbowmen held up those fingers to tell the other side what they thought of them.

The longbow, apparently, came into its own at Agincourt in 1415. 8,500 English soldiers, 7,000 of which were longbowmen faced around 50,000 French troops.

They won – helped by their arrows – which travelled towards the enemy faster than they could run and walk towards them.

But, what does this have to do with business or sales and marketing?

It’s a story that can be used to look at the same situation from different points of view.

Let’s look at tactics, for example.

The losing side were just as brave as the winning side. If anything, they might have been braver, trusting in their armour to protect them from those pesky arrows.

They had a plan, to head towards the other side and so that’s what they did.

That’s a little like having an army of salespeople taught to smile and dial. They hit the phones, make the calls, make their numbers and succeed.

Is that approach, that works like a cavalry charge, all might and muscle and fury, going to work?

Increasingly, it seems to me, it doesn’t. A cold approach, whether on the phone, email, snail mail, is easily stopped, ignored or turned away.

The arrows, on the other hand, are multiple points of contact. Some might miss, some might hit, and the ones that hit may make a difference.

So, the way I think about this is to imagine that you want to build a pipeline of business. You could reach out to people directly or you could send a shower of arrows their way.

You could advertise where they are going to see it, you could engage with them in the places they are going to be, you could work with them on things that they feel are important and you could get introduced to them by people they already trust.

Is that going to increase your chances of success?

Possibly. Even probably.

I guess it simply comes down to this.

There are lot of things you could do.

You could focus on just one of those things – something you’re strong at, and just do that thing.

Or you could do as many of those things as you can at the same time.

For some people the focused approach will work. For others, the wider one.

Unfortunately, there is no right answer.

There is just what happens when you finally join battle.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh