The Truth About Divided Communities

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Tuesday, 9.13pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It doesn’t matter. Most things people believe about the world are lies – Olunike Adeliyi in American Gods Season 2, Ep 1: The Beguiling Man

Sometimes you hear a news item and feel a visceral sense of unease – because you know what is seen and what is unseen, but don’t know what could happen as a result.

Take the coverage of a certain politician’s claim that Oldham is a “divided society”, as different races live separately.

The comments get immense coverage – perhaps that’s the point.

Some people dislike them instantly, seeing them simply as overt racism.

Others argue about the substance and accuracy of the statements – and whether the speaker is justified in making them or not.

Either way, emotions run hot.

There are two things that are interesting about the whole concept of divided communities.

The first is that segregation almost seems like a default mode of operation.

The Shelling Model Of Segregation shows how simple rules can result in a segregated society.

Take the animation above, for example.

You have red people and blue people.

Red people are happy when they’re mostly surrounded by red people and blue people are happy when mostly surrounded by blue.

Say you place red and blue people randomly on a grid.

You then play a repeated game with a simple rule.

If a red person has too many blue people around, then they can move to a square nearer red people and vice versa.

What happens if you do that?

Within a few turns you find divided communities as people migrate to be closer to people like them.

What this model says is that it takes effort to integrate – to have people of different types living together.

If a politician points to that division as a problem – that then is a problem of a lack of effort of the system to encourage integration.

Which in turn is the fault of the politicians – not the people that make individual decisions to keep their families in familiar and safe situations.

But which politician cares about the maths of the situation – they’re more interested in the votes of the people that matter.

Their audience.

Which takes us to the second point.

The sketchnote below is from a talk George Monbiot gave in 2014.

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The important message is in the bottom right.

Let’s say you think the politician and his supporters are wrong.

How do you convince them of that?

The answer is you don’t.

You follow a three step process:

  1. Equip, resource and organise your followers.
  2. Win the undecided.
  3. Ignore the opposition, don’t appease them.

That’s something a particular breed of vitriolic and xenophobic politician understands well.

They feed on fear and mistrust and speak only to those that believe what they peddle.

You’re not going to change that.

The opposition need to get better at playing the same game.

And one can only hope that more people get to know the truth.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Construct Scenarios That Help You Change For The Better

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Monday, 9.01pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The future depends on what you do today. – Mahatma Gandhi

I learned a way to create maps of possible futures today.

It goes something like this.

Pick two unrelated concepts.

Put them on each axis of a two by two matrix and select extreme ranges for each concept.

For example, in the picture above I picked activity and the daily commute.

Activity ranges from no exercise to daily exercise.

And the commute ranges from working from home to a long commute to work.

When you do this the nature of scenarios falls out quite naturally.

For example, if you work from home and get no exercise, you’ll get things done but not be particularly healthy.

If you have a long commute and don’t make time to exercise, you’re probably exhausted anyway and just spend the evenings in front of the telly.

Or, if you do make time to exercise it’s when everyone else is sleeping – late at night or early in the morning.

And if you work from home and make time to exercise you’ve got more options – perhaps even the chance to play regular sports.

So how does this help?

It’s easy to spend a lot of time agonising over our lives – worrying about whether we’re getting the work done or why the pounds are piling on.

This approach is effectively a test – an attempt to vary two variables and see what the result looks like.

The thing with variables is that they can take on different values.

What happens when you vary exercise?

If you work at home right now but don’t make time to exercise then you could make the decision to do that.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple – we have to overcome quite a lot of resistance and deal with the objections and excuses that daily life gives us in abundance.

But, in theory, you could build more exercise into your life.

Ditto with the commute – you just have to be willing to put in extra effort if you want to do miles in the car and on the road.

Or, you could try varying the commute – perhaps by getting another job or negotiating some amount of remote working into your existing one.

The point is, I suppose, that you could go from where you are now to anywhere else on the grid.

You might actually be healthy and active but something’s happened this year that’s changed all that.

As I look at this model it feels a bit of a blunderbuss – an unwieldy instrument that threatens to go off in your hand.

Still, oddly you want to press the trigger to see what will happen.

It’s a way of taking a blunt machete and hacking your way through the thicket of life, creating some kind of separation between different parts.

And perhaps the point is that you go from being lost in the woods to seeing which direction you should move in, however dimly.

You can at least take a first step towards the light.

And, as the saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Design Your Life And Business For Flow

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Sunday, 8.27pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I’m delighted by the velocity of money as it whistles through the windows of Lower East Side… – Allen Ginsberg

What do an old moneylending maxim in India, the bathtub metaphor, gift giving among tribal people and how you run your business have in common?

If you guessed Flow from the title of this post then you’d be right – but it’s probably not the flow you’re thinking of.

Flow has come to mean, in positive psychology, a way of being immersed in what you’re doing.

This has nothing to do with that at all. Instead, this is a more ancient concept but one that we may have forgotten to see although it exists all around us – in fact at this very moment as you’re reading these words.

Let’s start with the bathtub metaphor, using the picture above.

A bathtub is like a tank that holds water. You fill it up and let the water out again.

If you think about what’s involved you have stock – the stuff in the tank and flows – the stuff going through the pipes.

It’s all water, but when it’s in the tank it’s stock and when it’s in the pipes it’s flow.

Why does this matter?

Think of what happens if you leave water in your bathtub for a month.

It stagnates, doesn’t it? It’s not very nice after a couple of days, reeks after a week and you’ve got mould and scum in a month.

I imagine…

Now to those tribals.

I picked up a book called The Gift by Lewis Hyde which, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a chapter called A theory of gifts.

He describes how Europeans were bewildered by the Native American practice of giving visitors to a tribe a gift. For example, a ceremonial pipe.

Later, when another tribe visited there was an expectation that the gift would be passed on.

This annoyed the Europeans no end, as what they really wanted to do was send the pipe to the British Museum, to put it behind glass and have people queue up to peer at it – not give it away to someone else.

In fact, they coined the term ‘Indian Giver’ to describe this practice.

What the Europeans missed was the difference between stocks and flows.

In tribal cultures a gift is something that circulates, not something that stands still.

As Hyde quotes, “One man’s gift must not be another man’s capital”

Let’s say you wander around the world collecting artifacts and bring them home, displaying them in a room.

What happens to them?

They stagnate. They sit there, mounted on the wall or perched behind glass, stripped of productive or ceremonial use.

When they were passed from tribe to tribe they helped build relationships, cement understanding and common purpose.

Now they just are, doing nothing.

They have been turned into capital, a stock, just the same as water sitting in your tank, going nowhere.

What people need to do is open the taps, keep water and relationships fresh and flowing.

To moneylending, then. The term velocity of money, while perhaps not familiar to the moneylenders of India, is something they would understand.

Money is only useful when it circulates. When it is sent out, invested in businesses or productive activity, generates a return and is then reinvested.

The moneylenders invest in businesses, in people they know in the expectation that they will get a return which they will then reinvest in another business.

Money that sits still in a bank account earns little interest. Money under the mattress earns none. The stewards of unused wealth piled high in warehouses are called misers.

Money that stands still stagnates – just like water and just like a gift that has been stopped from circulating.

Hopefully what you’re noticing from these examples is that flow matters – it’s movement that keeps things fresh and dynamic.

So there we come to your business.

Another book I was reading talked about a large business that tried to improve its knowledge management processes.

After every engagement the participants carefully wrote up what they had learned and filed it in a digital library.

You’d think that such a bank of knowledge would be invaluable – but in reality it was hardly used.

The same issue comes up when you try and manage something like sales or account management.

If you’re the controlling sort of person you might want everyone to use a customer relationship management (CRM) system and make notes of everything they do.

But this is only going to work if there is flow – if there are other people who need that information and use the same system and find it helps them do what needs to be done.

If people are asked to use it but then the information doesn’t naturally flow through, then the knowledge system will stagnate, get clogged up and eventually stop working.

If the boss doesn’t need the system to get their job done that’s a good sign that it’s not going to work.

Finally, that note about how you’re experiencing flow right now.

When I write this blog I draw on a number of resources – articles online, books and research. I use open source tools to write and draw what I do.

If I were to use all those resources only for my own benefit – if I were to hoard what I write and try to turn it into stock – then I’m trying to turn gifts from others into stock.

When I read and write and share, instead, what I’m doing is contributing to the flow of ideas and information – like a gift.

And the point about a gift is that it is given with no expectation of a timeline when equivalent value will be returned.

It turns out that often happens – but it doesn’t have to happen.

The entire open source movement is actually founded on a theory of gifts – even if we don’t know it – and that includes the Internet and its role as the ultimate repository of knowledge.

And that means, hopefully, that the future is underpinned by the right principles and optimised for flow.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

p.s. Every week I’m trying to write a longer piece – something a little more structured and perhaps academic that tries to pull together theory into a useful package.

The latest piece is on reflective practice – essentially thinking a bit about what has happened so far.

Might be of interest, especially if you think of yourself as a knowledge professional.

You’ll find more of these in the articles section and hopefully the list will grow over the years.

How Do I See What You See?

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Friday, 9.58pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality. – Nikos Kazantzakis

Once upon a time things like chaos theory and complexity theory seemed very interesting.

They seemed to show so much promise at explaining the world around us.

Chaos, after all, is like the weather – made up of so many unpredictable interactions that it’s incredibly hard to predict what’s going to happen next.

But then, on the edge of chaos, you have complexity.

The space where complex behaviour emerges, like the Mandelbrot set, or like flocking behaviour from the application of simple rules.

But then you realise that such theories only explain some of the physical world around us.

They don’t explain the downright weird behaviour of people…

Or the perfectly normal behaviour of people, seen from a different point of view.

For example, when climate activists shut down London demanding the UK get rid of all carbon emissions by 2025 some people thought that was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

Others thought it selfish and short-sighted.

Others thought the sentiment right but disagreed with the timescales.

Who is right?

What happens is that people always see things from a point of view, through a lens tinted a particular colour.

And it’s not easy to look at things from a different point of view, especially if you have emotions and identity and belief embedded in a particular one.

The only way to resolve this is through dialogue – once you have realised that you don’t think the same way and regretfully have given up on the idea of simply carting everyone who disagrees with you to a re-education camp.

We probably spend less time on learning how to better conduct dialogue than we should.

A paper by Rousseau, Billingham and Calvo-Amodio sums up the problem.

They say that if you use a term it invokes a concept in your mind – a set of related ideas.

The concept models something in the real world.

And the term refers to something in the real world.

A simple model – and according to some points of view really very wrong.

Take a term like Collaborative Conceptual Modelling (CCM), something that Barry Newell and Katrina Proust have written about.

If you read their material CCM is a way of creating models.

The real world has people stood together creating models – collaboratively conceptualising a model.

Bear with me…

The term CCM could invoke a concept of a model, as shown in the picture.

The conceptual model, however, is not a model of real life because real life is about a group of people standing together creating the conceptual model.

There is a difference.

Okay, this is pedantic, and why does it matter anyway?

It matters because the other thing that Newell came up with was the concept of a ‘Powerful Idea’.

Now, that’s a nice term.

A Powerful Idea is one that can be shared – one that brings together different viewpoint and reconciles them, creating a new, common one.

But it’s wickedly hard to do.

And really easy to get wrong.

But that shouldn’t stop us from trying – because there are a lot of areas in the world now where we’ll only make real progress through dialogue.

And so we’re going to have to try and do it better.

Cheers.

Karthik Suresh

References Rousseau, D.; Billingham, J.; Calvo-Amodio, J. Systemic Semantics: A Systems Approach to Building Ontologies and Concept Maps. Systems 2018, 6, 32.

How To Round Out Your Thinking

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Thursday, 8.49pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Abstract thinking leads to greater creativity… But in our businesses and our lives, we often do the opposite. We intensify our focus rather than widen our view. – Daniel H. Pink

We’ve all met practical people – people who want to get on and get the job done.

Perhaps you’re one of those people.

A no-nonsense, down-to-earth sort of person.

You know what you know and believe in the value of experience.

If you don’t know how to get it done you’ll find someone who does.

In the process, you’ll surround yourself with good people – a team – and your business will do well.

Or maybe you’re a restless risk-taker – some always looking for the next opportunity.

Someone ready to experiment and invest in the new. A Richard Branson type who starts an airline because he’s delayed on a trip and figures he can do better.

It can seem like those are your two options for how to go through life.

Either be someone who actively experiments and changes the world.

Or be someone who is solidly planted in the real world.

Be a river or be a rock. Those are your choices.

Or are they?

An article by Beverley Kaye in the book Learning Journeys is an interesting example of how to think about this.

Dr Kaye writes about her experience defending her doctoral dissertation.

She was a checklist sort of person, a get it done sort of person.

She was prepared and ready to check off the defence of her dissertation.

Except, she ran into trouble.

She was operating from her flat side, she was told and needed to get more rounded.

But what did that mean? And how could someone so practical and in the real world get their heads around that?

And it’s not an easy thing to do.

You know the story of the unreasonable person.

Reasonable people adapt to the world around them.

Unreasonable people adapt the world to themselves.

All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.

Those hard-headed business folk, whether rock solid or fluid experimenters are unreasonable people and have given us products and services that have changed lives.

Externally anyway – not so much internally.

We’re stuck in a consumer society and many people, although they are technically among the wealthiest in the world don’t seem particularly happy.

What’s lacking is inner change.

The Kolb Cycle says there are four ways to learn: active experimentation, concrete experience, reflective observation and abstract conceptualisation.

The first two are easy to recognise – we all start with flat heads.

The ways that round us out are harder to understand.

Can you look back at your life, at the days you spend – just look at them without criticism or judgement and try to see them for what they are?

How did that last meeting with a prospective client go? What worked, what didn’t – was she happy, difficult, neutral?

If you were someone else looking at your life what would you see, what would you think?

And what would you think was going on – how would you conceptualise the situation?

Or, more simply, how would you explain what’s going on?

To see things for what they are and come up with an explanation for why they are what they are is an attempt to round out your thinking.

To try and see without filters, blinders or anything else in your way and to try and look for explanations that are clear and plausible is the way to get started.

And then, if Dr Kaye’s experience is anything to go by, then one day you’ll just get it.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Is A Crucial Question To Ask If You Are A Service Provider?

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Wednesday, 9.54pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The ‘U’ goes before ‘ME’ in Customer. – Janna Cachola

How many businesses can you think of that are pure product plays now?

Natural resources and commodities perhaps.

And of course all the factories pumping out things from shampoo to chocolate.

But many businesses depend on a combination of products and services and when you’re selling to someone else they might be buying your product but they’re taking your service into account as well.

Which makes it useful to study exactly what’s going on when you try and pitch your product or service to someone else.

If you make a box, for example, you could find a prospect and show off your box.

Your prospect is probably stood there with folded arms – she probably already as a box supplier and doesn’t really see what you do differently.

If your box is a service, like management consulting it’s harder to see the point of what you do.

Either she believes she doesn’t need you or already has a provider.

The mistake most people make is to focus on the features and benefits of what they’re offering.

Asked why they’re different – what’s their Unique Selling Point – they talk about their people, how nice they are and how good their product is.

Faced with objections they go on the offensive – ready to “handle” them, brush them aside, tear them down or climb over them.

And that’s irritating – like when someone uses the strategy of agreeing with everything you say so that they can then repeat what they just told you.

So that’s where a model like the one above, based on the one in Soft systems methodology in action, written by Peter Checkland and Jim Scholes, comes in.

Checkland and Scholes quote Richard Norman who says that the question is not “Who is my customer” but “Who is my customer’s customer”.

If you are the service provider, A, and you are trying to sell to the service recipient, B, and you focus on the transaction between A and B – there you are product in hand facing a reluctant and irritated counterpart.

Yes you could argue that they shouldn’t be like that – that they should be open to salespeople because that’s how they are introduced to opportunities – but people are people and if they don’t like being cold-called you’re not going to change their minds.

However people who don’t like being sold to open up and become much more interested when they talk about how to serve their customers better. Let’s call those folk C.

The transaction between B and C is of vital interest to B. That’s something that matters and anything that makes it better is worth considering.

So, if you want to sell B your service you need to figure out how best you can help B add value to C.

That’s your focus zone.

Now this seems, like the authors say in the book, a simple and obvious model.

But just think back of the number of times you’ve been in conversations where the focus was about A and B and C wasn’t mentioned at all.

The fact is that if you want your service to be considered your attention and the time you have with B needs to be spent on the focus zone – where you think about how the two of you (A and B) can add value to the transaction between B and C.

If you can really add value then you will find B open to the prospect of sharing value with you.

And be warned, value is not always easy to find.

Technological solutions that cut costs for B, for example, rarely raise margins. Instead the savings are passed through to C in the form of lower prices.

Good value, sustainable value comes from adding something more magical – by creating competitive advantage for B and C in some way.

But what is sustainable competitive advantage?

Well… ideas for that are going to come out of your discussions as you explore the focus zone.

But here’s a suggestion – prioritise ideas that are inimitable – hard to copy.

Because that can often be the secret to advantage – doing something no one else can.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Do You Get Started When Thinking About A Problem?

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Tuesday, 9.20pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience. – Robert Fulghum

I think I wrote something a while back about experiencing a block when trying to think about a business problem.

This particular one had something to do with organisation structure.

When you look at how organisations are structured you find that you can classify them in different ways.

For example, you could look at them as highly centralised, silos, networks and so on.

So, you’ve given the organisation structure a name – now what?

That was the problem I came up against – saying you think something is something simply says you think A = A.

It says nothing more about whether A is good or bad or what you should do to make A better.

It’s like being frustrated by someone and swearing at them.

It doesn’t really change anything about the situation at all.

The point is that we’re in the vicinity of a problematic situation and how we think about it is going to affect what we do next.

For example, say you’re married and have children you probably face quite a few problematic situations.

You’ve got the situation in the morning, getting everyone ready and fed and off to school and work.

You’ve got the situation around homework and the balance between letting kids play, spend time on screens and getting enough sleep.

Problematic situations often overlap with other problematic situations.

Your employers may want you in the office at the same time that you need to help with getting the kids to and from school.

Then, of course, you have any number of problematic situations at work.

These range from getting sales numbers up to recruitment and retention, keeping clients happy to getting new equipment for the office.

On the whole we just get on with these situations – many of them can be solved with planning, preparation and some shouting.

But others can’t.

Especially ones that involve more people, more situations, more moving parts.

At this point, you’ve got to figure out where you are on the map in relation to the problematic situation.

Are you in the middle of it, enveloped by it and flailing about?

Are you outside, looking on with interest but without involvement, feeling or fear?

For example, let’s say your company has set sales targets.

Is that something that affects you personally?

You’re worried about what you’ll miss out on if you don’t hit the numbers, excited by what you could get if you do?

Or is sales something someone else does while you get on with the job in front of you?

Or are you a consultant, desperate to get involved and show how clever you are?

Well, from my experience, when you’re on the outside your experience isn’t worth as much as you might think.

That’s because the models you have – the sales boards, targets, mission statements, CRM systems and all the other tools you’ve used successfully are the kinds of tools others know about as well.

On the other hand, when you’re inside the organisation you might not know as much as you think you do.

That’s because you only have the one experience – perhaps a few others – but in the main the one you’re having right now.

And it’s hard to step back from that experience because you see what is going on so clearly – you see the people and the politics and the culture all working together. Not working well, perhaps, but working nonetheless.

So, to change things you need to move closer to the edge from wherever you are.

If you’re too close you need to step back so you can start to see the bigger picture.

If you’re too far away you need to step closer to see the detail.

You’ve both got to take some steps on the road.

The further apart you are the bigger the difference in what you’re seeing – in your points of view.

You’ve got to get closer and so the first job for anyone trying to work together to improve a problematic situation is to get to a point where you’re both looking at roughly the same thing in roughly the same way.

And then you can make a start at talking about the problem.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

A Thinking Reset – How Can It Be Done?

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Monday, 9.04pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Subjectivity is objective. – Woody Allen

April has not been a good month for this blog.

7 posts in 22 days is not a particularly good writing tempo.

But I have some reasons (excuses?).

First, while there haven’t been posts on the blog, words have been created in April, interrupted by all the holidays.

I’ve been experimenting with writing longer pieces – papers, if you will. These are a first pass at the sort of stuff that can make it into print or be collected in books.

Writing for print is different from writing for online views – you tend to write in paragraphs rather than sentences – fuller thoughts rather than staccato bursts.

Text on a blog doesn’t work the same way in print – you have to work on it and rewrite – or perhaps write again to see a different kind of flow.

The other more geeky part is that I’m using Groff, a text processing language, to create the papers, learning more about the language itself in the process.

The second reason is that it’s time to take stock of what I’m working on with this blog.

There are lots of models here – models that try and explore different types of thoughts.

But what can we say about the models themselves – and what they say about the nature of thinking?

For example, many models you pick up are in the form of a 2×2 matrix.

That’s the kind of thing consultants love – four boxes to choose from and you must fit in one of them.

I was doing a programming course on Coursera and the instructor, Charles Severance, said that CSS is a declarative language – everything happens at once.

CSS, as you probably know, is the language that makes websites look good.

You write down rules about how big text should be, what font, what colour – all that sort of stuff – and then the page looks the way you want.

It just happens straight away.

Many models are like this – you look at them and they tell you all you need to know at a glance.

Other models are less sure of themselves.

Mind maps, for example, are an exploratory model.

You don’t know where you’re going with them, you just start and see where you end up.

And then there are models that tell you what to do step by step.

In programming jargon these are imperative models – they have sequences of steps that you follow.

Something like a business process or a habit.

Ok, so this is just one way of looking at models. Why does it matter?

It matters because much of how we think is still based on 1960s thinking.

Back then the engineers and economists were in charge and we thought our job was to take rational action to achieve goals.

We realised that we couldn’t know everything and take the perfect or optimal decision but we could select from alternatives and decide something that worked for us – satisficed us, in the jargon.

Many of the models we see also flow out of that mode of thinking – a positivist one.

Alternatives to positivism are interpretive approaches – ones that are only a couple of decades younger are less sure of themselves.

They see the world as created from the thoughts people have.

Not the physical world – but the social world.

The one that includes all of us.

Now one of the problems with learning that there are different ways of thinking is that one starts to look at things from one’s preferred point of view.

If you have been successful setting and meeting goals then you might wonder what I’m on about.

If you’ve been frustrated when people say one thing and act another way – speaking as if there is a plan and acting as if they’re driven by emotion and feeling – then you might be willing to give this interpretive approach a try.

But, as you might see from the nature of this post that can be confusing.

With one approach you and I can be gloriously detached from the ideas we look at.

The models we inspect sit alone and perfect – independent and proud.

With the other approach the models are one way someone else approached a problem in a different time with different people in a different situation.

There may be similarities but the differences are probably more than you think.

Some of the models might be based only on thoughts – ideas that people have had.

Like the way Plato used to work.

Others may have been tested using scientific methods suitable for testing how fast balls of different sizes drop but totally inappropriate for how people think and act.

Now, taking a step back, if you’ve made it this far you’re wondering what the heck is going on.

This post is a mix of arcane Linux stuff, arguments about thoughts that are 60 years old versus ones that are only 50 and unexplained programming metaphors.

So the one thing that you should take away is this.

Every model in this site and all the others you see don’t exist outside of the human mind.

And so, how you think about them matters.

Not me, not the creator, not anyone else.

But you.

Because although the model is generic you and your situation are unique – and that requires an approach that is designed around you and how you think.

And the kind of things I’d like to explore next is how to do that step by step.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Do You React To Questions Or Suggestions?

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Sunday, 9.26pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another. – Napoleon Hill

There are two ways to deal with the world: scientists try to explain it and artists try to see the value in it.

In other words, scientists try and interpret it while artists try and appreciate it.

But why is that? Is it just natural to look at things that way or is there some reason why artists resist explanations and scientists resist any attempt at being less than completely objective and value free.

These types of questions led David Cooperrider to look again at how organisations functioned and suggest that you could stop thinking in terms of solving problems and more in terms of appreciating mysteries – something he called Appreciative Inquiry.

In other words, stop trying to solve your problem. Instead, appreciate the nature of your situation.

This attempt to reframe the discussion apparently did not go down well.

And one reason for that is the way we react to suggestions – the way in which we react to words.

Before we look at what that means we need to remind ourselves that the things we see in the world didn’t come into existence fully formed and perfect.

Although you now see institutions everywhere – companies, courts and senate halls among them – there was a time when they didn’t exist.

It’s easy to see this if you’ve ever tried to arrange a trip with friends or planned a startup.

The trip or the startup didn’t exist before you started that first conversation with your friends.

The words you spoke to each other, the shared meaning you created and the agreements you made resulted in creating the trip or startup that then emerged.

In essence, the words you spoke had real power – although simply vibrations in air they caused something new to come into existence.

This way of thinking about things is a social constructionist approach – the idea that the world around us is created from the conversations we have.

And that makes the words you say important.

Very important.

This can be hard for someone like me, who believes themselves to be rational and relatively unaffected by the emotional content of words, to appreciate.

But you can see the impact of words every day – probably every time you have a conversation at work or with friends.

Let’s say you want to start a business – a new agency.

There will be people who will be negative about the whole thing. They’ll tell you it’s a bad idea and list all the things that could go wrong, believing that they are being helpful.

Or perhaps you want to marry someone from a different religion.

Your family may simply say No! Not if you want to remain a part of their family.

There are those people who find problems everywhere they look.

They may agree that things should improve, we should take action but here are the reasons why it needs to be thought through or slowed down or checked over.

These are people who like committees – where good ideas go to die.

Then you have people who are both helpful and positive, people who say yes, and give you more suggestions on what you could do and how you could avoid risks.

Some people believe that what needs to happen is that problems need to be solved – we need to find out what’s wrong and what needs to be done to fix things.

The appreciative inquiry approach tries to use a different approach – a positive one that uses questions and stories to look towards a better future.

Although, it isn’t just supposed to be a way to go to your happy place.

Appreciation is about seeing the whole for what it is, warts and all.

Seeing the beauty of what is as well as noticing the cracks that mar its surface – and then taking steps to touch up or improve its appearance.

But the secret is that the way to creating that new future starts not with decisions, resources or actions.

It starts with words.

And it’s limited only by what you agree to do together.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Make A Real Difference – For You Or For Society

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Saturday, 8.34pm

Sheffield, U.K.

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. – Yogi Berra

I learned a new word today – praxis.

It has a long history – back to Aristotle, it seems.

Aristotle said the work we do results in theory, produces something or is practical.

The reason they are different has to do with the why question – why do we do each type of work?

What’s the purpose behind each one?

If you study maths, say something like number theory, you do it for the sake of the knowledge itself.

For example, the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan once explained that the number 1,729 was a very interesting one.

It’s the smallest number you can get to by adding two cubes in two different ways.

Now – you’d want to know that really only for the sake of knowing it.

Although, number theory turned out to have quite a few applications later on – at the time mathematicians like Ramanujan were interested in it really because it was interesting to them – and that was all there was to it.

They’re the folk, I suppose, that contemplate on top of a mountain, and think their way to truth.

At the foothills, you find another sort of folk – productive ones.

People who work close to the earth – making things.

They use techniques – methods that result in something predictable.

Like pots, or washing machines or asphalt.

But then there’s another sort of person – the type Aristotle calls practical, which sounds quite similar to productive but is not the same thing.

The productive person knows what the end goal is.

The practical person doesn’t.

Instead, they face situations – situations where there is no clear answer, no one true way.

They have to use judgement and thought and feel and the kinds of things that aren’t easily expressed clearly as a theory or as a technique.

One way to think of it is as an oscillation, or more visually, a route march from theory to practice and back again.

For example, you might start a new job in a fast growing company.

Experience the joys and stresses of the early days.

And the predictability, higher income and maddening bureaucracy in later years.

All these are experiences that you get while doing productive work.

But do you know why you feel good or bad?

Why you like your job or hate it?

There are simplistic explanations – like most poople leave bosses, not jobs.

And that what’s going on is institutional discrimination.

But then if you get a chance to actually study the theory – you might be introduced to the concept of modern and post-modern organisations – and that gives you a way to understand your experience and perhaps look at it differently.

Something new happens when you use theory to understand what you’ve experienced.

Or when you try and apply theory to improve the situation you are in.

And in turn, use the experience you get by applying theory to look back and improve the theory itself.

That kind of activity is praxis – the journey between theory and practice – the mixing of the two until there is no start or end, just the journey.

And if you want to make a real difference – especially when it comes to important situations – for you personally or for society as a whole – praxis is the way to go.

There’s a reason why theory for theory’s sake is confined in ivory towers.

And a reason why just focusing on the bottom line or the method or the engineering is not enough to solve complex societal issues.

What we need is practical action informed by theory.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh