How Can Acting Like An Actor Help You In Business?


Saturday, 8.16pm

Sheffield, U.K.

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages. – William Shakespeare

Are you in the sort of role where you have to give presentations fairly often?

Perhaps you do sales presentations, seminars or small group talks.

I haven’t had to do these for a while but have recently had more on the go.

Which, of course, meant I had to put off preparing for as long as possible.

I excuse this by retelling the story of the woodcutter who had to chop down a tree in an hour and so spent the first three-quarters of the hour sharpening the axe.

It’s more interesting finding a way to hack something than to do it in the first place.

And my approach was to think about how to plan these presentations using scripts – which of course meant learning how to make scripts like the ones used in films.

If you remember, they look typewritten with dialogue centered and other stuff everywhere.

Anyway, I also decided that I would do this using Groff, learning how to create some simple macros along the way.

Now, for the one person, maybe not even that, who is interested in this, here is some code.

\# Define macro for screenplay format
.de DG
.ps 12
.ll 5.3i
.in 1.9i
.ad l

.de NM
.ps 12

If you save this in a file called screen.mac and call that in a Groff file formatted using ms macros – as shown in the snippet below

.so screen.mac


And my approach
was to think about
how to plan these presentations
using scripts -
which of course meant
learning how to make scripts
like the ones used in films.

You get something that looks like this:


Okay – back to the main theme of this post.

Once you’ve got your screenplay what do you do with it?

The point, I think, is to get better at telling people what you do in your business.

Now, what actors do is learn their lines so they can convince us they are someone else and draw us into the story.

How do they do that?

A paper by Nina Bandelj titled How Method Actors Create Character Roles tells us that Method-acting is a technique based on the work of Konstantin Stanislavsky, a Russian theatre director and practitioner.

He laid down conventions, a few of which are important for us to understand if we want to apply them to our work.

Few of us like to sell, but we also like to think we do good work.

So, we need to be clear on the underlying motivation for why we do what we do.

If we’re not con artists and do a decent job then at the heart of why we do the work we do must lie a conviction that it is good work to do.

Without that underlying motivation any performance will either fall flat or come across as fake.

Which brings us to being authentic. The best actors bring their own personality to a part. They augment it rather than taking away from it.

In your business you play many parts and one of the most important is as a salesperson – which is why the best salespeople are the ones that own the business. They identify completely with their business and so come across as authentic.

Crucial to a role, however, is understanding its context and environment. Method actors do deep research, relying on acute observation to understand the part they are playing.

If you’re selling to someone that process is one of deep research. The more you understand what your client needs the better your pitch can be.

In fact, these days, you’re probably better off not bidding for any work unless the client agrees to spend at least an hour going through the situation and answering any questions you have about what they might need.

When you’re pitching, however, you’re not going to read from your script.

That’s there to learn and improve and fiddle with – but you’ll also need to be prepared to deliver without holding onto it and improvise along the way.

The improvisation is what’s going to make your delivery natural – even if it’s scripted word for word.

And then there is the look and feel – the dress and props you use to show who you are – whether that’s a business person in a suit or a cool designer in a turtleneck.

There’s a school of thought that suggests you can act yourself into feeling a certain way.

If you want to feel like you’re a confident, accomplished presenter then you could do worse than acting like an actor.

The tools and methods they use to prepare for roles are ones that you can use to prepare for the day-to-day situations you face in business.

You just need to act like you know what you’re doing.


Karthik Suresh

When Do You Know Everything You Need To Know?


Friday, 9.02pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. – Socrates

There is a series on Amazon Prime called Librarians – where a group of misfits rush around averting magical disasters.

Every once in a while one of the characters drops a line that has echoes of a paper somewhere.


“Reality is just a shared narrative we agree to believe”


“Architecture is just art we live in”

Anyway, in one of these episodes they’re rushing around and stop to discuss trees.

We’ll get to that in a second, but if you’re actually watching the series – SPOILER alert…

Someone once said to me that there will come a time when you’re working for someone younger than yourself.

That’s a bit of a transition point – a point when all of a sudden someone younger knows more than you or is given more responsibility.

I had a chat the other day with a developer – around the same age as me, perhaps younger and I asked what sort of environment he worked in.

I got an answer filled with words I had seen but didn’t really recognise.

I’m sure Kubernetes was in there, and some new programming languages – maybe there was a whisper that sounded like Java.

And there are others, hot shot whizz kids, doing magic with database queries and programming that I didn’t know you could do.

Not yet anyway – I like to think that if I spent the time I could figure it out.

At the same time, there are new and different things to figure out.

Like people and groups and organisations.

The thing is that knowledge of one type will only take you so far.

Take textbooks, for example.

Some writers are brilliant at using simple words to explain complex concepts.

Sometimes you need complex words to explain complex concepts.

But how often do you need complex words to explain something simple?

Often, however, the purpose of writing seems to be to obscure rather than explain – to demonstrate how clever the author is rather than help the reader understand something new.

Which is why, after a while, when you’re finding the path you’re on a little too much the same the thing to do is find a different path, one less travelled.

And find it before the motorway being built alongside your own path ends in yours being reclaimed by weeds.

Doing that has nothing to do with age and everything to do with attitude.

In the episode I refer to above, the baddie wants a branch from the tree of knowledge.

A huge, sprawling tree stands there, and the baddie breaks off a branch.

The hero destroys the tree and the branch rather than let it fall into the wrong hands and the baddie, thwarted, rails and departs.

The hero’s partner asks why he destroyed the tree of knowledge.

And the twist is that the huge tree wasn’t the tree of knowledge.

Knowledge is young, always growing.

It’s the small tree that is going to grow.

The young have an advantage – they are ready to learn because they don’t know stuff yet.

For those of us who are a little older, we may need to forget that we know so we can be ready to learn once again.


Karthik Suresh

Are You Burning Out Trying To Be Someone You’re Not?


Thursday, 9.15pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Your best strategy is to manage your creativity, not your time. People who manage their creativity get happy and rich. People who manage their time get tired. – Scott Adams

Are you one of those people that needs a break after being around other people for too long?

I am.

It’s a trait, I understand, of introverts – something that Susan Cain has popularised in her book Quiet.

Many people find themselves in situations that don’t seem designed for them – instead they’re expected to plug into whatever is there and perform at peak capacity.

But, like the increasingly dismal performance I get from batteries that I try and use in my cameras, things go wrong.

So, if you were a battery, how should you use yourself?

The first thing to understand is how you charge your battery.

Some people need quiet time to rest and regroup.

Others need to be around people, amidst the buzz and vibe to be energised and ready.

If you’re one kind of person too much of the other kind of stimulation, or lack of stimulation, is going to mean you’re just not available to do anything.

Then there’s what you use your battery to do.

Maybe you’re an AA battery and can plug into most devices – but an AA battery designed for a remote control is not going to power a professional camera for more than a few minutes.

Or are you a specialist cell, designed for specific or demanding work?

It’s also important to know what kind of work drains you quickly – what’s the power draw?

I like the Alphasmart Neo, for example. It’s a portable electronic typewriter than you can write on for a year without depleting the three AA batteries that power it.

If you built a raspberry pi based unit to do the same thing you’d get about half an hour.

I bought two NEOs instead – they’ve stopped making them so I’m stocking up for the next 40 years of writing.

Which takes us to the topic of burnout.

The reason I was musing about this topic is that working with others depletes my energy – I need some quiet time to recharge after a burst of activity.

Some people say that burnout happens because you don’t get enough rest – which makes sense in that context.

The other way of looking at burnout is that it’s about doing too much work – about pushing yourself for to long.

But there are other things we do, things that we could do for a long time and emerge at the end of that time feeling more refreshed and energised than we were when we started.

I find that’s the case with activities like writing – at the end of a session I’m not drained – if anything I’m recharged.

But clearly if you work five back to back 12 hour shifts you’re going to be in a very different situation.

All of which suggests that burnout is not about enough rest or too much work but about how you manage how you charge and discharge and what things you plug yourself into.

You’d pick the right battery for your camera – and you should probably pick the right combination of environment and activities that are best for you.

And that might be an office with a door or a loud open plan space. It might be long periods of reflection or prolonged sessions of high intensity debate.

Whatever works.

But as Adams writes in his book, The Joy Of Work, managing your creativity is what matters.

And if you want to manage your creativity what you have to first learn is how to manage your energy.


Karthik Suresh

What’s Really Going On When You Try And Sell A Software Solution


Wednesday, 9.17pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The cause is hidden. The effect is visible to all. – Ovid

If you work for a large organisation do you think that the software you work with makes you more productive?

It’s not a question with an easy and obvious answer – not for the population at large anyway.

If you do a search some of the results you get suggest that productivity has gone up while others suggest it’s gone down.

The one thing that people agree on is that software developers are more productive – they have better tools and better ways to do things.

So that’s good – the programmers are doing well out of the technological revolution.

How about everyone else?

When I looked at this a couple of years ago the data suggested that productivity was flatlining.

And the reasons for that are probably not hard to see – the effects are pretty clear.

For example, how exactly has using something like Microsoft Word made you work better?

The chances are it hasn’t – not compared to how you would have worked a long time ago.

For example, the average time to draft and finalise a document has probably gone up – because instead of writing three drafts and checking each one very carefully we can now fiddle forever and let the spellchecker catch errors – but some still slip though.

Yes, the process of printing and emailing and sharing the document is much much faster – although instead of one package in the mail you probably send several emails.

The point is not that typewriters are better than word processors – although if you’re a techie you will probably accept that plain text is better than everything else – and that’s decades old.

The point is that systems are not designed to meet the needs of the user – they’re designed to conform with what the vendor thinks the user needs.

The picture above is an adaptation of a model shown in Information, Systems and Information Systems, written by Peter Checkland and Sue Holwell.

The model shows that people have different conceptual models in their minds about what is going on.

Think of what happens when you sit down to write a document.

The mechanics of the task is to get the words on the page – but the purpose of the task is bigger than that – it might be to explain an idea to your boss or let someone know you’re going to sue them.

As a buyer you need to do something – and the act of writing a document is a small part of what’s going on in your mind.

A vendor, on the other hand, isn’t that interested in whether you’re writing a letter to a friend or an annual report for a PLC.

They’re aware of it but what they want to show you is the kinds of styles and themes and fonts that you could have.

In an ideal world the model that the vendor has in their mind will be designed to serve the model that the buyer has in their mind.

In other words before you build a system to do something you need to know what that something is being done for – you need to understand what is being served as a result of activity before you build a system to help do that activity better.

That may seem pedantic but think about it.

As a vendor what you’re trying to do often is convince a buyer that your solution will work for them unchanged.

But it never will, for the simple reason that each person you talk to will have a different system that they’re serving.

So, you have to convince them to change what they serve to what you think they should serve instead.

This is unashamedly the view of enterprise resource planning software – if you want to use it what you need to do is change your business to fit in with how the software works rather than the other way around.

Or you could think about how you could adapt your software to serve the user better – or build something from scratch.

What that needs, however, is the skill to get into the buyers mind – to take the time to make what’s in their head visible and construct the model of purposeful activity that they’re using.

Then you can compare their model with your model of activity and see what’s the same (the green) and where there are differences and what you can do about it.

That takes time.

But the chances are that it’s only the vendors who take the time to do that kind of thing that then put in solutions that really help their customers.

The rest just move on.


Karthik Suresh

How To Do Research For Business Development


Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.Zora Neale Hurston

Often, in our hurry for shortcuts and easy ways to success we ignore the basic routes – the ones that will get us there but that also need us to cover some distance first.

That happens all the time, to me anyway, when it comes to business development – which is not the same as sales.

Instead, it’s what you do to make your business better, which includes getting better clients.

Maybe even more of them.

As I was reminded recently it all starts with research – but what does that mean and how can you do it more effectively?

The model in the picture above is a five-step process that I find works for me – but that I also often need to remind myself to follow.

1. Start by designing a filter

The main choice we have to make these days is not what to include but what to leave out.

It’s easy to want to be seen as someone that can do everything but that simply means you also need to know about everyone.

And, as that’s impossible it makes sense to filter the universe out there and focus on only those prospects that have a need for your services.

That filter may be a simple one that first restricts by sectors then by companies and then by people.

You might choose, for example, to focus on the oil and gas sector, the companies with a turnover of over a billion and the Technical Manager for pipes.

2. Gather information

This step is often missed out or carried out in a way that isn’t systematic or repeatable.

The irony is that with so much information around us we do a quick search for a company, read a few pages and then try and get in touch with someone.

But, if you take the time to read about the company, what it’s doing, what its finances look like and what’s being published in the news then you get a much richer picture of what’s going on.

You can’t do that in your head – you need tools.

For example, this where things like Evernote or OneNote come in or, if you like open source, something that information security professionals use like Basket Note Pads or Dradis.

3. Look for common ground

Now, with your material you can read – and look for people and what you have in common.

The point of this is not to be stalkerish but to be curious – to take the time to understand what is out there so that when you reach out you don’t waste someone else’s time.

All too often you get connections on social media that are designed to test if you react at all – and then to follow up with a series of messages.

Which probably works for people – and they make their numbers but more people must get annoyed at the approach than those that welcome it.

If you want to build a business relationship with someone new it makes sense to keep it ethical – because otherwise you’re starting it in the wrong way.

If you take the time to understand where someone is from what is publicly available and craft a message that is based around common goals and values you’ll probably do better – in terms of quality contacts anyway.

4. Seek to understand and educate

Children don’t go happily to someone new, they find someone to hide behind, peeping out warily.

That sense of being wary never leaves most of us. We’re not interested in what you’re offering – we’re just looking at that first step and seeing if we’re brave enough to take it.

So that means you’re a way away from making a sale – instead your approach should be designed to understand and educate the person you want to work with over time.

And that probably means slowing down – not pitching and selling right away.

That can be hard if it’s what you feel like you should do but it might be easier when you think of it as having to go up a number of steps before you reach the point where you can do a deal.

5. Study the results

Studying organisations and people is a matter of looking and learning.

Yes you may want to be data driven and formal but in many service businesses what matters is the one to one exchange you have with others.

But whether its data or whether its a reflection on how your last pass through the process loop went, the point is to look and learn.

Did your filter work effectively?

Did you get enough information – was there something you missed that might have helped with a conversation later on?

Are people responding to you – are you showing that there is enough common value for them to take that first step?

And then are they taking the next one, and the next one after that.

Do the basics well – even though it’s hard

The fact is that many of us would much rather be busy doing work than working on systems or improving our own approaches.

As the saying goes, however, you don’t rise to the level of your expectations – you fall to the level of your training.

It’s easy to skip any one of these steps and try and go straight to a hard close.

But by taking your time you’ll build a better business – one that works for you and helps you eventually meet your expectations.


Karthik Suresh

If You’re So Smart Why Aren’t You Rich?


Sunday, 8.33pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I will tell you the secret to getting rich on Wall Street. You try to be greedy when others are fearful. And you try to be fearful when others are greedy. – Warren Buffett

I started my career as a geek – and I’m still one, really.

In 1997 and 1998 I was installing Red Hat Linux and Slackware and discovering the command prompt.

I did programming work for money and even though I disliked how slow and clunky tools like Microsoft Excel were that’s what most people used and what they paid you to use for them.

But what I also learned as I spent more time working was that the ability to do stuff using a computer had much less commercial value than it might seem at first glance.

Don’t get me wrong – computers are incredibly useful and I couldn’t do any of the work I do without the tools and hardware we have today – especially the whole world of GNU/Linux.

But they’re useful mostly for programmers and the things that make my life easy are not things you could or would wish to sell.

For example, are you interested in how to use awk to create an electronic index card program?

It’s pretty easy – but the answer to that is probably not.

The fact is that you don’t find many programmers running things – especially not programmers that are still programming.

At the same time many people believe that being smart and being technologically capable qualifies you to have a view on the best way something should be done.

You’ve got a model – a complex one, maybe one based on artificial intelligence. The model says you should do X, so there you go – problem solved! Pay up.

But there’s a weakness here, a weakness set out in the book Rational Analysis for a Problematic World edited by Jonathan Rosenhead.

This has the depressing line for those who believe that their technical capability is important.

For these people, Rosenhead writes, “…it offers a reliable downhill path to the role of minor technical auxiliary.”

In other words, if your skillset is based around being technically smart you might want to think about hiding that from other people.

And the reason for that is shown in the picture above.

There are two things to think about: what you want to happen and how you are going to make it happen.

That is, you need to think about the outcome and the method.

If you know what you want and you know the best method to get there then the task you have to do is a computation.

Do the analysis and work out the best option.

For example, if you need to route your truck through several cities and need to work out the best route – that’s a job for your technical expert.

The outcome is certain – the shortest route. The method is certain – a routing algorithm.

Now, let’s say your expert says that there are three different algorithms that produce slightly different results what do you do?

In this case the outcome is the same – the shortest route but the method to use is uncertain.

So, you go into bargaining mode and ask what the pros and cons are and what you can do to minimise the downside.

Eventually, however, you make the call on what to do.

Another situation you might face is when the method is clear but the outcome is uncertain.

For example, you might have a fund with money to invest but you’re looking at two different sectors – biotech and property.

One has stable returns but little prospect of explosive growth. The other has the potential for growth but you could take a big hit.

Computation is of limited use after a while in this situation. Decisions about markets often come down to a question of judgement – and it needs a person to make a call.

Yes, you can have algorithms that exploit differences for a while – but they will have to keep hunting because their own activity will start to close differences.

Which then takes us to the final quadrant – where the outcome is uncertain and the method is uncertain.

Should you study law or art or should you go to the local university or to one in a different country?

Should your company invest in marketing or in growth through acquisition? Should you start flexible working or rely on an office based staff?

Such questions have no clear answers – not ones you can get to on mathematical terms anyway.

Those situations need more than smarts – they need empathy, an ability to study situations and the skills to come up with a variety of solutions and decide which one to go with.

And they also need a big helping of luck.

The fact is that as you climb higher in organisations your smarts matter less and less.

It’s about politics and networks and deals up there.

And doing things differently from the herd.

It’s about managing uncertainty.

And the one thing that’s certain is that you’ll be paid more to sort out an uncertain situation than a certain one.


Karthik Suresh

p.s If you’d like to read an article about studying situations using ethnographic research methods take a look at How to study an organisation on my Articles page.

What Can Chess Tell Us About Developing A Content Strategy?


Saturday, 9.12pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I used to attack because it was the only thing I knew. Now I attack because I know it works best. – Garry Kasparov

Saturday mornings are a time to go to the library and browse for surprises.

Today, however, I had a definite aim in mind.

The elder youngster and I had played a game of chess earlier – something I don’t really do much.

After a false start, confused by the picture on the cover that showed a chessboard that just happened to be set up wrong, we played a couple of games.

So I thought it might be a good idea to have a look and see if there were any books that might help a younger audience (and me) with our game.

After some searching I found a book called Tips for young players which, confusingly, does not have the word Chess anywhere in the title or on the spine – one assumes the authors wanted to keep it secret.

Leafing through the pages I learned there are four concepts you must understand to win – and interestingly they are four concepts that you can apply to many other things in life.

Like developing a content strategy.

I thought of content strategy mainly because I’d been talking to a friend about content and was musing on the kind of model that might help – and this one came along so let’s see if it’s any use…

1. Control or occupy the centre ground

You want your pieces to be in the centre of the board.

A bishop in the centre can reach 13 places. One in a corner can only get to seven.

The content marketing equivalent of this is to ask whether you’re in control of the space you want to play in or whether you’re on the fringes.

If you’re trying and failing to break into a crowded and noisy market maybe there’s a quiet space where you can be heard better?

Sometimes this means getting more specific about what you do.

If you’re a marketing consultant, for example, and want to stand out from the other marketing consultants out there what space would make sense for you to occupy?

The real point here is that you have to make a decision about which battlefield you are going to fight on – one that you control or one that you need to fight your way onto in the first place.

That decision could make the difference between success and failure.

2. Protect the king

As the game opens up your king gets more exposed so it’s important to move the piece to safety – to the edges as soon as possible by castling – crossing over the king and the rook.

The equivalent of this is protecting your most important asset – whatever that might be.

When it comes to content that might be your process, your writers or your research material.

Or, more importantly, it’s probably your time.

If you’re in charge of creating content you need to set time aside to do it – and you need to protect that time.

It’s almost impossible to do creative work ad-hoc.

The best way is to make it routine – to sit down at the same time and do the work – and that won’t happen unless you protect and shield that time from everyone – bosses, families and distractions.

3. Rapid development

In Chess pawns play a very important part.

Despite being the weakest pieces on the board their ability to attack and the reluctance of your opponent to sacrifice valuable pieces in exchange for a pawn let you charge forward.

And to get that charge underway you want to move pieces quickly.

Rather than doing multiple moves with one piece get them all into play.

The equivalent of a pawn in your content strategy is perhaps a blog post – something short that you can get out every day but that over time builds into a solid library of content that leads your charge.

Putting something out every week helps create a more receptive environment for the larger material you send out every few months.

Your mix of content can be likened to your mix of pieces – some short and expendable and some long, complex or expensive to create and use.

What you want to do, however, is get your content in play because the more you have the more likely it is that you’ll give the competition a “Content Shock” where they see the amount of stuff you have out there and decide that it’s easier to go and compete with someone else.

4. Take the initiative

Finally, if you’re now creating content you can’t sit back and wait for people to find you.

In Chess, once your pieces are on the board you need to take the initiative – press the attack and force your opponent to react to your moves rather than reacting to theirs.

With content that means reaching out and helping put your material in front of people – using social media and the other means at your disposal to get your message out there.

The fact is that there is much more stuff out there than people will ever have a chance to get around to looking at.

For a while – maybe a long time – you’ll need to work on recruiting people to look at your content – maybe directly, maybe through advertisements.

But you have to do something – and take the initiative or you could be waiting a long time


These four rules seem quite simple but it’s quite likely that if you look at your own content strategy you could do better on one or more of them.

Perhaps you’re creating content that’s too much like everything else out there.

Maybe you’d like to do more but just haven’t protected the time.

Or you’re a perfectionist and it just takes you a couple of months to get everything right instead of putting something out every day or week.

Or you’ve got a great content creation machine – but no one knows about it because you haven’t told them.

But when you boil all this down I’m reminded of something a friend of mine who played competitive chess once told me.

Just attack.


Karthik Suresh

How To Think When Planning A New Marketing Campaign


Friday, 8.48pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your family to read. You wouldn’t tell lies to your own wife. Don’t tell them to mine. – David Ogilvy

What do you do when thinking of marketing a new business or idea?

If you follow the traditional approach you start with a plan – and writing that plan requires researching and understanding your market.

But what does that research look like?

One way to approach the task of research is to look at it as a scientific problem.

You have a population out there and you can segment that population using various characteristics – geography, income, job titles and so on.

Once you study your population – little humans suspended in a vat of solution you can come up with your campaign – say a social media or search engine ad and let it run and a percentage of the humans will make their way towards you like iron filings towards a magnet.

This system works – after all many people have successfully used it to market their businesses online and offline.

So, surely you can use it as well?

Well… there are a couple of issues that are worth understanding first.

I was listening to Jim Collins being interviewed on the Tim Ferriss show.

It’s a fascinating episode and you get a chance to listen to a management legend – someone who has built a career on studying companies using methods like the ones described above – positivist ones.

Collins and his team study huge amounts of data, coding them and pulling out insights – which is how he identified a set of companies that outperformed others in his book Good to Great.

But, the problem is that despite all that data the characteristics that made the sample companies great only describe what they are – and are little use when thinking about companies not in the sample.

Taking the picture above, the insights you get about the samples in A cannot be generalised to include the samples in B.

Why is that?

That’s something a paper by Lee and Baskerville titled “Generalizing Generalizability in Information Systems Research” goes into in some detail.

To cut a long story short you can study a thing and say things about what you see and the measurements you make.

But what you can’t do is prove that what you learn or believe is going to apply to other things.

It’s something called Hume’s truism.

You can assume, guess and try it out – but you can’t generalise – say it’s generally true that if you do what you did in A you get the same result for B.

Which is what Collins says as well: “The books never promised that these companies would always be great, just that they were once great.”

So, what’s the second way of doing your research.

Well, you need to do what the experimenter is doing in vat A – jumping in and getting involved in the situation.

If you’re trying to engage with people – trying to get them to listen to your pitch about what you do then your starting point is to understand them by living the way they do.

Sort of like ethnographers of old used to do – go and live in societies to understand their customs and rituals.

And that’s what you need to do – go to the people you want to talk to and understand how they live and ideally, live it yourself.

That kind of research doesn’t try and generalise – it tries to understand.

It doesn’t use stats and conversion ratios but looks at people and appreciates them for what they are.

And I don’t think you can play games like saying you’ve created personas so now you understand the market and what you need to do.

Now, of course, bosses want results and want them quick.

So just buy that list and send out some emails.

But if you really want results you’d be better off learning how to do good quality research.

Research that seeks to understand – not from a distance but by getting up close and personal.

It’s a bit like a celebrity who spends a night out in the open to get an appreciation of what a homeless person goes through.

That’s better quality research, from this point of view, than a pile of papers written in a warm, cosy study about the nature of the homeless experience.

If you want a name for this kind of approach we can borrow the term Genchi Genbutsu from the Toyota Production System.

Which means Go and See what is happening for yourself.


Karthik Suresh

What Is The Purpose Of Your Marketing Communications Activity?


Thursday, 8.25pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things. – Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight

We have been so thoroughly indoctrinated into the world of scientific thinking that it’s hard to imagine any other way to approach the world around us.

Marketing communications, for example, is about how you talk to prospects and customers.

The textbook on my shelf says that it is a “… planned, integrated and controlled interactive dialogue with key target audiences…”

In other words, the writers believe there is an audience out there and you can plan and control how you talk with it.

Except, there isn’t an audience. There are people – individuals – who make decisions about how to interact with what you put into the world.

You have no control over what they do.

Or do you?

There is an industry built on the idea that you can get people to do what you want by being very clever about the way you create your marketing material.

But clever in the sense of doing what – what’s the intent?

I suppose you can look at intent along a line with two extremes.

At one end you’re looking to educate your prospect.

At the other you’re trying to manipulate them.

Let’s say you’re trying to write a direct mail letter.

One purpose of your letter could to explain the features and benefits of your product to a reader so they can make an informed choice.

Or you might have a load of unsold stock that you need to unload and the purpose of the letter is to get some mugs to send in their money and take your tat.

I suppose if you find yourself in the second position it’s worth taking some time to reflect and ask if that’s really what you want to be doing with your life.

If you’re good at what you do – writing marketing copy, for example – do you feel good when it is used in that way?

But there’s another thing to consider – and that’s the medium you’re using and how well you’re using it.

The medium you use invariably affects the message you create.

You’re going to create a very different message if you’re sending a letter than if you’re creating a TV advert.

And the thing about the medium is how you use it.

Good email marketers, for example, try and make things clear.

Novice marketers spend more time on look and feel, assuming that such things have an impact.

On most mail clients, however, images are suppressed and all you get is the text that remains – which is often too poor to stand on its own and usually ends up in the junk folder.

So you could look at the medium as another continuum and ask whether your use of it is confused or clear.

A confused approach relies on throwing lots of stuff out there and hoping the magic of conversion ratios works.

It’s about as annoying an approach for the recipient as having the sender attached to your legs and having to drag them around all day.

A confused approach that seeks to educate probably ends up turning people off.

A clear approach that seeks to manipulate might work – but not in the long term because people hate being duped and will not give you a second chance.

Sometimes I think that people who suggest that you create a strategy to target an audience have never really had to target an audience of their own.

Because, if they had, they would realise something that writers have known for a while.

You don’t write for an audience.

You write to one person – and sometimes that person is yourself.

If you do a good job that person will understand what you have to say.

Warren Buffett, for example, starts drafting his shareholder letters with the words ‘Dear Doris and Bertie’ – writing to his sisters to tell them how he has been managing their investment for the last year.

He doesn’t try and address thousands of shareholders – by focusing on a couple his message is focused and amplified rather than diffused and incoherent.

Marketing, when it comes down to it, is a conversation between you and another person.

Your intent is to educate.

And whatever medium you use, you need to try and keep it clear and simple.

The rest, as they say, will take care of itself.


Karthik Suresh

Why Do We Never Think Of Managing Conflict Situations?


Wednesday, 8.35pm

Sheffield, U.K.

To fight and conquer in all our battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. – Sun Tzu

Many of you reading this have probably read Sun Tzu’s quote and nodded approvingly.

An slightly more amusing one comes from a play by Wole Soyinka I read decades ago: “…in time of trouble it behoves us to come together, to forget old enmities and bury the hatchet in the head of a common enemy”

All I remember about that time was, alongside being involved in plays, I saw my first Siamese cat and ate my first battered prawn.

But, we digress.

Let’s talk about children instead.

Children are interesting: little people with boiling emotions simmering close to the surface.

They haven’t learned to protect themselves yet with a thick, hard crust that keeps everything under control.

When they’re upset they erupt, emotions flowing through gaping cracks, anger everywhere.

And the thing is when we grow up we’re not really that different.

Yes, we hide it better, but underneath the surface those emotions swirl away, still hot and turbulent and ready to come out.

But for many years our theories of management assume that people are really rational.

I have been recently introduced to the book Rational Analysis for a Problematic World edited by Jonathan Rosenhead and in the first ten pages he points out that the way we make decisions misses something very important.

If you have any experience of markets, for example, you’ll have heard people talking knowledgeably about decision making under things.

Like decision making under risk and decision making under uncertainty.

With risk, you know what could happen and will happen if one of those things did happen.

Sort of like betting on horses.

With uncertainty, lots of things could happen but because there is some kind of pattern you can be more confident that some things will happen rather than others.

Sort of like the weather in the next day or so.

Anyway, Rosenhead has a paragraph that describes this using quite technical language that brought up images of the recent Jurassic Park movie, which I then tried to explain to the little person sat next to me.

When you make decisions under risk it’s like having to make a decision about a dinosaur fossil – it’s pretty safe and just sits there and you can poke it and prod it and nothing’s going to happen.

Decision making under uncertainty is like having to make a decision about a live T-Rex, but one that’s been thoroughly sedated and is sleeping in front of you.

Not quite so safe, but you’re confident nothing bad is going to happen.

Real life decisions, however, involve dinosaurs that are wide awake and looking at you menacingly and end, as most of the movies of the genres do, in conflict.

And so really we should spend a LOT MORE time studying how to make decisions under conflict situations.

And the picture above is a start at mapping the relationship between conflict and outcomes.

Let’s try it with experiences with kids that you’ve either had or likely will have.

If you and your child end up in a shouting match you both lose.

It’s no fun and you could just end up stomping away from each other.

That gets increasingly likely as they get older and bigger and more bloody minded.

If you can still dominate them you might win – but it’s not going to make them feel better or leave you feeling good.

That’s the thing about battles – no one wins.

What happens if you avoid conflict – but use emotional blackmail or passive-aggressive methods instead?

Again, no one ends up happy. Bosses that try to avoid conflict rarely have happy staff – all that bottled up emotion gets let out somewhere else – where it doesn’t do any good.

The best way to resolve a conflict is not to fight and to have both parties win.

Which is why Sun Tzu’s remedy is at best temporary.

If you defeat an enemy without fighting you still have an enemy.

You need to think better.

And so perhaps the best quote that sums up the approach you could take when trying to manage decision making under conflict comes from one of those little people again – probably from a programme they watched on telly.

“Daddy,” said the little person, “how do you defeat an enemy?”

“I don’t know. How do you defeat an enemy?”

“By turning them into a friend.”


Karthik Suresh