How To Work Towards A Better Understanding Of Wisdom


Thursday, 8.51pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. – Isaac Asimov

The management thinker Russell Ackoff wrote and spoke about the lack of discrimination in the education process between things like data, information, knowledge and wisdom.

He argued that there was a hierarchy of importance in a sense: an ounce of information is worth a pound of data and an ounce of knowledge is worth a pound of information and so on.

In this view we are surrounded by data, or at least things that can represented using symbols that we then call data.

The way in which we look at data and ask the who, what, where, when type of questions and the kind of statistical analyses we do with that data when we ask “how many” creates information.

Information describes data.

When you know and can tell someone else how to do something you start to create knowledge.

Knowledge has to do with ways of doing – instructions for action.

And then there is why you do something – the explanation behind the activity and that is the foundation for understanding.

Ackoff says that the point about information, knowledge and understanding is that they help you do things more efficiently – get things done better.

He goes on to argue that wisdom is about effectiveness, it is “evaluated efficiency”, “efficiency multiplied by value”.

That sounds wrong to me.

Sounds wrong in the sense that the evaluated efficiency is a little bit like a derivative of something else – it has the ring of calculus to it. The multiplication is clearly a mathematical approach that has overtones of functions.

You could write this as an equation –

wisdom = f(information, knowledge, understanding) x value

I wonder if instead wisdom is something that emerges in our minds as a consequence of engaging in the activities of gathering information, creating knowledge and sharing understanding.

In this sense, wisdom is not a function but an emergent property.

The difference is that if you had one unit of information, knowledge and understanding you could, by adding value (whatever that is) create wisdom.

But that doesn’t happen.

We know in daily life that it’s the repeated work we do which eventually lets us spot patterns in what is going on that leads to us being able to make decisions that others might consider wise.

Maybe this is being pedantic.

Or maybe not – maybe searching after wisdom is a fools errand.

We aren’t going to find it – but it will emerge if we work on the activity that makes up our day-to-day life.

With this approach, wisdom is found not somewhere out there but where you are right now, waiting to emerge from what you do next.

Right now.


Karthik Suresh

Who Do You Need To Become To Solve Wicked Problems?


Wednesday, 8.41pm

Sheffield, U.K.

We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them – Albert Einstein

It’s obvious that we change as we grow – but by how much?

Is it a little, or a lot?

And when does it happen?

These are the kinds of questions Robert Kegan, a developmental psychologist has explored and it makes for interesting thinking.

One of his contributions is the idea of orders of consciousness as we grow older.

The first couple of stages, 0 and 1, are when we’re babies and toddlers and can be passed over – because babies are cute but not really contributing a great deal yet.

Stage 2 is when you’re a child, more aware of what you want – like ice-cream right now – but you’re also forced to live within rules and structures imposed by others.

Stage 3 is when those rules seem less like tyrannical impositions and more a normal way of living in society.

You’re socialised – you learn that there are ways to live and co-exist with others and you need to get your work done and listen to teachers and managers.

At some point you start to move to Stage 4, where you rather than having what you do scripted by others you start to make up your own mind.

You come up with your own ideas of what is good and bad, make choices about the kind of work you want and start to script your own life – literally self-authoring it.

All this takes time, and most people reach what Kegan calls mid-life before they get to Stage 4 – and many don’t.

What’s also interesting is that mid-life is changing.

Once upon a time that might have been 25 while now it’s closer to 50.

Some people, Kegan observed, very few before midlife, get to another stage – a self-transforming stage called Stage 5.

The difference is that in Stage 4 you make up your own mind about the right way to do things.

In Stage 5, you look at yourself and question your own approach and start to keep more than one way of doing things in your mind.

If you think about the stages, 2 has to do with rules, 3 has to do with the way things are, 4 has to do with your way and 5 has to do with the good way.

Good here not in the sense of best or only but the way that is good for right now right here to make things better.

In this video Kegan puts forward some interesting ideas.

He says that we are the first species where people live as long as they do – long past any useful biological function such as reproduction, for example.

He also says Stage 5, the stage when we start to question our own thinking and try to take a wider view, only starts later in life – which means that it’s only recently that people have lived for long enough to reach that kind of thinking.

And maybe, the reason we’re living longer is so that we can get to the point where we become the kind of people that can do something about the problems that result from thinking that we know what to do – the kind of thinking that happens in Stage 4.

In other words, in Stage 4 we think we know what to do and end up destroying the planet and ourselves in the process – not because we’re bad but because we think we’re right.

By living longer maybe we’ll instead do what is right – what is good for everyone and not just for us.

It’s just a theory though…

But, if you’re old enough to know what to do maybe you’re old enough to know what you should do.

And that’s the kind of person we need to address the big problems of today.


Karthik Suresh

Why You Should Do Things The Way You Want To Do Them


Sunday, 8.31pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill. – Buddha

Sooner or later, if you spend any time in the world, someone will say we need a system for that.

By that what they mean is a centralised system, one that everyone can work on, share information and resources and use to meet common goals and objectives.

That seems to make sense, but it almost never really works that way.

Take for example, a company – any company.

If you’re employed at a company you’ll be given a computer and software. You can do much of your work with those tools.

In the beginning, you and the computer you use could be looked at as a system.

Now, what happens if you’re given a computer twice as powerful, or ten times as powerful as the one you have now.

Will you become twice or ten times as productive?

The answer is no, because the productivity of the system cannot be increased just by optimising one part of it.

That is the fundamental principle we must understand when we try and look at things in terms of systems.

The performance of a system results from the interaction between its parts.

If you drove a car into a warehouse and carefully took all its parts apart would you still have a car?

Or would you have a collection of parts with the potential to become a car.

Or, if you took the very best bits from all the cars in the world and put them together, would you get the very best car?

Or one that probably wouldn’t start at all?

Concepts like these have been talked about for years by notable management thinkers like Russell Ackoff but are still hardly understood by much of the modern business world.

Or, for that matter, society at large.

At the same time these ideas simply describe what is happening anyway in the world around us.

If you want something to work in a business environment you might want to think in terms of parts and interactions.

A part is a thing – a system, the people, maybe specialist software.

If we focus on the people, the activity that is most important to how they work together is communication.

In any organisation these days email is probably the thing holding everything together.

The messages flying around between people communicate thoughts, set agendas and negotiate agreements that result in the organisation doing “stuff”.

The stuff emerges from the parts of the organisation communicating together.

In post-modern organisations, ones that effectively have a network of peers who choose to work together what matters is not how they work but how they communicate.

This is why simple things like having standards for web pages or a PDF format that everyone can use are so important.

For example, Richard Stallman, the person behind the free software movement, is a big believer in sending information in a non-secret format.

Many companies will recoil at the idea of doing this, not because it’s a bad idea but because they will worry about the loss of control that’s involved.

But if you’re starting a new business or looking to work with others a simple way to get going is to share information and not worry about the hassles of centralising and controlling how people do work.

Let people figure out how to do their work.

If they need help, then help.

But above all, communicate.

Because if you want anything to happen, you need to work not on what you are doing but in how you are talking to the others you’re working with.

In fact, it probably makes sense to insist that you’re free to do things the way you want to do them.

As long as you use a common language when sharing the results of your work.

A free one.

Because freedom matters.


Karthik Suresh

p.s. I’ve put out another paper today on my articles page called A Question Of Focus: Less But Better, which is a conceptual model of a sales process.

If you read it and find it useful please let me know through likes, comments or shares.


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

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