How To Start Thinking In Terms Of User Personas

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Monday, 9.17pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Too often, Buyer Profiles are nothing more than an attractive way to display obvious or demographic data. – Adele Revella

In one of his podcasts Jay Abraham tells the story of a friend of his who has trouble dating.

They just can’t find the right person – it seems.

So Jay asks whether the person’s friends know exactly what to look for – and it turns out they don’t.

And, once his friend makes it crystal clear exactly what kind of person fits the bill – dates are lined up very quickly.

Or so the story goes.

So, the lesson is that you should do the same thing when marketing – you just need to know exactly what your perfect customer looks like and you’re off to a good start.

If you do a search for “how to come up with a persona” you’ll find lots of advice that follows traditional segmentation rules.

To save you the trouble of going through the results here are some of the questions you might ask – assuming you’re doing B2B sales.

  1. What job do they do?
  2. What job do they want to get done?
  3. What’s stopping them from getting on with the job?

Or you can do something that looks more like a CV.

  1. Name
  2. Gender
  3. Age
  4. Marital status
  5. Ethnicity
  6. Job title
  7. Income
  8. Blurb
  9. Education
  10. Previous roles
  11. Job goals
  12. Skills
  13. Social media use
  14. Frustrations

That’s turning into a long list.

Most of the first page of results have some variation on the lists above – and the differences are usually about how they’re arranged on the page and whether you’ve got a photo as well.

When you’ve done all this you’ve described someone on the outside – in terms of what you can see.

An enhanced approach is described by Chip and Dan Heath in their book Made To Stick.

In addition to demographic data they look at a case where the marketers also try and build a psychographic profile – where they try and get into someone else’s mind.

What does this person care about? Buy? Do with free time?

When you pull together information like this you end up with what looks like a collage – pieces that make up a person that now exists in your mind.

The thing with these approaches is that you can spend a lot of time building up a detailed picture of a person.

The other approach is to use the Sherlock Holmes technique.

And that is to start by elimination.

Who is not someone who is in the market for what you do?

In a B2B context that probably rules out kids and retired folk.

When you eliminate the impossible, you can go after what’s left.

Now, would I use any of these approaches to develop my own personas for marketing a product or service?

Perhaps – but there might be another, more powerful way.

Two, actually.

The first is to look at people who have already bought from you – or people who have bought the things similar to what you’re selling and try to understand them better.

But better yet is to throw away the personas – and try to have a conversation with the people you haven’t eliminated as ones you could work with.

In the Robert Collier Letter Book, first published in 1931, the author tells you the secret of selling.

“Find the thing your prospect is interested in and make it your point of contact, rather than rush in and try to tell him something about your proposition, your goods, your interests.”

Start by listening and try to understand.

Everything else will flow from there.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why History Is Perhaps The Best Guide To The Future

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Sunday, 9.16pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. – Marcus Garvey

Yesterday I finished reading Hit Refresh, by Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft and started The Four: The hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google and my resulting thoughts were of a cheerless future where we were controlled by these giant corporations and lived under a new Orwellian incarnation of Big Brother.

So, today it was time to go the other way.

Rebel Code, written by Glyn Moody back in 2001 takes us back to the early days of free software and the rise of Linux.

The Wikipedia entry for the book links to an essay by Steven Poole who dismisses Linux writing it’s “never going to be a mass-market consumer operating system like Windows or Mac OS.”

He goes on: “If you just want to use your computer for word-processing, web surfing or whatever, you’d better avoid it like the plague.”

And he’s right – In this snippet of video Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, says that it really annoys him that the desktop is the last holdout of Windows and Mac.

It has taken over everything else.

It’s just that most people don’t see what’s going on because all they see is what comes up when they turn their computer on in the morning.

Torvalds argues that the biggest problem is that computers don’t come pre-installed with Linux – they come with Windows.

Android phones run on Linux – but the software comes with them. Users don’t need to go through the pain of installation and figuring out all that computer stuff – so they stick with the default, which on the desktop is Windows or MacOs for most people.

As we head towards 2020 the skirmishes between the free software/open source movement and closed software are starting to become part of the historical record.

You have Neal Stephenson’s In the beginning was the command line, and Eric S. Raymond’s collection of writing.

And, of course, you have the GNU project books and, in particular, the essays of Richard Stallman.

And, when in doubt, one should probably go back to Stallman’s views on all this.

And that’s because he uses a very simple rule – one that makes thinking about almost everything so much easier.

The thing that bothered me when thinking yesterday about the way key technologies marketed today work is that they are all centrally controlled by an all-powerful commercial organisation.

AI, Big Data and the Cloud are all, at their core, ways to centralise control over computing.

Stallman’s simple rule is that software should be free – free as in freedom.

From the GNU philosophy:

A program is free software if the program’s users have the four essential freedoms: [1]

  • The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

This is not a 50% rule or a 90% rule but a 100% rule – and it’s only aim is to protect your freedom to do your computing in the way you want.

To keep up with changing technology Stallman writes:

“On the internet, proprietary software isn’t the only way to lose your freedom. Service as a Software Substitute, or SaaSS, is another way to let someone else have power over your computing. SaaSS means using a service implemented by someone else as a substitute for running your copy of a program.”

For many people this is a non-issue – who cares?

As someone that comes from a relatively young democracy – I find the concept and importance of freedom perhaps more important – which affects the way I think about and do my computing.

The Indian flag has a wheel at its centre. Mahatma Gandhi had proposed a spinning wheel originally because he saw that simple device as a way to recognise the dignity of labour.

Back in 1921 the thing that mattered was giving people a way to earn a living through labour – and through that giving them dignity and a place in society.

Today, as we debate the effects of automation on jobs we would do well to remember that computers are the equivalent of spinning wheels for many people – the way we learn and work and make a living.

In India, the spinning wheel is inextricably linked with the independence movement – and freedom.

For those of us lucky enough to be free now – free software helps us keep it that way.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Is This Big Data / AI / Cloud Thing Really A Good Thing?

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Saturday, 8.52pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Defy the central planners. Upend their designs for your life. Be a staunch individualist. Stand on your rights. – A.E. Samaan

I wonder how many genuinely evil people have existed throughout history.

Most of us can think of a few examples who have had their cruelty extensively documented.

We know and read of functionaries who have been given the power to abuse others by their governments.

And every society has its criminals – but at some point everything becomes circular as the history of the criminal often starts with their experiences first as a victim.

But we should probably be careful before labelling people with absolute terms – although in today’s social media age that kind of restraint is hardly practised.

So, while it is easy to use the language of evil when trying to understand the behaviour of large multinationals, is it the right way to look at things?

For example, there are books that denounce the oil business, the tech industry and many other industries you can think of – pointing to their history of doing everything they can to intimidate, silence and crush the opposition.

Stories of the way Intel under Andy Grove acted, for example, are part of Silicon Valley folklore.

He thought, apparently, that only the paranoid survive, bringing his cold war thinking to his approach to doing business.

The point I’m making is that when you look closely at power you also see the potential for actions that can be construed as evil.

As you know, power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Most of the time, however, it is likely that the actions organisations take have some fundamental idea of good at their core and then they get wrapped in layers of view and opinions of those with power and responsibility until eventually the core is buried and all we see is the exercise of power.

Centralised power.

And most experiments with centralised power seem to have rather undesirable consequences for those without power.

What am I trying to say with all this stuff.

The way most large organisations in the tech sector want you to organise your life goes like this.

  1. Use their devices for everything you do.
  2. Keep all your data on their cloud.
  3. Do all the processing and analysis you want to do using their services.
  4. Increasingly trust their ability to do everything for you using AI and Big Data.

Now, vendors are often surprised that governments and people don’t sign up to their very reasonable suggestion that you use them for everything you could possibly want to do.

But many of us, instinctively and viscerally, don’t want to give up control of our lives.

Or at least, we wouldn’t if asked up front.

But we do give it away, to apps and services over time, drawn in by the fact that the services are usually free.

At the same time is there anything genuinely important that you trust to these systems without any other way to get to them?

For example, if the Internet went down tomorrow for a month, would your life fall apart?

I suspect it would for most of us actually.

But, if the big companies went down – say Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple – would you be unable to do your work or get on with the things that made you or your business an income?

I don’t really have a clear answer to the problem of whether you should do everything on the cloud or not.

It’s a personal decision to some extent.

The quote that starts this post is by A.E Samaan, the pen name of an investigative historian – and I came across his work as I looked for quotes about central planning.

The thing we have to understand is that freedom and liberty and all those things free people take for granted were actually quite hard won things.

And there are always organisations, with the best of intentions, who believe that things would be better if we gave up some of those freedoms.

And these days the kinds of freedoms we are encourage to give up include the skills to hold and process our own data.

It seems so simple – let us do all the thinking for you – while you get on with the important task of living and sending out your social media updates.

I am not sure that this is a good thing for people.

For example, most people think that kids these days are digital natives.

They are very good at using technology – but only a small number of them can design or program that technology.

In essence, it’s like they can read but not write.

In other words, many digital natives are actually digital semi-literates.

It’s easier to control a semi-literate population than an educated and vociferous one.

These vaunted technologies of today – big data, AI and the cloud – can be centralised ones and controlled by a few.

And that is the strategy that some companies are going to follow.

But it would be better for us if they were decentralised and democratised.

And that is the strategy that we, as people, should follow.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Must You Do To Gain And Keep Trust?

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Friday, 6.40pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Trust equals consistency over time – Jeff Weiner, CEO LinkedIn

A friend and I were talking about different types of jobs.

Not jobs exactly, but roles – and why different people end up in different roles and often very different situations.

Take a young person at the start of a career, for example.

They might start a low paid job, perhaps one that’s based on shifts.

They might get something that fits with their skills and willingness to learn – but comes with an entry level salary.

Talent, as Felix Dennis wrote, can be underpaid for a while provided the work is challenging enough.

Dennis quotes Degas as saying “Everyone has talent at twenty-five. The difficult thing is to have it at fifty.”

So, how do they move up in the world?

Change jobs, goes the advice.

Move on every 18 months and find a new, better paid role.

That’s the way to get experience in a sector or industry.

It seem that the best way to earn more money, if that’s what you want, is to jump ship often – and quickly you’ll earn more than the ones left behind.

The same logic applies perhaps the idea of skipping university and heading straight into work.

Why spend time studying when you could spend time working and making money?

After ten years or so, something different happens.

Some of the people who’ve stayed at a place for a while have worked their way up a ladder.

They’re insiders.

The ones who have moved from place to place are visitors.

And the nature of such relationships don’t seem to vary that much.

When you get a new colleague it takes some time to get to know them.

It’s easy when it’s transactional and they just need to do what they’re told.

But, given a choice between someone who you’ve worked with for ten years and someone you’ve worked with for six months – who do you know better?

Which one would you trust?

Well, it probably depends on how they have acted over that time.

Some people are dependable workers, turning out the same thing time after time on time.

Some are creative mavericks, who come up with different things all the time, but who deliver on time.

And then there are the ones that don’t.

The fact is that it doesn’t matter if you’re an insider or a visitor.

What matters is what you do.

People who stay in one place are trusted not because they stayed but because they did consistent work over that time.

The ones who didn’t are the ones you’re trying to move on – but they can’t find a role anywhere else.

If you’ve moved around your track record will get you an interview.

But after that you’ve got to show what you can do to build trust.

The ideal, really, is to start work at a place you’d be happy to spend the next twenty years because the work is interesting and challenging.

Over time, you’ll probably get paid what you’re worth.

Maybe a little less.

But at least you’ll be learning every day.

And you’ll probably have the trust of people around you.

There are few things that suck more than having to go to a well-paid job that you hate.

And this is the hard thing to tell young people – and you probably wouldn’t have listened when you were that age as well.

Choose your first job carefully.

If you think that’s not very good advice you should listen to what Bertrand Russell suggested you should try and do.

Choose your parents wisely.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Focus On The Things That Are Significant

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Thursday, 9.20pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Understanding variation is the key to success in quality and business. – W. Edwards Deming

I wonder if I have stumbled on a trending genre – historical non-fiction exploring relatively recent technology.

On my reading list, for example, I have Power Play, The Hydrogen Economy and The Quest about the changing energy system, and a few others that talk about software businesses and electric vehicles.

The fast-paced narrative, investigating how these technologies are developing, make for interesting reading, but one has to question how much one can rely on such material – and whether the projections of what will happen matter or not.

Someone said that when you’re too close to events what you’re doing is journalism – reporting on what’s going on.

History requires you to take the long view – to filter out the significant from the insignificant – and that takes time.

The reason this distinction is important is because we face problems at the moment that are perhaps better solved by studying history than journalism.

Take carbon reductions, for example.

Most people agree that we need to move to a world where we put less CO2 into the atmosphere.

I learned recently that trying to do that is like trying to plug a leak in a boat – you also need to bale out the water or you’ll sink eventually as the water keeps trickling in.

We need to emit less carbon and also build the technology to suck it out of the atmosphere – but that’s a different point.

The important point is how you’re going to go about reducing your emissions.

Imagine you’re a big company and the way you operate now means you stick a whole load of carbon into the atmosphere.

You need to do things that bring that number down so what do you focus on?

There is a huge temptation to think you have to measure everything – get your information in real time and with all that information you’ll magically end up going in the right direction.

An equivalent thing here is the amount of effort going into AI research.

What everyone seems to be heading towards is making you the perfect digital assistant – an entity that can manage your schedule and order things for you – you just have to say the words.

However, do you really need a digital secretary?

Is that going to make you more productive – or is the fact that you need that kind of support a hint that your life is busier than it needs to be.

Tinkering at the surface with schedules and reminders is not the same as making deep changes at the core.

And that’s what’s needed to make a difference – whether you want to grow your business, cut emissions or lose weight – real change at the core.

And that change requires you to study history, not the ephemera and noise of right now – of social media and the 24 hour news cycle and whatever else that’s screaming for your attention.

Most of the time most things just behave the way they do because the system is the way it is.

The chart in the picture above is a control chart – a simple way of showing from the data whether something is normal or not.

If you’re inside the dashed lines that level of variation is just normal – it’s what you should expect.

Your weight should fluctuate between those lines.

Your company emissions should track between those lines.

Everything stays stable as long as the system is stable.

It’s when you go outside the lines that things start to matter.

If you go above the top line and stay there – then something has changed – and the same thing applies to the bottom line.

That’s when you should get out your ladder and go and investigate.

This simple model is the foundation of something called the mean-variance framework and it helps you distinguish between what’s important and what’s not important in almost any scenario you can think of.

And it’s not taught – or hardly taught anywhere.

If you’re interested the best book to get started is Douglas Wheeler’s Understanding Variation.

What history teaches us is that systems and technology come and go.

They’re not going to save us.

We’re going to have to do that ourselves – and that starts by learning how to think carefully about what we’re doing and if we’re doing what’s important or not.

Because some of these problems we’re facing are pretty big ones.

Cheers,

Karthik

What Is The Most Important Asset You Can Own?

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Wednesday, 9.36pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers – Seth Godin

In Hit Refresh, a glimpse into the mind of Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, we see how hard it is to reconcile old and new ways of thinking.

For centuries, millennia perhaps, power and property have been inextricably entwined.

Those with property had rights – and the rest did not.

For example, only those with land had a vote in early experiments with democracy.

As the definition of property expanded from a narrow view of land and fences to a version of the law that allowed you to own mineral rights and computer code, you started seeing the concept of capital – the idea of owning assets.

These days it’s not uncommon to think about everything in terms of who owns it.

But, at the same time, capital is starting to lose value because there is just so much of it.

Once upon a time, if you had access to capital you could build a factory, pay people a pittance and make yourself even richer.

And, perhaps as the world’s only licensed producer of wool or steam locomotives, you were able to control markets as well, dictating terms to buyers.

That sort of business still goes on but in places further away.

These days, however, almost every physical thing you buy lives two lives.

One is as a commodity, with a price effectively equal to the cost of production.

And the other is as a brand – where you pay to feel a certain way.

For example, you can get knock off headphones for Apple devices for very little money or you can pay a lot of money for the official ones.

There’s very little difference in the innards – they’re all made and glued together in the same place – possibly in the same factory.

So what makes the difference – why doesn’t everyone just buy the cheapest product?

A clue is in Nadella’s book where he tells colleagues that what they get to own is a customer scenario, not the code.

Putting aside businesses that make things – this is an insight that service businesses would do well to mull over.

In a service business you depend on a combination of people, process and technology to help your customers.

None of those things offer a sustainable competitive advantage.

The chances are that your people are just as good as everyone else – you don’t tend to find teams where one company somehow has people twice as clever as everyone else.

Having a good process is something you take for granted – if it doesn’t work the customer will let you know by taking their business elsewhere.

And technology is available everywhere – quite possibly for free.

The fact is that there is no shortage of people who can do what you want – all they ask is that you tell them exactly what you want them to do.

And if you do know what you want – then you’re in search of a commodity.

Make a list, ask people to quote and pick the cheapest quote – that’s the way to make sure you buy what you want at pretty much the cost of production.

But if you don’t know what you want – when there are a number of things floating about in your head – what you’re looking for is help turning that into a scenario.

That scenario is the thing that will solve your problem, improve your business or move in the right direction.

From a service provider’s point of view, if they can “own” that scenario they’ve got something that you’ll buy.

In theory then, owing a customer scenario is the best asset you can have – because that’s the value that the customer gets in exchange for the money they give you.

Although, now that I reflect on that, I’m not sure you can really “own” a customer scenario.

The customer owns that.

If you ask them nicely they might lend it to you – so you can show them how you’d go about solving it.

And then, if you’ve built up enough trust, they’ll consider working with you over someone else.

Maybe the real asset you should try and build is your ability to appreciate what other people want.

And then, as Zig Ziglar said, “you can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Perform Under Pressure

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Monday, 9.22pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Sometimes just breathing is enough. Marty Rubin

Have you ever felt the pressure to deliver – the weight that comes with expectations – from others or from yourself?

Many of us are uncertain about our ability to deliver time after time.

We’re not sure whether something is a fluke or not.

We all face situations when we’re under pressure – so what happens?

How do we react?

This is the topic Dr Alan Watkins explores in this TED talk and it’s an interesting lesson for those of us in such situations.

Imagine you need to give a talk in front of a group of people – what happens inside your body?

Well, you’re under stress. Even if in your mind you’re prepared and confident, your body is readying itself for an unnatural and unfamiliar situation, one where you’re exposed to a group of others.

The stress signals start travelling through your body, telling your brain that you’re sweating.

Your heart starts to beat faster, erratically, pumping more blood through your system.

Your brain uses goes through a lot of blood – taking in the fuel needed to keep working but when you’re in danger this blood is sent to other parts of your body – your hands, to defend yourself and your legs, to run away.

The brain compensates by shutting down parts you don’t need – like the frontal lobe where your logical and reasoning functions live.

And, like the National Grid, when it loses power, the rational part of your brain blacks out.

This is a perfectly rational response in a world where stopping to think about the kind of animal hurtling towards you, fangs bared, is going to end badly for you.

But in a world where the threat is of a mildly dissatisfied audience this response is a little extreme – but it’s how your body is wired.

So, if you want to do something about it you’ve first got to recognise the signs.

First, your heart starts going faster, your heart rate becomes variable and erratic and you find it difficult to think clearly and start to panic.

Pushing through won’t solve the problem, not will working harder or ignoring the problem or getting upset.

What will help is to breathe.

In particular, breathing slowly in and out in a rhythm.

In Watkins video he talks about breathing in for a count of four, holding for four and breathing out for six.

You’re taught something similar in yoga – breath in for four, hold for four, breathe out for eight, hold for four.

Whatever you choose, the idea is to make it smooth and repeat the pattern.

And, if you do that, you’ll start to get your heart rate acting normally again.

The point is not to bring it down, but to get the variability down – from erratically going up and down to back within a normal range – whether high or not.

As you do that, the signals will go to your brain to turn the frontal lobe back on, and you’re back in business.

So, the next time you find yourself facing something to do and feel a growing sense of panic, take a minute and breathe.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Should You Make The Big Leap To A New Future?

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Sunday, 9.15pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The most dangerous thing in the world is to try to leap a chasm in two jumps. – David Lloyd George

I was watching a TEDx talk by Dr Benjamin Hardy who talked about his research into wannabe entrepreneurs and actual entrepreneurs.

The one difference between the two, he said, was that the actual entrepreneurs had experienced a point of no return – something from which there was no going back, while the wannabes hadn’t.

This is an interesting concept – an appealing one and a dangerous one – a concept you should approach with caution.

On the one hand many of us are in jobs that we’d like to leave.

Maybe we want to start a new business or pursue a different career or talent, and surely it’s only by taking the decision – committing to a new way of life – that you’ll make any progress?

After all, is the only memory you want to have of your life one of regret?

So, if you’re in that situation, don’t you have to believe in yourself – believe in your ability to take the leap and get to the other side?

We read so many stories of just that happening – but at the same time we need to remember that stories are written only about those that reached the other side.

The rest fell, and were forgotten.

Survivorship bias stalks such stories.

Hardy’s research probably controls for this bias but it’s hard to imagine that there are many entrepreneurs who take part in interviews to talk about how they failed time after time.

But then there are other kinds of leaps – after all, not all leaps have to be ones that show up in dramatic announcements.

You don’t have to quit your job, move to Silicon Valley, invest all your savings or mortgage everything you own and go all in on your dream.

A leap can happen just in your mind.

In her book, Thinking in systems, Donella H. Meadows writes about an experiment she does with classes.

She takes a slinky out of a box, holds it from the top in one hand, resting it on the palm of the other.

She them takes away her hand and the free end of the slinky drops, bouncing up and down until it comes to rest.

She asks the class why the slinky behaves the way they did.

The answers come fast – “Because you took your hand away.”

She then picks up the box the slinky came in and does the same thing with that, holding it in one hand, resting it on the other.

She takes her hand away and nothing happens.

Her point is that it’s the nature of the slinky that makes it act the way it does – not the hand.

The behaviour is a property of the system – not of its environment.

And this gives us a hint off the kind of leap we need to make in our minds.

If we want to change things then we have to start by changing ourselves.

Changing things that are outside us amounts to fiddling with the environment.

If we change our jobs, locations or investments, we’ve changed the things around us but if we are no different aside we’re heading for failure – because the chasm still exists when we take the run up.

When we’re ready the chasm disappears – maybe just because we’ve now found where the bridge happens to be.

Cheers.

Karthik Suresh

How To Create Change That Can Be Sustained In An Organisation

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Saturday, 9.32pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

I’m reading Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, which tells the story of his journey from India to Silicon Valley and his journey to the top of the firm, becoming only the third CEO in its 40 year history.

Microsoft had been left behind – focusing on a lucrative PC business while Google took over the web, Amazon took over the cloud and Facebook took over relationships – and Nadella’s job was to figure out what needed to be done to keep the company relevant.

Imagine you had such a problem to solve – you were the Captain and had to figure out which direction to go in – where would you start?

Nadella’s approach, described in the book, offers a rare perspective – an unusual insight into the mind of a leader raised with Eastern values operating in the trenches of the West – and you get a glimpse of this in the quotes and stories he tells.

For example, he quotes Ray Ozzie, who in a leaving memo wrote “The one irrefutable truth is that in any large organization, any transformation that is to ‘stick’ must come from within.”

It may seem obvious that if you want to create a change that lasts you need to get the people in the business involved, on side and excited about what is going to happen.

Too many leaders, however, think that organisations are like armies, and they can come in, give orders and change everything.

Or, they’ll come in and fire everyone and start again.

Or they’ll come in, create incentives and prizes for performance and get results.

This kind of thinking is exemplified in the trend for incoming CEOs and managers to have a 100 day plan – what are they going to do in the first 100 days.

That approach is centered around them – their ideas – their plans. That has to do with them assuming that they know more than everyone else and will just knock heads together and make things happen.

What they should be doing in those first hundred days is listening.

Nadella says that he had a team of individuals – people that ran things that worked by themselves – in silos.

They felt they were doing fine and didn’t need him coming along and telling them what to do.

So, what did he do?

He writes that he met each leader individually, “taking their pulse, asking questions and listening.”

It would have easy to have a meeting and spend the time talking about his vision – but I imagine that even if he knew what needed to be done – the act of asking questions and listening was what made his leaders realise that he was there to work with them rather than just be the boss of them.

It’s also nice that his team realised that they had to make their cloud service, Azure, support Linux because that’s what startups use – and that’s where the big new digital businesses will come from.

One of the things that you should notice when you see how Nadella approaches change is how important it is to have people who are on the inside working on things.

That means if you’re a consultant you’re going to struggle to get your ideas accepted if you’re on the outside of the team, looking in.

You’ve got to be a participant in the process, someone who is on the same side as the organisation you’re working with.

And that’s not an easy thing to do – if you get a job there then you’re into the politics and less able to give an independent view.

If you’re too far outside you’ll never get started.

Now, there’s no clear answer to this – but there is a difference between the legal and commercial structures involved and the nature of the team.

You’ll get on the inside if you understand the world view of the people inside – if you can see what’s happening through their eyes.

Then, if you have that understanding and you can help the leader get things done, there’s a good chance you’ll be invited onto the team – and the way in which that’s done from a legal and commercial point of view will get resolved somehow.

The point is that you should see consultancy not like a doctor advising a patient, where the patient heads off to live with the disease and the doctor heads home for a glass of wine.

Instead, you should see consultancy as getting on a aircraft as part of the flight crew – with aligned interests with the crew and passengers on the importance of getting back to the ground safely.

The doctor is involved – you’re committed.

And the change you make will stick.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

The Right Order In Which To Think About An Important Project

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I learned to go into business only with people whom I like, trust, and admire. – Warren Buffett

I was listening to a Jay Abraham podcast and one of the speakers said something – almost a throwaway line – that suddenly made sense to me in a way I hadn’t appreciated before.

He said something like “When I’m looking at an opportunity I first want to know what needs to be done. Then I want to know who is going to do it. If I know those things then the how is easy – and I just need to find the capital to pay to get it done.”

I’ve written about this before, questioning whether Sinek’s popular model of “why, how, what” makes much sense, and wondering if it should be replaced with a different model that starts with “to what end?”

Still, looking back at this, it’s still not particularly clear what order one should follow.

So, why did this one stand out?

If you’ve read this blog for a bit you’ll be aware of my interest in Soft Systems, a methodology that helps approach “wicked” real world problems.

Wicked problems usually involve human activity systems – the kinds of things we do as a society – ranging from the complexities of government to the way in which the people in a company decides which projects they want to do.

The reason this is hard is because people have points of view – they have a perspective on a situation and express this in the form of a narrative – a story that helps them make sense of reality.

Now, if you have a story in your head about a situation – for example, if you believe that encouraging more cars on the road will add to air pollution and affect children’s health, then you are likely to oppose the building of a new school on the grounds that it will increase traffic.

The people who want to build the school will have views on how it will provide a better education for children in the area and help with regeneration.

Both are valid points of view, but that’s all they are – world views.

They just happen to be incompatible and possibly irreconcilable.

Societies have come up with ways to deal with this – using systems of planning and consultation to do or stop doing things.

The same thing happens, at a much smaller scale, when you want to work with an organisation and have to go through a sales process.

If you want to be successful when selling your services you have to start with where the customer happens to be.

If they have a need it can probably be expressed in the form of a “what” question.

What needs to happen?

Usually, some input (I) needs to go through a transformation (T) and be turned into an output (O).

What you’re describing is a system and if the system is non-human, you talk about its function and if it’s a human activity system you talk about purpose.

The purpose of Soft Systems is to understand “purpose” – it’s a strangely recursive thing, where you use a modelling language to express what’s in people’s heads – taking multiple narratives and turning them into a model that people can agree with.

What happens in practice is that the minute someone knows what needs to be done their thoughts turn to who can do it for them.

If you know that your boiler is broken, for example, isn’t the first thing you think about who you can call?

And ideally, you want to call someone you know, someone who has done work for you before and someone you can trust.

And if you call the right person they’ll know how to do the job and you’ll be fine.

The what-who-how model seems to actually represent what goes through people’s minds in practice.

If you’re selling, then, you should probably stop.

Instead, if you try to help the customer understand what they want then, when they get it, they’ll think about who can help them – and you’ll be right there in front of them, ready to offer your services.

In Jay’s podcast, they put this first bit really quite simply – you have to start with empathy for your customer.

Soft Systems is simply a rigorous way to be empathetic – to see things from the point of view of the person in front of view.

It should come as no surprise that if you have the ability to be empathetic you’ll be a better salesperson.

And you’ll also be the kind of person people want to work with again and again.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh