How Do You Really See Things From Another’s Point Of View?


Sunday, 9.24pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. – Oscar Wilde

I’m in the closing section of Keith Johnstone’s book Impro: Improvisation and the theatre and he has started writing about masks.

Children delight in masks – they are make believe and wonder and magic.

As we get older, we retreat from masks – and perhaps for good reason.

Johnstone writes that in many cultures masks were seen as having power – those who wore them stopped being themselves and instead took on the spirit of the mask.

Remember Jim Carrey and The Mask? That sort of thing.

Now, these sorts of ideas very quickly make people nervous.

It’s a pagan thing, Johnstone writes. “The church struggled against the Mask for centuries, but what can’t be done by force is eventually done by the all-pervading influence of Western education.”

Now, the idea of the Mask in this section of the book is really Johstone talking about how actors can use the power of the Mask to transform into their characters.

And that is fascinating if you’re an actor but what I’m interested in is its application to the more mundane world of the here and now.

Because here’s the thing.

Even if you haven’t got a real mask on right now you’re still wearing one.

The thing people see when they look at you is your Mask.

You call it something different – your Brand, perhaps.

But in essence, the part of you that you show to the world is the public face of your personality.

What lies underneath is what you think the world sees – what you think of yourself and that is your Identity.

I can’t remember quite where I read about this particular way of describing Brand and Identity – but it’s different from what you will get with a quick search.

Now, let’s say you want to understand how someone else thinks.

Take a child, for example.

How can you understand what a child wants right now?

If you have kids you’ll know this isn’t easy.

Mostly because you want them to do something and they don’t want the same thing.

So, you try and get them to comply, using incentives, threats and force.

Have you noticed how hard it is to see things from their point of view?

How you insist on seeing what’s happening through the eyes of a forty-year old rather than a six-year old?

One way of getting round this is by literally putting on a Mask.

Put on a Batman mask and see how it makes you feel – try the Hulk on for size.

There is a sense of freedom that comes with being anonymous – even though you know you aren’t you can play a new part.

Could this work to understand what your prospect might want?

Many people suggest that you create personas – detailed psychographic profiles of people you want to sell to.

If you just look at those profiles then you’ll still see things from your point of view – and find it hard to empathise with that person.

Why not try and see what happens to the way you think when you put on a mask and act like that person?

You might find that you start to think and feel and act differently – you step into the mind of that person and perhaps start to see what they see when they look at you and your product – perhaps you’ll see what turns them off and what needs to change to get them interested.

The thing is that the Mask unleashes behaviour that you don’t see when it’s not on.

For an example of how it makes things worse read the news reports of political activism anywhere in the world – once people cover their faces they are free to do bad things.

But a Mask can also reveal the real character, the real motivation and the truth that lies beneath the surface.

This time of year a Mask is probably not too far away.

Perhaps it’s worth trying on – for business research, of course.


Karthik Suresh

What Emotion Do You Need To Inspire Before People Will Listen To You?


Saturday, 7.25pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I think of myself as quite a shy person. But when I’m curious about something, I’ll go quite far to satisfy my curiosity. – Alain de Botton

The answer is curiosity – and it’s a bit of a surprise to me why I haven’t used that word before to think about this.

I was browsing through LinkedIn when I came across a post by Jess Cunningham that makes this point – before you spill out everything about what you do to someone check if they’re interested in what you’re selling or are interested personally in seeing you succeed.

If not, you need to first make them curious.

Now clearly this is Marketing 101. The AIDA model, which talks about the stages of marketing as Attention, Interest, Desire and Action, goes back to 1898 or earlier.

The words Attention and Interest, however, don’t do justice to what’s actually happening.

Even variants like Awareness or Comprehension are words that have had all the life sucked out of them – a word vampire has come along and left just a desiccated husk of meaning.

Too strong?

Well, to see how this works imagine taking your dog for a walk.

Let off the leash a dog will dart from bush to bush, sniffing and nosing and moving on.

Dogs are curious – they’ll pause longer to check out something new or if there is the scent of another dog.

Curiosity, however, is also a dangerous thing.

If you watch animals or little children they are naturally wary – they have to be to survive.

If you want to get a squirrel to come over to you or a cat to allow you to stroke it you have to first get it interest in a nut or show that you aren’t a threat.

Everyone needs to feel safe in the moment before they will venture towards something new.

Because, if they didn’t, something bad could happen and there might not be enough time to react.

When I drew the picture above I was trying to capture this idea of animal curiosity – the need to investigate that lies in us all.

The dog in the picture walks past three identical rocks until there is something new in the last one, where it stops and sniffs.

If you think of what is happening as getting attention – then the leaflet pusher or beggar on the street is doing the same thing – getting your attention.

In most cases you push past, because the attention is unsolicited, unwanted, undesirable.

So sales people are taught to force forward – get attention by any means and then force people to listen in order to create interest.

If you think about what is happening as inspiring curiosity, on the other hand, then different images come to mind.

What do you stop and look at?

Something pretty? Something fun? Something musical? Something you’re already interested in?

The quote from Alain de Botton above should probably be running in your mind as you think about marketing your product.

Most people are wary – that comes across as shyness.

But, when they’re curious they’ll spend a lot of time to assuage their curiosity.

The question you have to ask yourself is why they should be curious about what you do.

It’s too simplistic to say that there’s nothing interesting.

There is almost always something interesting about stuff that exists and that you’re marketing – because someone had to be interested enough to create it in the first place.

Maybe that’s a circular argument and actually there are lots of things that should never have been created in the first place.

If you’re selling those then maybe you should consider something else.

But for the 80% of stuff for which there is a market out there, however niche, your marketing plan should begin by asking, “what is it about my product or service that is going to make a prospect curious?”

Curiosity is the tip of your spear.

Get it as sharp as you can.


Karthik Suresh

The Wrong Way To Manage A Service Business


It is easier for a tutor to command than to teach. – John Locke

I was recently given Professor John Seddon‘s book Beyond Command And Control.

The concepts articulated by Seddon make a lot of sense but are still very far from being mainstream.

I suppose that is the problem with much of what we take for granted as true.

If you think something is true that’s probably because it’s been around for a long time – so long that we’ve forgotten that it was once a theory that was put forward by someone as a new way to look at something.

Take modern management, for example.

It should more properly be called ancient management.

If you talk about time management and keeping time sheets you’re echoing the thoughts of Frederick Taylor – born in 1856 – who would time workers how long it took them to do different jobs.

If you talk about the processes involved in management as involving tasks like planning, organising and coordinating – you are echoing words uttered by Henri Fayol – born in 1841.

There was a time, we must remember, when management did not exist.

People had trades, professions – they did their thing by themselves and had an apprentice.

The start of modern management came with the growth of industrial economies and the need to organise large groups of people to do manual work – their brains were not required.

Two components of Fayol’s work made this possible – command and control.

The concept of command has to do with hierarchy, authority, responsibility and the ability to make decisions.

Managers issue commands and their subordinates carry them out.

Control has to do with checking that what has been commanded has actually happened.

That involves inspections, checks and audits.

All very sensible, you might think.

Perhaps even obvious.

But it isn’t – it’s just a theory that someone came up with two hundred years ago so that a group of people would push and pull big heavy things into the right place.

It’s a mentality that was created for a world of strong systems – big and heavy machines.

We don’t do that kind of work these days – most of us don’t anyway.

But we’re trapped with a nineteenth century mindset that we default to even as we start making a dent in the twenty-first.

The fact is that this approach is outmoded and ancient and wrong – for today anyway.

Mainly because what we do now is increasingly service work – which involves meeting customer needs rather than building things because you can.

The cornerstone of the command and control process is the practice of budgeting – something created by James McKinsey – founder of the global management consulting firm that bears his name.

But command and control has been out of favour even at McKinsey for some time now.

But it’s still very much alive everywhere else.

Which gives you only a few options.

Change your mind – and live like it’s 200 years ago.

Change the minds of those around you and bring them into the present.

And if all else fails, change where you work.


Karthik Suresh

Why Structure Beats Content When You’re Trying To Get A Message Across


Wednesday, 8.39pm

Sheffield, U.K.

What we observe as material bodies and forces are nothing but shapes and variations in the structure of space. – Erwin Schrodinger

It’s funny the things you forget as you go through life making assumptions about reality.

I am still working through Keith Johnstone’s book, Impro: Improvisation and the theatre.

In the second chapter he talks about being spontaneous and the main message that I take away is that in the beginning, as children, we see things as they are.

We see for the first time – and so what we see is original.

As we grow, we see by imitating what others seem to see – and that originality fades away.

Then, one day we perhaps try and see things as they are again and rediscover what it means.

As an adult we are surprised and delighted when someone simply talks about what they see – as they see it.

That’s why we like comedians – people who make fun of the great and powerful and point out the real, human side of what they’re doing.

The third chapter is about narrative and here Johnstone says something that reminded me of what I had forgotten.

“Once you decide to ignore content it becomes possible to understand exactly what a narrative is, because you can concentrate on structure.”

The image above is one example of how this works.

Most people think that you must write sentences like the one on the left to be understood.

It turns out that it’s surprisingly easy to read the sentence on the right because your brain has the ability to create meaning from structure rather than content.

This sentence has the first and last letter of each word in place but all the other letters are scrambled, where possible.

But what your brain does is look for patterns, not individual characters – and so the shape and structure of a word matters much more than the arrangement of characters inside them.

In the same way when you tell a story what matters isn’t how well you describe your characters or how clearly you explain what they do or say but in what happens.

One of the challenges I have in interesting my children in old stories from India is that so many of them seem to have content but no structure – and that’s because the intention is perhaps to deliver a moral message.

But that moral lesson does not always make for an engaging story.

So, what are the elements of structure you need to know if you are trying to tell a story or craft a message, for example for a business presentation?

The first thing is that the ideas you introduce need to be linked back to ideas you’ve introduced previously.

For example, if you simply recount events as they happened – you are telling a story but you “havenn’t told a story.”

Johnstone’s book gives you a few examples but the key thing is that you need to link up what is being told.

All too often you’ll see presentations that are like a list of things – one after the other you hear point after point but only a few presenters are skilful enough to link the points together.

If you want to persuade, to involve, to motivate people as a result of what you’re saying you need to get better at composing stories.

And Johnstone says that one way to do this is to stop thinking about making a story but instead of “interrupting routines”.

You create drama and tension when something happens to interrupt what’s going on.

The example he gives is about mountain climbing.

If you describe two people climbing up a mountain and then climbing down you’ve not really said anything interesting.

But if two people climb up a mountain and discover a plane crash then all of a sudden you’ve interrupted the routine.

The three things to remember if you want to keep your audience engaged is to construct your story as a series of interrupted routines, make sure you focus on what is happening right in front of you and avoid having things just fizzle out.

For example if you were to use this approach in a presentation it means that you need to create a series of linked ideas that keep breaking routines, focus on what matters to the audience and end with something that gets them talking and engaged.

It’s not easy to give examples of this kind of thing in business because it’s sort of like the case of “you just had to be there” but you’ll recognise it in any story you see or read – without these elements you’ll simply get bored and walk away.

Let’s finish by restating the importance of the last point.

Johnstone calls this “cancelling”.

The example he uses is the following sort of dialogue.

A: “How do you feel”

B: “Not very well at all”

A: “Do you want a glass of water”

B: “Yes please”

A: Gets the water. “How do you feel now?”

B: “Much better, thanks.”

Now, at the end of the last sentence B has just cancelled things.

The story started by introducing a need for water and then took the need away – cancelling it.

There’s nowhere to go from here without introducing a new element.

On the other hand, if B had done something else like –

B: drops glass, “Oh no, it’s gone all over me.”

The action continues.

A story works when it keeps the audience hooked.

A presentation works the same way.

And the tricks you need to learn turn on using structure to your advantage, not content.


Karthik Suresh

How To Make Differences In Status Work For You


Tuesday, 8.06pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Satori has no beginning; practice has not end! – Kodo Sawaki

The first chapter of Keith Johnstone’s book, Impro: Improvisation and the theatre deals with the issue of status.

Why is this important?

Status transactions, according to Johnstone, happen all the time.

The way we speak to each other shows the use of status and its ability to put someone down, big them up or agree with them.

Status is not something you have but something that emerges from what you do.

For example, when I was younger and going for interviews I remember reading about how where you sit affects how you act in a situation.

For example, during a one-on-one interview it’s common for the interviewer to sit behind a desk and the interviewee to sit in front, their back to the door.

This is an exposed position and results in the setting creating a status difference right from the beginning.

You might think that’s something that happens just from the relative roles played by the two participants – surely an interviewer has a higher status role than an interviewee?

Well, on one particular interview, I was shown to a conference room with a desk and two chairs, one facing the door and the other with its back to it.

The room was empty and the chairs were the same – so I took advantage of being the first one there to sit in the chair facing the door.

When the interviewer walked in he had a distinct look of surprise at seeing me sat in his chair.

He shrugged it off and sat down and we had the interview – but it was clear that the relative status had changed and it felt like a situation where the status had been reversed.

That particular situation worked out but I have been in other situations where an individual walks into a room, sizes up the seating and then quite deliberately walks over to the dominant seats.

It doesn’t work quite as well then because you know they’re playing a game because they walked past more convenient seats to get to the one that had more perceived power and people who see that will want to bring them down a peg or two.

The point Johnstone makes is that status transactions emerge when you’re near someone else – it’s like the space around you, the auras spread out until they collide with someone else and then the status between the two of you governs what happens next.

In a business context many people teach that you should be the dominant one in this situation – brash sales trainers and alpha males talk about the prospect as weak and submissive and you, as the sales person, as the one who must seize and dominate, taking the prospect all the way through the sales process until it’s closed – overcoming objections along the way.

I have seen no one successfully sell anything significant this way.

I am not sure it works for pots and pans, or cars or consulting services.

The only thing the people selling such approaches seem to be doing is selling such approaches.

It’s like Internet commerce – lots of people want to take your money to tell you how to make money on the Internet.

The point to note is that status is something that helps you to build a relationship.

Johnstone writes that “acquaintances become friends when they agree to play status games together.”

If you want to develop a relationship with a prospect the key is being able to shift from status level to status level until you’re both working together.

What you need to do when you’re handing out leaflets in the street is very different to the way in which you would engage with someone at a trade show.

The skilful handling of status during a consultancy engagement will mean the difference between getting a client for life or an unhappy separation.

Starting to become aware of status is hard – because we’re so focused on being ourselves and being in control.

But if you have children you’ll find that often trying to impose your views on them is not a very effective strategy.

The expected, default or preferred status is simply something that holds you in place, like a mammoth stuck in tar.

The fluid, elegant use of status lets you adjust and flow to society – to prospects and customers.

Because what you really want is not to be in a position where you are given orders or have to give them.

What you want is to do work you enjoy for people you like, admire and trust.


Karthik Suresh

What Are We Losing By Trying To Be Adults?


Sunday, 8.58pm

Sheffield, U.K.

How do I know what I think until I see what I say? – E.M. Forster

I assume, if you are reading this, that you are an adult, someone who has left behind childish things and is now seeking Wisdom or Riches or both.

If that is so, you probably have the education system to blame – the system that systematically strips us of creativity and abandon in order to prepare us for a world of order where we must find our place.

Although that’s probably not fair – I didn’t have that kind of education and neither, probably, did you.

When we look for the reasons why something is not working as it should we tend to swing towards to extremes.

We either look at individuals and try and assess whether they’re performing well or poorly.

Or we look at the system they’re working in and ask how well it’s supporting them in delivering what they should be doing.

In most cases it’s the system’s fault.

And, in most cases, we look to blame the people.

But it may be that, when it comes to teaching, the teacher you have does matter.

Teachers who believe their job is to “Teach” – that knowledge is something they force into a child have one way of approaching their lessons.

On the other hand, teachers who see their role as putting students in situations where they can discover what they need to know are the ones you remember as being truly great.

These sorts of thoughts are the ones Keith Johnstone, a director, teacher and writer on theatre craft, explores in his book Impro: Improvisation and the theatre.

He reminds us that children of all kinds are deeply interested in things they are interested in.

If you try and force a child to read something that she finds boring then how can you be surprised when she stops when the timer goes off?

On the other hand the same child, when engrossed in a task that interests and engages her, will spend hours working away at it.

In this witty TED talk Sir Ken Robinson argues that schools kill creativity because “Truthfully, what happens is, as children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side.”

In the beginning, as children, we’re excited by almost everything – drawing, singing, running, playing – it’s like we’re a growing bush with leaves everywhere.

As we get older, the leaves drop off.

We stop singing, we put away the paints.

We focus on something that we can do that will bring in money.

And we end up older, bigger – with a set of skills.

But have we lost all the leaves in the process?

Johnstone writes that he “began to think of children not as immature adults, but of adults as atrophied children.”

What his book is about, then, is about getting that childlike state back again.

For example, right at the beginning, he suggests an exercise that you can do with your children.

Look around at things and call them by the wrong names.

Keep going, naming around 10 things.

We did this, the kids got quite excited, although they didn’t know why they were doing it.

The idea is that this exercise acts like sandpaper on your surface, getting rid of all the stuff that’s been collecting and stopping you seeing things like a child for the first time.

Suddenly one of the kids pointed out a towel holder on one wall – and I have to honestly say that in four years of walking in and out of this room, I have never seen that thing before.

It’s clearly been there all this time – I’ve just not noticed.

But I did – as a result of this exercise I saw the things around me clearly for the first time because we called them by the wrong names.

That’s a very different approach to taking an inventory – tabulating and checking what’s in there.

Much more exciting, lively, engaging, interesting.

Not a very grown up thing to do.

Johnstone’s book promises to deliver more interesting ideas – so I might come back to it in subsequent posts.

Until then.


Karthik Suresh

How To Avoid Making Fundamental Errors When Reasoning


Saturday, 9.13pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It is just as easy to indoctrinate with fallacies as with facts. – Aldo Leopold

I am still working through Wanda Teays’ textbook Second thoughts: Critical thinking for a diverse society, trying to extract bits that might be useful on a day-to-day basis.

Chapter four is on fallacies – what happens when there is a fault in the way you have reasoned your way to a conclusion.

Teays writes that there are four big categories of fallacies.

Rather than repeating the academic version here I’m going to paraphrase and see if I can find examples so I can better understand each category – which, fyi, has a number of subcategories – but we’re not going to go into all of them.

Each category leads to a conclusion – the thing you choose to believe.

The first category has to do with the premise of the argument.

A premise is a previous statement that you use to get to your next statement.

The classic example of this is attacking a person instead of the argument they are making.

This is the equivalent of a hammer in the tool chest of the modern politician – absolutely essential to deal with opponents.

You don’t need to look far for examples of this – just search for Brexit on Twitter.

The second category has to do with the assumptions you are relying on to be correct.

The bad use of statistics, generalising from one case or applying a general rule to a specific situation where it doesn’t fit, and creating false either/or options are all examples of this kind of approach.

One particular one is arguing that because something has happened something else must now happen – even if there is nothing to show why there is a cause and effect relationship existing there.

Okay, I can’t resist going back to twitter and Brexit.

Here’s an example.

“PM @BorisJohnson has negotiated a new deal – Now it’s time for MPs to come together to back it today.”

Is it really?

The next category has to do with the wording that is put in front of people.

We have to ask whether the chain of words actually work together, or whether there is something that breaks it.

For example,

“Property prices have always gone up – you’ll never lose money investing in the property market.”

It’s true that property prices have gone up on average over time, but it’s been a roller coaster ride along the way – and you definitely can lose money depending on when you enter and exit the market.

The final category of error has to do with structural and logical flaws.

These are boring – and you’re not that likely have to use them.

Spot the flaw in the last sentence?

Anyway, the first couple of fallacies are the ones that we come across all the time.

At some other time I think it might be interesting to look more closely at specific examples of these fallacies.

But there are more important things to look at first.

If you come to a conclusion and people disagree with you, what should you do?

And, if you disagree with someone else’s conclusion, what should you do?

Should you try and change their minds – by pointing out the flaws in their arguments and educating them about the fallacies they hold?

Not if you don’t want to waste your time.

The only thing to do is talk to people who already think the same way you do.

And to those who haven’t made up their mind yet.

Thinking critically is hard and complicated.

I’m not sure we have the ability to do it in real time.

So we must take action based on conclusions we have already come to, hopefully based on sound reasoning.

Most of the time, however, we should probably switch off the telly and Internet and pick up a book.


Karthik Suresh

Is It Time To Bring The Three Wise Monkeys Up To Date?


Friday, 9.33pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Only those who do not wish to see can be deceived. – Dianna Hardy, Saving Eve

Some time back I listened to a politician speak.

He said little of substance – and the audience was generally hostile.

And then I listened to the radio – where a local reporter was asked what the politician had said.

Now, here’s the thing.

I was there.

I heard every word.

And what the local reporter said was said wasn’t.

Said, that is.

Many of us, naively perhaps, trust the news – we trust what we see and hear.

And it seems that, increasingly, we shouldn’t.

I’m reading Wanda Teay’s book Second thoughts: critical thinking for a diverse society and taking another look at what we think is happening in the world around us.

Now, some things have always been – and will continue to be.

The messaging you get, for example, falls into a continuum.

Teays references Margaret Thaler Singer, a specialist on cults, as noting that what you see and hear can serve five purposes.

  1. Education
  2. Advertising
  3. Propaganda
  4. Indoctrination
  5. Thought reform

In the free world propaganda is the tool of choice by those who wish to be or stay in charge.

Propaganda is used to persuade you by appealing to your logic and your emotions – although it’s the appeal to the latter that really gets people worked up to the point where they do bad things.

But, while education and advertising might try and use the truth or at least a version that is not false propagandists are less reluctant to use misinformation or manipulation.

None of this is new.

What is, however, is the speed by which propaganda can reach everyone in the world through radio, television and twitter.

And whatever other way you choose to consume your media.

It should not surprise us that we are being subjected to a barrage of propaganda – but we should be aware of how it’s getting better and better.

From tweet and article factories around the world to deepfakes – nothing you see or hear can be trusted without verification.

It’s safest to assume that everything is spam.

And you need a filter – not one run by other people like the media or journalists, but one that you operate yourself.

A filter called critical thinking.

A filter with which you can examine language, arguments, logic, analogies and identify what’s good, what’s not and what’s right.

So you know what to say.


Karthik Suresh

What Are The Characteristics Of Self Actualising People?


Thursday, 9.43pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but … life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves. – Gabriel García Márquez

A useful skill to develop is the ability to use models from one field to inform work in another.

Or, on the other hand, to see the similarities in models with different names but common characteristics.

For example, you are probably aware of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model, where after you’ve figured out the basic needs for life, you can get on with the job of being what you must be.

I was browsing through a book by April O’Connell called Choice and change: The psychology of adjustment, growth and creativity, when I came across a bit on self-actualisation – the thing that used to be at the apex of Maslow’s pyramid.

In a nutshell, there are four psychological processes, O’Connell argues, that you need to master if you’re going to be what you must be.

The first has to do with what is in your head – how you go about inquiring, learning and discovering day after day.

We’re so busy these days being stimulated by media and overwhelmed by work that we rarely have time to learn – after we finish formal schooling anyway.

Most people know that learning should be a lifelong thing – but do you think that you’re learning and developing doing what you’re doing now?

The next process has to do with your emotional development – whether you are able to go past the basic feelings of fear and joy and experience more complex ones like empathy, compassion and kindness.

It appears that the older we get the more some of us close ourselves off to such experiences – maybe we see it as childish or unnecessary.

But it’s important to develop that ability, if only because we need to be open to new feelings in order to avoid closing ourselves off – getting stuck in rigid thinking and authoritarian ways until, eventually, the world moves on and we are made obsolete.

The third process has to do with our ability to direct what we do – to have some control over what we spend our time doing.

We are often never completely in control – but the more control we have the more likely it is that we will steer ourselves in a direction that works for us.

This process has to do with taking responsibility and taking action – not waiting for others to tell us what to do, give us what we deserve or push us in the direction we ought to be going.

The last process has to do with understanding and accepting that we live in a world with other people and that means we need to think about more than just what we can take for ourselves.

It has to do with the relationship we have with others and our environment – and what we do to live better together.

I thought it was worth thinking about this four part model for two reasons.

First, it is very simple and you can figure out pretty quickly how much of your time you’re spending developing yourself in each area.

I’d say I work on two of the four most of the time, and perhaps spend a tenth of my time on a third.

Self assessment: could do better.

The other is that this simple model of a self-actualised person has echoes of a systems thinking approach called the viable systems model, although the latter is expressed using language that is so much harder.

But why might it be useful to compare the two?

Well, if you’re trying to build any kind of system – a business, for example, what is it you need to do to make the business viable?

Well, you need to constantly learn how to do your business better.

You need to have empathy with your customer – understand what they need you to do.

You need to execute effectively – directing your resources to get things done.

And you need to have good relationships with suppliers and partners to support and grow your business.

The four characteristics of well-developed people seem to map well onto well-developed businesses.

And they seem worth trying to develop.


Karthik Suresh

When And How Should You Break The Rules?


Wednesday, 8.59pm

Sheffield, U.K.

All rules of construction hold good only for novels which are copies of other novels. – D.H. Lawrence

The other day a friend and I were talking about the nature of jobs.

He is a successful business person and says that he can’t imagine having to go into an office where he does the same thing all day.

In this age of knowledge work many of us will probably agree – what engages us in the workplace is the variety of projects and tasks we get to work on.

At the same time we only get better by spending the time doing the same thing again and again and learning from the resulting work.

We all start by imitating others – often a central figure acts as the model for that which we aspire to become.

It might be a parent, a teacher, a leader, someone you’ve read about in books, but that person seems to sit at the centre of a world they’ve created, in control and at peace.

Imagine then, at the centre of it all, there is this model person – someone who has attained a deep shade of blue.

Surely if you do things the way they did, if you follow their teachings, you will too become blue?

But the irony is that there is usually only room for one person that is truly blue – the rest are washed out copies, pale imitations.

They look like the real thing – but they will never be the real thing.

This is the kind of thing the quote by Lawrence is getting at – copying other people’s works or trying to behave the way they did will only get you so far.

So, some people opt out of the system – they throw their arms up in disgust and go away to pursue a career as green jelly.

They’re as different as different can be.

They are monks and artists and wastrels – but some of them are invested in being unique for the sake of being unique.

And how do you tell the difference between someone who is unique and someone trying to be unique?

Often you can’t – the surface appearance is the same.

What matters is what happens over time – what happens underneath the surface.

In Edgar Willis and Camille d’Arienzo’s book, Writing scripts for television, radio and film, the authors write that “one of the things beginning writers must do is undertake a voyage of exploration to discover the nature of their own resources.”

This is good advice in every endeavour – when you first start doing something look at how others have done it and try to copy what they’ve done.

You could start completely fresh – with no reliance on what has come before – but don’t be surprised if the world ignores you.

By building on the past you’re at least on solid ground when you start.

But the thing to remember is that you won’t get to where they are by doing what they did.

And it’s not really what you should want anyway.

If you apply yourself for long enough then, over time, you can’t avoid learning the rules – realising what works and what doesn’t and why thing are done in a certain way.

If you’re alive and alert and interested and hungry to learn, that is.

And then, when you know the rules, you can try our what happens when you change a shade.

Perhaps even an entire colour.

And now you have something unique, built on what worked before but customised to you and your future.

The right time, then, to break the rules is when you understand them inside out – and know what you can and can’t do.

And then you go ahead and do what you must do.

Create new rules.


Karthik Suresh

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