What Are The Steps To Creating Something That Adds Value?


Thursday, 9.23pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The promises of this world are, for the most part, vain phantoms; and to confide in one’s self, and become something of worth and value is the best and safest course. – Michelangelo

When you know how to do something you start to forget that it was once difficult.

Take reading, for example.

How often do you stop and take a minute to think about what you’re actually doing right now?

How your brain is taking shapes made from light, descended from charcoal on stone walls?

How it turns them into meaning – putting together squiggles in combinations that spell out words and sentences and phrases and help you read someone else’s mind.

If you have children you can see their attempts to get to grips with this astoundingly complex activity.

If you’re unsympathetic or have forgotten what it’s like to start something right from the beginning – you might wonder why they have a problem at all.

But if you’re wise you’ll watch them closely, picking up clues about how you can plan your next learning experiment.

Reading and writing seem easy in comparison to other tasks – but that’s just because we’ve been doing them for a long time.

When we set out to learn something new we start by examining the components of that thing.

Take baking a cake, for example.

I’m not a good baker – I don’t have the patience to follow recipes.

I find that if I throw a bunch of ingredients into a mixer and blend until the resulting mix seems about the right consistency – then something edible sometimes emerges.

Two out of three times, perhaps.

I’m thinking particularly of a banana cake experiment and a spinach based chocolate cake.

My last attempt at creating a flapjack resulted in what tasted like soggy bricks of cold porridge.

And the point I am making, I suppose, is that gaining mastery over the components of a thing matters if you want to do it as a job or profession or business.

I used to think that the thing that differentiates a professional from an amatuer was money – the act of being paid.

But I think actually the thing that makes the difference is the mindset of the person – are they trying to do this once or twice – or just when they need to?

Or are they trying to do it again and again – getting better each time and trying to learn everything they can about wha they do?

You might think of the professions – doctors and lawyers and so on.

But the best doctors and lawyers will spend their time reading and learning about their field.

Others will spend their lives prescribing based on what they have learned so far.

While both are called professionals – only some of them act like professionals.

I was in London the other day and had some time to kill so I wandered over to the treasures room in the British Museum.

There you are confronted with the messy reality of how people once worked.

The piece of paper where Wordsworth wrote out the lines to “I wandered lonely as a cloud” next to the Beatles collection – who appeared to write their lyrics with crayons on brown paper.

If you look at the physical artifact it looks like something anyone could do – something you and I could do.

But we don’t.

And we would be wise to see those marks – marks that we could make – and see how they emerge from a lifetime of work and practice hidden from view.

The point I’m trying to make is this.

A lot of people can read and write – they’ve mastered the components and put them together and can create useful things – emails and documents.

But if you want to be exceptional you have to learn and put together components in a way that other people don’t.

Cartoonists, for example, combine skills with page layout, script writing, fine art and colour to create something that many people would see as simple, maybe even childish.

But could you create one?

Could you bake a multi-layer cake with a topping and frosting?

I can’t even draw one properly…

But if you knew how to create the components of a normal cake and then you were able to add your spin and twist and design ideas – you might create something that stands out – something that has value for others.

A lot of people think that value is something you have or that you give in exchange for money.

Perhaps we should think of value as something that emerges from how you put together the underlying components.

My one layer banana cake has value – my children will eat it to get sugar fix.

But given a choice they’ll pick the one made by a baker who knows what he or she is doing.

So perhaps if you want to get into the business of creating value – you first need to understand what you need to do to be a professional.

And then get busy working.


Karthik Suresh

Here Are Some Of The Ways You Can Be Wrong About The Future


Monday, 8.22pm

Sheffield, U.K.

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

I am reading Bertrand de Jouvenel’s The art of conjecture which looks at how we try and predict what will happen.

How do we forecast possible futures – how do we come up with a vision, a conjecture – and then stop ourselves falling in love with it and believing that it will inevitably come true?

We do this kind of thinking all the time – from figuring out what to do next with our careers, our businesses and our relationships – to how we participate in society and politics based on our beliefs about what is going to happen.

We use lots of methods to do this thinking – many of them so automatically that we don’t question our approach to using them.

It makes sense, then, to spend a little bit of time thinking about how we think before we look at how we might think better – perhaps in the next post, so here are seven ways described by de Jouvenel in the book.

Let’s start with the concept of inertia.

Inertia is the tendency of something to keep doing what it’s doing.

If our local retail business has been growing organically at 3% a year since 2000, we think that is going to continue at about the same rate.

Things will be similar in the future to how they are now because things will keep happening in about the same way.

We’ll always commute to offices to work because that’s what we’ve always done.

Closely related to inertia is our tendency to use an analogy to explain what will happen.

The financial crisis in the 1920s led to a great depression and that’s what some people expected would happen in 2008.

But things didn’t quite work out that way and I suppose it’s too early to say exactly how they are working out.

Then there’s a view of what will happen as something like a journey on a railway track.

This model says that everyone is on a journey, some people are ahead of us but we’ll get there eventually.

That underpins the idea that developing countries, for example, will become as developed as developed countries – in time that’s inevitable.

If you’re running out of ideas, then the if-then approach works well to fill in the blanks.

This has to do with the idea of causality – that there is cause and effect.

If you do the things the same way they were done by someone else you can have the same results.

This is the mantra of the self-help industry. For example, because some people have made lots of money on the Internet, you can too by doing the same things.

Or you can be happy or thin or wealthy – just do what must be done and the result will happen.

At one extreme thinking in terms of cause and effect can take you down an avenue of positive thinking and the Think and grow rich schools of being.

Banish all negativity from your life, don’t listen to critics, believe in yourself.

At the other extreme is the person who believes that things are impossible because they just are, what de Jouvenel calls a priori – something independent of experience.

You believe it to be impossible and therefore it is.

It’s impossible to create a free encyclopedia.

It’s ludicrous to imagine a world without newspapers.

Chasms cannot be leaped – don’t even try.

But then someone builds a bridge and it’s suddenly possible.

A more complex approach looks at the world in terms of systems.

A simple approach is to say that things happen, which cause other things to happen which then affect things that happen.

When something feeds back into something else we get more complex behaviour – sometimes unpredictable behaviour.

You can build system models of lots of things – from the way communism should work to how to combat terrorism.

But somehow these sometimes overly mathematical models have been of little practical use in real situations.

But we like trying to use them anyway.

A final approach brought up in the book is to think in terms of forms.

Forms are about structure and hierarchy – there is natural size for a team, for example, or that the way you set up management depends on the size of your organisation.

All these approaches seem natural and we use them all the time.

It doesn’t take too much thought, however, to think of companies that don’t follow the norm.

Take the car industry, for example.

Who would have thought that the major automakers with their vast factories would be under pressure from lean Japanese producers?

Or that the future of car production seems to belong to Tesla.

It seems impossible to see how we could transition from a fossil fuel based economy to a renewable one – but have we reached a tipping point there?

But at the same time are we seeing the resurgence of a nasty kind of nationalism and despotic leaders – something that hasn’t worked too well before?

These ways of visualising the future come easily to us – and they are probably useful thinking tools.

The problem, sometimes, is that we believe our own stories – we believe that what we believe will come true and so we act as if that is what will happen.

what we should do is study the now – study what people say and what they do.

Because how the future turns out depends entirely on what we do in the present.

So what are you doing?

And is it good?


Karthik Suresh

What Should You Do When You’re Running On Empty?


Thursday, 9.00pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The first virtue in a soldier is endurance of fatigue; courage is only the second virtue. – Napoleon Bonaparte

What do you do after a tiring day at work, or a few exhausting days out on the road, or at the end of a long shift?

Do you come home and flop on the sofa and get a glass of wine – have you given everything you have and now is it time for a rest?

We all probably feel that way sometimes – feel that we’re running out of energy, out of fuel – and the needle is hovering close to empty.

Some people power on, pushing through the tiredness – willing themselves to keep going.

Others stop and rest, perhaps they give up and look for something easier to do.

Others are used to the ride – the roller-coaster of idleness followed by explosive, exhausting action.

Special forces soldiers, for example, eat when they can and take a nap whenever they can – because they know that it might be a long time before they can do those things again when on a mission.

Napoleon’s quote is interesting in that context – if you could choose someone on your team would you pick the most brilliant person – or the one who you knew could go the distance with you?

We all know people who are clever and capable but that are unable to shift their views when needed – they follow a set path and any variation unsettles them.

And then you have those who talk a lot and promise much but usually fail to deliver.

The people who make the cut in elite armed forces are often not the best or sharpest or quickest – but the ones who can plod away, taking step after step until they reach the end.

Being good at plodding matters.

It matters because if you’re the kind of person who needs to be fully rested, fully fed, with all the gear and tools and resources to get things done – then you probably won’t.

That’s often the problem with large organisations – they have the resources but not the people with the will to keep going.

A startup, on the other hand, has few resources and depends on the energy of the team – and not on mercurial, unpredictable energy but the focused, concentrated and undivided attention that comes with working on something you’re really interested in.

If you have tried to cultivate a daily habit – daily exercise, daily writing, daily meditation – you know how there are always forces that are trying to pull you off track.

Not intentionally – but there are fun things to do, people do see, things to watch – and surely you can just put it off for one day and take a break?

And that’s the problem with relying on willpower to get anything done.

Will power needs energy and if you’re tired and have had a long day your willpower is drained and you’re more likely to take the easy choice – order takeout and sprawl on the sofa.

When you’re tired what comes to your aid is not willpower but habit.

If you have created a habit then you’ll be able to get started even when the needle is pointing at zero.

You might have to take a nap but then you can get started.

The ability to endure comes from habit, not from will.

We are weak creatures, we humans – we get excited when things go well and we get down when we don’t.

And we can easily be let astray by the basic forces – just like you see with children all the time.

Tired, hungry, ill or bored – those are the things that get you every time.

If you’re tired, you’ll reach for the chocolate.

If you make a habit of not buying any – then you won’t have it.

Because what you need to get where you want is to know how you’re going to keep moving when you’re completely shattered and on the verge of being wiped out.

Because most of your competition will stop at that point.

You just need to take a few more steps – and you’ll be out there, in front, on your own.



Karthik Suresh

Why Life Is Nothing Like Chess


Wednesday, 9.45pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Many leaders are tempted to lead like a chess master, striving to control every move, when they should be leading like gardeners, creating and maintaining a viable ecosystem in which the organization operates. – Stanley A. McChrystal

I came across something called Goodhart’s law recently, which says “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

What this basically says is that when you try to engineer a result by creating a target people respond in a predictable way – they try and game your system.

You can see this most clearly in any sales activity.

If you set a target for the number of sales achieved, for example, then salespeople will do whatever they can to make that number – especially if it affects how much money they personally make.

And what you get usually is some kind of miss-selling.

For example, in one kind of industry it’s common for people to call up pretending to be a supplier or claiming that something is wrong and they need information from you to fix it.

They might pressure you into signing something that you don’t fully understand.

Now, if you own the company and have hired those salespeople and put in that kind of measure – then what do you think will happen?

In the short term they’ll hit their targets, you’ll pay their bonuses and they’ll be off.

But when the complaints and claims come in then you’re left to deal with them and pay the costs.

Unless you’re in on the scam as well and have left for another job leaving shareholders to pick up the bill.

Gaming is a completely rational response to managers who think that targets and pressure is the way to get things done.

Which is, oddly, the vast majority of managers.

If you look at governments – they do this kind of thing.

So do company bosses, virtually every network marketing business you can think of and even diet and exercise coaches.

Targets are good, they say, and let’s focus on targets to hit goals.

But, from what I have seen, there are two problems.

The first is that the people setting targets often have their own goals – target setting can be a way to deflect criticism of their leadership and performance.

Political leaders, for example, love to put targets on service delivery – like waiting times in hospitals – because it looks like they’re doing something.

They don’t care that their approach to target setting results in hospitals gaming the numbers to make sure they get their funding – while the actual service that patients get falls apart because everyone is too busy trying to meet numbers instead of doing their jobs.

Or actually – they do care – about getting re-elected.

The second problem is that focusing on one part of the problem almost never results in improving the overall situation.

Systemic improvement does not result from working on parts – it comes from making those parts work better together.

Gardening is a good analogy for this – as you tend weeds and put in plants that work well together – removing waste and improving performance.

Nothing in nature has targets – and it seems to work just fine.

Bees don’t need targets for the amount of honey they collect, for example.

They just work together and get what they need.

The basic mistake managers make is that they think life is like chess – if they put the right systems in place and the right measures – then they’ll get performance.

But actually people don’t do good work when they are afraid, when they are told that if they don’t meet a target they will not get their money.

Money is not a good motivator for anything.

People do good work because they want to.

And if you try and treat them like automatons, like chess pieces in your very clever game, you’ll end up with one very real problem.

You can move your pieces all you want.

A person can simply kick them over.


Karthik Suresh

Do You Have The Right Kind Of Energy In Your Life


Tuesday, 7.58pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Haters never win. I just think that’s true about life, because negative energy always costs in the end. – Tom Hiddleston

Many years ago I spoke with a girl who seemed to see things other people didn’t.

Like energy – she said some people sucked energy from you, while other people didn’t.

I didn’t quite know what to make of this at the time and, to some extent, I still don’t.

Do people who need to talk things through with you – the ones who spend hours going through their experiences fall into this category of energy vampires?

Or is it a more insidious thing – are there people who are relentlessly negative? The ones who see the dark side everywhere, the possibilities for failure and who seem to take a perverse delight in seeing others stumble and fall?

There is a line, somewhere between normal conversation and the need to unload one’s feelings, and this other place.

At the extreme is the feeling you might get if you were one of the victims in the picture above – a loose adaptation of a scene from a well-known film still in cinemas at the moment.

I remember being relieved that the girl said I wasn’t in the energy vampire camp – but then I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

For example, I think that my writing is relatively balanced, relatively thoughtful.

It lacks the passion and angst, however, of a more driven person – it lacks the anger and drive of someone who wants to take radical action to change the world around them.

You will know people personally or have watched them – these larger than life people who fill rooms and screens, simply bursting with energy.

They can be glorified or vilified.

The press, in particular, loves the story of a person rising up and then take equal delight in pulling them down – it’s the action and angst that matters not the person.

But there’s a dark side to dynamism, isn’t there?

The same energy that one person harnesses to create a movement and positive change is used by others to create a cult and harmful change.

An uncompromising quest for the good can result in something like the inquisition – where you deal harshly with people who don’t meet your standards of what good looks like.

And negativity is not always bad, is it?

I’m often see conversations where people talk about what to do – what strategy to take.

And one school of thought is to say that no idea is bad – and you can’t win if you aren’t in the game.

But sometimes you know why a particular idea won’t work – should you stay quiet?

Or perhaps you should just say no to everything unless it’s in your sweet spot – you only swing for those shots that you have a good chance of hitting.

Is that being negative or just pragmatic?

And if the game is baseball, something you’ve never played – surely you’d be better off not trying to play and work on a sport you do know instead?

What all this teaches us, I think, is that people lie on a spectrum – from frenzied optimism to relentless pessimism.

One might say that the first thing to achieve is balance – a dynamic equilibrium between the negative and positive – so that you are unaffected by the forces on either side.

That means you don’t rush to criticise but that you also don’t rush in without questioning.

You might also want to spend less time with negative people who do suck the job from your life – but also be wary of charismatic types that draw you into their web of magic and euphoria.

Because when you’re balanced you can choose what to say and when to say it and how to act – you can make choices about how you want to be.

And surely when you have that ability – that energy – you’re going to choose to be positive and optimistic.

Aren’t you?


Karthik Suresh

Where Should You Start When You Want To Create Something New?


Monday, 8.38pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

When you listen to the way in which people go about their business it’s remarkably similar whatever business they’re in.

Take the business of comedy, for example.

Comedy is a business – we spend a lot of our time being entertained – and there are people working very hard to come up with the jokes and gags and plot lines that keep us amused.

A good joke is like a magic trick – it’s best when you don’t know how it’s done – when you experience that sense of surprise when it’s executed perfectly and cannot help but laugh.

So, I was listening to Jerry Corley talk about the comedy writing process and he said a couple of things that made sense in several ways.

One of those things was about how you don’t try and write funny stuff.

Instead, you just write, starting with whatever you have and then you make it funny.

Now, that’s really insightful – and obvious – but mostly insightful.

It got me thinking about arrowheads.

Let’s say you find a rock – perhaps its obsidian or flint – what do you do with it?

You might be tempted to carve a statue, perhaps one of a god, or the successor to Michelangelo’s David.

Except David is over five metres tall and your rock is around three inches across.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone in a pub who’s had a brilliant idea for a “platform”, something that rivals YouTube and Facebook, and they’ve planned out exactly how they’re going to do it?

The only problem is that they aren’t techie and so will need to hire others to do the entire thing on their behalf.

This kind of thing is like sculpting a five metre David from a three-inch piece of rock.

Maybe it’s possible if you have access to a few extra dimensions but your chances aren’t good.

But, on the other hand, if you decide to make an arrowhead, you have a pretty good chance of being successful.

Which is actually the second point I wanted to make.

You have to match your ambitions to your resources – to what you have.

Yes, by all means have dreams, believe that your reach should exceed your grasp, but recognise that you will eventually have to either give up on grabbing a star or find a practical way of making a rocket.

The first, and more important point, is starting with what you have.

Too many people look around at what the market is buying, or what others are doing and think they’ll do that as well.

But that way you’re always chasing the market – and by the time you get to where the market was it’s moved on.

You’re better off starting exactly where you are and then adjusting, chipping away, to fit the needs of the market.

Let’s take that stone again.

Inside that stone lives something like an arrowhead, not a David.

You can chip away at that stone to reveal the shape underneath and if you chip away enough you will get an arrowhead – one that is useful and that will get you dinner.

And the same approach applies to your career, your business or your startup.

Begin with the skills you have, build on what you’ve already done and then tweak, adjust, chip away – until what you have fits what the market needs.

A startup based on something you need and want is going to have a better chance of succeeding than one where you believe that if you build it others will buy.

Belief is a dangerous thing – a double edged sword that cuts both ways.

Knowledge, on the other hand, of yourself, what you do, what your skills are – is something you can use without fear.

Because if you start with what you have you can make a joke – or make a career – or make your business.

And it will be solid.


Karthik Suresh

How Do We Truly Learn To See What Is In Front Of Us?


Sunday, 9.36pm

Sheffield, U.K.

But in order to survive in this foreign world, I had to teach myself that love was very much like a painting. The negative space between people was just as important as the positive space we occupy. The air between our resting bodies, and the breath in our conversations, were all like the white of the canvas, and the rest our relationship – the laughter and the memories – were the brushstroke applied over time. – Alyson Richman

I’ve been thinking more about drawing the last few weeks – and the way in which drawings can help us see the world around us.

And it’s funny how they can help us see in the way that we want to see – they follow our approach rather than the other way around.

Let me explain.

Most people will appreciate the fact that when they see reality what they see is not reality at all – it’s instead a construction, a hugely effective virtual reality system, that creates a world in our brains using electrical signals generated by our sensory systems.

In reality, this brain of ours, which hides in a cave with no windows fools us into thinking that the movie it’s showing us is the same thing as reality.

The world is an illusion – Maya, as the Indians would say.

And because there is so much data the brain ends up using some data that is real time and a lot of data that is stored and reused.

And that’s why when we look at a house we don’t really see a house – we replace it with a mental model of a house.

Unless there is a reason for us to look more closely – we’re in the market for a house – and then we start to notice many more things about the houses around us.

We look at size, age, driveways or lack thereof, the people, schools feeling.

We’re always positively looking for things – and our brains focus on bringing those to our attention, filling in everything else with stored data.

And this makes sense because if it insisted on processing exabytes of real-time information every time we stepped out of our front doors – it might just burn up – but instead it just uses a quarter of the energy we put into our bodies and does all the work for us.

But the shortcuts it sets up create a problem – we can start thinking of these shortcuts as the same as reality.

For example, if you once dealt with a situation in a particular way it’s hard to stop yourself telling others that the same way will work for them as well.

Or, you might even start telling people how to do things because you think that approach will work – without even really testing it first – the approach taken by many how-to books over there.

Which is why reading Betty Edwards Drawing on the right side of the brain again reminded me of some very important points.

One of which is the idea of negative space.

Let’s say you’re asked to draw a chair.

If you’re like most people your mental model of a chair will intrude forecefully to influence the image you create on paper.

You know how a chair looks, how its legs are connected at right angles, how there is a seat – and this will affect the lines you put down as your mental model of a chair clashes with the particular scene in front of you.

One way of getting around this is to stop looking at what you know and start looking for what is not there.

In the image above I’ve traced the negative spaces that you find looking at a wicker chair.

Look at those weird shapes, the odd angles, the spine and fishlike backbone.

Yes, you could see a picture of the chair, but you would not see what is not there, the thing that is in between what you see.

And that’s important because as long as we look for what we expect our solutions will fall short.

In business the thing that takes you down is rarely the thing you’re looking out for.

Retailers were busy watching footfall – they never thought the Internet would be a thing.

Armies are always training to fight the last war.

The books we read, the subjects we study, the strategies we adopt – these are all things that help us deal with what we see, what’s in front of us, what we expect to find coming down the line.

But it’s the unexpected that gets us every time – governments, companies, empires are overthrown from within again and again – not from without.

And so, it is only by training yourself to look for what is not there will you come up with strategies that have the potential to save you.

What will you do when your job disappears – if you lose it tomorrow.

What will you do if you make a living with your writing and your hands stop working?

Where is the space where there is no one else – the niche that you can fill with your new product?

Space matters – because everything else is already filled with something else.

Learn to see what is not there and you will always have a place to go.


Karthik Suresh

Do You Think That The More You Have The Happier You’ll Be?


Saturday, 8.15pm

Sheffield, U.K.

We humans have millions of years of evolutionary baggage that makes us regard competition in a deadly light. – Vernor Vinge

I’ve been wondering why everyone seems to try so hard to have a perfect life.

For example, why do we make such an effort over birthdays and Christmas and whether our sports teams win?

Why do we worry about bigger houses and better cars and the latest gadgets?

If you are one of the lucky ones – the ones that have a decent job – then the chances are that most of your problems stem from the things you have than from the things you don’t.

If you have food and shelter then pretty much everything else is an optional extra – so why aren’t we more grateful if we are able to close the door to a home every day rather than trying to get comfortable in a doorway, while the rain splashes down a foot away.

It’s like everyone in the world who can is participating in a giant Ponzi scheme – some kind of con – but it only works if everyone plays.

Take basic capitalism, for instance.

From what I can tell, somewhere in the last 200 years, people figured out how to make more stuff than anyone could possibly need.

So, we invented advertising to get you to want the stuff you didn’t need – and that started a cycle – one that you might consider virtuous.

If you had lived life drawing water from a well, then running water was great.

And if you had running water, have an electric kettle was good, and while you were thinking about hot water why not have your own coffee maker.

Capitalism – in the sense of making things that people wanted to buy created wealth and spurred people to create more things that others could buy creating more wealth – and that particular approach made the countries that practised that very rich – much richer than those who tried to share things equally – because those places tried to control stuff and ended up becoming dictators because it turned out that having power was much more fun than helping others.

And really, everyone still seems miserable – the people who have everything and the people who don’t.

And perhaps it does have to do with evolution – most things seem to end up having something to do with what happened before.

Once upon a time, a few hundred thousand years ago, the resources we had were the ones we found.

So, if you found some fruit, it made sense to eat as much as you could, and take as much as you could carry, because you didn’t know when the next bit would come along.

Stuff was good – a good stone for an axe or an arrow; maybe some charcoal to do some drawings; maybe some skins for clothes.

I’m finding it hard to think what else you might need really – perhaps a cave would be nice.

Unhappiness probably stemmed from finding that someone else had a better stone than you had.

Life was, perhaps, nasty, brutish and short, as Thomas Hobbes wrote.

But then again, we don’t know – perhaps most people lived relatively calm lives, disturbed by the odd flood or marauding tribe.

Anyway, the point is that we learned to hold onto stuff in case it didn’t come around again.

And now, when we have everything we could possibly want, we’re perhaps still wired to collect and keep and hoard.

So, in our personal lives, that tendency to collect and hoard is perfectly matched by an industrial capability to produce and produce.

Ironically, it’s industry that realises that it needs to be lean – you’ll find nothing in a modern factory that doesn’t need to be there – everything has its place and is marked out.

And so there is this cycle – perhaps a vicious one – where we have to consume in order to keep economies going – and we have to buy and spend so that there will be companies and jobs so we can pay taxes and create profits and buy more and more.

And you have to look at all that and wonder what on earth is going on – how have we ended up in this kind of place where we have so much stuff we don’t need and we spend all our time moving it around to make space for more stuff – and then we need more and more of it to get the same amount of happiness we might have gotten as a child when we found a particularly flat stone.

What’s with all that?

I guess here’s the thing.

The more stuff you have the more you have to manage that stuff – which leaves less time to do what you want to do.

And doing stuff that you want to do is probably what’s going to make you happy.

Managing all the stuff you have is going to make you tired.

And there’s a balance to be found somewhere.

Most us probably carry far more than we should.

What can you put down?


Karthik Suresh

What Would You Do If You Could Do Anything Right Now?


Friday, 8.21pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The thing I love most about my job is watching people age backward, becoming more lively and energetic as they free themselves from situations that are toxic to their essential selves. – Martha Beck

One of the exercises psychologists ask you to do is the perfect day exercise.

Imagine you could do anything – you had no limits or constraints at all – and you had all the resources and money to do whatever you could possibly want.

What would you do?

If you’re interested, take a minute and write down your perfect day – go into detail and be as imaginative as you want.

You can do the same exercise with your business or your job role.

What would a perfect day at work look like, a perfect business trajectory – how would you describe that to someone else.

Now, when you’ve done this you have an opportunity to learn more about yourself.

Many of us think that we would like to do something – be a famous singer, a racing car driver, a President.

When you look at your perfect day the thing you should ask is how much time you spend doing the thing you think you want to do.

For example, does your perfect day include practising for three or four hours?

Does it include doing to track days?

Or does it involve actively getting involved in local politics?

If your idea of a perfect day is to spend your morning in bed with several attractive members of the opposite sex and then take your private jet to Paris for breakfast, followed by lunch in the Riviera while your chauffeur waits to take you to a private dinner with the Queen followed by an exclusive nightclub – then perhaps what you want is to be famous and have lots of money – not actually sing or drive or lead.

When it comes to your business the same considerations apply – do you want a passive income generating machine that gives you money for doing no work at all – or are you pursuing a calling that means a huge amount to you?

The chances are that what we think we want is often what we think we should want – or what others want for us.

How do we know what we really want – what’s the thing that would drive us if we only knew what it was?

What are the possible selves we could have?

Do you think you would like writing poetry or painting?

Is being a good parent the thing you want to do – know that your children will look back on their childhood with happiness and gratitude?

Do you want to tinker with things, invent or make stuff that helps people – or do you want to be a good friend, someone with strong, deep relationships?

Or do you want to be the life and soul of the party – the person who is in charge of happiness?

Here’s the thing.

If you can’t do anything you want in your imagination when there is nothing holding you back – how will you do it in real life with all the constraints and excuses around you?

When you have a job that drains all your energy, when you have children and a mortgage and car payments and holidays and no money – how will you find the time to create or learn or be who you want to be?

And there’s no easy answer to that – because all the things you have bought over time – the things that you own now own you and your life.

You’re loaded down – just imagine yourself like a mule weighted down with all the possessions in your life.

When you were young and carefree you didn’t have a care in the world and the time seemed endless.

When you’re older time passes more quickly and you move more slowly – because of all the baggage you’re carrying.

So, the first step to making a change, especially later in life, is to jettison some of that load – get rid of everything you don’t need and most of what you do and keep only what is absolutely crucial to your existence.

Your family, friends and passion for what you do.

And then maybe you can start working on making life just that bit more perfect.


Karthik Suresh

What Is The Best Way To Learn To Do Something Well?


Thursday, 8.47pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Perform your duty equipoised, O Arjuna, abandoning all attachment to success or failure. Such equanimity is called yoga – Bhagavad Gita

I felt like there’s been something missing the last few days of writing – a feeling of being tapped out, exhausted, running out of energy and content.

Maybe that because the big ideas seem to run into each other – the differences seem less relevant and the insights questionable.

For example, take the value of mathematical modelling.

That’s something I would have been quite interested in once upon a time for decision making.

But now I’m not so sure.

If you want to design a new bridge or a heart valve then modelling is crucial – you’re building something real and if it doesn’t work people could die.

But when you’re trying to choose between options the value of maths seems to fall – and what seems to matter more is maximising the opportunity to gain power and avoid blame.

It starts to be about people and people are hard to model mathematically.

It can also seem a hopeless task to try and understand anything new well.

After all, the 10,000 hour rule says that you must spend that much time over around ten years to get any good.

I’ve always had that rule in mind which is why I’ve given myself ten years and a million words to get better at writing.

And it appears that I’m wrong.

I watched a talk by Josh Kaufman, the author of The first 20 hours where he explained why what I thought was wrong.

The 10,000 hour rule, it turns out, comes from research into how much time you need to spend to become one of the best in the world at something that can be easily tested and ranked.

If you want to become one of the best violinists, for example, you’ve got to put in your time and then some.

But you don’t need to spend anything like that amount of time to get merely good.

Kaufman argues you can get to good in as little as 20 hours – 40 minutes of practice a day for a month – if you’re strategic about it.

Kaufman has a model and lists for how to go about acquiring a new skill – but the main takeaways for me are about two things.

First, sort out the environmental issues.

Decide what you’re going to do and block out time every day – preferably at the same time – to practise doing it. And get rid of distractions – notifications, children, your spouse.

And get the tools and space you need and keep them to hand – basically make it really easy to do what you want to do when you’re ready to do it.

And second, be structured about how you learn.

Focus on the things that come up often – the high frequency components.

Create a way to check you’re doing it right.

And practise, practise, practise – repeat, repeat, repeat.

Now, to give you an example of how this might be done – I’ve created the picture at the top of this blog.

I’ve been drawing images for my posts (badly) for a couple of years – nearly 700 of them so far.

I’ve been telling myself that it’s all about communication, not art.

But recently I found a book called The cartoonist’s workbook by Robin Hall which breaks down the drawing process in a way I hadn’t seen before – and this is what you see in the image above.

First, if you want to learn to draw cartoons, you will need to draw people – but those people are often built up from simple shapes – circles, boxes and so on.

So, you need to practise doing those fundamental shapes because you’ll use them again and again.

That’s the first thing then – selecting high frequency elements to practice – common chords in music, common steps in dance and so on.

The next thing is to make it easy to get things right.

Hall is the first cartoonist I’ve seen who says to draw on lined paper – and that makes a huge difference.

Suddenly, getting the size of things right is easy because the guides are there.

A head, for example is one line while a whole body is four lines.

In another life when I used to teach dance we used to tell students to take a step that was hip-width apart.

This often ended up with some people taking tiny steps and others taking huge leaps – and we had to clarify – but eventually they got it.

And then the last bit is repetition – doing the bits again and again until you start committing them to muscle memory.

And then you move on to the next element.

Now, I suppose if I were to add my own approach to this I would do a couple of things.

First, it’s not enough to practise the elements alone – it’s important that during each learning attempt you try and create the sum of the parts – a whole.

Break the thing you want to do into its elements, practice the elements but then put them together as well.

And the second is to worry only about what you’re doing – not about reward or failure.

It’s worth learning if you’re having fun doing it.

And that’s enough reward.

In Indian culture we think of Yoga not as an exercise – but as a way to do something – a way to learn, a way to be, a way to act.

The way is what matters.


Karthik Suresh

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