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

What Would You Tell Your Children To Do When They Grow Up?


Wednesday, 9.38pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes

One of the small people that live with us asked at the dinner table, rather unexpectedly, “What should I do when I grow up?”

The other small person piped up immediately. “I thought you wanted to be a Lego designer?”

The first small person looked uncertain. “I’m not sure anymore.”

The question arose, I think, because they had been talking about the rise of automation in the world – and how you now had self driving cars and robot that flipped burgers.

What kind of jobs should a young person aspire to these days?

Although that concern, it has to be said, is not limited to young people.

We older ones have the same worries – are our skills still relevant in a networked, always on, social media ruled world?

When we look in the mirror what do we see staring back at us?

And does that person approve of who we have turned out to be?

There are a few ways to look at this – and one of them is to realise that the person you are now is not the person you were ten years ago.

If you could somehow talk to that other, older person, what would you say?

Would you tell them to take more risks, try more things, be more adventurous?

Would you have told them not to settle too quickly – to find something that they looked forward to doing every day?

Or would you have said that life is hard and life is grim and you need a job – so get a skill or a trade and get on with it.

You can always have fun when you’re at the pub or at a game – and leave the work behind.

Are you pleased that the older you made the decisions he or she did or are you resentful at the chances that were passed up and the opportunities that were missed?

But you are where you are, but there is a younger you, ten years from now, who will look back at you and ask the same questions.

How will you answer?

I think that when I was young I made too many decisions that were safe ones.

The time to take risks is when you have nothing to lose – and it is later in life when you have more and are responsible for more.

But then, when you are young, you know less – and that’s why having the right teacher is crucial.

And if you can’t find a teacher, finding the right books may help.

It’s a big responsibility to place on a child – asking them to decide what they are going to do for the next sixty or seventy years.

Instead, perhaps what you should do is help them go through the process of what you would do now, given the chance.

Try many things.

Reflect on which ones you like.

Observe the ones you like doing.

And see if there is a living to be made doing the things you like.

All too often we twist our hopes and dreams to fit a narrative of success.

But a story is no substitute for the real life you’re living.

What is your’s telling you about how you’re doing?


Karthik Suresh

Under What Conditions Should You Consider Making A Major Change?


Wednesday, 7.42pm

Sheffield, U.K.

To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing – Raymond Williams

Change is not always a good thing.

As I write this, I have in front of me a shark tooth, allegedly a fossilised one, that we saw in a London market.

The little card that came with it says, “FOSSILISED SHARK’S TOOTH. From the species Otodus Obliquus. A cousin of the Great White Shark, this species is estimated to have grown to as much as 30 feet long. Found in Morocco. Circa 50 million years old.”

Sharks have done very well out of refusing to change one little bit – they’re pretty much the same as they were 300 million years ago, single minded killing machines, from the age of the dinosaurs.

But most other creatures have had to change – to adapt or die.

What about organisations or even individuals?

Are we different? Are we subject to different rules or do the same forces inexorably act on us as well?

I came across a 1992 paper by Heather A. Haveman titled Between a rock and a hard place: Organisational change and performance under conditions of fundamental environmental transformation that looks like it might have some interesting ideas.

The first point Haveman makes is change in organisations is limited by inertia.

Inertia is a tendency to stay the same, to not change, to leave well alone.

There are lots of factors that contribute to inertia – but they all come down in the end to people – because the people in the organisations are the only ones that can decide to make change happen.

And they don’t because they’re comfortable where they are, or have created rules that enable some things to happen and stop other things from happening.

For example, almost every organisation you come across will insist on a payback on a project of under two years.

Why two years?

Well, it’s probably because most investments the company makes are in things that wear out after a few years.

If you buy a machine that does a lot of hard work – then there’s a good chance you’ll need to replace it as some point.

So what you want to do is make sure that it makes you back the money you’ve spent and then some so you can make a profit.

But the two years starts being used to look at every opportunity the organisation has and anything that’s over two years gets thrown out.

It’s now a rule, something unbreakable, so people don’t even try bringing up such projects.

And a some of the time such an approach is fine.

Not that long ago retailers probably thought that as long as they invested in their stores and made sure it was a pleasant experience the shoppers would keep coming.

Investing in this whole new-fangled Internet store thing was too expensive, too complicated and didn’t meet the investment criteria.

They were happy in their little world.

Until the world changed around them.

What happens is that animals that have evolved to fit a niche are perfectly happy until their niche disappears – and they tend to disappear as well.

Organisations and people have an alternative – but it’s not an easy one.

They can change when they have to but Haveman argues that it takes the same amount of effort as it does to set up a new organisation.

That’s because it’s like setting up a whole new nervous system – creating the roles and information flows and communication protocols that enable the organisation to operate in a changed world.

And there’s a risk to doing that – a risk that it won’t work and a risk that the organisation will fail.

On an individual level the same things apply.

You might have spent a significant chunk of your life learning to operate heavy steel making machinery and then the whole business just disappears – and you’re left with skills that no one needs any more.

At what point should you have thought about changing?

This question is, quite frankly, one of the hardest ones around and I don’t have a simple answer.

But, if you don’t think about it you’ll end up in a place a little like the person in the picture above, hanging by your fingertips to a crumbling ledge while sharks circle below.

It doesn’t look like it’s going to end well under any possible future.

Perhaps you should just give up and let go?

But that’s not what an animal would do.

An animal would fight to the very end – until it was entirely defeated.

For people and for organisations – the equivalent is to, as Williams says, make hope possible.

Because all change happens in the minds of people – and people will do amazing things when there is hope.

Which is why that is the first thing you must create if you want to make change possible.


Karthik Suresh