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

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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?

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Under What Conditions Should You Consider Making A Major Change?

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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.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why It’s Crucial To Pick A Game You Like Playing When It Comes To Life Strategy

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Monday, 9.04pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play. – James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility

It is really hard to find a quote about games or sport that doesn’t have something to do with winning or losing.

It feels like everything in life is seen through this prism of sport – the idea that a competitive nature is what matters – beating others and reaching the top and excelling and getting the prize is the most important thing in the world.

And it’s just not.

Many people will disagree – surely you want your kids to be competitive – to push themselves – to get ahead?

Well, the first question you have to ask yourself is how much success is down to native talent these days.

And how much is down to the resources invested in a particular person to make them the best in the world.

In sports like tennis parents spend huge amounts of money and time taking their children to the best coaches and training facilities in the world.

One would assume that there is a reason why countries that have a lot of snow and ice tend to be the ones that come up with sportspeople who dominate the winter games.

If the sport you’re interested in is an individual one – then there’s only one winner.

And if it’s a team game, there’s one team.

And the fact is that sport is an arena event – it’s a battle, a bloodsport, and humans like nothing more than watching a fight.

That’s really what watching sport comes down to – the vicarious thrill of battle.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

What’s wrong is taking that bloodlust and imagining it’s a way to also do things in society.

Which is where Carse’s quote that starts this post is right on the money.

If you have a finite game, one that you play and then it ends – you can win, shake hands and walk away.

And if there is a prize you can walk away with that as well.

These games, you could argue, are played not just to win but also for the prize.

Then there are games that continue – and continue – until life runs out.

The games you play because you want to stay healthy – keep your relationships alive, get ahead in work.

All these are forms of play, where what matters is what you get out of the game.

For example, let’s say you always wanted to be an artist but your parents convinced you that engineering was the right thing for you to do and now you spend your days doing technical support – would you say you were winning or losing?

It’s not that easy, is it?

Maybe the job has provided you with a steady income, given you the ability to raise a family and keep a house.

And yet you wonder where you might have been if you had followed your heart?

Probably penniless.

The point, I suppose, is this.

Just like life isn’t about winning or losing, it’s also not about grand gestures and big wishes.

Just look at what children do, naturally.

They want to play – they get engrossed in what they’re doing.

They carry on until they get bored and want to try something else.

The one thing that destroys play for children is technology, in the form of the telly and devices.

Then they stop playing and start consuming instead – until they find video games and spend all their time exercising their eyes and fingers.

But, despite the pitfalls the thing to see is that kids like to play and as adults we’re no different.

If we see the thing we do as play, then we’ll do it happily for the rest of our lives.

If we see it as work, we’ll stop doing it the minute we stop getting money for doing it.

If we see it as a competition we’ll probably stop doing it once we start losing consistently.

There is an end when you do something for a reason outside yourself.

When you do something because the reason is inside you – because you like doing it – then you’ll find it’s easy to do it day after day, week after week, year after year.

And somehow, without realising it you’ll probably end up winning.

But, better still, if you don’t, you probably won’t care.

Because you’d have enjoyed yourself every step of the way.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Should You Try And Spend Your Time Every Day?

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Sunday, 6.42pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Whoever renders service to many puts himself in line for greatness – great wealth, great return, great satisfaction, great reputation, and great joy. – Jim Rohn

I was thinking about one of the things that Jay Abraham talks about every once in a while in his podcasts.

Highest and best use theory.

So, what does that mean?

Well, if you check out Wikipedia it has to do with figuring out what the value of something should be rather than what it is.

In the case of property, real estate, the value of it depends on the best use it can be put to rather than what it’s being used for now.

But of course, there are constraints.

Let’s take the example of a farmer’s field on the outskirts of a city – one that is growing.

The chances are that the farmer is using the land for pasture or growing crops – but the highest return will come if houses were built on it instead.

Unless the land is on a flood plain and houses built there will regularly get flooded and ruined.

Or unless the land is in a green belt zone and no new buildings are allowed in the area.

Or unless the soil is so soft and sandy that it will be far too expensive to put in the foundations you need.

In a more formal way – the ability to achieve the highest and best use value depends on four main things – whether you can do it legally, whether you can do it physically and whether you can do it financially AND if it’s the highest return option.

Now, it’s worth seeing if this highest and best use theory can be used to decide how you’re going to spend your time every day.

In some situations the more time you spend the bigger the result you get.

If you get a balloon and spend a minute blowing it up, you’ll get a small balloon.

If you spend a lot more time and assuming the thing doesn’t burst, you’ll get a bigger one.

There are many tasks where to get a bigger return you have to put in more resources.

And your time is a resource – which leads many people to believe that the more time they spend on the job the bigger the reward.

The harder you work the better your return.

But there is another school of thought that holds that it takes about the same amount of time and effort to do something small as it does to do something big.

For example, if you spend your time labouring for $10 an hour and your lawyer sister bills herself at $400 an hour, how do you compare the effort that goes into both activities?

Well, you don’t really. Both tasks need doing and the amount paid for them depends on the market for those services.

There are lots of people willing to work as labourers while there are few people allowed to work as lawyers and supply and demand ends up setting the price.

The same person who is labouring right now could end up learning everything about the real estate business and in ten years end up owning their own building company and making in a day what the lawyer makes in a year.

You just don’t know what is going to work out.

So, what should you keep in mind about how you spend your time.

My feeling is that the first test you should have is whether you’re learning something new every day.

With whatever you’re doing, are you stretching yourself, trying new things, understanding more about your business.

Do you just do the same thing day after day or do you learn more day after day.

And then the next test is whether you are at a stage when you can teach what you’ve learned.

If you can teach, then you can start a business or grow a business – because the point of being in charge is not to order and shout and bully but to teach and coach and develop people.

And throughout life maybe you can do both.

The thing that make humans special is our brains – the ability that gives us.

And the highest and best use of our brains is to do two things in our lives – learn and teach.

If you do that it’s hard to see how you could ever be dissatisfied with the life you live.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

p.s. As it’s Sunday, today’s paper is about The art of learning.

What To Do When You Feel Like You’re Getting Nowhere

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Saturday, 9.40pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. – Confucius

Saturday, 9.41pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If we regret anything in life it’s probably the things we didn’t do when we had the chance.

If you did do it and it didn’t work out – well, at least you tried.

But in most cases it’s the things you haven’t tried when you were still able to do so that come to mind.

I was listening to a YouTube talk by Kurt Vonnegut when, rather inexplicably and right at the very end, they inserted an advert for an online course by a writer.

I was a little startled and it took me a while to tune in – mainly because when that sort of thing happens I tend to reach for a sketchbook and start doodling until I can press the skip ad button.

Anyway, somewhere in there the author said that he wrote every day for fifteen years before writing his first book.

And then I watched a TED talk by Andrew Stanton, the writer behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Wall-E, as he went back through the timeline of events and experiences that brought him to where he is today.

And then another TED talk on humour – and all these talks had one thing in common.

It takes time to get to where you are.

Okay, that’s obvious, time passes whether you do anything or not – inexorably, unforgivingly.

Slight sense of deja vu as I write these words because this morning, for some reason, I had Kipling’s poem running through my mind.

“If you can fill the unforgiving minute; With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it…”

Time is, when you look at it, simply the most vital non-renewable resource in your life.

So what you do with it matters.

We know it takes time to master anything.

You have to start by learning to see, to deconstruct what the thing you want to do.

Then you have to practice, learn how to do each element and get better and better at the parts.

Then you have to reconstruct the pieces, put them together so that they make something – first something that looks like the things other people make and then a new thing – that you’ve made and brought into the world.

These three steps – deconstruction, practice and reconstruction – are the way to learn things.

And it’s frustrating and sometimes it feels like you’re not getting anywhere, you’re stuck and it’s impossible to break through.

But what that also tells you is that you’re at the edge of what you know now – and there is something else for you to find – as long as you keep working at it.

I feel, for example, that my writing is all over the place – there is no theme, structure, focus, goal, objective, plan, story or technique.

There is just the practice of trying to draw and write something daily.

I have a book by Natalie Goldberg called Writing down the bones and she talks about how she was finding it hard to understand Zen by doing sitting meditation and her teacher said, “Why do you come to sit meditation? Why don’t you make writing your practice? If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you everyplace.”

Goldberg writes that this idea of a “practise” can be applied to everything, to business, to comedy, to exercise – because there are many “truths” out there for you to consider.

And that is what I find as I write about the topics that interest me – about strategy and management and you career – there are so many “truths” and they could even be true.

But you can’t approach the truth head on – just like you can’t really approach yourself head on.

You sort of have to sneak up – keep doing things and looking around and then, if you’re lucky, you might spot the truth that works for you – or get what you really want to do with the rest of your life.

What you need is faith – not in a god – but in yourself.

Faith that if you do the practise everything will work out.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Can You Intentionally Make Your Life Better?

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Friday, 6.58pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I watched Bill Burnett’s talk, Designing your life, which is worth sitting through and reflecting on.

I took away a few points – adapted slightly, perhaps, from the original message – but perhaps more useful to me.

The first thing that’s interesting is the idea – how to design your life.

The important word is design – what you’re trying to do when you design something is to make it better – not worse.

And it’s very easy to make things worse – think of the outcome of nearly every meeting you’ve been to.

Burnett has five points to keep in mind when it comes to design – but I find four useful, and one of those in a slightly different form.

The first one is to connect the dots.

Burnett argues that meaning comes from connecting dots – dots like what you believe, what you do and who you are.

The idea is that these things are three separate elements within you – and it’s by aligning, connecting, resolving these points that you find meaning in your life.

I’m not so sure.

I see the dots as elements of a system, the parts that need to be in place and that also need to work together for something to happen.

This does have to do with what you do, but also where you do it, what others do and the culture and environment in which you find yourself.

In other words, you have to look at yourself as a system – do all the parts actually work together, like a car driving along on the road, or are they just parts, like the bits of a car dismantled and laid out on a lawn.

Meaning, I think, is an emergent property – it comes out of the system that you have created through choice – and without choice.

It’s only when you connect the dots that you get a line.

And all the dots you need have to be there to get the line you want.

The second point is to avoid gravity problems.

Gravity problems are ones that you really have no choice over – problems that you can’t affect or influence or change.

Either accept them or find a place where they don’t exist.

Which is clearly hard in the case of gravity – but less so when it comes to bosses who you don’t get on with or people who hold you back.

The third point is to try things out before you buy.

Before you quit your job to start a flower shop, try selling flowers at a market to see if you like the experience.

If you can’t try it yourself ask people who do it now – ask a surgeon what the life is like before starting a 14 year programme of study.

Don’t watch enviously, or hide behind your desk.

Get stuck in – trying something out is often cost free or very low cost – which is a cheap price to pay for the learning you get.

There is a missing point here – one about prototyping – thinking about the thing you want to create.

I’m not that sure about that – mainly because when it comes to life I feel that we’re so encrusted with societal views, parental expectations and our own justifications that any design we come up with is likely to be encumbered with elements of those things.

Instead – just try things out that you can try out – keep your eyes open for opportunities and when you see them put your hand up.

Eventually you’ll find yourself doing more of the things you like and less of the things you don’t – as long as you bear the fourth point in mind.

Don’t be afraid to let go and move on.

A sure fire way to make yourself miserable is to keep your options open or be able to reverse a decision.

Choices cause us angst – and having the option to change our minds makes us worry whether we did the right thing in the first place.

Traders know this – it’s too easy to worry about the trades you’ve done and whether they will work out.

You can’t look back – you just need to look at the next trade – the next deal.

And that’s the case with life as well – try something out and if it doesn’t work or you don’t like it don’t hesitate to quit and walk away.

You have nothing to prove to anyone else – the only thing that matters is whether your life is better after you make your choice.

And it always is – your brain is wired to make you feel good about a choice you have made when there is no turning back.

For most of us the essential elements for a good life are in place or accessible to us – it’s often the system that doesn’t work.

But that’s the point of design thinking – there is no best.

But there is better.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Break Down What Happens And Get Your Timing Right

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Thursday, 6.47pm

Sheffield, U.K.

All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this. – Miyamoto Musashi

In a police investigation, I understand, the most important thing is the timeline of events.

What happened first? What happened next? And so on.

It’s useful to keep this in mind because, although we sort of know time happens in this sequential kind of way we sometimes forget.

Actually, it’s probably fair to say we often forget.

And that probably has something to do with how our brains work.

For example, I read something on social media today that has a line that looked like “Why is no one talking about … thing?”

And someone responded, agreeing that no one was talking about it, and pointing to a report on the issue.

So, someone is talking about it – just because it’s news to you doesn’t mean that somewhere else there’s an army of people working on the subject.

When we first become aware of something our brain adjusts its filter, now showing you everything that’s similar – the so called reticular activating system.

It’s when you decide you want a new car you see models of the ones you’re considering everywhere you look.

Now, let’s turn this the other way around – what if you have a message you want to get out there.

Is the right time to send out that message when you’ve written it?

That’s what many of us do – we do stuff and send it out.

This post, for example, will come to your inbox in a short while when I press the right button.

And that’s fine if your focus is on creating material – that’s what I’m trying to do.

But you need to think differently when you want someone to react to your stuff – to respond to what you do.

If you want that to happen you first need to work out what their timeline looks like.

Let’s say you sell a cost reduction service.

When is the best time to get in touch with a person at a prospect organisation?

First, obviously, you need to figure out who the best person is to get in touch with – is it the Managing Director, a plant operator?

Who is the person or group of people with the responsibility and the power to commission your services?

If it’s the MD, do you work down a list of companies from A-Z, highest to lowest turnover?

Bash the phones or send spam email and hope you get through?

Or can you be more strategic about it all?

What if you look at companies and see how their results look year on year – which ones are under pressure to do something?

What if you look at companies where a new MD has taken over – someone who wants to make their mark quickly?

What about companies that have negative reviews and are struggling to manage the impact on their reputation?

All these organisations may be willing to listen to your message about how you can take out costs because of what you know.

There are many reasons why you might be rejected by someone – and it often has to do with when you’ve approached them.

If you adopt a random approach then you will have a certain success rate – because for a proportion of the people you talk to you’ll get the timing right.

The question for you is whether by looking more closely at the timeline of events you can figure out which entry point will increase your chances of success.

But that information isn’t just out there – it’s not easy to find.

It takes some detective work.

You have to get into the minds of your prospects – the way they act and think.

Maybe you interview them, maybe you gather research, maybe you set up google alerts for significant events.

You create a research division – even if it’s just you – your own private investigative office to support your marketing efforts.

You know how in stories the detective gets the bad guys by piecing together bits of evidence that are there for everyone to see – but only the detective put together.

That’s the skill we need to develop as marketers.

Because you can get your timing right by accident.

But if you understand the way the timeline works, you can get it right on purpose.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Kind Of Work Should You Focus On Creating?

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Wednesday, 9.39pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before. – Neil Gaiman

I rarely have a plan when I begin the process of writing one of these posts.

I do have a ritual, however, a ritual that means I never have to start with a blank page – a ritual that makes it possible to eventually post something in an hour or so.

A blank page can be a forbidding, fear inducing thing.

Those first words, that first scrawl – it doesn’t look like anything and it probably won’t be anything and you’re best off just throwing it in the bin now.

You see this happening early on in life – first your children scribble and draw without fear.

And then they start school and learn that things are good or bad, perfect or imperfect, and they worry about getting the spelling right, or the spacing right, or the pronunciation right.

And in trying to get things right we slow down, we spend less time practising and more time correcting – and eventually controlling.

And eventually correction and control kills the thing you started doing because you liked doing it.

How many children continue to draw into adulthood?

At around six, seven, eight, nine, ten – they start to leave behind childish things and childish scrawls – they grow up.

An organisation is similar to a child in that respect.

When you’re running a startup what you’re focused on is creating something – something that you believe should exist or something that a customer needs you to create.

That’s exciting work, creative work – and you’ll get on and do it.

And then your startup grows, you add people – and calls start for training, and quality and management.

You start creating processes – which go out of date almost instantly if you do any kind of innovation at all – so in order to keep the process moving you stop innovating.

Richard Feynman had this story about the space programme where mechanics had to count a number of holes across a rocket body to work out where the fasteners should go.

Feynman suggested that they paint four marks on the quadrants, because that way you would only need to count a quarter of the holes.

“Too expensive,” he was told.

Too expensive to paint four little marks?

No – too expensive to revise and reprint all the manuals.

And so children stop drawing, companies stop innovating and everyone gets old and miserable.

But it doesn’t have to be that way – if you keep a few pointers in mind.

These particular ones come from the mind of Neil Gaiman and his famous keynote address at the Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

What you should do, Gaiman says, is make good art.

Art, I think, is anything you do – and it includes writing, programming, sculpting, steel-making.

Because there is an art to doing almost everything.

Everything that adds value, that is.

This is where we should keep in mind that there are things we do that add value – things that customers need.

Then there are things we do that are as a consequence of failures in a system somewhere – things that have gone wrong.

It’s easy to see why working on the first type of demand on our time – value demand – is worth doing.

The second kind of demand – failure demand – is easy to get wrong.

Failure demand is the time you spend dealing with the consequences of a problem rather than fixing the system so the problem stops happening.

Fixing things is also an art – as Pirsig pointed out in Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.

So, the first thing to remember is to make art – and make good art.

The second thing, Gaiman says, is to make your art.

Make the stuff only you can do, the stuff that excites you, the stuff that emerges as you lean make art – first copying, then adapting and then innovating – all the while creating.

But, the will to make good art or your art is not enough.

I suspect even trying to do it will actually throw you off.

What you need instead is a ritual – starting work on your art at around the same time, using the same approach, and getting on with it.

On some days your work will be rubbish.

On other days it will be good.

But at the end of a year at least you’ll have a body of work.

And you’ll know yourself better.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why We Should Take Few Things As Finished Or Perfect

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Tuesday, 8.24pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Looking not to any one time, but to all time, if my theory be true, numberless intermediate varieties, linking most closely all the species of the same group together, must assuredly have existed; but the very process of natural selection constantly tends, as has been so often remarked, to exterminate the parent forms and the intermediate links. Consequently evidence of their former existence could be found only amongst fossil remains. – Charles Darwin

In one of David Attenborough’s programmes there is an arresting scene of two bulls, a challenger and an old veteran, going head to head.

Weighing over half a ton each, their foreheads crash together, again and again.

The challenger seems to be winning until the veteran gets broadside and drives him away.

It’s the kind of clash you remember, that sticks in your mind – because of the beauty and majesty of these animals and the seeming pointlessness of their way of setting a dispute.

But then you have to ask yourself, what alternatives do you have?

In a post on Ben Orlin’s very funny Math With Bad Drawings blog he explains the Intermediate Value Theorem as effectively saying that if at one time you were three feet tall and then at a later time you were five, then at some time in between you must have been four feet tall.

Now, what this means for you and me is that evolution and maths are telling us that what we see is not all there is.

Let me explain.

If you have a job right now, in order to start that job you signed a contract.

A contract that sets out the rights and obligations between you and your employer.

Maybe it’s a very restrictive one, where they own everything you make, even what you come up with while you’re dreaming.

Maybe it’s one where they can fire you at any time.

Or maybe there isn’t one at all – it’s cash in hand, or sometimes it’s not.

Or it’s a loose contract setting out what you will do for this employer but leaving room for you to work for other as well.

Those of us that aren’t lawyers tend to look at contracts as perfect documents, set in stone – while to lawyers they might simply be a set of statements, often imperfect, and something to argue over and settle after they’ve been paid.

An approach to management might have evolved along similar lines, from forced labour to a postmodern network of capabilities – each approach fitting into a particular niche, surviving, evolving, dying.

What’s obvious is what is in front of you – the end products of all those small changes, those intermediate states.

We see them as they are now – bulls, markets, societies, economies, theories – and wonder how they ever got so big and complex – surely it cannot have been by chance?

There must have been a guiding hand, a creator, someone omnipotent?

But somehow, the more plausible explanation is that these things just happened over time.

And they took time.

Which human beings don’t like – I saw a post where Paul Graham quoted some as always asking if you think something will take ten years ask yourself how you will do it in six months.

Maybe some things can be addressed that way.

Others can’t.

You can’t make a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant, for example.

If you want to become good at something – playing music, writing, programming, managing, science, learning a language, assimilating into a society – it’s hard to shortcut those 10,000 hours or 10 years that you usually need.

But most of that applies to things that you want to do – like those bulls who want to protect their territory – or take over another one’s patch.

For human beings we have the advantage of being able to consider what to do.

We can see how those bulls resolve their differences and understand that it involves pain and a lingering headache.

And we can choose to do things differently – change the things we don’t like.

As long as we don’t get fooled into thinking that change is not possible – that the way things are is the way they have to be.

Because you can make a difference.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What’s The Right Kind Of Risk To Take?

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Monday, 8.47pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing. – Warren Buffett

I had a look again at David J. Schwartz’s The magic of thinking big yesterday – and was struck by a section on why some very clever people don’t achieve as much as you think they should.

As Robert Kiyosaki put it, A students end up working for C students, and B students end up working for the government.

Why is that?

One thing, Schwartz writes, has to do with attitude, the kind of person you are.

Early in your career people will pick you and promote you more on the basis of how you approach tasks and whether you get things done than how smart you are.

Being smart helps.

Knowing things is good.

But being useful is important.

If your managers find that you are useful you get more responsibility and are exposed to more opportunities than someone who is not.

But what is it about attitude that makes the difference – and how do you decide what kind of attitude is best?

Let’s take an extreme of the positive approach – the kind of person who always promises to deliver and is certain they can get things done, no matter the obstacle.

You find such people in many places, bull headed people who believe in themselves and are ready to push themselves to the limit.

You might think of such people as risk takers, the kind of person that would take a running jump across a canyon, the kind of person who will shoot for the stars.

Some of them make it.

Some of them don’t.

Those that make the leap might then tell you all about how you need to leap and then the net will appear, when one door closes another will open.

But while you listen to them you must keep in mind survivor bias – you’re only getting the message from those that got across.

You don’t hear from the ones who took the jump and for whom the net failed to appear, or the ones for whom the door turned out to be a window.

The other kind of person is the one who knows what can go wrong with anything and everything.

These people stand on the sidelines, watching the jumpers – knowing why they will fail – and why they would never themselves take the leap.

It’s a form of negative thinking, if you want to demean it, and a form of realism, if you want to accept it.

Either way such people choose to be safe – to do what should be done.

They live their lives but because they take no risk at all they perhaps don’t achieve what they could have done.

They’ll never know.

And then there is the image of the tightrope walker – a person who takes a calculated risk.

Someone who steps out into the void – but a step at a time feeling for safety.

Someone who trains and practises and has the skills needed to balance and maintain a precarious footing.

Someone who knows what can go wrong and takes the trouble to learn how to do things and get the right tools to help along the way.

Perhaps the way to think about this is as follows.

Some people take a leap and some of them succeed.

Some people search for reasons why doing something will fail – and so rarely achieve anything.

And some people try and work out how to make something succeed – and improve their chances of doing so as a result.

I’d put the three in a particular order – using a red, amber, green approach.

The wild leap, for me is the riskiest approach – and gets a red.

Staying put is better than jumping – and gets an amber.

Knowing what you’re doing gets a green.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh