Why We Need To Work Hard To Do What Children Do Naturally

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Thursday, 9.49pm

Sheffield, U.K.

You need to say, ‘This is a period of time in which I am going to try and make something.’ If you don’t do that, then how are you going to make anything – John Burgerman

Life is, in essence, really quite simple.

You sort of have to do certain things – eat, sleep, move around.

And the rest of the time you spend just being interested in things.

For children, almost everything is new, so they spend their days in a state of perpetual wonder.

This evening, my youngest saw the moon and was amazed at how it looked – and he spent the drive back looking for it everywhere.

The elder would have ignored it, with more important things already crowding out moonlight in his mind.

If I’d been in the car on my own I’d have noticed – because I like things like that – but with someone else we’d probably have talked about something else.

And as we grow into adults wonder becomes a rarer and rarer experience.

We get used to what is around us and we ignore things like the night sky much of the time.

And that’s a pity because time passes by so quickly, so inexorably, that all too soon another year has passed.

So what is it that children see and we don’t?

I picked up one of the kids books on doodles and tried my hand at a few.

Now, the drawings are clearly done by adults trying to create shapes that kids can try doing for themselves.

And when you first try them they’re hard – they really are difficult to get right.

But that’s the point – nothing is easy straight away, we are unlikely to be naturally brilliant at most things.

A child can fill a book in a day with doodles – just scribbling away all the time.

Most adults probably don’t think about drawing anything most days – they’re too busy with work and telly and everything else that has to be done.

In today’s world the thing that makes life complicated is all the distractions.

If you had nothing to do, no television, no mobile phone, you’d notice a lot more.

You’d read, look out the window, doodle – exercise your mind and senses just naturally.

These days the virtual worlds we have are so much more addictive and we get drawn into them – or we spend more time than we should on work that really should not have to be done.

If you want to do something about that state of affairs it starts by putting aside the time to do something creative every day.

Write. Draw. Sing.

Do something.

Because if you have children they’ll do what they see you doing.

And the best thing you can do for them in the world they’re going to grow up into is to encourage them to be creative.

Creative people will be able to live a life that is interesting.

And isn’t that all you want for them – and yourself?

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Is Most Of What You Do At Work A Waste?

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Wednesday, 9.02pm

Sheffield, U.K.

What is needed is a total management system in which human ability is drawn out fully to enhance the fruitfulness and utilize the facilities and machines well, performing the work with absolute elimination of waste. – Taiichi Ohno

I’ve been thinking about waste in recent days – especially when it comes to knowledge work.

But what really is waste, and how do you start to think about dealing with it?

Taiichi Ohno is well known for his work on the Toyota Production System and his concepts around eliminating waste.

What that means is getting what you need in the amount you need it when you need it.

Most of the world still operates on a “push” principle – you try and get people to buy what you are selling.

A “pull” method creates things when people want it and that’s actually a really hard thing to get your head around.

Think of the business you are in right now – how do you go about marketing and selling your services?

If you’re like most people you think about new sales – about the people you need to bring in to get your numbers up.

And it’s hard work selling to new people – it takes time and effort and money.

What would be a much better situation is if people pulled your services when they needed it – when they’re looking around for what you offer.

Now I know there are businesses who are very good at getting their marketing right, whether online or offline.

But for every one of those businesses there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of others who struggle.

That’s partly because tactics only work as long as no one else knows how to use them – as they become more successful more people copy them and reduce the impact of the tactic.

There was a time when spam email worked – but for most of us that kind of approach is unlikely to cause us to respond.

If we do want to grow our businesses the thing we probably need to do is understand our existing customers better – and try and eliminate waste in the way we serve them.

For example, how often do you end up making the wrong thing for a customer because you didn’t take the time to really understand what they needed.

All too often people try and guess what others need rather than taking the time to ask them and then write down what they say in their own words.

The minute you start to change the words they have uttered a game of “Chinese whispers” starts and you end up very quickly with something very different to what you started with.

Then there is the waste involved in waiting for something – you send an email and then because no one responds you don’t follow up.

After all, you’ve done your job so that’s ok right?

Equally wasteful is doing far too much for a customer – creating a ninety page powerpoint when a three page one would have done.

In knowledge work another kind of waste is the kind that happens when a leader issues orders.

A leader’s views will be implemented by subordinates no matter how wasteful they are – and they can be very wasteful indeed.

The thing that I’m starting to realise is just how much work is done by well meaning, driven and conscientious individuals that they do very well – but should not be done at all.

In an ideal world you would take the time to listen closely to your customer and build them exactly what they needed.

And by doing that, by eliminating the wasted activity that’s usually involved in businesses, you would give them the best product or service possible at the lowest possible price.

Because the thing about waste is that someone is paying for it.

Either you’re paying for it out of your profits or your customer is paying for it in their price.

Either way someone is losing.

And that’s a waste.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why Doing The Wrong Thing Better Is Not A Good Plan

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Tuesday, 8.38pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The more efficient you are at doing the wrong thing, the wronger you become. It is much better to do the right thing wronger than the wrong thing righter. If you do the right thing wrong and correct it, you get better. – Russell L. Ackoff

A few weeks back I wrote a paper on getting started with visual thinking, reflecting on methods I use and the way in which they help in different situations.

Part of the reason I thought it was worth doing was because of the plethora of visual thinking methods out there – methods that I quite liked when I first came across them.

Take Dan Roam’s “Back of the napkin”, for example.

It makes a lot of sense – use pictures to help people understand your point quickly.

At the end of the book, however, Roam introduces a complicated way of picking and choosing what kind of pictures to use to tell a story – and in doing so I think he loses sight of the point that we’re trying to make it easy for someone to understand what you’re trying to say.

And then you have modern visual thinking or visual facilitation methods.

I found Mike Rhode’s sketchnotes principle very useful when taking notes in class – I could condense three hours worth of points into a single sheet of A4.

That perhaps tells you more about the content of the class than about my note taking skills…

A sketchnote is, however, a work of art – and it’s clearest to the person who took the note.

After all, if you’ve made those marks you probably remember what the points were because your brain is relying on additional data points – your physical movements, the spacial positions of content and the bits you added to highlight important things and make them more memorable.

A sketchnote on a big board becomes a visual facilitation exercise – which looks amazing when done but… what use is it?

Most of the time it’s a product, an output from a session that then sits there.

In some cases, it’s framed as a memory of the event, but I’m not sure how often it flows into the next step – where it informs some kind of action – or if there is even a next step at all.

This may seem a little all over the place – after all this blog is based on the idea that drawing things makes it easier to understand and talk to others about something that might be complex or difficult to “get” in the normal way.

But I think that often the focus of activity shifts from helping you to understand to creating something that is visually appealing – something that is pretty and makes you go wow.

And that is a problem.

Websites do this – the useful textual content on most websites can probably be put on two sides of an index card.

The rest of it is visual waffle, elements that are pretty but add no real informational content.

What seems to happen is that an industry quickly develops around any new idea.

It happened with websites, it’s happening with visual representations of ideas and events, and it happens with everything from Agile to Lean to the Business Model Canvas.

The central idea is often simple and useful.

But you can’t profitably sell simple and useful – so you have to make it complex and proprietary to make money.

Which is why something like Bikablo – which is a visual library of sorts that helps you create better pictures – leaves me with an ambivalent feeling.

On the one hand, it looks so good.

On the other, so what?

Maybe I’m just jealous because I can’t do it yet – you’ll see examples of that style soon as I start having a go – and then I’ll stop complaining.

The point I’m trying to make is this.

You need to know what problem you’re solving.

If you want to get better at communicating complex ideas or help a group of people work through their situation and come up with a way to improve things then you’ll need some basic skills in visual facilitation – but you don’t need to be a full-blown artist.

In fact, if you’re too slow getting everything perfect you’ll probably focus on the picture and not on the situation – and create a very pretty depiction of the wrong problem.

If you’re looking for gold that’s hanging from a pole you won’t improve your chances by throwing away your spade and getting a digger instead.

You’ll dig more ground more effectively and efficiently and be amazingly productive.

Without a result.

And what matters is the result – everything else is simply what you do on the way.

But as the saying goes you sell the sizzle, not the steak.

But… what do you end up eating?

And is it what you wanted?

And of course, if you do the right thing righter – solve the right problem and make it look amazing – then you’re untouchable.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Easy Do You Find It To Do Things In Life?

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Monday. 9.02pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird. – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Do you ever find that you’re juggling all these balls, trying to get things working for you but they just keep falling – and you don’t seem to be going anywhere?

We live in a world where people “make it” all the time.

Are they unique and special?

Were they lucky?

Or did they work ten years to then get an overnight break?

There are probably variations of every story – and it tells us little about what to do other than things happen in the way they happen.

I wonder sometimes what makes the difference between two people – who ends up being the sociable centre of a group and who ends up being on the sidelines.

Some people are just born with the right combination of personality characteristics to get on with other people.

Others find it harder and aren’t fully in tune with how others respond or react in social situations.

And I suppose we learn through experience and by doing it wrong what works and what doesn’t work for us in the situation we are in.

And along the way we experience lots of feelings – feelings of not being good enough, of not being popular, of not being liked by anyone.

And there isn’t much point in telling someone who is feeling that way that the chances are that it’s the environment rather than them that’s the issue.

People don’t really appreciate being told that they’re committing a fundamental attribution error – focusing on personality and disposition based explanations rather than ones based on the situation.

And it doesn’t change as we get older.

You probably juggle a whole bunch of thing now – work, home, kids, health, money, family.

And there are probably times where you’re dropping the ball on each of them, perhaps dropping the entire lot every once in a while.

If you want to change something – for example if you want to lose weight or spend more time helping your kids socialise better at school, you could focus on personality factors.

You’re not clever enough, you’re greedy – and so on.

Or you could realise that the situation you’re in is just too busy, you’re doing too much or being asked to do too much.

I suppose when it comes down to it – the point is not whether you find things easy or hard.

In most cases it makes senses to arrange your life so you spend time doing things that you find easy – because they’re probably easy for you and so you can make a living with those skills.

And then, put time aside to work on those things that you don’t find easy.

You’re not going to lose fifty pounds overnight or learn to do stand-up comedy in a few months.

In fact I picked up a book that had a title on those lines – something about going from an introvert writer to stand up comic in three months.

Except, in the first chapter, the writer talked about how he had always found it easy to be funny – how that was what he did back in school.

So really, his journey was about becoming a comic in twenty years – which is less catchy a title, I suppose.

I think the point I’m trying to make is that it’s easy to get discouraged when things aren’t going well in whatever you’re trying to do – when you keep dropping the ball.

Some things aren’t important – and maybe you should just leave those balls on the floor where they belong.

And for the others – it’s not about you but about your situation – most of the time.

And the trick there is just getting started.

With the first thing, with anything.

Getting started is half the battle to doing anything in life.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Is The One Thing Standing In Your Way When You’re Trying To Work?

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Wednesday, 8.53pm

Sheffield, U.K.

From this moment, you will conform to the identity we give you. You will dress only in MIB Special Services attire. You have been trained in the use of MIB-sanctioned technology, vehicles and weaponry. – Men In Black International Movie Script

The other day I went for a walk and, for no particular reason, the words above from the Men In Black films popped into my mind.

And as I thought about them I started to become aware of just how problematic such an approach is when you’re trying to build a responsive and agile team.

We imagine that a large organisation is a like a well oiled machine, a smoothly operating unit, a skilled team that goes in, does the job and gets out.

I remember reading about a particular businessperson who specialised in buying companies and turning them around.

He would send in a team of “crack” accountants who arrived in a fleet of black cars and when you saw that lot pulling up you knew the A-Team had arrived and things were going to get better.

Although, the real A-Team, if you go with the film depiction, is on that has a group of misfits who come together with unique skills and use whatever there is to hand to get the job done.

Now, we’re talking entirely about made up characters here but who would you rather have on your side – the MIB folk with their sanctioned equipment or the A-Team who would probably grab the kit off the MIB team and beat them with it.

Speed always wins.

If you’re twice as fast as the other guy you can figure out what they’re going to do and head it off before they do it.

The point I’m trying to make is that many organisations try to create standards and processes for their people to follow.

They give them IT equipment that is locked down, ask them to work in offices that are open plan and loud and don’t give them enough time to put their feet up and think or meet and collaborate with possible like minded people.

Many knowledge workers I know spend as much time trying to get their “sanctioned” equipment to work as they spend doing any actual work.

And because they don’t have the training or their IT teams have frightened them into using nothing but the most basic technology they either resort to mind-numbing tedium or chase after magic bullet solutions that rarely deliver anything useful.

All the time people who don’t have these constraints are busy creating and delivering work and getting more business.

On the magic bullet point, here’s a thing.

If you ever try and build a software product to solve a problem before you figure out if you can simply dissolve the problem by redesigning your system then you’re going to end up losing a lot of money.

Most business problems don’t require new technology or new systems.

Many organisations have all the technology they need and get a lot more for free if they open their minds to free and open source alternatives.

But they don’t know how to use what they have and the certainly don’t have the skills to change to some of the alternatives.

Now, if you’re a large organisation and you have resources that you can throw at the problem – and if you can convince someone else to pay for this – then you can create a solution.

The work that goes into creating such a solution is about as pleasant as having to climb a hill with your hands and feet tied.

You can do it, but you’ll need to expend a huge amount of energy along the way – and it’s really not fun.

But there is a market for such solutions and so at least you get paid.

The thing is that for most people the thing that gets in the way of them doing their best work is the organisation they work for.

You don’t have the same problem in a startup – because everyone needs stuff doing as quickly as possible.

If you want a really good strike team you should give them some basic kit and get them to forage for everything else when they’re there.

Elite armed forces carry as little as possible – there are certain things they have to have – thing that will help them operate quickly and with devastating effect.

There is clearly a balance – you need a certain amount of equipment to get started on any project.

But after that what you need is for the organisation and the technology and everything else to just get out of the way so you can get some work done.

But big organisations, in particular, don’t work that way.

Which is why you have some big organisations and some old organisations.

But there are few big, old organisations.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average listed the 30 largest companies of the day.

Of those, GE is the only one still around.

And it’s fallen out of the index now.

And the thing that did for many of those organisations wasn’t the competition.

It was their failure to change as things changed around them – they stuck with their markets and products and processes when they should have been learning and changing and adapting.

And if you’re in a position where you’re working with those kinds of constraints you may want to think about how you can wriggle free.

Because you’re the only one who can make sure you’re still moving when the organisation isn’t.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Tell The Difference Between Hopes And Reality

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Tuesday, 8.43pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. – Lao Tzu

I was browsing through titles and stopped at Art is a way of knowing by Pat B. Allen, a book about using art to know yourself.

The book addresses questions I have been having recently about the way in which so much around us is stripped of its soul, it’s essence.

I don’t know if it’s a peculiarly Western thing or if it’s common to all people but it’s a problem.

There seems to be a desire for people to reduce everything to method – to take something which is new and good and useful and boil it down to nothing.

It’s like taking fresh, green garden peas and reducing them to dull, drab, grey mush.

Let’s put this in context.

It’s good to reach out to people, no?

It’s good to be social, to communicate, be friendly, be approachable, be open?

So that is what you do on social media – you make an effort to be all those things.

Then, just to make sure everyone sees how social you are you get into a routine of posting – create a method to increase engagement.

That means hacking the system, perhaps posting the same content several times a day to make sure everyone gets it when they turn on their phones.

And then there are a myriad other tips and tricks and hacks and shortcuts that boost engagement.

But do they create a connection between you and someone else?

Do you make a friend?

Allen describes how this happens with art, as it professionalises and is measured, judged, approved or not by others, and how artists then contort themselves to fit with this thinking or flee somewhere else.

And a lot of this, I think, comes down to people just not understanding the difference between method and practice.

Method is something you do.

Practice is something you do.

And yet, they are not the same thing.

For example, any business course, book or guru will tell you the method to success; that you need a plan, you need to set goals, objectives, have a vision and a mission.

If you don’t have those things you have nothing.

I feel like these things are like differently shaped blocks piled on top of one another balancing on the head of a pin.

They may be stable in the seconds after you build the tower – if you’ve got the balance right.

But the slightest tremor, the lightest breeze can knock them over.

As the saying goes, no plan survives first contact with the enemy.

How would you depict reality if you could only use colour and not these plans?

For me, it’s a landscape – rocks, greenery, pits, lava.

There are no boundaries, nothing demarcated in nature – just what is and how it’s arranged itself – and it looks different depending on how you see it.

How would you navigate through such a landscape?

If you’re afraid of the black bits or the brown bits or the red bits – then you’re going to stop – move no further.

But if you want to go forward you have to try out routes – try and see where you can move.

If you look around, pay attention, then you’ll start to see safe spots and dangerous spots – start to see where it might be possible to move.

There are no guarantees, just because you can see doesn’t mean you will do anything.

But when you see things you start to learn and you start to see patterns.

And once you see patterns you can make other decisions and see if the patterns spoke the truth to you.

Reality is messy and real and doesn’t really give a damn about you and what you want and what your hopes and plans are.

You just need to move through your reality taking whatever route opens up to you that seems like it’s going to keep you moving.

And eventually you’ll tread your own path – one that seems like you could really have done nothing else with your life.

And you really won’t be able to tell whether you did well or poorly, whether you won or lost until it’s all over.

All that matters, in reality, is to enjoy the journey.

The practice.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Make Sure You Fail At Everything You Do

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Monday, 9.11pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The internet is a total inversion of television. It’s the opposite. – Joel Hodgson

I was reminded of the words of Charlie Munger recently by a Twitter thread by Tren Griffin.

One of Munger’s messages – one that he’s been talking about for decades now has to do with the idea of inversion.

Many hard problems, Munger said, “are best solved only when they are addressed backwards.”

Why is this, and why should we try and learn what this means?

Our brains try, it seems, to minimise the amount of thinking we need to do.

It makes little sense to use up lots of glucose every time we need to solve a simple problem, like how to tie a knot.

So, our brain takes shortcuts.

It embeds actions in muscle memory so we no longer have to think of things like which keys to press when we type or how to walk.

It creates pathways – physical ones that we get used to walking down.

How often do you take the same route to work without thinking of the alternatives even if they might be better in the circumstances?

We are creatures of habit – we like to do things the same way most of the time and can sometimes get quite uneasy when jolted out of our routine.

Just think back to what happens if you don’t get enough sleep or are hungry – it usually ends with you being irritable.

Routine and habit are good but they don’t prepare you for something new – what they do is help you get on with the reality of the here and now in the most efficient way possible.

But, we can get so comfortable that we start to see only what we expect to see – even if reality is changing right before our eyes.

A good way to see how this works in reality is to try drawing.

Most people, if you ask them to draw a house, will draw an image from their childhood – a square with a triangle for a roof, a door and two windows, something like a face.

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No house looks like that picture – but we still draw it that way.

Try and draw a table, a horse, yourself, your children from memory and you will find that you rely on shortcuts – shapes that represent what you think you remember.

One child has wavy hair and the other straight.

A table and horse both have four legs and then seem about as straight as each other.

Our mind shields us from the enormous amount of information that exists in reality by creating representations, models, shortcuts in our mind.

But then we make the mistake of confusing these models with reality – and choosing to believe what the model tells us rather than taking in new knowledge that might have a different view.

That’s why people were burned for suggesting the earth wasn’t flat.

Now, when it comes to drawing a good way to start seeing more clearly is to turn the picture upside down, something Betty Edwards teaches in her book Drawing on the right side of the brain.

Try it yourself – look at the picture that starts this blog.

In one image the scene is clearly recognisable and you see and take in what is there.

In the second your eye sees something that is not entirely obvious and is probably drawn to that tip in the centre as it tries to figure out what is going on.

If you just had the second picture you would have had to look closely and see it for what it is rather than what you think it is.

This idea of inversion has a similar effect.

Imagine you need to think through the security system you’re going to put in your house.

For any strategic question you ask it’s possible to invert it and try and see what it looks like backwards.

Instead of asking what you should do to lose weight, you could ask what must I do if I want to gain weight as fast as possible.

Instead of asking how can I cut emissions at my company, ask how can I make sure that it’s impossible for me to lower my footprint?

Looking at things this way forces you to stop relying on things you already know.

Instead, you might start to look at what is in front of you with fresh eyes – seeing the same thing differently.

And in doing so you might come up with completely different answers to what you might have done if you use the same old ways.

Always remember that armies train to fight the last war.

But the thing that catches you off guard is the thing that you never realised you had to watch out for.

What do you need to do now to make sure you fail in life?

And once you know those things – perhaps you should consider trying to make sure they don’t happen.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

The Slightly Unexpected Secret To Power

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Sunday, 7.32pm

Sheffield, U.K.

That was how you got to be a power in the land, he thought. You never cared a toss about whatever anyone else thought and you were never, ever, uncertain about anything – Captain Vimes in Terry Pratchett’s “Guards! Guards!”

I have rediscovered Terry Pratchett recently, and realised something – or at least had it pointed out by Neil Gaiman in another book.

Pratchett is a hard to pin down writer, combining the wit of Douglas Adams with the output of P.G Wodehouse.

His writing is funny and clever, which means that clever people probably look at the funny bit and assume that it’s not going to be something they will get into while funny people don’t perhaps get just how clever some of the stuff is.

And there is lots of it, buried within the funny bits.

Let’s leave out the physics – just focus on the social observations he makes.

For example, in one of his books he says that when people ask for advice they don’t really want you to tell them anything.

The sort of want you to be around while they talk about it.

It’s taken me a while to realise that – but having done so it’s created a rather interesting line of business so far.

And then you have his observation about power, which is in the quote above that for me, anyway, is a complete eye-opener.

Let me explain.

For a while, I have been observing people that I term born business folk – people who have a certain something about them.

It’s their ability to look at a situation and make a decision.

Now, that decision may be based on facts and opinion, some of which I agree with and some of which seem wrong, and some of which I know to be wrong.

But it’s not just a decision – it’s a sense of certainty they give out when they make that decision.

As if they’ve just said, “Here I stand!”, they’ve planted a standard and there is no moving them.

You wonder sometimes whether they realise just how badly things could go… and come to the conclusion that they do not.

And so you scuttle back, step into the shadows, and wait and see what happens.

Perhaps with a touch of schadenfreude, waiting for the inevitable downfall.

Now clearly, to any right thinking person, that way of operating – certainty until the fates prove you right or wrong – has a range of outcomes.

We remember the wins and forget the losses – heroes are created by selecting winners after all.

And eventually there seems to be a link between confidence and certainty and success.

We follow the leader that sounds confident because in the past such leaders led others to victory.

Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Joan of Arc.

It’s the other observation of Terry’s that starts to balance things out.

Do you care what other people think?

If you do, then you’re in a different game – one where politics is important and keeping up appearances is crucial.

In such a world it’s far more important not to fail than it is to win.

It’s the “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” sort of world.

Certainty in a world where success depends on what other people think can lead to odd results.

Take painters, for example.

Many have been certain in their art but less successful in a market.

What matters as much is knowing your business – knowing what needs to happen regardless of what other people think.

So, how do these two things relate?

Imagine you’re building a product because you think someone else is going to need it – then your chances of success are probably the same as most products that are brought to the market – perhaps 5 percent or so.

If you build something because you need it – because you’re scratching your own itch – then you’re starting to tilt the odds in your favour.

Let’s say you’ve done your research and you understand the approach you need to take and how viable your product is – how are you going to market it?

If you are diffident and balanced about the pros and cons of what you are going to do – then you’ll find that people will be equally circumspect.

They will note your lack of confidence and instinctively move away.

It’s just what happens.

But, if you can marry research and a thorough knowledge of your business – if you’re operating in what Warren Buffett calls your circle of competence then you need to – you must take decisive action when the time calls for it.

You must be confident that you are right and you will prevail.

What got the ancestors of old their portraits on the wall was because they brought this combination of skills to their battles.

If they were green, untrained, able only to fight on paper – but confident in their approach and holding power, they probably sent their soldiers to their slaughter.

But if they knew their field, their tactics, their people – and then they led the battle, their army followed and they probably won.

And ended up with the loot and the castle and the portrait.

What this means for us is this.

If you want power temporarily, you can get it through politics.

If you want real power, the kind of thing that lasts for generations – you get that through your work.

And power does not have to be money and jewels and castles.

These days power has more to do with what you have in your mind.

Which is why your work matters.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Are The Days Of The Persuasive Salesperson Numbered?

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Saturday, 7.28pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Ladies and gentlemen, attention, please! Come in close where everyone can see! I got a tale to tell, it isn’t gonna cost a dime! (And if you believe that, we’re gonna get along just fine.) – Stephen King, Needful Things

I feel like I have listened to lots of pitches, many of which sound quite plausible.

Others don’t.

I remember being invited to a multi-level marketing seminar which had all the carefully selected components needed to help you switch off the sceptical part of your brain.

The person inviting you sat with you, ready to answer any questions.

Loud, energetic music filled the air and a procession of happy, successful people trooped up to tell you how much money they were making and how good life was for them.

At the end of the session my host turned to me and asked what I thought and when it wasn’t what he wanted blanked me completely and turned instead to his other guest who had made noises about wanting to join.

In that particular case I knew the industry, and could work out the structure of the deal – which rarely works out for the majority of people.

At a much higher level occasion I heard another speaker trot out a pitch for their technology and how it was going to revolutionise everything.

But, if you listened carefully to what they said – their focus wasn’t on anything new and the abilities they talked about clearly didn’t have a link with the technologies they were talking about.

For example, AI was mentioned a lot.

And then it happened again – a smartly dressed person giving a pitch that, when you thought about it later, had a lot of marketing sizzle but a questionable type of meat.

I don’t want to be unkind about it all – but there is a certain kind of person that is very good at telling you a story, and it’s hard to tell the ones that have something real from the ones that don’t.

In some cases, the people telling you the story don’t even know they’re wrong – they truly believe in their product, or have been told that they have to believe in order to sell it so they’ve first sold it to themselves to get that authenticity.

Which clearly means that at the core what’s they’re doing is rotten.

Now the thing is that the art of the sale is more than just the person pitching one on one, or to a group – it’s now spread to the Internet.

Where people are being sold all kinds of things that they buy using emotion.

I’ve recently reviewed a couple of prospectuses for crowd funding and I’m quite curious as to exactly who gets value from the deals the way they are structured.

The promoters get free money effectively in exchange for offering discounts on the products they sell – a self funding proposition.

The people who sign up get shares that have no dividends and that can only be traded within a private market.

The main shareholders retain all the control and rely instead on selling a feeling – the feeling of “feeling good” in exchange for cold hard cash – and I wonder whether they think they’re really doing a social good or if they’re sitting there wondering how the heck they could con all these people out of so much cash.

Because here’s the thing about an investment.

It needs to give you a return.

If it doesn’t put money in your pocket then it’s an expense – borrowing Robert Kiyosaki’s very pithy description of an asset.

And an “investment” that gets you to spend more money is not an investment – it’s a long con.

When I look around it’s clear that the days of the persuasive salesperson are anything but numbered.

They’re probably just at the start of a huge growth phase.

There are so many ways now to confuse people and make them think they’re getting value when in reality they’re just handing over money they’ll never see again.

And the solution is probably not regulation – expecting someone to step in.

It’s the oldest advice out there.

Caveat emptor.

Let the buyer beware.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why These Two Modes Of Working Are Both Essential For Your Business

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Friday, 9pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Innovation comes from the producer – not from the customer. W. Edwards Deming

I’m browsing through Robert I Sutton’s book Weird ideas that work: 11 and a half practices for promoting, managing and sustaining innovation and I’m not sure what to make of it.

It’s a catchy title and makes some good points right off, one of which I tried to work through and found myself having to modify to make sense to me.

Sutton argues that there are two kinds of work you tend to find people doing.

One kind of work is based around exploiting what we have now in the business.

That means doing what we do in a way that is standardised, that delivers a particular output every time.

This means that if your task is to create boxes or agree contracts you do it with a process that can be audited and justified – in other words you drive out and seek to reduce variance.

It also means doing things they way they should be done – using tried and tested methods.

For example, if your industry advertises in a particular way because it suits your demographic – well, why change?

And the biggest focus of this approach is keeping an eye on bringing in the money now – these companies have accountants whose job it is to tot everything up and make sure people can get paid.

A company that focuses on exploiting its capabilities will find, at some point, that it is no longer relevant.

It was once right for a market but over time markets change – and if you haven’t noticed that happening you could wake up one day and find you no longer have a business.

The other kind of work people do is exploration – the kind of thing that leads to innovation.

The best kind of innovation is driven by a need to serve the variety of demands your customers have.

If a customer comes to you and says they have a problem you have two choices.

You can look at the things you offer and if they don’t seem to fix the problem, you can regretfully say no.

Which a surprising number of people seem to think is the right approach.

Or, you could build the customer what they’re asking for, potentially creating a new line of business as a side effect.

But you can only do this if you’re open to trying new things, if you ask questions like do we have to walk up the stairs and would this bouncy thing work instead.

The point about this kind of work is that it’s like chasing a rainbow – the money might be out there but you’re going to have to go and find it.

People who are in the exploit frame of mind see themselves as the serious ones, the ones doing the important work while the explorers swan off and do pointless, wasteful things.

The explorers see the exploiters as dinosaurs who don’t know that they’re going to be extinct soon – the world will change, it always does, and some people will be left behind.

A company, however, is more than just one approach.

You need both kinds of people in your business – and you can’t let one get hold of all the power.

You need a balance between people who will do the daily work in the way it should be done and people who will create new things to delight customers.

In terms of staff, the chances are that the exploitation category will have many more people than the explorers.

But that shouldn’t mean that they’re more important – the few explorers will quite possibly do the work that enables the others to keep their jobs.

As an individual, you need to learn to straddle both worlds if you want to be in charge of anything.

There are great admin people who will never come up with a new idea, but will also never make a mistake.

There are great ideas people who you wouldn’t put in charge of the drinks round.

These two will always have a job.

But if you can see how to get the best out of both of them, then you have a chance of being in charge.

If you want to, that is.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh