Why You Should Realise That A Weakness Can Be As Strong As A Strength


Wednesday, 9.40pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose. – Henry Kissinger

I was browsing through the on-demand film catalogue when I spotted Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot again.

This film, in case you don’t know, is based on the life of John Callahan, who became a quadriplegic after a car accident.

He went on to become a cartoonist, creating aggressive and controversial material and a whole new career for himself – after an incident that might have led many others to conclude there was nothing more they could do with their lives.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book David & Goliath: Underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants tells the story of David and Goliath again.

He argues that the story that most of us know probably doesn’t tell the whole story.

Goliath was big, yes. He was armoured and armed and could have killed anyone who came close enough to be struck with his weapon.

David, however, was an expert with a sling – not a toy but a real weapon – the artillery of the time.

Gladwell says that we think the fight was mismatched because Goliath was big and David was small.

The mistake we make is to view what is happening through a conventional lens – using a narrative that we think of as normal.

Big beats small, that’s obvious.

But, as Gladwell points out, this fight is actually the equivalent of a man with a sword facing another with a gun.

Who has the advantage then?

If the history of warfare has taught us one thing it is that superior forces can often be defeated by a smaller, less well equipped force if they choose to fight unconventionally.

There is an undeniable advantage to size, to being the biggest beast in the jungle, where you have no natural competitors.

Except the ones that are yet to come.

The point to take away, really, is not whether you are big or little, strong or weak, in full possession of your capacities or lacking in most of them.

You should try and remember to keep two things in mind.

If you are big, never become complacent.

That’s when you make a mistake and get beaten.

You have the advantage of size – use it.

If you are small, don’t give up.

You have advantages, in speed, agility and flexibility, that the big people just don’t have.

Use them.

The side that wins, all too often, is the one that plays best with the hand it’s dealt.


Karthik Suresh

What Do They Mean When They Say You Are The Product?


Tuesday, 9.08pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Many respectable physicists said that they weren’t going to stand for this – partly because it was a debasement of science, but mostly because they didn’t get invited to those sort of parties. – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I’ve been thinking about marketing mixes for a bit, and particularly about options that give you access to an audience of some kind.

For example, my LinkedIn feed right now is full of posts of conferences – places where people come together to share knowledge and connect with others in their industry.

That seems like a good thing.

But how do these conferences make money?

Well, they get speakers, high profile ones and ones from businesses that you would probably like to work with and invite them to speak.

They often give you free entry and cover their costs and make a profit by selling stalls and marketing packs to companies that might be interested.

One of the things I need to be careful of is my own scepticism – the urge to question whether something is of value.

That kind of thinking quickly leads to pithy sayings like “if you get it for free, then you’re the product” and variants on that theme.

And perhaps because I don’t get invited to participate in such sessions I feel a bit like the physicists in Douglas Adams’s quote above.

Now, there are people who argue that the saying about products and us should really be questioned further, such as Derek Powazek, because the fact is that just because you pay for something it doesn’t mean you get value.

In fact, we get a lot of value for free these days – and you know that Google makes money hand over fist even while it gives you free email.

There’s a business model there, perhaps not one we fully understand or can replicate – but it exists.

Powazek does sum this up quite elegantly when he writes “If you don’t know how a startup will make money, neither do they.”

Or a conference that you attend.

I started this post with a question – are the organisers of these events evil?

Do they stand there rubbing their hands at the prospect of making money off you?

Or are they promoters, showmen and women – who love nothing more than the buzz of getting a great event together, throwing a fabulous party and getting people out talking, laughing, drinking and doing business.

Should we be thanking them for the opportunity to get together with like minded business people and create value together?

If you think about it, throwing an event is a bet – a gamble that you can create enough buzz to attract people – some of whom teach and some of whom learn – and get others to pay for it all to happen.

It’s clearly a bet that more and more people are willing to take – the number of face to face events seems to be skyrocketing as people try and find real connection and take a break from their virtual social systems.

People seem to crave connection – and these events provide that.

The conclusion, then, is that events and products and businesses are not inherently evil.

But, like every other industry, the vary in quality and the value they provide.

I guess you have to try them out to see if they work for you.

The thing that won’t work is staying cooped up at home with the curtains drawn.

If you want to do business, you have to go out and do what needs to be done to help people find you.


Karthik Suresh

Why It Is Essential To Develop Your Curation Skills


Monday, 9.23pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Enlighten yourself and you will enlighten the viewer. – Jean-Christophe Ammann – Carin Kuoni, Words of Wisdom: A Curator’s Vade Mecum

As the Internet grows up we see an increasing polarisation of views and debate, the storms and tornadoes of a virtual landscape.

But, just because we see lots of noise, it doesn’t mean we have to react to every little thing that comes along.

If we do want to get better at responding, however, we have to get better at separating the signal from the noise, the stuff that matters from the stuff that doesn’t.

When you look at what is happening online these days you see lots of themes – cults of personality, new terms like humblebrag, and the strategic use of sympathy-generating stories to boost one’s social media profile.

Most of us probably feel like we’re being tossed about in a sea full of flotsam and are unsure what to hold on to – how to make sense of what is going on.

And one way to do that – one way to find a lifeboat – is to get better at curation.

Which is why I stopped when I came across James A. Cohen and Paul Mihailidis’s 2013 paper Exploring Curation as a core competency in digital and media literacy education.

Cohen and Mihailidis argue that learning how to curate content makes us more literate.

Literacy, you must remember, is not just the ability to read.

It also requires you to learn how to write.

And in a world where content comes at us in different forms, literacy means more than consuming it – it also means being able to critically consider, analyse and express ourselves online – perhaps through the content we select and present as the content we like and identify with – the content we curate.

And so, if you want to get better at curation ask yourself how much you use these six skills brought out in this paper.

First, we get content in two main ways these days – top down and bottom up.

We get a traditional or official view from the media, the kind of stuff you get from newspapers and the TV, where journalists go out and research the story and give it to us in a top down way.

The other way is through our peer to peer social networks – a bottom up method.

For example, I’ll often check BBC and then check Twitter and millions of people probably use a similar approach to get their news.

These two sources can often be in conflict – as has been shown over the last few years between the media and a certain prominent leader.

The next thing to consider is where you get the information – what’s the medium, message or platform?,

Do you still get newspapers or is your entire diet served online?

What do you miss by only having one of those media?

And how do you benefit by keeping an eye on more than one?

Then you have to think about sources, voices and credibility.

Do you believe a President, a group of scientists or a young activist when it comes to the scale and urgency of climate change?

Of course, you have to always keep in mind that people engage in framing, bias, agenda and perspective.

What’s their point of view, is it honest, do they have an angle, why should you trust them?

There are too many people in the world who are looking for a shortcut to becoming rich and famous.

And there are too many people working on important and useful work that are barely recognised.

You’re in the position of a miner working through lots of useless rock to get to a seam of gold.

And if you can’t tell the difference between a rock and a lump of gold, you might want to learn that first before investing in digging gear.

So, after all that are you making sure you’re being exposed to a diverse set of views?

Many people take a position and refuse to listen to others.

And that leaves no option but to engage in conflict, and no one usually wins, not in the long term anyway.

It’s important to be exposed to people who think differently, who see the world differently.

You might not like what they have to say, but if they’re right then eventually you’ll be found out as wrong.

The last point is that whatever you do should keep in mind civic values and civic voices.

We all live in communities, small ones where our children go to school, large ones that make up nations and a global one that is the only place we inhabit.

What’s going on in other parts of the world matters, especially when there is injustice and oppression.

And the only way to deal with that is to shine a light on it – or at least keep your eyes open and be a witness to what is going on.

The essential skill that we need to develop to deal with the world is the ability to think critically with what is happening around us.

In a world full of information that starts with what we curate for ourselves and each other.


Karthik Suresh

How To Use Tiny Habits To Create Lasting Change


Sunday, 8.23pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude. – Colin Powell

If you’re anything like me there are a lot of things you want to do.

From losing weight and getting fitter to developing your career and creating more options, there are more things to do than there are hours in the day in which to do them.

And something always seems to fall off because it’s too hard to make sure everything stays on track.

Which is why B.J Fogg’s book Tiny Habits seems worth a look.

The book is based on Dr Fogg’s research and experience at Stanford University, and he comes up with a simple model that you can use to install a new behaviour.

Let’s say you want to start exercising daily.

Deciding to go to the gym for an hour every day is a big ask – and you could start by doing that but the chances are that you’ll stop after a while, as you get bored and other priorities take over.

Fogg argues that you should instead start with the smallest possible, the tiniest possible behaviour that will meet the criteria for what you are trying to do.

For example, with exercise, deciding to do two pushups probably qualifies as a tiny habit.

Let’s say you decide to do two pushups – then you have to decide when you’re going to do them.

It helps if you create some kind of prompt – something that will remind you that you need to carry out this behaviour.

This is also called an anchor.

For example, you could do your tiny two pushup habit every time you go to the loo.

The action of going to the bathroom acts as a prompt – something that reminds you to do the behaviour you want to do.

And then Fogg suggests having a little celebration.

He shouts “Victory!” but that’s a little too expressive for some of us, and I might settle for a quiet self-congratulatory fist pump.

Now it’s easy to be sceptical of something like this without trying it, so the first step is to actually try it out.

Which is what I’m going to do with the exercise routine – but I probably have an example of where I’ve followed this model and it has worked, although I didn’t know about Fogg at the time.

A few years ago, in late 2016, I decided that I wanted to keep a blog.

But, I didn’t know what I wanted to write about, so I started by simply writing something in a text file every day.

It only needed to be three paragraphs or so – a sort of freewriting – with no expectations that it would turn into anything else.

After a few months of this, however, it started to become easier.

Later on, in 2017, going from freewriting to writing a blog post every day wasn’t that big a step.

Going from writing something to adding in a drawing didn’t seem too difficult.

Now, over 700 posts and 440,000 words later it’s probably fair to say that I’m starting to get the hang of this.

But it all did start with a tiny habit.

And I do let myself have a little celebration after I finish each post, although it involves watching a programme I like.

So, I’m going to give tiny habits a try for the next few years and we’ll see if it works when it comes to health as well.

Until then,


Karthik Suresh

How To Start Thinking About Content For A New Website


Saturday, 8.06pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The power of a website comes from the people using it, not the people making it. – Chris Edwards

I’m planning on creating a niche site on a particular topic – so it made sense to review what’s out there on website design – what are people talking about now?

Not a whole lot that’s new, apparently.

As a first pass it feels like there are three things you should start by considering.

Let’s start with intent. What does that mean?

These days almost everyone goes to Google as a first step to doing anything.

But what is it they’re trying to do?

Well, it could be any number of things – from is that discolouration on their arm a wart to how to change a washer on a specific brand of tap.

There are billions of people searching for billions of things.

Trying to figure out their intent is probably not the best idea in the world, come to think of it.

Instead, the world of internet search actually seems to function a bit like the way a market operates.

The function of a market is to match buyers and sellers through the discovery of a price that both can settle on.

The function of search engines is to match people with questions and people with answers with a page that one creates and the other uses.

It’s usually a mistake to think that you can control a traded market.

And I think it’s probably just as big a mistake to think you can control an information market – especially as Google and other search engines get better at figuring out what people want rather than what they ask for.

What does this mean for my new site?

Well, it probably means that I should create a site that I want to use – something that answers questions that I have.

That’s the core – if you start off trying to create something that you think someone else needs then your site isn’t anchored anywhere, it’s simply floating free hoping for an audience.

But if you start with a site that “scratches your own itch” you have an audience of at least one and that’s a start.

From that anchor point, it’s time to think about searches.

The general advice on searches seems to be look at what people seem to ask for on a search engine.

Type in a couple of words and autocomplete suggestions drop down – presumably showing you what other people have searched for before.

Now, a good tip I came across was the a-z principle.

Let’s say your site has to do with horses.

You type in “horses a” and make a note of what comes up in the suggestions dropdown.

Slightly unexpectedly, these results include the words arse, ankle and glue.

Do that for the remaining b-z options and go through them.

I’ve done this for the site I’m thinking about and need to go through the result – but you would think that this approach will give you a useful list of search terms that are being used – the voice of the people, in a way.

I think then what might make sense is to look at these terms and keywords in a connected graph – how are these terms related when you put them down with nodes and links.

If you want to think about planning content this kind of graph can give you an idea of the area you need to cover and perhaps tell you how much you need to create.

With some niche areas you can write a small amount and rank pretty well.

With others, you need more and also need to be prepared to keep it updated to keep the search engines happy.

A third thing to keep in mind is what stage is your user at in their journey?

This transcript on search intent is quite useful and explains that people might be looking just for information or actively seeking a business relationship.

They might be carrying out a transaction, like buying something on Ebay or looking for local information, like an event.

The stage they’re in will affect the intent they have when carrying out the searches they do.

So what you’ve got to construct in your site is the thing they interact with when they’re in a particular stage.

For example, your content comes up when they’re looking for information and they can find your contact details and check how credible you are when looking to do business.

These three points are just a start – something to consider when building a new website.

There are enough sites out there and many of them will be competing with you.

At the same time it’s an information market – you will find a match with people looking for the information you’re putting out there.

You might as well try and build your site for those particular folk.


Karthik Suresh

What Sort Of Metrics Should We Be Paying Attention To?


Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted – William Bruce Cameron, Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking

Do you have a wearable tech device that monitors your activity – something like a Fitbit or smart watch.

Have you set yourself a target, like 10,000 steps a day.

Then, in the coming days, when you’ve fallen short, have you tried taking extra steps, pacing the floor to make up the numbers and been delighted when you pushed through the virtual tape and reached your goal?

And then, after a while, as the novelty wore off, did you stop?

I think we many people make a huge mistake when they start using measures and metrics – one that most never really realise they’re making.

For example, year after year, managers set targets – targets that are based on some arbitrary increase from a previous figure – say 20% year on year growth.

Maybe they use that to set targets for bonuses because they believe that having a goal will incentivise people to work harder.

And this assumption turns out wrong time after time, but we don’t seem to learn.

And this is why.

It’s easiest to see this happening when it comes to your health.

When you start putting on weight it’s tempting to think that the answer is in a fix – more exercise, less bad food.

So we put effort into eating less, eating better, going out for a run.

We don’t change anything else about what we do – we just add this additional bit that takes effort and willpower to keep doing.

And eventually, almost inevitably, we run out of energy to maintain that effort.

And that’s because this effort we exert is an external thing – a forcing effect – like you’re pressing down on the bonnet of a car – forcing down the suspension.

Eventually, you’ll have to let go and the car goes back to its normal position.

Remove the forcing effect and the old system returns – the one where you weighed more and had snacks every day.

Now, you say, surely goals are good, targets are better.

Aren’t goals dreams with a deadline and all that kind of jazz?

Let’s go back to the steps example.

The first thing your tracker tells you is what “normal” looks like for your step count.

For example, on weekends I have no difficulty hitting the count because we’re out with the kids and doing stuff.

On work days it’s hard, because I’m in all the time and standing at a computer.

On the days when I walk to school I get closer to the limit, exceeding it on some days.

The beauty of the tracker is that it tells me what is going on – and that set of figures is what you could term an “emergent metric”.

It’s something that emerges from the natural pattern of your life – the voice of the process.

Now, if you try and force that metric up eventually you’ll go back to normal when the forcing activity stops.

If you really want to change that metric then you have to change the underlying system.

For example, you might walk your kids to school even on the days you don’t have to.

You might choose to do your mid-week shop on foot rather than driving down as you normally do.

When you make those kinds of changes what you’re trying to do is change the system – and if that change is something you can keep doing without additional effort – then you have a good change of getting your metric to move in the right direction.

Not by targeting it but by changing the system that results in it.

This is semantics, you might say, whether you force it or change it – the same thing is happening.

And you would be wrong.

People who focus on metrics fail to see that metrics simply express what is going on.

As Deming said, every system is perfectly designed to deliver the results it does.

If you want to change you have to change the system.

For centuries, the only way to track things was by keeping a manual record – which is why we perhaps confused the record with the thing that results in the record.

But now, we have systems that can help us track what we’re doing without having to think about it.

For example, the number of posts I write in a year and the average length of each post seem around the same year on year.

That’s because the system I have to write and publish creates that result.

All too often the way we work makes it difficult to get these figures naturally from the work we do.

But that’s a technical problem – something that can be solved if you have the expertise needed to automate the collection and analysis of data that is generated through activity.

If you imagine your life, your business, as something that just goes on – like life in a town space.

What would you need to overlay on top of that – what systems would you need to invisibly collect data on what is going on?

Collect data that emerges, that is.

Because when you analyse that data – it’s like a doctor with an ECG.

You’re seeing straight into the heart of your system.

And you’ll know whether it’s healthy or clogged.

More importantly, you’ll know whether you need to make a change or not.

And it will be effortless.


Karthik Suresh

Why Putting In Place Some Structure Can Help You Work More Freely


Thursday, 8.18pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It’s hard to write a good play because it’s hard to structure a plot. If you can think of it off the top of your head, so can the audience. – David Mamet

When it comes down to it a lot of things happen the same way.

I was reading Writing television sitcoms by Evan S. Smith, who described his approach as premise-driven comedy writing.

He explains that there are two ways writers usually work.

Some just start and get a first draft written quickly – which then goes through endless rewrites – sometimes for the better and sometimes worse.

Others create or are given an outline and then fill in the blanks – there’s much less freedom but also less to worry about.

Smith’s approach says start by “weaving funny elements into the premise of the episode” – put in things that will generate humour in situations.

For example, in many sitcoms you’ll find that the two main characters are diametrically opposed.

You have a laid back person and a very buttoned person – and conflict and funny situations just come out of putting them together.

This got me thinking about Steven Pressfield’s clothesline method of writing, where you pin up key scenes, almost like you would hang them out on a clothesline, to see what the major parts of your story might be.

Taking this one step further you have Shawn Coyne’s story grid, which tells you that any genre you write in will have conventions and obligatory scenes.

Conventions are things that people expect to see in your story while obligatory scenes are things that you must have if you want the story to work.

Coyne explains that in a mystery story you’d expect someone to set out to solve the mystery – that’s a convention.

An obligatory scene in a thriller is having the hero at the mercy of the villain – think of every Bond film you’ve seen – if that isn’t there it’s just not going to do it for you.

Now, when I think about business and marketing, the same things apply.

For example, if you want to sell something on Ebay these days you need to follow certain conventions.

You need to describe your item and tell Ebay how to categorise it, probably at a minimum.

But if you want to sell you have to do more – have pictures, a description that stands out, stuff that helps people see you as a real seller and not a scammer.

You’ve got to do the same thing on LinkedIn – have a profile picture, build a network, engage and share content.

In both cases there are conventions you adhere to.

Some people simply connect to everyone out there – and probably annoy more than a few.

Others take the time to personalise an invite, reaching fewer but perhaps getting better quality connections.

Take a different field – creating online ads or a direct marketing piece.

Again, there will be elements that you need to put into your content – conventions you follow.

An obligatory element in an ad might be the call to action – why should they get in touch?

When you start thinking of anything you do in these terms you start to see the value of knowing what these conventional and obligatory elements are.

If you know these you can pin them up on your imaginary clothesline – you know you need these to make things work.

And then, because you have those elements in place you can get on with creating something that is uniquely about you.

Pure novelty is hard to sell – and it’s usually ignored because people don’t know what to make of it.

Sitcoms and books that work do so not because they contain something novel – but because they contain timeless elements that are being presented in a novel way.

And really, when you think about it, businesses and campaigns that work probably do so for the same reason – they appeal to things that are timeless – but show them to you in a new way.

Which makes them unique.


Karthik Suresh

The Very Best Reason For Keeping Things As Simple As Possible


Wednesday, 9.25pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place. Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it. – Brian W. Kernighan and P. J. Plauger in The Elements of Programming Style.

Most people react instinctively to complexity in the way animals respond to a forest fire.

They try and get as far away from it as possible.

Not everyone though.

Some people make things complicated because they’re learning and they’re trying to push their boundaries – do things in new ways.

And that’s a good thing.

Eventually, they will learn that the really cool and complex thing they made two years ago is now the bane of their lives as they struggle to maintain and deliver a service using it.

And then they will learn the value of simplicity.

Others see their mastery of something complicated as a weapon, a secret to be hoarded – as if the possession of knowledge is a guarantee of security.

And that’s less useful, because no one wants to work with people like that really.

If you are a programmer – an experienced one anyway – you will know that any reasonably sized piece of work you make will have bugs.

Often, the way in which we work encourages us to create bugs.

This is not restricted just to programmers, however, it applies to most people who interact with a computer.

For example, if you write, do you rely on your word processor to help you with spelling and grammar?

Do those little red lines or the absence of them help you correct mistakes?

If you are expecting the computer to pick up all those errors, then you’re doing the same thing as a programmer – creating something and then hoping that when there are no red lines on the screen you are done and can send the thing.

Except, do you find that every once in a while errors still creep in, two words have crept in that are spelt correctly but don’t belong together.

If you really want to catch your mistakes, what you should do is print out your document and read it, catching as many errors as you can manually before using the computer.

And, it turns out that if programmers do this they catch quite a few more bugs before the things get a chance to get built into the program.

But who has the time to do that – I don’t – I often catch errors in these posts only when I read them later.

Now, this principle applies to much in life.

Any time you create a process – a marketing process, a sales process, an operations process – there is a temptation to create steps and gateways and forms.

Imagine that the thing you’re creating is a program – it’s a set of instructions that are going to be executed one after the other, perhaps some in parallel.

It should be obvious to you that the number of bugs is going to scale with the number of instructions – if you don’t do something then you can’t do it wrong.

So why is it that any seminar on sales will give you a 7 step process, a 10 step process, a 15 step process?

Is that because they have to justify the value – it’s hard to charge you much if I say – just listen to your prospect and build what they tell you they need.

If you try and give people too many instructions they will probably do them wrong.

And, unlike a machine, they will interpret those instructions quite differently from someone else – creating a whole new category of bugs – ones that arise from misunderstandings and miscommunication.

The only way to deal with this is to recognise that the world has no need of the smartest thing you can build.

Actually – you don’t need to do that.

When you come across something made by someone else – or even something you made a few years ago you’re like a person blundering about blindly – trying to figure out what is going on while deprived of a number of senses.

When you have something complicated to deal with in that condition – it’s just going to make you unhappy.

So be kind to your future self – and keep things simple.


Karthik Suresh

p.s. Some more good quotes about programming and keeping it simple are here

Can The Critical Study Of Poetry Tell Us Anything About Social Media?


Tuesday, 8.05pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Modernus, based on the word modo, for “now,” first came into use in the sixth century A.D., and it is worth remembering that “Modernism” always means “For Now.” – Harold Bloom

My social media feed is brimming with at the moment with posts about how companies are stepping up to decarbonise their operations.

This is a good thing, right?

But, I’m not sure if what I’m seeing is really what’s happening.

Is it really the case that organisations have finally seen the light – that we have reached a tipping point and now everything is going to be better.

Or is it just that the clever social media algorithms that impersonally monitor my every move on the Internet are putting stuff in front of me that is like stuff I have looked at before.

Is the world really changing, or is it what I see that has changed?

I could spend more time on social media trying to find out but I don’t want to.

Instead, I do what I often do when I’m not sure what to do – spin the wheel and go somewhere that looks different but interesting.

That aimless journey today took me to Harold Bloom’s book A map of misreading, that tells you how to critically read a poem.

But first, Bloom talks about his theory of poetry which he says others will argue about but that might still be useful.

I’ll be straight with you – the language is tough going and I was tempted to give up quickly – it will take hard thought to decode such a text.

But, there are little gems that kept me going, so here are a few of them.

We might have an image of a poet as a solitary creature, that crafts things of wonder in quiet solitude, but Bloom argues first that poets write in response to other poets.

A poet is not the only pinpoint of light in an empty universe – there are other stars and they reflect each other’s light.

Think of how you act in a social situation – do you act in splendid isolation or are you influenced by how others act – and is it not the same on social media?

A second point is what we accept as tradition – what we see as normal right now.

For example, a decade or so ago most people would have ignored social media as a plaything for college kids – but now it is increasingly seen as a potential tool for business.

We are all students, learning what should be done from those who come before us – a tradition of studentship that goes back thousands of years.

A teacher must first be a student and a writer first a reader – and they must go around changing from one to the other as long as they want to be useful.

It’s when you stop that you start to ossify, to fossilise, to get old and irrelevant.

It is dangerous to think that we can ignore what has gone before.

Bloom gives the example of those people who rebel against everything their parents are – learning nothing from them – and finding to their dismay that later they turn into their parents.

If you would avoid being who your parents are then how can you do it if you don’t know anything about them?

People who start from scratch rarely do anything – they may reinvent something that has been done better before – and what use is that?

But it would be a mistake too to think that what is there now is all there is – that tradition is more important than anything else.

As Bloom says in the quote that starts this post, everything you see as modern is only there “for now.”

So, the letter and the fax have been displaced by email and the status update.

So far, we have been given two options to engage with the world.

The first is that of the early adopter – the one who got blogs and social media and content early – and are now firmly sat as experts, traditionalists in the field.

Then there are others who turn their backs in disgust, either too old to play or feel that they are too late and so why bother anyway, how can they possible compete?

Which is where Bloom draws on Romanticism, the way of thinking of the last two hundred or so years, which makes a point of being late to the party – of being consciously late.

It’s the approach that comes along and takes a good, long, hard look at what is there now and reinterprets it, revises it, questions it.

And that means that it’s okay to come along to this big Internet, social thing late in the game – just don’t play it the same way everyone else does but find a way to look at it again and make a new way that works for you.

Although Bloom cautions that you can get so caught up in Romantic revisionism that revising for the sake of revising become a new norm.

The media we have now is a technological implementation of an ancient intellectual battle.

On one side is the camp of those that believe that the spoken word is key.

One other side are those that believe that the written word is supreme.

Those who see ideas as things to be discussed, interpreted, argued and settled through “contemporary authority” see the world in one way.

Those who believe that the written word is primal see things differently – they see thought captured in the words and divorced from the personality of the speaker – perhaps allowing for more independent and objective examination. They see how meaning lives past the meaning maker.

But now we see something different.

We see social media being used to discuss and argue ideas in a court made of the public – and in some cases this creates great change – maybe good change.

Like the change that seems to be happening as organisations wake up to just how much people want them to decarbonise and make sure there is still a planet for future generations.

But then you also have the polarisation of debate, the echo chambers and the election of politicians who appeal to people on the basis of their opposition to other people.

There are a lot of stars in the sky, after all.

And so perhaps the most important quote is the one Bloom takes from a book titled Beyond the pleasure principle.

Protection against stimuli is an almost more important function for the living organism than reception of stimuli.

In other words, sometimes you just have to turn the damn devices off.


Karthik Suresh

How Can You Make Youself More Findable


Monday, 7.34pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Findability precedes usability. In the alphabet and on the Web. You can’t use what you can’t find. – Ambient Findability by Peter Morville

I was wondering about marketing today – about the process of making others aware of what you do.

Social media, in particular, is interesting – because you see a lot happening but you don’t see what happens next.

For example, we all know people who seem to post on a regular basis – it seems underpinned by a strategy.

And that’s what you’ll learn if you go to a seminar – that you’ve got to be on there, got to be posting, got to be active if you want to be found.

Now, how many times have you done business with someone you didn’t know but connected with on social media?

I can’t really think of any examples personally, but your business may be different.

Where do people normally do business then?

Well, let’s start with “normal” businesses, the ones you find in shops – or actually, in a market.

When you go to a town market you’ll probably find that similar shops are clustered near each other.

Fruit and veg sellers, for example, are in one place. Fish and meat in another. And clothing somewhere else.

Why would you want to be situated next door to someone selling the same thing you are?

The reason is that customers can find you – if they see fruit shops and head in that direction – the chances are that they want fruit.

If you’re there, then you might get a bit of that footfall but if you’ve over in the clothes section, while you’re unique, people are there to buy clothes and not fruit.

If you ran around the market and tapped random people on the shoulder asking if they want fruit – then some will.

So that’s another strategy you could use.

And if you look at the Internet, both these strategies are used all the time.

The first, being near other people who sell the same thing, is what you call SEO where the idea is to be in the mix of results when people search for something.

And the second is outbound marketing – ranging from cold calling to spam, and taking in advertising along the way – as you try and interrupt people and get them to pay attention to what you have to say.

Now, if you want to be found by Google, what you need is to get better at creating stuff people like and that they link to – because of how important the principle of citations are to the way Google looks at things – along with clever ways of recognising the meaning of what’s written on pages.

And that takes time, one assumes – time to create useful stuff that is ranked highly.

But really, that depends on whether you want to get across one coherent message or if you’re comfortable with lots of micro-messages.

Peter Morville, in his book Intertwingled: Information changes everything talks about how you organise information.

You can do it top down, with a hierarchy, like a list of services.

You can do in clusters, or categories, like you might find in a retail store – shoes here and shirts there.

Or you can do it with tags, something that describes what you have.

Morville describes how Netflix uses tags to create microgenres, stitching several together to create something you’d never think of searching for, but still describes what you want to see.

His example is “Cult Evil Kid Horror Movies”, which could be well described by the picture I’ve drawn on the right.

While a straightforward feel-good film is perhaps the one on the left.

When you start thinking about being findable, then, what matters is perhaps not the strategy you use but what you do.

If you do something that’s straightforward to describe, then SEO your way to success – if you know what people search for when they’re looking for your services then you can construct pages that are designed to get to the top of Google.

If it’s not, then you have two choices – either work on your outbound strategy, go and find customers and build your referral approach.

Which is where social media comes in really – it’s a form of outbound where you have to catch someone’s attention through all the noise rather than waiting for them to come to you.

But if you really want to be found – despite not being able to say what you do in three words or less – then you might want to build several pages that stress different facets of what you do – create microgenres and develop pages that will rank with long form content and the kind of stuff Google loves.

The thing about getting found is spending some time working on ways that people can get to you – but that also work for you to set up and manage without running out of energy.

Because if you don’t, they won’t.


Karthik Suresh

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