How To Understand The Value You Provide And Under What Terms

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Sunday, 8.23pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value. – Albert Einstein

As I continue with the Getting Started book project there are a few things that will be different if you’ve been reading these posts for a while.

I’m going to use the images to experiment with graphical organiser templates – the kinds of things you can fill in as you explore an idea, so you might see more images like the one in this post – a framework with some initial ideas as an example.

Each post will also have a more clearly defined goal – something that you can achieve along with a strategy – a play out of a playbook or a beat or a scene that shows you how to do it.

Not all at once, of course, not perfectly – because this is an iterative process as I work through a rough draft.

In this post we’ll look at what you can do with those resources – and where you should focus your time and attention.

The goal is to get a clear understanding of how you personally create value.

The definition of value depends on who is doing the defining

As is so often the case, Warren Buffett has a quote that’s worth starting from to understand the idea of value.

Price is what you pay; value is what you get.

In the last post we looked at understanding the resources you have – the ones that you will have under all circumstances.

The core resources are made up of the training you’ve received, the skills you’ve developed and the tools you control.

Just having these resources does not, however, mean that you’ve created value.

You actually need to create some thing in the first place – a thing from which value emerges.

Let’s say you make a clay pot during your first ever pottery class.

Does it have value?

To an experienced and discerning collector of ceramics your first attempt at creating a pot probably has no value whatsoever – she simply wouldn’t bother to name a price.

But if you’re three and it’s for your mother – then that pot is priceless – its value is infinite.

The cup on my desk that has the footprints and handprints of my once-three year old is not for sale.

Unfortunately, once you grow up, you rarely find people who believe in you quite as much as your mum does.

So you have to start thinking about how other people define value, and it’s probably not in the way you first think.

For example, let’s take three basic resources that most people will have to one extent or another.

Can you read, write and do maths?

Is that valuable?

If a customer is looking for a researcher, a copywriter or a programmer, then it’s likely that you have something that they will value – your ability to digest and understand complex information, your skills at crafting clear and compelling copy and your ability to think logically and create computer programs that work.

This is worth understanding clearly.

Just because you can read something doesn’t mean that you have value.

What matters is whether you can read what someone else needs you to read, understand that material, and produce a research report that is useful to them.

Value emerges from how well you do that task in the eyes of the person who needs you to do it.

What people assume is that value is something they have, something that’s in them that they give you.

The crucial thing to understand is that you have to produce something – you have to bring a thing into existence that you give to the other person – and then value is created only when they think it is.

What you have to get clear in your own mind is what is that thing – what is it that you’re going to produce.

Do you have the resources you need to create value?

To produce anything you need resources like the core ones discussed earlier in this section.

In the same way you want to create value for someone else – these things are of value to you – someone else gave them to you.

Going back to my simple example, you learned to read, write and do maths at school – you were given these skills that are now of value to you.

You may have more items on your list – your art skills, for example or your ability at multiple programming languages.

All these are things you value and they are the resources you can use to create value.

What you have to be clear about is whether you can do these things well – well enough to compete with other people out there.

You don’t need to be the best at what you do – but you do need to be good.

If you aren’t good yet then you’ve got to spend some time getting good before you’re going to be in a position where you can create value.

But that’s something that’s entirely within your control and it comes down to focus and practice.

In my own consulting experience the three skills I’ve put down – reading, writing and maths – have been absolutely fundamental to the work I’ve done for the last twenty years.

And it’s surprising how few people you can hire that can demonstrate a mastery of these three basic skills.

Your field may be different, so you should list at least three things that you have that you value.

Now, let’s see what you can do with them.

Which value creating activities are worth doing?

Some people are lucky – they’re naturally good at lots of things.

You’re rewarded for this at school – being good gets you lots of stickers and good marks and positive report cards.

It’s easy to conclude from the experience of youth that being good at everything matters – and being better at everything than everyone else is the way you get ahead.

But that isn’t the case – what matters is what’s worth doing for you.

Most of us aren’t going to be included in that list of people who are better than everyone else.

We’re going to be rubbish at a lot of things – but there will be some things that we’ve shown we’re good at doing.

I don’t know what that is for you – it probably depends on what you saw grown-ups doing when you were young, the kind of resources you had growing up, the kind of people you hung around.

But there will be something – a thing you’ve got in your head, a skill you’ve got in your hands, resources that you control – that you know you can do, that you’re good at.

If you don’t know this yet – that’s ok, it just means you have to spend some more time learning what those things are by trying out different activities and experimenting to see what you like doing.

It’s the thing you’ve always done – you can’t remember a time when you didn’t do this thing.

If that thing is on your list – it’s time to look at it in some more detail.

There’s a good chance it’s the key to setting yourself apart – because you’ve become better at doing this over time.

There’s really just one thing you need to ask yourself when it comes to deciding how you create value.

How easily can someone else do this thing you do?

This is the crucial question that can often make the difference between your project succeeding or failing.

If you showed a prospect this thing you’ve made will they say, “Well, anyone can do that.”

Or will they say, “Wow, I could never do that.”

Anyone can buy goods from a wholesaler and sell them at a market stall.

Fewer people can design their own art and sell them at a market stall.

Would you be more likely to buy trinkets at a stall or buy artwork straight from the artist in front of you?

Obviously, it depends on you – your definition of value.

All else being equal, however, people are more likely to value what they cannot get from anyone else.

Which is why you need to be clear on who is setting the terms for value creation in your negotiation with a prospect.

Are you setting the terms for the value exchange?

If someone knows what they want done and give you a scope of work then you’re being hired as an employee or as a contractor.

You’re going to do what is needed of you – and the value you bring is in the form of your labour.

You’re exchanging time for money – and that is a perfectly respectable form of value exchange.

If you want to start your own business, however, you have to start setting the terms for the value exchange.

This means that you “propose” the scope of work – you set out what you will do and what the other person will get from you.

You can’t control how they think or react, but if you put something in front of them that you believe is useful to them, and they agree – then you will have created value.

Now it’s about agreeing on a price for the exchange.

Something we’ll address later in this book.

Is this what you really want to do?

By now you should have whittled down your resources to the most valuable – the ones that you can do well and are the hardest for others to do.

But it’s also important that the things you can create with these resources at the things you actually want to spend the rest of your life creating.

Or at least, a very significant portion of your life.

It’s much easier to stay the course if you’re doing something you like doing.

Perhaps you’ve found a niche where you can create value but it’s a tiring, miserable existence.

Maybe you think that’s worth it because when you’ve made your millions you can sit back and do nothing.

That’s up to you.

For the rest of us, life is going to be much more enjoyable if you design it to fit you rather than forcing yourself to fit into someone else’s life.

And you’ll get to the right design when what you value helps you create things that other people value enough to pay you.

This value thing is important and so tomorrow I’m going to look at it again through the lens of the “circle of competence” idea.

Or not – it might be something else, we’ll see.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Understand What Resources You Really Have

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Saturday, 8.15pm

Sheffield, U.K.

One reason you should not use web applications to do your computing is that you lose control. It’s just as bad as using a proprietary program. Do your own computing on your own computer with your copy of a freedom-respecting program. If you use a proprietary program or somebody else’s web server, you’re defenceless. You’re putty in the hands of whoever developed that software. – Richard Stallman

As I carry on with this book project, you’ll find related posts on the Getting Started category in the blog.

In the last few posts I covered methods to help you understand your situation better – both in terms of your own strengths and characteristics, and in the nature of the interactions you have with others.

In this post I want to look at resources, because the kind of resources you have and control are going to have a very strong influence on what you can and can’t do.

The resources you have limit what you can do

It’s not enough to believe in yourself, to have faith and will – you need to have the resources required to take action – resources that you can marshal and organise.

For a long time control of resources was all that mattered.

If you owned land or owned a mine – you had a resource you could control and exploit.

And the way you gained control of that resource was by the use of power – the power of force that your ancestors wielded and the power of the law that protects what they gave you.

It’s hard for some people to realise that some of the things they take for granted are actually resources handed down to them over generations.

If you were born in a modern industrialised country you take its huge resources for granted – from the education system to the opportunities for work.

Even in those societies, however, you have injustice – and that injustice can be seen in the resources that disadvantaged people have.

But this book is not about society and the fact that different people have different amounts of resources.

Facts are facts – they exist – and the facts will change as situations change.

What matters, however, is what resources you have right now – because they will limit what you can do with your projects.

What resources do you have that cannot be taken away?

The first thing to evaluate are the resources you have that exist within your body.

What’s in your brain? Did you do a degree in a particular subject or have you learned the social skills needed to work with people effectively?

You might be a trained engineer or you might have spent years working the phones in a call centre.

Both experiences will have given you knowledge – knowledge of how systems work and how people respond – and this is knowledge that cannot be taken away.

You will have also picked up skills along the way, things you can make with your hands.

These two types of resources – knowledge and skills – are the kinds of things you put down on a resume.

And the main thing about these resources is that they travel with you wherever you go.

What resources do you control?

Resources you control are of a different type from those that exist within your body.

When you’re doing a job you’re provided with these – a computer, software, equipment of one kind or another.

It’s possible that your business needs some large equipment, the kind of stuff you need to buy or lease – in which case you’re going to need some kind of capital.

Let’s leave those kinds of resources to one side for a while.

The kind of resources I’m thinking of here are the ones you personally have and can control.

These days that really comes down to hardware and software in a huge range of professions.

And that makes these resources available to many more people – because you have options.

For example, if I were to think about the key resources I use to create the material you’re reading here – what I need is a computer and software.

In particular, I rely on GNU/Linux because it’s free software.

Free as in free speech rather than free beer.

Free as in freedom.

That matters to me, because hardware is cheap these days, you can always get an old computer that still works.

If you’re a poor student from a disadvantaged background – you’ll actually get a lot of proprietary software thrown at you for free.

They want you to be a consumer, after all.

But if you really want to create something that you control then, for the first time in history, you have access to tools that you can control entirely – tools that cannot be taken from you because of the way they’ve been put into the world.

This may not be important to you – after all a tool that you can purchase and use is still a tool you can control.

But it’s important to me – it’s important that I can write these words and publish them without having to ask for permission from anyone else – and host the whole thing on my own computer if I wanted to.

And, of course, if you want to work with others you’re going to need to have tools that you’re both willing to use.

The market will settle those issues.

But the fundamental question that you need to answer is what tools do you have that are under your control – what would you still be able to use if you didn’t have a job tomorrow.

Those tools are precious and you need to take good care of them.

What other resources can you rely on?

There are a number of other resources that you will find are accessible to you.

Many of these are free, like email and social networks, and they give you the ability to work on the same basis as anyone anywhere else in the world.

Except, that’s not entirely true.

You can do that, with hard work and persistence, but when a product is free to use, then you’re the thing they’re selling to others.

You just need to get used to that and learn how to play the game.

There is a cost to everything so it shouldn’t surprise you that you have to pay a price to grow your business.

What you have to do here is make a list of the resources you can access – including the personal relationships you have and the places where you have spent time establishing your reputation.

We’ll come back to these later.

What would you do if you lost a resource?

An important thing to think through is what would you do if you lost a resource.

You’re unlikely to lose your training, but what if you suffered a disability?

How might that change things?

Could you keep working if your eyesight started to fail or if were unable to use your hands because of carpal tunnel syndrome?

This isn’t about being morbid but about facing up to what you would do if things went wrong – and whether you could keep doing what you’ve spent a lot of time working on – even if you have to make some changes.

Do you need more resources?

If you’ve made this first list of resources – what you might call your core resources – what does that tell you?

Do you feel like you have everything you need at the moment?

Or do you need to spend more time learning or more time practising your skills?

One of the things about getting started is knowing when to start.

Starting before you’re ready sounds like a good idea in theory – but really, you still need to have some resources in place.

Quitting your job and starting your market-stall business may seem like a great idea – but you will probably end up spending a lot of your own money learning how to keep your business alive.

Perhaps you should consider spending someone else’s money on training yourself first.

Remember – resources are the things you have right now.

If there are things you still need you should probably first figure out how to get them.

What do you need to do next?

The goal of this step – of analysing your resources – is to understand whether you’re ready or not to take the next step – and what kind of step that should be.

At a bare minimum, you need to know what needs to be done, you should have the skills to do it, and you should have the tools you need to get it done.

If you don’t have these three core requirements ticked off, then you need to spend some time working on that.

If you need training, go and get it.

If you need to develop your skills, practice them.

If you need tools go and buy them or learn how to use free software to get the job done.

All this takes time and money and effort – resources don’t just appear out of thin air.

You have to do the work.

When you’ve made that list of resources – made it as long as possible – it’s time to do the next thing.

Work out which of those are the most important.

We’ll look at that tomorrow.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Kind Of Animal Are You – And Why You Can’t Be Anything Else?

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Friday, 8.04pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A city is a crazy concrete jungle whose people at the end of each day somehow make a small step ahead against terrible odds. – Herb Caen

In my last post I talked about how you can improve the way in which you interact with others – by borrowing best practices from how children play.

Now it’s time to go back and take another look at who you are – who you really are and see what that shows you about the kind of business strategy that’s going to work for you.

Select an animal that you think describes you

Imagine you’re living in a jungle somewhere and all the animals gather at the local watering hole.

That’s a place where you can see all forms of life.

What do you think you’ll be?

Are you a herd animal, a deer among deer hiding in plain sight?

Are you hidden from view, submerged in the depths only surfacing when you want to and on your terms?

Are you a sleek, fast predator, always moving, eating what you kill?

Maybe you’re happy-go-lucky, hidden in the trees.

Or are you slower and more deliberate, so large that everyone leaves you alone?

Or are you a young version of any of these – waiting to see how life will turn out when you grow up?

Maybe you’re different from all these – there isn’t an animal that can describe you.

In which case, create an alien that you can work with – the selection of an animal is only so you have a big idea that you can dig into a little bit more.

What are the characteristics that you see in yourself?

Now that you’ve selected an animal it’s time to deepen your understanding of why you think you’re similar to it.

For example, let’s say you’ve picked a predator like the quick orange creature in the picture above.

What is it that you identify with in that creature?

Is it its speed, its aggression, its willingness to go after what it wants?

Perhaps you like the fact that it is a solitary animal, hunting on its own.

Or perhaps you’ve picked one that isn’t on the image – a busy ant or bee, working away to put away resources for later.

What kind of words would you use to describe your animal self?

Are you loyal, a good member of the herd, an unflappable personality, the fun animal?

How does that animal survive in its environment?

Any environment has dangers for your animal, both from predators and the land itself.

How do you survive?

Is it easy to find food and shelter or does your animal have to work hard to get everything it needs?

Is it in danger all the time or does it have few predators?

Or, like the alien, is it trying to find out what life is like and how to fit in?

What kind of niche does it dominate?

Survival is one thing but what you really need to understand is how your animal dominates its niche – because there is something where it is the best at what it does.

It’s easy with the big animals – they know they’re strong or fast or lethal.

But if you’re still in the early stages of your business you’re either a small big animal or a very small animal.

Perhaps you’re a baby elephant and it’s just going to take time to grow – but what if you’re a small bird or a burrowing mammal?

There’s still always a niche – something you’ve adapted to, something you fit perfectly.

Maybe it’s your animal’s skill at digging deep, going much further than anyone else.

Or maybe it’s created a symbiotic relationship, like those birds that perch on a crocodile’s back and clean its teeth – both getting something from each other.

Not many lions would see that as a sensible niche to want to occupy.

But, what’s the point of all this thinking – why should you find an animal you identify with and deepen your understanding of the characteristics you share?

Because it can help you figure out who you really are.

How can you use what you see in your own situation?

A lot of business advice out there says you need to do things like other people – people who have been successful.

Be like them – be outrageous, be sociable, be smart.

But the problem is that you can’t be anyone but you – it’s really quite impossible for you to become someone else.

Pick anyone you like – there are big names from big companies who will come to mind quickly.

Can you really be like any one of them?

Can you possibly have the same experiences, the same breaks, the same chances, the same insights as them?

And even if you did, will it be the same for you?

Clearly that’s not possible – and the one thing that you have to realise is that you have to be you – build on what you are and what you have rather than trying to be anyone else.

Get rid of that copycat thinking.

All you need to know is that you will thrive in the niche where you have the best fit – and so your job is to find that niche.

It may be that you work best in a herd – that a team matters for you.

In that case, get a job, work at a company that recognises and rewards your talents.

If you are a lone wolf, make sure that you don’t rely on anyone else for resources.

Carry your office in your backpack and be ready to work anywhere.

If you’re slow and deliberate and want to become as big as you possibly can – then raise money, build a team and create a business with economies of scale – where the bigger you are the stronger your position.

Everyone thinks that there is a perfect life, a perfect business.

There isn’t.

There is only what is perfect for you.

It’s the principle that makes the world possible – we couldn’t exist in a world where only lions or only elephants existed.

You need bees and ants and gorillas.

The world does, anyway.

Unfortunately for the world humans see their role as changing all that, so animals find it hard to adapt to the speed at which their environment is changing.

But you’re human, you can do something about the situation you’re in.

You can start by figuring out your niche and dominating it.

And then when you have a solid base – a sound foundation – maybe you can think about how you can help the others on the planet.

Especially the ones who haven’t got the chances you’ve been given.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Analyse The Way You Interact With Others

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Thursday, 7.39pm

Sheffield. U.K.

This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play. – Alan Watts

The last post and the one before that were about introspective models – approaches to see who you really are with fresh eyes.

There are a few more of those approaches to look at, but it’s worth looking now at where your edge is – where do you end?

And, if you think about it, you end where someone else begins, and it’s hard to always tell where the boundary lies.

It’s like having your bubble – the bubble that contains you, your thoughts, your feelings – and having it come into contact with someone else’s bubble.

A huge amount depends on what happens when those two bubbles bump into each other – when that overlap and interaction take place between two people.

Think about it for a minute.

If you send out a cold marketing email your success depends on what happens at the interface, when your message comes to the attention of the recipient – if it’s not filtered out first.

The first meeting you have with someone, the subsequent meetings to talk about a project – all those interactions that take place time after time and which decide the success or failure of your business and career, or at least that particular project that you’re working on right then.

So, how do you get this right, what do you need to do to make this interaction work well?

A good way to understand this is to look at how children communicate – what they need to do in order to get on with each other.

In order to play nicely with each other.

If you look at child psychology textbooks, they will tell you that there are three things children have to be able to do to be able to play together.

Swapping information

The first is that they have to be able to swap information.

Partly, this has to do with language but, as you will know if you have ever taken children to a foreign country, kids can communicate quite well even if they don’t know each other’s language.

It has to do with what each person wants to do and trying to communicate that – swap information about each other’s likes and dislikes.

Finding something in common

The next thing children have to be able to do is decide on a common activity, something they’re both willing to do.

This creates the conditions for joint play, where they can both do something together that they’re both interested in.

Dealing with and resolving conflicts

The third key element that children have to be able to do is sort out the conflicts that inevitably arise.

If they can’t and it ends in tears then they’ll either walk away or be separated by grown-ups.

If they can sort it out themselves that will mean a longer period of play and perhaps the start of a friendship.

Applying these elements to your business

Now, if you think about it, the interactions you have in your business are really all about these same things.

Your marketing copy and advertising material are designed to give information to others.

At the same time the people who need what you’re providing have to make themselves findable.

So a lot of your initial work is all about figuring out what kind of person is interested in what you provide and swapping information with them.

Then, you have to find out if you have something in common – does your product fit their needs.

If it does then you have to resolve the questions and objections they have.

You’re not looking for someone like you

If you watch children playing conflict arises when two of them want the same thing – the same toy, the same role, the same reward.

The key to getting along is having a common interest and complementary capabilities – be able to work together and each bring something to the effort.

In any group of children you’ll find a mix of characters – and that’s what makes the dynamics of play work.

Once again, it’s the same with your business.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to do everything yourself or needs to have absolute control over the way things are done – you’ll find that only certain kinds of people will work with you.

If you’re loose and unstructured you’ll attract different kinds of people.

What you’re looking for is interpersonal fit

You need to understand how you work with others – how you play nicely – so that you can develop your project and grow your business.

You need to understand where you fit in, what your niche is and how that works with others in the same space.

When you understand that you’ll start to see the strategy and approach that’s going to work for you and the business you’re trying to build.

That’s what we’ll look at tomorrow.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Analyse Your Personal Situation – Deeply

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Wednesday, 8.34pm

Sheffield, U.K.

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path. – Buddha

There are a few problem structuring tools that are so familiar that we simply assume we know how to use them.

This often isn’t the case.

They are powerful techniques – that’s how they became popular in the first place – but if we use them in a careless way we don’t make full use of their power.

One of these techniques is the SWOT analysis – where you reflect on your strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats.

It’s a basic model that you learn well before business school – the kind of model you bring out whenever you’re trying to think through a new project.

In this section I’m going to revisit the SWOT analysis and try to see if we can deepen our understanding and use of the tool by being more specific and critical of what we focus on as we do the analysis.

What are your strengths?

Imagine that we’re testing whether a business idea has potential – that’s the kind of place where a SWOT analysis comes in useful.

Let’s start with why this business idea is a good one for you to do – what is it about you that is going to help.

These are your strengths and you should list them in the first quadrant of the SWOT matrix, as above.

This can be surprisingly hard to do.

If you ask someone to list their strengths they’ll probably come up with things like their experience, their qualifications and their personal qualities.

Something like 10 years work experience, an engineering degree and hard work.

And then they start to run out of things to say.

Now, are these strengths?

Well, the thing to notice is that they aren’t too different from what anyone else in the same situation might say.

If you’re going for a job or trying to win a client – everyone who is in the running has the qualifications, experience and personal attributes – you wouldn’t get shortlisted if you didn’t.

So you have to look deeper, draw on the factors that set you apart.

Look for proof points – what results did you achieve, how much revenue did you bring in, how many clients did you add, what volume of work did you do.

When you’ve been involved in a billion pounds worth of transactions you’ve probably learned a few things along the way.

The other source of strengths are the things you are obsessed by – what is it you do on which you spend more time and effort than almost everyone else?

That’s the thing that’s most likely to set you apart.

Circle those strengths – and keep them in mind as you carry on through the process.

What are your weaknesses?

People hate admitting that they have weaknesses.

The classic interview coaching response to this question is, “My greatest weakness is that I don’t know when to stop working.”

You might lie on an interview, but you shouldn’t lie to yourself.

There are some things that you are just not going to be good at – things you don’t like to do.

They are things that you avoid doing and so you practice them less and so you’re not as strong.

Maybe it has to do with managing others, or keeping up with administrative paperwork.

Look hard at your weaknesses because quite often they are simply the counterbalance to your strengths.

For example, if you are a creative person who spends the majority of their day engaged in focused creative activity – you probably don’t have time to file away documents and do the garden.

It’s your focus on creative excellence that means you are weak at administrative excellence.

A weakness simply means it’s a job you should give someone else to do.

If you are clear about your own strengths and weaknesses, you’re now ready to look around and examine opportunities and threats.

What are the opportunities you have?

When you look around and see booming businesses it’s tempting to think that there is opportunity everywhere.

Surely you can make the next Facebook, Google or Amazon?

What’s stopping you from making a killing in the property market?

With all these people making money on YouTube what’s stopping you from achieving passive income and financial freedom as well?

If you’re asked to list the opportunities out there you might easily put down technology, property and finance.

That’s where most fortunes are made, after all.

But what you also have to work out is whether that opportunity is one that’s going to work for you.

If it’s the right opportunity it’s like a greased slide, you’ll be able to get on and gravity will be on your side.

So you have to look hard at your list and think about why you’re going to be able to develop those opportunities.

Do you have a background in property?

Do you understand finance or technology – are you an analyst or a coder?

Just because you can see other people making money from an opportunity – it doesn’t mean that those are the only ways to succeed.

In fact, it’s more likely that there is a way for you to succeed that you are perfectly positioned for.

Maybe it’s a change in the market, maybe it’s a job that others find hard to do, maybe it’s something you’ve developed for your own use that could be useful to others.

Rather than looking for opportunities, what you need to do is think about how you can develop them – using the strengths at your disposal.

Opportunities are not things you find – they are things you create.

But in order to develop them you have to do one last thing – remove risk.

And you do this by analysing the threats you face.

What are the threats?

As with the other three categories it’s easy to list threats in a vague and general way.

You might be threatened, for example, by bad customer feedback, cash flow problems, late payments from customers.

These threats might cause you to trip, make mistakes, cost you money.

But there are two elements to a threat – the first is the impact it has on your business and the second is how likely is it to happen.

The less you understand about your business, the more likely it is that you will make mistakes you can’t recover from.

It really comes back to knowing where you’re strong and where you’re weak – and being clear about what opportunities you pursue as a result.

If you’ve got those first three elements lined up, then the last job you have is identifying and eliminating threats.

It’s risk management, really – if you’re climbing a steep hill with loose rocks – start by asking yourself whether you really need to do the climb at all.

Why not go around, get a cab or hire a helicopter.

But if you have to climb it wear good footwear, take some equipment to help and have a plan in case you run into trouble.

There are some threats you can’t do anything about – the weather, the electricity network.

So you only focus on the threats that you can do something about – the ones you can mitigate.

And by doing that you’re dramatically increasing the overall chances of success you have.

The key is being specific

A SWOT analysis is least useful when it’s done in a quick and lazy way – when you fill it with the first thoughts that come to mind.

What you need to do is sit there and keep writing until the second and third thoughts come to you.

Draw, doodle, do anything but keep that pen moving until you get down more ideas than the ones that come immediately to mind.

Be critical of what you put down – ask yourself whether they are really different from what anyone else would say – are you drawing on what is your own unique experience or is this something anyone could put down?

The purpose of the exercise is to deepen your understanding of yourself and the situation you are in.

Armed with this knowledge you can start to move on to understanding the next part – seeing yourself in context and figuring out how to play nicely with others.

We’ll talk about that next time.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Discover Where You Are Right Now

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Tuesday, 10.06pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin. – Mother Theresa

Over the next sixty to eighty days I will be roughing out the structure of a book in these posts.

I’ve tried this a few times in the past and it hasn’t quite worked out, but I’m using a different process this time, so bear with me.

The working title of the book is “Getting Started” and it’s about the messy process of getting going on a project, an idea I introduced yesterday.

Eventually, I’ll turn the raw material from these posts into a book – I hope.

But for now I want to talk about understanding where you are right now.

What is it that makes you you?

You learn a lot by listening to children, by trying to understand what they’re going through and trying to remember how you felt back then.

Perhaps the most important thing you can help your child to learn is the art of interaction – the skill to play with others.

Not, you should notice, play nicely, but play with others.

That means learning how the game is played and, equally importantly, how you’re playing it.

Each of us is a complex mix of chemicals and signals – bags of thinking water as Terry Pratchett puts it.

And what people around us get from us is what we say and what we do.

They listen to our stories and look at what we produce – these are the two categories of things that help them learn about us.

For all practical purposes, what the world things is “you” is this bundle of words and actions – so if you want to understand how you are seen, you have to start here.

Let’s take each one in turn.

How do you describe yourself to someone else?

We’ve all heard about the elevator pitch – but life isn’t really spent in elevators.

It’s spent in social and business gatherings, where you’re introduced to people and eventually they ask you to tell them about yourself.

When that happens you usually have a selection of stories ready to choose from.

Maybe it’s all about your job for you – what you do in the office and how important or powerful you are.

Maybe it’s about your research, your interests, your hobbies.

Perhaps it’s about where you live, your family.

There will be things that come to mind as you talk about yourself and you need to write them down – the actual words you use, not what you think you would say.

Next, write down what you do each day

Once again, go through your days and pick out the main things you do.

What do you work on, what kind of projects take up your time, how much time do you spend doing creative work and how much doing managerial and administrative work?

Perhaps you spend a lot of time in front of a computer doing analyses.

Maybe you’re doing a lot of internal work, helping various departments operate more effectively.

Or you’re out there, getting in touch with prospects and taking them through a sales development process.

Get these activities down – you’ll need to look at them every once in a while to remind yourself what was important then.

Why do you say what you say?

If you’ve followed these steps you now have a collection of words and phrases that capture what you say and do.

It’s time to look at these in some more detail.

What you need to ask yourself is where these ideas come from, starting with what you say.

For example, you might have written something like “money is not important.”

Where does that kind of idea come from?

Does money not matter because you had everything you wanted when you were young and you don’t want for anything now?

Is it because you’re not materialistic and don’t really need things to make you happy?

Is it because you went to boarding school and learned early on that if it didn’t fit in your trunk you needed to throw it away?

Those ideas you have about yourself have roots – roots in experiences and stories and families.

Pay attention to them – write them down.

The ideas held by an immigrant will quite often be very different from those held by someone who has had generations live in the place they are in now.

Think about why you do what you do

Finally, do the same exercise for what you do now.

Is the work you do something you trained for?

Are you a doctor or lawyer, did you spend years building your knowledge of an area?

Or is what you do a job you stumbled into when you were young, a temporary job that turned into a career 20 years later?

Or did you develop a skill to the point where you could get a job – perhaps you’re good at computers or got accepted into an apprenticeship because you were interested in a particular subject or craft.

This exercise is about knowing who you are and why

You may feel like you know all this stuff but this exercise is designed to make you look through yourself, not just at yourself.

The world sees what’s on the outside – what you say and do.

So, first you need to try and understand what they’re looking at.

But then you also need to try and understand why you are the way you are – look back to see what pressures formed you over time into the person that you are now.

None of these exercises have a “correct” answer – they’re about collecting impressions, collecting data about yourself.

We’re going to look at a few ways to do this – some different approaches to see yourself through someone else’s eyes.

Because before you try and make any changes, you really have to see yourself the way others see you.

It’s the difference between looking in a mirror and seeing a recorded video of yourself.

The video is always surprising because it’s a different point of view.

And that’s what we’re trying to do here.

We’ll try another approach, a more traditional one tomorrow.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Is The Best Way Of Getting Started?

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Monday, 9.00pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If you have a dream, you can spend a lifetime studying, planning, and getting ready for it. What you should be doing is getting started. – Drew Houston

I was thinking about the kind of advice people give you when you’re thinking about starting a project.

Let’s say it’s a marketing campaign or a new book or a startup idea – what are they likely to say?

There are two main places people start – at the end or at the beginning.

For example, backward thinking starts with where you want to be and works back from there to work out exactly what you need to do.

With a startup this might mean knowing exactly what your customer looks like – working out their avatar, their persona – whatever description helps you to get a really clear idea of how they think and feel and act.

If you know that your target market is a particular age, gender and demographic you can then work back to figure out which channels are the best ones to reach them.

On the other hand you could start at the macro level – look at the environment you will be operating in and the main characteristics.

Look at the political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental factors – the PESTLE – and see how you need to position yourself to fit in.

There’s nothing wrong with these methods – they’re all useful ones to have in your toolkit.

But is it the right advice when it comes to starting something?

Let’s stick with the startup example for a minute – imagine that you have to start your business tomorrow morning.

There’s no time to prepare, no time to research or question – it’s late.

You’re going to go to bed and in ten hours or so your new day begins.

Where will you start?

The answer is pretty obvious – you’ll start from where you are.

Right in the middle of now.

If I were to sit you down and ask you to tell me about all the stuff you do right now and all the tools you have right now – that’s the core of your startup, that’s the raw material you have to get started with.

For some people this means that what they have to start with is their brains – the knowledge they carry around inside their heads.

For others it’s the skills they have in their hands, the muscle memory they’ve built up over years of doing something.

Brains and hands – those are the assets you’ll have tomorrow morning.

Now everyone will be in a different stage – some will be young and still learning their trade.

Others will be old and will have forgotten what they know and not learned anything new in a while.

It really doesn’t matter – it’s not going to change that reality of what’s happening right now.

And that’s actually quite exciting, when you look at it in the right way.

There’s a reason why writers are told to start their books in the middle of the action – that’s where things are happening.

The middle is where the action is taking place and where the possibilities are – you are in the best possible place you could be right now.

You might as well believe that – there’s no real alternative to that reality.

When you open that window into your space – when you look at yourself in the middle of the action and what you’re saying and doing – you’re know where you’re going to start.

Right there and right now.

We’ll come back to how you do that in another post – first it’s worth looking at why you should do this, why you shouldn’t go back and do your research on everything from the start or work backwards from the end.

And it’s because when you’re in the middle, possibilities stretch out both backwards and forwards in time for you.

When you start at one beginning, it might seem like you can do anything, but you’re also constrained with the possibilities that start from just that point.

In the same way when you start from the end and constrain what you do to activities that help you get to that end – you’ve limited what else could happen.

In the middle, you have the opportunity to craft a beginning and an end that suits your purpose.

For example, let’s say that your skillset right now is data science – advanced analytics in nanotechnology.

What led up to that expertise?

It’s probably a mix of things – you found maths easy, a friend liked the same subjects, your parents pushed you in that direction.

Let’s say you’re talking to a prospect and they really want someone to help them with analysing social data – Twitter feeds.

If you started by limiting yourself to data science work in nanotechnology, you might simply pass on the Twitter feed analysis opportunity.

And you might just have missed your opportunity to found a cutting edge data-driven marketing consultancy.

You might not know anything about marketing – but you probably use Twitter, you can probably get up to speed on the APIs in a few hours.

But why should they work with you?

Well, that comes back to your origin story – your beginnings.

And if you’ve left yourself room you can craft an origin story that helps customers understand why they should trust you with their business.

Now, as you develop your business you’ll start to see different opportunities to progress.

Maybe you see yourself becoming a consultant, telling others what to do, standing on stage.

Or you get on and produce tools and content, books, podcasts, videos.

You make what your audience wants and what you want to make – and if you’re lucky those two things will be the same.

But all that comes later.

The journey begins with realising an inescapable truth.

You are going to start from where you are right now.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Are Your options When You Come Across An Obstacle?

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Sunday, 9.24pm

Sheffield, U.K.

There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don’t allow yourself to become one of them. – Ralph Marston

The essential ingredient you need to make a story work is to give your hero an obstacle to overcome – something that they can beat.

That’s the essence of conflict – put your characters in a difficult situation, make it so it beats them down and then show how they fight back and emerge victorious.

Stories are about triumph, about victory, about winning.

They are not about real life.

In real life the detective does not pick on a collection of tiny clues and figure out the entire life story of a person.

In real life a teacher does not walk into a deprived school and turn the lives of all the children there around.

In real life getting that huge promotion doesn’t hinge on you getting that lucrative contract signed against all the odds.

Real life is about finding the easiest way to move onto the next thing – move through the day and get ready for the next one.

If you want to be happy – to create a life that is low-stress, what you have to learn is the art of getting around problems.

It is far better to notice problems when they are some distance away and take steps to avoid them.

In much of life the image to keep in mind is that of water.

Water flows downhill – it goes the way it’s easiest to go, the way gravity tells it to go.

And there are always obstacles in the way, sometimes big ones, sometimes mountains.

When this happens there are two main choices.

The first is to go around the mountain – as long as you have gravity on your side you can keep moving.

Find a way that’s easier than climbing the mountain.

It’s the same in business – go around problems whenever you can rather than fighting them.

Handle objections before they turn up.

Train staff before they have a chance to make silly mistakes.

Don’t put your money into projects you don’t understand.

If you stick to the easy path you will rarely put a foot wrong.

But, the romantic side of you screams, you’ll never achieve greatness, you’ll never create the next Amazon or Google.

Why not?

Google’s big idea is pretty simple – peer review is the basis of getting you good information.

Amazon’s big idea is pretty simple – make online shopping frictionless.

Now, those founders didn’t get there with gigantic, heroic leaps.

They had the right background, were in the right place with the right idea and executed it as best they could and survived and grew to the point where they are now.

The fact is that you are where you are right now – not where those founders were then or are now.

And the only thing for you to consider is which way is the easiest for you to keep moving.

Standing still is the problem – becoming stagnant, building up behind a dam.

That’s what stops you.

While there are options to keep flowing you’re never really stopped – you just need to find another way.

Which brings us to the second main option.

Sometimes you are stuck, sometimes there is no way forward.

You need to be absolutely sure about this.

Because when there is no way around an obstacle the only way left is to go through it.

That’s not always easy.

It helps if you have nothing to lose.

Most of us are not in that situation – we are lucky enough to have some element of choice.

We’re not restricted by oppressive regimes or the limits of our education.

We’re lucky.

The only real obstacle that stands in our way, all too often, is our self.

The self that talks to us, filled with doubt and fear – the voice that says we cannot do it or are not good enough.

The voice may be right.

But gravity is still gravity and downhill is still downhill.

And all you have to do is move – find a way to flow.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Should You Hold On To More Things Than You Absolutely Need To?

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Saturday, 6.01pm

Sheffield, U.K.

As the biggest library if it is in disorder is not as useful as a small but well-arranged one, so you may accumulate a vast amount of knowledge but it will be of far less value than a much smaller amount if you have not thought it over for yourself. – Arthur Schopenhauer

For a while I was a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach to work.

It worked when there were lots of things to do and you wanted to capture them all, make sure that they were moved on.

Now, however, as I look back – what is the main purpose of a system like that?

Is it to do things in the best way possible – to apply yourself to the most important problems?

Or is it a way to avoid being shouted at?

I think productivity systems like GTD are actually armaments for the workplace – a way of showing people that it’s definitely, absolutely not your fault with extreme prejudice.

Here’s the task, I sent you the analysis and then I followed up every week and you didn’t respond.

So, how can you blame me for the mess you’re now in?

Now, in many situations, you need that kind of approach, especially if you work in an industry that addresses failure demand.

Failure demand, if you remember, is John Seddon’s term for work that has no value – work that is done to fix failures elsewhere.

It looks like work, but it isn’t.

Real work is value demand – stuff that matters and makes a difference.

Should you treat value demand the same way – record everything, list it all out and make sure you get it done?

I’m starting to think that isn’t the point.

Stephen King, I think, said something like he doesn’t take any notes, doesn’t put down ideas when they come to him.

If they’re good enough they’ll stick in the mind, they’ll come back to nag at him.

I guess you should pay attention to the things around you, the thoughts and events, but you don’t need to document everything, put everything on a list.

“Not-doing” is a form of filtering.

You have a limited amount of time – you should probably spend it doing the highest value work you can – the work that calls to you.

Everything else can wait – preferably for ever – but certainly for next week.

Until someone nags you, anyway.

This idea has a certain power when you start to implement it.

There are so many boxes you could pick up – but only so many you can hold.

There are only so many things you can own before you become a person whose job it is to own things, to look after them and sort out their care and maintenance.

Having more things might make you feel rich – but it’s also a form of imprisonment, an open jail that you have to bar against others.

Now, does that mean you should never collect anything, never look back, never finish jobs?

Nothing really is ever that absolute.

It all depends.

If you want to do something – write a book, create art, grow a business – there are things you need to do and things you don’t.

You have to decide which things are which.

Doing everything will probably just make you tired – too tired to notice that an opportunity has passed you by.

You were too busy working to see it.

There will always be more jobs to do, more tasks to do, they will fall from the sky like rain.

And like rain, they will come around again.

But your time will not.

So spend it wisely.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Are The Main Things You Shouldn’t Lose Track Of In A Crisis?

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Saturday, 7.25am

Sheffield, U.K.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. – Stephen Covey

As we continue to experience the Covid 19 lockdown in various places in various ways – there are some things that seem to have changed for the better.

Remote working, especially – many places are finding that they can get quite a lot done by letting their people work from home.

That’s a good thing, isn’t it?

Well, maybe not, depending on the particular situation you’re in right now.

Particularly if you can do everything from home.

Because if you can, why can’t anyone?

Especially someone who is willing to work harder and longer for less – maybe someone in a different state or country?

Even before we had to do what we’re doing now there were comments from people who were willing to be paid less if they could have more flexible work.

That may become a reality for many faster than you think – as companies that see demand drop make savings cuts of their own – which often comes down to headcount and salaries.

If that happens, are you ready?

To answer that question there are four areas you should look at critically.

Start with your projects – the things you are working on.

Are they easy or hard, are they essential or not?

Are you working on something that someone really needs done or is it a discretionary thing, something that takes up time but perhaps could be put to one side for a while.

Which projects do you think will be shelved first?

Now, clearly the projects you do are the projects that you have the resources and capability to do.

Your capability travels with you, it’s what you have in your head and muscle memory.

But what about your resources?

If you need a multi-million pound studio to do your work, or very expensive software – how will you carry out your projects if you don’t have access to them through work?

A lot of people only have their work equipment – they haven’t invested in their own kit because they believe that it’s something that they should be provided with as part of their job.

That may be a little short-sighted.

If you want to carry on doing projects, it might be worth thinking what you can do with the resources you personally own or what it will cost you to get set up.

If you can reduce the resource costs of working with you, then you make it more attractive for someone to hire you as well.

Then there’s your network – the group of people who are peers and champions and supporters.

Have you taken the time to develop a network – can you reach out to them and ask for help when you need it?

And lastly, there’s your market – again make up of people.

Markets and networks are not abstract, conceptual things – you measure them in the numbers of people you can reach out to that will respond.

And again, it’s easy to be short-sighted – to think that the market you have will not change.

But if those people you know move on, will you be able to have a connection with the new ones, especially if their job is to cut costs?

These four areas are common to all of us, whether you’re just starting your career or you’ve been in it for a while – and it works at the level of an entire business as well.

It’s very easy to focus on one of the areas and neglect the others.

Think about how you spend time learning how to do something and then spend all your time on projects – but perhaps not ones where you learn anything new.

You don’t tend your network or keep developing your market.

Your mix of projects is static and things change around you.

The point is that change is always going to happen.

And it might not be change that’s good for you.

You are, after all, at the centre of all this – and you have to look out for you.

When change happens, you have to be prepared – and these four areas are the main ones – the ones that make the difference.

And it might be necessary to stand back, take a look at where you are right now, and then take action to move the dial to a happier place.

And then you’ll be ready.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh