The Problem With Trying To Get What You Want By Giving Someone Else Something They Want


Sunday, 8.24pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Another generalised consequence of incentive-caused bias is that man tends to ‘game’ all human systems, often displaying great ingenuity in wrongly serving himself at the expense of others. Anti-gaming features, therefore, constitute a huge and necessary part of almost all system design. – Charlie Munger

Sport is a rubbish metaphor for life.

But we insist on using it – because it seems like sports is clean and simple – you have teams, there are rules they play, someone wins.

And it’s all good sportsmanship.


But have you noticed that the concept of a fair game seems alien to humans?

If it were natural – if policing our own behaviour to be fair and true were an inherent part of our nature – why would we need referees?

The reality, I think, is that most games bring out the worst in us – we just don’t notice because we’re too busy explaining away our behaviour as justified because it will help us win.

Now, what’s interesting is that behaviour – that tendency to cheat to win – carries over into everything else we do as well.

And it gets harder to resist the urge to cheat when we get rewarded for doing so.

Here’s the thing.

If someone gives you a ball and points to a basket, then it’s clear where they want you to shoot.

If they pay you for every ball you get through the hoop – but aren’t careful to specify how you should do it then what are you going to do?

Some people might stand there and shoot, being rewarded on the basis of their steadily improving skill.

Others will realise that there is a much easier way to get the money and go and find a step ladder.

This is not cynicism – it’s how the world works.

And that’s why incentive systems are so hard to get right.

Sales is probably the best example of where it’s hard to figure out what you should do.

If you pay your sales people a salary, why should they hustle?

If you pay them only on commission, then they need to shift things fast – even if that means pressuring customers and taking liberties with the truth.

But then again, maybe you don’t care as long as the money is coming in – you have your own incentives to act in one way or the other.

Then again, maybe we do have something to learn from sports about this whole thing.

We think that sports is about playing well.

But it’s actually about the way you try and have a good, clean game.

By having rules for how you should play and penalties when you break the rules.

If you really want to understand how to create incentives – study the rules and see how they have been created to deal with something that caused a problem in the past.

“Play the ball, not the man” – probably has something to do with the fact that some bright spark realised that the best way to win was to break the leg of the best player on the opposite team.

If you have to work with someone else – a sales person, a business partner, your children – think of the ways in which they will break the rules.

The first thing to remember is that the easiest rules to break are the ones that aren’t written down.

The next easiest are the ones that can be interpreted differently, depending on the argument you put forward.

A well known form of this is the Protagoras paradox.

Protagoras, a lawyer, took on a student, Euathlus, on the agreement that the student would pay the teacher when he won his first case.

When the student didn’t pay, the lawyer took him to court.

He reasoned that if he lost, the student would have won his first case, and would have to pay. And if he won, the student would still have to pay.

The student reasoned that if he lost the case, he would not have won and so would not have to pay, while if he won he still wouldn’t have to pay.

One way to work is to play with very clear rules and a small chance of loss with people you don’t know.

Make bigger bets only with people you know and trust – while avoiding being sucked into a long con by someone who sounds like they are a friend but is essentially working on getting money out of you.

But I suppose the single best rule before you work with someone else is this.

Make it your business to understand their business before you do any business.


Karthik Suresh

How To Practically Use The Power Of Thinking In Opposites


Saturday, 9.10pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Invert, always invert: Turn a situation or problem upside down. Look at it backward. What happens if all our plans go wrong? Where don’t we want to go, and how do you get there? Instead of looking for success, make a list of how to fail instead. Tell me where I’m going to die, that is, so I don’t go there. – Charlie Munger

I did a search on Google for “Mental Models” today, little suspecting that would open up a rabbit hole that would suck in the rest of the day.

The results at first looked predictably predictable – lots of pages on lots of models – a few hundred or so that people have collected and put on display.

And then I came across a blog by Cedric or Eli on the second page – no, the third one that talked about how it was a really bad idea.

I have found that if you want to learn something you are probably better off reading what the critics say first.

I think this is because if the critic puts forward a clear argument as to the problems with the idea you are considering – then you can start reading the actual material ready to test whether the critic’s views are justified or not.

And, on Cedric’s blog I found an idea that resonated with me – the idea that it’s not enough to just put an idea out there.

You also need to know how to apply it – how to make it useful for you.

Without that, it’s just something floating out there – something that someone said.

You could memorise a hundred models and they would be of very little use unless you had some experience of real-world situations where you might find them useful.

When I did an MBA, for example, most students in the class talked about what they were going to learn from the MBA that would help them in the future.

For me, the content was most useful in explaining the experiences I had in the past – the theory helped make sense of what had already happened and let me figure out why.

A particular mental model that is often pulled out is in the quote that starts this post – Munger’s exhortation to “Invert, always invert.”

But what does that actually mean?

Cedric’s written a lot of stuff in his various blogs – and there are a lot of ideas that I think are good ones and worth exploring.

But, then I saw him write that “he disliked consulting as a business type”, which led me to his reasons why.

And this was interesting enough to just think about in some more detail – because it’s an important point if you’re thinking of starting a business.

Consultancy is not an inherently bad business model – Paul Graham of Ycombinator suggests that its a low risk way to start a business, especially if you have a mortgage and family.

Cedric’s argument is that certain types of consultancies have characteristics of commodity businesses and lists some of these.

In simple terms, a consultancy that operates like a commodity will offer services that are just the same as others, just like rice and beans are pretty much the same wherever they come from.

In such a business you can’t really increase value – you’re selling time and your income depends on your day rate and you can’t just triple that overnight.

If you want to make more money you have to sell more time – your time or your employee time.

And consultancy is a discretionary spend – it depends on the economy and whether companies have budgets to spend – so you’ll be the first to be cut when things go bad.

Cedric then ends by applying the inversion mental model – how you can build a consultancy “that isn’t a pain to run” by inverting this list.

I’ve adapted his words to do this formally – using a NOT gate: a logic structure that denotes inversion.

I think the graphic is an interesting artefact – because it helps you take a statement and formally invert it.

Basically, it helps you apply Munger’s mental model practically – you can draw out what someone says, draw a NOT gate and work out the opposite.

So, for each statement – if you are the same as others, what if you were very different?

What would it look like if it was easy to increase value?

What if you could sell more without doing more?

And what would it look like if your sales didn’t depend on the economy?

Now, I have some experience of the consulting business – and I can tell you that building a consulting business like this works.

It’s not easy to do and you have to figure out what makes you unique – but you can do it given enough time and effort.

Let me give you a flavour of what this looks like using this blog as an example for a couple of these factors.

Lots of people can write and do fancy presentations – but very few use hand-drawn models in the way you see here.

It meets the test of being different from what’s out there, especially in the sectors where I work.

In many consultancies time is what matters – you have to spend time creating and fine tuning presentations.

That’s pointless if you have any background in programming.

Why not automate everything that can possibly be automated?

If you can do that you can sell more without doing more – you spend your time focusing on clients and get the busywork automated away.

Now, there are lots of ways you can look at this in larger businesses – but everything is context dependent and skill dependent – so I don’t want to give you the impression that it’s easy to do.

It’s not – and that’s why many consultancy owners work very long hours and are quite stressed.

Too busy to find the time to sit down and see if they can use the “Invert, always invert” mental model.

And that’s the point.

Just telling you something isn’t enough.

You have to be able to use it to make a change that works for you.

But if you can do it you may also find that you change your life for the better.


Karthik Suresh

What Kind Of Business Idea Has A Decent Chance Of Succeeding?


Friday, 9.40pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Don’t be afraid of missing opportunities. Behind every failure is an opportunity somebody wishes they had missed. – Lily Tomlin

My YouTube suggestion machine came up with a video by Tim Ferriss where he talked through some of his key ideas and the books they came from.

And these ones are useful for someone looking at starting a business or developing a new product or service.

The whole startup thing is the easiest and the hardest thing to do at the same time.

Everyone has ideas – there is no shortage of people with ideas.

Few of those people go on to execute those ideas and create a real business.

And that’s because most things we see are things that are successful – we aren’t exposed to failures.

And really, if we want to succeed, we should study failures – because that’s how we learn to see what bad ideas look like and how to avoid them.

Let’s say we could do that – put on a pair of magic glasses that let us figure out what might fail.

What would a bad idea look like?

Would it be the opposite of a good idea?

One piece of advice you get often is to build something that scratches your own itch.

For example, there was an article on the news some time back about a father who built a hydraulic arm for his son who had his amputated at birth.

This was something big companies had said couldn’t be done – but this dad did it because he wanted his son to be able to hug his brother.

Now, that’s something that is special.

But is it a business?

I spoke to someone on a train who talked about a company that specialises in making prosthetic arms for children inspired by Lego designs.

A child can see a prosthetic arm as a dull, lifeless thing, something that he or she might be teased about at school.

Or it could be an awesomely cool bionic arm – something they could show off and be proud of.

There are so many stories of people creating things that are personal to them – because they were underserved by the existing product machinery that dominates the world.

And this leads to two other characteristics of ideas that have a chance of succeeding.

They can be easily differentiated from whatever else is out there.

And they are easy to explain – you can quickly see why someone would need or want those things you’re planning to make.

But, is that enough to grow – what if everyone simply copies what you do?

Well, that’s where there are benefits to being first to market.

But that’s not always possible, there might already be a market with an existing firm that dominates it.

In which case you shouldn’t try and compete with them.

Instead create a new category which you can dominate.

What does your category need to have?

If you want your business to actually survive and grow you need to have a market.

But you don’t need millions of sales – not for a new business anyway.

What you need are 1,000 true fans – people who will believe in your idea and buy what you create.

So, if you’re thinking of a business idea right now – or you’re thinking about how you can refocus what you’re doing so that it can become a better business – these ideas are probably useful to keep as a checklist.

Are you creating something that you would use yourself?

Is your idea easy to explain?

Can you easily show how you are different?

Are you the only person doing what you do – or demonstrably the best at what you do?

Is your marketing focused only on the people who could become your true fans – the ones who will support you in what you do?

If you get these things right then it will show up in the numbers – in the only number that matters.

The number of customers you have.

Profitable customers.

And your business has a chance of succeeding.


Karthik Suresh

What Do You Need To Do To Be Remarkable?


Thursday, 10.32pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If you are too afraid to offend anyone, then I’m afraid you may not be able to do anything remarkable – Bernard Kelvin Clive

Yesterday I picked up The essential Drucker – a distillation of the writings of arguably one of the greatest management theorists of his time.

I particularly liked his idea of management being something that applied to “every human effort” and how its real value lay in its ability to unite technology and society in the service of humanity – arguing that it is a liberal art in the humanities tradition.

All that I liked.

And then it rather went downhill from there, as the text started talking about objectives and missions: things that I am not convinced actually work that well in real life.

The reason for this is that what happens has much less to do with what you want to happen and much more to do with the context in which you operate – the structure is usually responsible for the majority of the results.

Now, this is not easy to always talk through – and a model can help think through those structural issues.

So, I thought I’d pick up Seth Godin’s Purple cow and have a first pass at a model and see if it actually helps.

Godin’s book is about being Remarkable – like a Purple Cow would be if you came across it.

But you can’t just decide that you are going to be Remarkable – set that as an objective.

Well, you could – you could dress provocatively and behave outrageously – but I don’t think that’s the point we’re trying to make here.

The point is being the kind of entity that is remarkable – the “remarkable” bit is an emergent property of the business you create – something that is about the business but that you won’t find in accounting or marketing or sales but in the customer experience as a whole.

Okay, enough technical talk about systems thinking – here’s how to apply this first pass model.

Say you want your business to be remarkable – ask yourself – do you stand out in any way?

Being like everyone else might seem like a safe way to be – but that way your business will never grow beyond a certain point.

And again, it’s not enough to just say you’re different – you actually have to be different.

But how do you do that?

One good way is to identify a niche that you can target and dominate.

For example, if you’re a hair dresser in a salon, you could just cut hair – or you could specialise in a particular hard to do technique that is remarkable.

But how do you find that niche?

You find people who care about something you can do – who care to the point where it’s more than a hobby and less than an obsession.

A kind of feeling captured, Godin says, by the Japanese word otaku.

You learn from these people about what they need – give them that – and because they are early adopters who will talk about you a lot – you’ll find that word of mouth marketing helps you build your business.

But why should they listen to you?

Because you listen to them and give them something that tests the limits – gives them more – better, faster, cheaper, higher quality: something that they will love.

Now, when you get all this right you’ll find that your business takes off – it just explodes.

But nothing goes on forever – eventually that momentum will stop, the market of early adopters will dry up and you may move into a more mainstream world, where not standing out and being safe start being important, and you slow down and earn what you can for the rest of your product’s lifetime.

But that can be left to your managers – you should be working on building your next remarkable venture.

Now, I’m not saying this model is correct or complete.

Always remember that all models are wrong, but some are useful.

The question is whether this model is useful in thinking about whether your business, as it stands right now, is remarkable.

And if it isn’t, does it highlight areas that you could work on?

The thing to note is that this is not a process – not something you can follow.

Every part matters and you need it all to work for that “remarkable” property to emerge eventually.

My feeling is that this kind of model is more useful in helping us ask questions about our businesses than the relatively mechanical task of setting an objective to be remarkable.

If you focus on what’s inside the envelope – the elements of structure – and work to improve them, then what people see will be remarkable.


Karthik Suresh

The Consulting Secret That May Save Your Project – And Sanity


Wednesday, 8.31pm

Sheffield, U.K.

When I was 27 years old, I left a very demanding job in management consulting for a job that was even more demanding: teaching. I went to teach seventh graders math in the New York City public schools. – Angela Duckworth

Teaching children is a pretty thankless endeavour.

Under a certain age anyway.

We have two little people in the house.

The elder one tends to do work without complaining – but will often stop at an unexpected point.

This is a classic negotiating strategy – agree in principle but differ on the details.

For example, if an assignment says “think about” something, then the argument is that there was no need to write down the thought – which while technically accurate is not quite the point of the exercise.

The younger one, on the other hand, simply says “No!”, having learned early that taking a position and refusing to budge leads weaker willed adults to navigate around the obstacle.

Management consultancy, even with complex projects and demanding deadlines, is a doddle compared to the task of educating children.

One wonders what happens in school – do most teachers try their best to engage the kids and hope that they’ve learned something along the way?

I wouldn’t want to do that job.

But, since we’re all forced into it by current events, what can we do?

Well, there is one cardinal rule of consulting – which is to be one page ahead of the client.

It’s the skill you develop of looking around corners first, seeing what’s coming and suggesting what to do next.

When you’re in the middle of a project as a consultant there is a danger that you can be drawn into the details – get enmeshed in what’s going on.

But your job is also to keep an eye on the bigger picture, because when that job is done someone is going to look up, bleary eyed and tired and say, “What next?”

And if you haven’t got an answer to that – well it’s a few more hours before you get anywhere.

So, you always need to know what you’re going to do next.

This is not the same as drawing a process – saying “Look, we’re here and this is the next step.”

Instead it is, “To build on what we’ve done here, this is what we need to do next.”

The stages need to be linked and you have to have to adapt what you’re doing to the circumstances in which you find yourself.

Now, what I’m starting to realise is that in a three hour period with kids, around twenty minutes of productive work actually takes place.

And that’s because we’re not trained teachers – but at the same time, we’re professionals.

So, to make things easy, it makes sense to have just one thing on the go.

One piece of work on the desk, only the tools needed – a pencil if that’s all, or colours.

The more you put on the table the more opportunity there is for distraction and time sinks.

That’s not too different from client work, actually.

Focus matters in everything – if you limit your attention to the most important thing you can get it done – but if you let your gaze stray it can be a few hours gone before know it.

But the crucial thing with kids work is knowing what you’re going to do next.

Once kids get into something they find it very hard to stop – especially if that something is TV.

So, if they can only watch a couple of programmes – when they come to the end they will ask if they can watch another one.

And that’s because there was nothing agreed about what was going to happen next.

If you got them to think about what they were going to do after the programme ended – play, for example – then you’ve programmed them to move on to the next task when their time ends.

And sometimes this will work.

Because the little terrors are not predictable – but all you can do is try.

Sometimes I think that most of the angst we feel in life and work comes from this feeling of not being prepared – of not knowing what we’re going to do next.

The first thing to do to resolve this is the simplest – do less.

Left to my own devices I would leave the kids to amuse themselves – put the TV in the loft and leave them with a pile of books and games.

Eventually they will read, perhaps even learn.

If you really want to get engaged – I’d start from where they are, begin with what they’re interested in and bring in the maths and writing to help them with the projects they have.

This is also what you should do with clients – rather than forcing your thoughts on them, start with where they are, their problems, and then see how you can help resolve them.

But in the day to day, minute to minute battle of getting the job done – always remember to ask yourself one question before you have to.

Before you come to the end of whatever you’re doing – before it’s time to make a decision.

Ask yourself, “What do we do next?”


Karthik Suresh

What Should You Do When You Think You’re Making No Progress?


Monday, 9.11pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The most interesting thing about a postage stamp is the persistence with which it sticks to its job. – Napoleon Hill

Over the last few days I’ve been re-looking at what I look at, gravitating towards creators of a different sort.

Creators like Campbell Walker, also known as Struthless and, at this point, I’m not sure how to describe what he does.

But he has some very useful pointers for people trying to be creative – one of which is do the same thing every day.

Perhaps I’ll come back to that another day.

Today, however, he introduced me to the Helsinki Bus Station model, which was created by the Finnish-American photographer Arno Minkkinen.

How do you develop your unique creative style – what differentiates you from everyone else?

It’s a question you can ask anyone – from an artist to a lawyer to an entrepreneur.

Differentiation is everything – it’s why someone will choose to work with you rather than anyone else.

One way of being unique is just to be unique – act differently, talk differently, dress differently – and you will be different.

On the outside, anyway.

When you see that kind of uniqueness – what you’re actually seeing is people trying very hard to be different in a particular way.

What they’re actually doing is classifying themselves in a style taxonomy – and by putting two classifications together to create a mixed one – they believe they’ve created something unique.

The thing is – how you dress and how you act and how you speak will help you with people for a while – but eventually they’ll want you to actually do something useful for them to stay interested.

This is not something limited to people who believe that clothes make the person.

Anyone who says that what differentiates them is their “expertise” has the same problem understanding the basic question being posed.

Experts are a dime a dozen.

Being an expert doesn’t make you unique – it doesn’t mean you add value.

The other thing differentiation is not about is the creative genius, the larger than life figure.

It’s not the story of the people you see with the fame and the billions – that story is not replicable and depends on place and history and above all luck – luck to be in the right place and luck to have the opportunity to prepare so that you are ready when you’re in the right place.

Where does that leave the rest of us?

Minkkinen points to the Helsinki bus station to provide a model.

At this station all the buses head out in the same direction at the start.

Whichever bus you get on you will find yourself, for a while, going in the same direction as everyone else.

You might look at people in the bus in front, people in the bus to the side and people behind – and they’re all doing the same thing, heading the same way – only slightly ahead, or slightly behind you.

And you might feel that there is no point to this – you might as well get off and go back to the station and take another bus.

And then again you find yourself going the same way as everyone else.

The thing you have to realise is that something happens if you stay on your bus.

After some time the buses start going in different directions – going to different places.

You might start your career in law school, and go through the process of qualifying.

You might start to work in a practice with other lawyers, doing general busy work.

You might move and start to work more on divorce cases.

Eventually, you specialise in divorce settlements involving couples with different nationalities that own property in several European jurisdictions and you end up with a quite distinctive and fairly unique experience.

You become the go-to lawyer for that kind of case.

The Helsinki Bus Station theory effectively says that the early stages of your journey are really all about getting started – about getting a feel for your field and developing a portfolio of work.

It’s by working and making that you start to figure out what you’re interested in – and then you start to build on that understanding to deepen your skills in that area.

Over time that develops into a way of working and a set of outcomes that are different from the people around you – you’ve started to create your own style.

There will be people who like what you do, people who don’t like what you do and people who are on the fence.

You focus everything you do for the people who like what you do and those on the fence.

The rest don’t matter – not when it comes to your work and output anyway.

I like this theory – it stops you from giving up and going back to the start every time.

It promises that if you carry on you’ll end up somewhere interesting, somewhere where you’ll be glad you went.

Somewhere where you will find that you are now unique and have a style and can differentiate yourself from everyone.

And to do this, you only have to do one very simple thing.

Stay on the bus.


Karthik Suresh

This Is The One Rule You Should Always Keep In Mind In Business


Sunday, 9.35pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it. – Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man

I came across the book Go it alone by Bruce Judson and decided to go through it – mainly because Judson talked about how he decided to test out his ideas about solo businesses by starting ones of his own.

It looked like there would be some stuff in there that was based on real life – rather than supposition.

Reading the introduction again, there is a sentence which reads, “The principal result of these efforts is my absolute conclusion that in appropriate circumstances, the ideas in this book have substantial merit.”

I think you could shorten that to, “In some cases, these ideas will help.”


For this post I actually thought I’d start with a book that Judson talks about called It’s not the big that eat the small… It’s the fast that eat the slow – which inspired the image above.

Now this, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense.

Big companies got big because there were certain things about their history that made a difference.

GE, for example, is the company that Edison started – the guy with the light bulb.

Companies that get really big – the Fords and the Berkshire Hathaways do so over time by accumulating capability and resources.

As they get bigger they don’t have the ability to pick up small business.

For a large company a meaningful contract may start at 10 million dollars, and they wouldn’t be competing for the stuff that small companies go after for a few tens of thousands.

There’s a place in this ecosystem for big and small – they feed off the same thing after all – just at different levels.

The real place where competition exists is where it’s red in tooth and claw – where you have one creature that feeds off the other.

This is where you have a competitor that wants to get another one’s customers.

It’s what Facebook did to MySpace, for example.

The faster one wins.

And this happens at different levels, with small firms competing with each other and larger firms doing the same.

When this happens whoever is fastest is probably going to win.

If you’re in the market for a new car, will you go with the supplier who has one in stock now or go with the one that can get it in three weeks at the same price?

In a network economy, with a winner take all system, being first to market can be vital.

Everyone else has to feed on what’s left behind.

Now, this isn’t always easy.

Technology businesses make it look like everything can be disrupted, but that isn’t always the case.

Some technology products aren’t really worth having – they’re not going to take off.

Other markets are so entrenched with such long lived assets, that change takes time.

But here’s the thing – borrowing Judson’s formulation.

In appropriate circumstances, being the fastest means you win.


Karthik Suresh

What Is Your Marketing Strategy Focused On?


Saturday, 9.36pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department. – David Packard

Over the last few years my attention has shifted, like many of us, to content that interests me rather than passively consuming whatever is on the telly.

Few of us watch live television any more – and that’s led to a change in the way we look at things around us, including the businesses we buy from.

Many of those businesses haven’t realised that yet – but what would they be thinking if they did?

Well, the first question you might have is why would someone listen to your marketing messages?

Given everything that is out there, how would you position yourself?

Now, leave aside the stuff that falls into the commodity bucket – where there is underlying demand and it’s a matter of price and convenience.

Rice and beans and oil, for example.

But if you’re an agency or a consultant or a technology firm – what is it about what you’re saying that is going to interesting?

When I look back at the content I’ve gravitated towards in the last couple of years, it feels like it falls into two buckets – entertainment and education.

The distinction is not always obvious – so let’s see if there are any characteristics that stand out.

If you look at your YouTube feed or social media you’ll probably see that there is some content that is all about a brand – a personal or corporate one.

I think stuff like Gary Vaynerchuck’s work or even Tim Ferriss might be in this category – it’s about an individual who is generating the content – either themselves or with their team.

You buy into them.

Now, some of this material might be put across as educational – but I wonder if that’s right.

Let me come back to that in a minute.

Content that is educational is about the user, the learner.

It’s about other people and what they get, what they can do as a result of this thing you’re doing for them.

In entertainment, I think the messaging is brand centred.

In education, it’s user or learner centred.

Now, why do I say that.

With entertainment based approaches, what people want is your time, your attention.

The stuff they create is designed to get your interest and keep it – so you see a host of attention getting tactics.

We don’t need to list them out, but high energy, high status, use of colours and sound – all the things that make your reptile brain turn and focus.

An educational approach should be, however, about outcomes.

You want the participants to change in some way, preferably a specific and measurable one.

With entertainment, you might like them to change, but it doesn’t matter that much as long as they give you their attention.

I think this distinction is an important one.

If the creator is producing content but is too busy to care about crystallising outcomes for the consumers of that content – then it should be classed as entertainment.

If you don’t make change happen for your users – then you’re in the business of giving them a good time.

This does not mean that entertainment is a bad thing – by no means at all.

It’s a gift – the gift of inspiration of insight – the gift of belief that you can do what the person in front of you did.

Education, on the other hand, is about the transfer of a spark from the teacher to the learner – it’s about igniting a flame.

A flame that the learner can use to further their own work.

Now, you could argue that the content that I class as entertainment could ignite that flame – if the learner only could be bothered to do it.

But, I think that it’s only when it is ignited that you move from one side to the other – when you care that it actually happens.

On this basis, many of the classes you took could be termed entertainment – after all you sat in a room while someone droned on and neither of you cared if anything happened after that.

As long as the fees were paid.

Here’s the thing.

I didn’t really understand what education meant – after all, few of us are taught how to teach.

But when you start looking into it you realise just how much we have to learn to teach well.

So, when we think our marketing is “educational” we’re probably wrong.

If you think this isn’t the case, ask yourself this question.

In your business do you ask yourself, “What can we do for our customer?”.

Or do you ask, “What can our customer do with us?”

The subject you put first is the person you put first.


Karthik Suresh

Why It’s Important To Get Multiple Perspectives On The Same Problem


Friday, 10.17pm

Sheffield, U.K.

There are no facts, only interpretations. – Friedrich Nietzsche

I’ve been thinking about perspectives for a while – about how we get locked into points of view without realising it.

It’s the tools that do that to us really.

For example, I’ve started using paper more again because I’m in one place a lot more.

And there are pros and cons to paper – which is why we try digital and find that it doesn’t do everything we want it to do either.

Now, the thing that happens is we find a way that works for us and start using it.

Which then complicates things when we have to work with others who use different approaches.

One way of resolving that tension is through the use of power.

For example, in one of the notes I found as I sorted out my archives was an exhortation never to let anyone use their own notebook.

If you work in an engineering firm your ideas are the property of your employer.

So, you should really keep bound notebooks, with numbered and dated pages so that if you invent something you can prove that you came up with it and own the associated intellectual property.

Well, your company does, anyway.

It’s the same thing with sales.

If your sales people go out and gather intelligence from prospects who should have that information?

The company feels it should be them.

So, a big part of organisational life is about controlling the intellectual contributions of their staff – collecting and filing it in case it’s useful later.

But really, these days what’s the point?

There are a few people out there for whom this kind of approach is justified – people who come up with patents and want a manufacturing monopoly.

For the rest of us, we deal with ideas – and ideas don’t need protection.

If I tell you an idea, I haven’t lost anything and you’ve gained something.

Many people will take the idea and run, but some people will ask you questions, want your time and pay for the things you create – those are your customers and you should focus entirely on them.

And not on anyone else.

Now, the point I’m wandering away from has to do with perspective.

You can look at the world of intellectual property in one way and have a particular point of view.

But, other people in different circumstances will have different points of view.

And you will find that there will be inevitable conflicts.

So, we need ways to switch between perspectives and take multiple points of view.

One method, an oldie but probably still a goodie, is Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.

The idea here is that you give someone the blue hat – that person is in charge of keeping things going and managing a meeting.

That person starts by asking everyone to put on white hats – they’re going to think about the facts in the situation – the hard things that we know to be true.

The hat up there is supposed to be a hard hat, by the way.

Then, you put on your yellow hat, and think about all the positives – the ways this could go well and the benefits you could get.

This hat is a backwards baseball cap, in case you’re wondering.

Hopefully the hats get easier to recognise from now on…

Then, rip the idea to shreds, talk about all the things that can go wrong.

Put on your black beret of defiance, your anti-establishment symbol and find all the ways this can fail.

Then, get the red hat on and talk about feelings, your emotions about the situation.

And then get creative with your green hat – what are all the ways you could adapt, change, innovate to make things happen.

Now, this hat process is a pretty good way to shift perspectives.

I remember doing it years ago, and thought it brought out some good ideas.

That really didn’t go anywhere after that.

That’s one issue with these kinds of facilitation methods – unless you have a “what next?” process that leads on from a session like this, you’ll have a good meeting and feel very enthusiastic, but not much gets done to change things.

But the basic idea is sound.

When you look at the same thing in a different way, you’ll spot new things, things you wouldn’t have seen with the old view.

This is why What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) tools are perhaps bad for creativity.

Maybe it’s a good thing to write a first draft by hand on paper – so that your typewritten copy is a fresh perspective on the same thing.

I like doing stuff on the command line for that reason – there is a difference between what I put down and what emerges – and that is a useful shift in perspective as you go from creative to critical mode.

Like most things in life that are important – this issue of perspectives is something that is not obvious to everyone – perhaps it comes later in life after you’ve had some experience of how the real world works.

But if you ever wonder why people don’t seem to understand you or what you’re trying to say, stop for a bit.

And spend a little time trying to understand their perspective on things.


Karthik Suresh

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