Do You Have A Chip On Your Shoulder?


Tuesday, 9.35pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Remember, a chip on the shoulder is a sure sign of wood higher up. – Brigham Young

In my last post I looked at the kinds of things that were stopping you from getting started – the forces that held you back.

I want to explore this a little more today but it’s a tricky thing to talk about without stepping on landmines but let’s have a go anyway.

There is a proper way to do this and one place to start is an anthropology course by Professor Mike Wesch, in which he writes about three important concepts that you should keep in mind when trying to understand people.

The first thing to recognise is that you’re trapped in a prison – with bars made of your existing beliefs – things you believe to be obviously true.

The thing is – you may only believe nthey’re obvious because that’s all you know.

What you’ve got to do is learn how to see things the way the people you want to understand see things – without judging on the basis of how you see things.

That’s called empathy.

Not sympathising with them – but empathising, seeing what they see in the way they see.

You don’t have to agree with them, it’s ok to be shocked – but the job is to see.

And you do that by getting involved – not looking from a distance like birdwatching but getting into the picture yourself and wandering around the scene touching and feeling things.

So, with that preamble how would you go around empathising with yourself?

What is that weight you’re carrying around with you?

It’s quite likely that whatever situation you’re in you feel that something is missing – that you have been disadvantaged in some way.

You might have been brought up in luxury but with uncaring parents or in a slum with no parents at all.

Your story is yours, and it’s the weight you carry around with you.

It’s very hard to condense any one person’s experience into a short burst of analysis – I’m hesitant to even try.

It’s so easy to bring up stories of horror, atrocities committed against other people – a documented narrative of what human beings can do when they exercise power without fear of retribution.

So, consider this in your own situation – do you have a chip on your shoulder – and how large is it?

How much of it is history?

Now, when you look at that weight, how much of it is made up of your lived experience and how much is history?

If history holds you back it’s probably because you lament the loss of what you once had.

Power, money, freedom – once it’s taken away you are left with anger and resentment and a sense of loss.

And I suppose you want it back.

If your lived experience has created that chip, nurtured and grown it, then life has not been kind to you.

For example, if you were an immigrant in the UK between the fifties and the nineties, you probably experienced systematic racism.

That’s something that’s only changed over generations.

How many generations will it take to become free?

When you look at this weight then, the weight made up of history and experience, how long do you plan to keep carrying it?

Are you going to hand it over to future generations, to your children?

If you’re lucky enough to have a good background, the right passport, an education and access to opportunities, then none of this really matters for you.

But if you don’t, the decisions you make will matter for your children and their children.

The decisions you make now are the ones that will shape the opportunities they have in the future.

And you should probably think of what you’re going to do for those future generations – will they be given a rock or will they be able to live a life free of burden?

What are you going to do now?

I think this section is not about forgetting pain or erasing the past.

That is always going to be there.

But it’s about trying to figure out if you’re in a place where the burden you’re carrying is still holding you back.

If that is the case then how can you start to separate the past from your future.

I feel like this section is in danger of being vague or weak because it’s so hard to generalise when your experience is so specific to you.

For example, from one point of view a person might be lucky – have benefitted from a good education and access to opportunities.

From another point of view they may have been much less successful than someone else with the same background but of a different gender or race.

And you can’t understand that unless you know the details of their situation – enough to empathise with them.

The point I’m making here is that despite all that what you should do is focus on the process, not on the outcome.

You may not do as well as someone else.

But that doesn’t matter.

What matters is what you do.

We have a few things to explore next time.


Karthik Suresh

What Are The Things Around You That Stop You From Getting Started


Monday, 9.12pm

Sheffield, U.K

It was one of those heavy, sultry afternoons when nature seems to be saying to itself, ‘Now, shall I, or shall I not, scare the pants off these people with a hell of a thunderstorm? – P.G. Wodehouse, Jeeves and the Tie That Binds

I’ve had a few days away from the writing process and that may have been a good thing.

There’s a lot happening in the world right now – a virus, mass protests against racism, weird world leaders.

That is the “system”, always changing, always in flux, always being changed.

There is an argument that most of your results depend on the system – not on yourself.

I want to explore this idea in a few posts – see if there is something there that can help us.

It’s not your fault

Let’s start with looking at why you haven’t achieved your full potential.

The starting point is probably to realise that most people in the history of humanity probably didn’t have the opportunity to consider this issue at all.

You had people with power, people without power, and power regularly changed hands through force.

It’s hard to think of a single country or people that don’t have a history that includes oppressing others at some point.

Now, hopefully you don’t live in a country where there are fundamental limitations on what you can do with your life.

Those countries are still around, with their populations still under firm control.

But wherever you live, whatever your situation, you can probably point to things that are holding you back.

Things you can’t control but that limit what you can do.

The negative forces on your life

It’s probably quite easy to think about the things that are in your way.

It’s a little like experiencing bad weather – you can’t do anything about it but suffer through the effects.

What would it look like if you went through these in detail, perhaps using a weather metaphor to step through them?

What gets you down?

For example, what is it around you that gets you down – that makes you wonder what’s the point of working hard and doing your best?

Is it seeing others who are less qualified and skilled than you getting ahead faster?

Is it suffering from a disability that means it’s harder for you to do certain things?

What pushes you back?

What are the headwinds you’ve had to battle against, the things that push you back or off track just when you think you’re making progress?

Is it constant rejection, having your work sent back with no explanation of why it isn’t good enough?

Are you pigeonholed, stopped from doing anything more than your existing role?

What destroys your plans?

Is there something in your history that haunts your future – a criminal record or the wrong type of crowd?

Are you just unlucky, with your efforts failing again and again?

Or is it a lack of support from anyone around you, support that might have helped you succeed instead of failing?

Are you frozen in place?

Or are you in a situation where you are afraid to act, afraid for those around you and for yourself?

Maybe you’re frozen by your own beliefs, your fears that you will not be able to make it.

Or perhaps it’s more like being trapped in debt, where everything you make is not enough to pay off everything you owe, and the debt keeps creeping up.

Is your situation the problem?

If there are factors like these that are holding you back then that is a problem – a real one.

While these problems exist they will limit what you can do – limit your results.

It doesn’t matter how hard you try, how deeply you believe.

Your results depend on the system which, like the weather, is outside your control.

Or is it?

Your job is to make change happen

You cannot control the weather – it’s going to do what it wants regardless of how you feel.

When it rains you should go indoors or get an umbrella – or resign yourself to the fact that you’re going to get wet.

If you are an employee who is given a job to do – once again what happens is outside your control.

You can do the best job you possibly could but if the system is operating ineffectively that’s not going to make things much better.

It’s the job of the management to improve the system so that you can work more effectively.

As the manager of your own life it’s probably your job improve your own situation.

It’s very easy to look at the negatives, the things that don’t work.

In the next post let’s try and see if there is anything positive to find.


Karthik Suresh

The Dynamics Of Power And Control And Your Business


Thursday, 8.31pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control. – Epictetus

In the last post I started looking at demand and that’s a theme I want to continue here.

The goal for this post is to help you find out whether you have control over demand or not – and what your options are in both situations.

The oldest kind of control there is

The history of humanity is littered with examples of how one group of people organised things so that they could control another group.

I remember reading how, there was a time in the US where anyone could get control over land – as long as you were the right colour.

If there was a river teeming with fish you could build a canning factory across it and stop the people who had fished there for free for generations from being able to do that any more.

The only thing they could then do was get jobs in the factory to feed themselves.

This idea of a stream and control over that stream is an ancient practice.

From control of trade routes to control of your thoughts – that’s the model practised by every group that’s exercised power over others.

Traditionally, it’s been exercised using formal power – the power of the sword or gun.

But these days technology has created different streams and new equivalents of canning factories.

Take Google, for example.

The vast majority of people – all of us – are like fish swimming in the information ocean – and Google has built a gigantic factory that we all swim through.

Google has huge power because it controls demand – when people want something they start by asking Google and then Google decides where to send them and therefore who will serve them.

And the same goes for all the other mega services.

So what does this mean for you?

How to sup with the devil

You are advised to use a long spoon when you sup with the devil.

The Internet is a huge and complex place and the big businesses that have created effective monopolies in that space have done so because of us – because we use them.

And that’s not about to change in a hurry.

If Google doesn’t like your business you’re probably not going to have a business at all.

So, you do have to learn to live with Google – and somehow find yourself your own stream of demand to control.

But what does that stream look like?

What’s yours is mine and what’s mine’s me own

Your stream of demand is something that you control.

For example, if you have put in the effort to create process that brings in leads on the major platforms then that’s a huge asset.

Most people believe that what they do is the most important thing.

It’s not.

Focusing on what you do is like owning a canning factory – having the structure, the machinery, the people.

But what is it that made those canning factories in old America so profitable?

It was control of the river.

There is a constant dance going on between the people in the river and the people who want to put them in cans.

Every major player, from Apple to Facebook to Medium, need you to swim into their factories, of your own free will and get processed.

And it’s hard to escape.

Is there another way?

Most of us will never have the kind of control that these big firms have.

We have to rely, instead, on finding the smaller streams where we can build our own small factories.

The good news is that while the supply of actual rivers is finite – we’re only limited by our imagination and the needs of customers.

We live in a world where you can create your own rivers and fill them with fish.

Who would have thought, for example, that an idea like the Bullet Journal, would have taken over the imagination of millions of people and created a devoted following.

I have an article on this on the wall in front of me.

The old world is full of examples of people taking from other people because they had the power.

That old world is still there now – we’re still seeing this happening all around us.

But, at the same time, every one of us also has the opportunity to enter this new world where you are only limited by your own imagination.

And that’s a better place to be than any other time in history.

But, what you make of it still depends more on where you are, what surrounds you, than who you are.

Let’s dig into that in the next post.


Karthik Suresh

Why You Need To Understand The Nature Of Demand And If You Can Control It


Wednesday, 6.29pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I, myself, only want one advantage and, if you will give it to me, I will (when it comes to selling burgers) whip the pants off all of you!” “What advantage do you want?” they ask. A Starving Crowd!” – Gary Halbert

I want to spend some time discussing demand – making sense of demand and how it works.

The goal for this section is to help you figure out why someone will be interested in what you have to offer.

The difference between supply and demand

When most people hear the words “supply” and “demand” they think of it as terms that people who understand economics use.

You have supply and demand curves and price is set by where they intersect, for example.

But this kind of dry formulation misses much of the nuance that exists in the real world – and we’re going to try and uncover that here.

First of all, what is supply?

Supply has to do with anything you have that you can give someone else.

Sometimes they are real things – like oil and grapes and chocolate teapots.

Sometimes they’re less real, like ideas and opinions and analysis.

Supply has to be something you can give away.

For example, you have experience, but you can’t just give that to someone else.

You have to put it in a container that the other person can take – like a book or a course.

Or you can use that experience to do something that the other person wants doing.

As a copywriter, for example, you use your experience to create the words and the product is the document you email to your client.

But, just because you can do it or make it or teach it – it doesn’t mean that someone wants it.

That depends on demand – on someone else and what they want or need.

It’s all too easy to think that supply is what’s important – what can you do, what can you make?

But what’s worth doing or worth making depends on demand – especially if your project is supposed to operate as a business rather than as a hobby.

The two main types of demand

The academic and consultant John Seddon came up the idea that there are different types of demand.

But before we dig into that we need to back up and look at what “work” means to us.

Look at your to-do list – the tasks you’ve got to do.

These tasks are your work – they’re the actionable elements of your day-to-day practice.

But why are those tasks on your list – how did they come into existence in the first place?

The chances are that they’ve been created for one of two reasons – and Seddon calls these value demand and failure demand.

Understanding value demand

The way to make sense of value demand is to think of it as something you or someone else wants doing.

Create a brochure, paint a wall, design an extension.

The person who wants this doing – the prospective customer – is going to get something they want if you do your job right – if you satisfy their value demands.

Now, this is where you have to be careful that you don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you can supply something you’re meeting someone’s value demands.

Sometimes people just don’t want your peanut powered mousetrap.

In fact, they don’t want mousetraps at all – they want a humane way of getting rid of their pest problem.

People change, and that means what they want also changes.

Value demand is not a fixed, unchanging thing – you understand it by understanding what your customers want.

Understanding failure demand

There’s another kind of work that needs doing which results from things going wrong.

Copy being grammatically incorrect, the paint not quite applied right, a wall in the wrong place in your extension.

This is failure demand – fixing things that have gone wrong in the process.

It looks like work but it’s not value adding work – it adds costs for everyone.

The supplier is spending more fixing the problem and the customer is spending more sorting out the problem.

Now what happens if you build a business around failure demand?

It might be a cost recovery service – going after people for things that have gone wrong.

Being an amulance chaser, for example.

Failure demand can be a lucrative business – as long as you aren’t the one creating the failures in the first place.

In that case it can be an expensive mistake.

What you want to do is design your own business to reduce failure demand.

Don’t add controls and checks if things go wrong – fix the things that made them go wrong in the first place.

That frees you up to do more work that meets value demand – what customers wanted all along.

The importance of positioning in controlling demand

What’s clear is that you can build a business around value demand or failure demand – as long as you’re delivering value or fixing someone else’s failures.

Either way, however, what matters is that you can come across the demand in the first place.

And you can only do that if you’re positioned at the place where demand makes itself visible.

We’ll look at that positioning in some more detail in the next post.


Karthik Suresh

How To Define Your Circle Of Competence


Monday, 8.12pm

Sheffield, U.K.

People judge you really quickly, at first just on your facial features. There are two dimensions – warmth and competence. You can think of them as trustworthiness and strength. They’re first judging you on warmth; evaluating whether or not you are trustworthy. That’s much more important to them than whether or not you’re competent. – Amy Cuddy

In the last section we looked at value and how to create it.

In this section we’ll dig a little deeper into the components of value and see how they fit with your own circumstances.

There are a number of things you might look to do when you start a project.

Some of these you’ll be good at, and not so good at others.

When you look at your list you’ll also see that some are essential, core to achieving the outcome you’ve set for yourself, while others are non-core and don’t help you move in the direction you want to go in.

You need different strategies to deal with the resulting combinations of tasks and a good way to focus is to get clear on your circle of competence – helped by the 2×2 matrix in the image above.

Master your core tasks

Peter Drucker once talked about how the two main tasks in any business were marketing and innovation.

And that’s true – these are two core elements that you have to master.

Mastery, in this case, is not just about technical mastery – for example a command of the mechanics of placing an ad in a magazine or creating online ads.

Those are techniques of marketing and while important, they’re not the things that really matter here.

What you have to master is the strategy you’re going to use – the key ideas that you have about how you’re going to innovate and market your business.

For example, if you plan to start a commodity business selling things online then your strategy has to be one where you master the art of selling on the Internet.

Which, in a nutshell, comes down to making sure you give people all the information they need to make a decision when they come across your product.

On the other hand, if you sell a complex consultancy service your marketing needs to be structured around setting up quality conversations with prospects.

It comes down to listening and understand what people need.

In the same manner, innovation with online sales is about making sure that the algorithms favour your content by using the best practices possible.

Innovation with offline sales is about being able to empathise with your prospect – see through their eyes and create what they need.

You shouldn’t ask someone else to take on the job of working out the right strategy to do marketing or innovation in your business.

It’s too important to be delegated – and it must sit with you.

You can get help thinking through the strategy, and help implementing it from technology experts – but you have to take responsibility for the direction of travel, for the strategy itself.

And that means putting aside enough time to work on the task until you master it.

So, the next thing is to work out where you can free up your time.

Automate non-core tasks

There are lots of things you might be capable of doing, even good at doing.

But they aren’t things that are core to your business.

These are tasks like administration, filing, invoicing.

They are hugely important, if you don’t send out invoices you’re not going to get paid.

So, they have to be done – but do they have to be done by you?

The starting point here for most people is to ask whether what they want to do can be automated.

There are lots of online services that help with this particular problem – especially when it comes to sending out invoices.

But, if you’re any good with spreadsheets you can build most of the same functionality for yourself.

In fact, it’s probably a good idea to get good enough at spreadsheets so you can automate most of this kind of work.

You might not be the kind of person that likes to use a spreadsheet – but it’s often a lot easier than having to deal with hiring and managing an individual.

The traditional answer to this kind of space – the stuff you can do but that’s non-core – is to get someone else to do it.

Hire someone, get a contractor.

These days, however, the first thing you should do is figure out whether it can be done by a program.

If it’s not worth you doing, then maybe it’s not worth anyone else doing either.

These costs are overhead costs – they are non-value adding.

That means you spend money to get them done but they don’t make you any more money as a result.

These kinds of costs have a nasty habit of creeping up unless you’re very careful.

An investment in automation is expensive in time up front but it saves you a lot of headaches later on.

Hire in support only when you absolutely have to do it.

But, when it comes to experts – get the best you can find.

Get help when you need it from specialists

If you have settled on a strategy that works for you and made sure that you have the time to work on it by automating the other work you have to do, it’s time to think about your support team.

If you focus on making sure customers can find you through excellent marketing and master the art of innovation – understanding what products and services they really really need – then you will know exactly what work needs to be done.

And if it’s not something you’re the best at doing, get in someone who is.

For example, if you’ve worked out a business development strategy for your consultancy client – then when it comes to implementation make sure you have a great copywriter, graphic designer and online marketing specialist on your team – if those are things you aren’t good at.

You don’t need to have them on your payroll, but make it easy for them to work with you – and pay them well.

You’re better off paying someone a higher rate than they ask for, and insisting on their best work delivered as fast as possible than you are going for the cheapest bid.

You want to partner with people that have integrity, people you can trust.

When you do that you can rely on the job getting done.

And you have to do one last thing to sleep easy at night.

Stop doing everything else

You have to stop doing the things that don’t need to be done – the things that you’re not good at and that aren’t core to your business.

In the beginning you might try lots of things, give yourself lots of tasks.

Say “Yes!” to everything.

But over time you’ll start to get a feel for the things that help you make progress and the things that don’t.

You should never feel guilty about abandoning something that doesn’t work.

If this book isn’t useful stop reading now.

If a marketing approach isn’t working – stop doing it.

Abandoning something is not a sign of failure – it’s a pragmatic assessment of whether something is worth doing or not.

You can always pick up the book later if you find it’s useful.

The key is designing something that works for you

The essential idea of the circle of competence is knowing where it is – where the boundary lies between what you’re good at and what you’re not.

But, when you run a business it’s not as simple as that.

You can’t just lock yourself away and do what you’re good at.

You have to also do what’s good for the business – but you don’t have to do it all yourself.

You can leverage the power of technology and the power of partnerships to expand your circle of competence.

But you still need to know where to stop – the boundary between doing things that are useful and things are not.

The boundary that separates value creating activity from value destroying activity.

Another way of looking at this is through the idea of value demand and failure demand, a concept created by John Seddon.

We’ll look at a template for assessing that tomorrow.


Karthik Suresh