How To Create An Authentic Business Model For Yourself

everything-happens-on-the-surface.png

Friday, 5.48am

Sheffield, U.K.

But above all, in order to be, never try to seem. – Albert Camus, Notebooks, 1935-1951

How do you create a business that is authentic – something that is consistent with your values and approach to life and the world?

This is actually quite a difficult question to answer, because we’re so wrapped up in layers of learning and expectation and beliefs that it’s hard to find anything that’s truly “our view”.

We may have to start by looking at people who live in the way we would like to live – find people to model.

What do we do once we find them?

Acting the life you want to lead

The first step is to recognise just how little we know about everyone else and how little they know about us.

It’s like a sea of darkness, the pitch black of ignorance – of a lack of knowledge.

You start to understand others by what you see and hear on the surface – your senses can only take in surface impressions.

For example, someone may act in a certain way, tell you about themselves, make certain decisions – and you have to infer their motives and capability from these surface impressions.

Are they telling you something because they truly believe it or because they know that’s what you to hear?

How do you tell the difference between someone who is authentic and someone who isn’t, someone who has something of value and someone who is serving reheated, stale ideas?

Telling good from bad

The good news is that you have more information available to you now than there has ever been in the past.

If someone is selling you their programme or course or package you’ll probably have someone, somewhere who’s actually experienced it and can tell you about it.

If you go through enough of their material you can start to tell how much of it is sizzle and how much is steak, what you’re going to get for your money.

And, along the way, you’ll start picking up clues for the options you have to be who you want to be.

For example, at one extreme you might have a pony-tailed, long-bearded academic talking about his research and findings and what they mean.

At the other extreme you might have a well-groomed person in an expensive suit talking about his sales training programme.

You might have a writer talking about her journey and interviewing others on her podcast about their approach to building an independent writing career.

And you could have a presenter, with great stage presence who puts out content that is amplified by her personality and approach and appearance – in particular how attractive she is.

Each individual will have a different approach, one suited to their personality and values and preferred ways of acting.

It’s tempting to think that academic content is more robust than that put out by lay people or practitioners but that isn’t always the case.

Academic content is not always practical and usable and content created by practitioners is not always unsubstantiated “common sense”.

The thing to look for in these various examples is elements that you think will work for you – approaches that fit the way you want to position yourself.

If you believe that lighting, makeup and clothes are critical for the impression you want to make then that needs to be part of the capability you put in place for your business.

If you think that you can go with the content you have and it makes no difference whether you wear a suit or not – then that’s ok too.

The first step to being authentic is acting in a way that is consistent with the kind of values and behaviours you want to model yourself, having seen how others model them.

Choosing an approach that works for you

What’s important is selecting ways to act that are consistent with the way in which you want to come across.

For example, I prefer the kinds of material created by presenters who focus on the content rather than on the packaging.

I have been looking at video production for a few weeks now and trying to work out what kind of approach would work for me.

Is it a screencast, an overhead camera, a mix of direct presentation and cuts to content?

There are many examples, from exquisitely crafted segments with high quality DSLRs and extensive editing to one-take videos where you press record, do your thing, press stop and you’re done.

I’ve tried different approaches and the one that’s resonated with me most strongly is the one-take video strategy.

It’s simple, direct and focuses on the content and message.

It’s consistent with my approach to drawing and writing, which is to keep things simple, direct and frugal.

In that sense, I feel like that approach would be more “authentic” than if I tried to add more complexity or production quality to the content.

That decision will turn off some people and attract others – but you shouldn’t do things just to appeal to a market segment.

You can’t fake emotion or values – you can just use actions to get across your intent and leave it to people to make up their own minds about you and your material.

And the reason you start by finding people to model is not so you can become like them.

You can’t become someone else – you have to build on who you are and what you believe in.

The purpose of finding people to model is to study the different ways in which people act out their values and beliefs and give you ideas for what you can do yourself.

The reflective process

Once you have a go and act the way you think you should – then you have to take time to study and reflect on the result.

For example, if you want to write, then you start by reading a lot, and then sitting down and writing.

Then you look back at what you’ve written, reflecting on what works, what doesn’t work and where you can improve.

That simple process is the key to improving how you do what you do and becoming more authentic in the way you do it.

It’s the same process whether you’re creating a course, video content, a new business model.

Act, reflect, act, reflect.

It’s all about making that surface level visible, making it as easy as possible for someone to look at you, see what you’re about and decide whether to do business with you.

It’s about making it easy for them – and that’s what we’ll cover next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Learn Good Ways Of Doing Things You Need To Do

find-good-people-to-model.png

Thursday, 5.57am

Sheffield, U.K.

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young. – Henry Ford

There will come a point, my dad once said, when you will work for someone younger than you – and how will that make you feel?

The point to ponder, I suppose, is where does your sense of self-worth come from?

Is it from your job, from your role, your title, your seniority, your pay?

All those can be stripped away from you, taken by someone else leaving you with nothing.

What’s left is what’s in your head – the ideas you have stored, and the stuff in your body – the skills you’ve gained over time.

So, how do you make sure you have the right stuff in there?

Select people who model the right things for you

We learn from others and who you choose to learn from is going to make a huge difference to what happens to you over time,

We live in a world where the network effect means that you have a winner take all situation.

What that means is that if someone becomes popular they’re going to become even more well-known as the viral effects of exposure kick in.

It’s easy to assume that because a particular person is popular and visible, that means they’re also right about the things they say.

That’s where you have to be careful and develop the capability to tell who is the right influence for you.

Anyone can sell you an idea.

You, as the buyer, must learn to tell which ones are quality merchandise and which ones are not.

So how do you go about doing that?

What’s on the surface?

If you’re investing your money it’s hard to tell the difference between a bubble and a trend.

They can look the same – a novel proposition, a changing situation, an emerging need.

There might be warning signs along the way.

For example, if you find it increasingly hard to explain why this thing that has an increasing valuation is actually that valuable, then there might be an issue.

Then again, you might just not be as smart as the ones who are piling into the opportunity.

Remember the dot com or the housing bubbles?

People who sell you ideas can be just as hard to figure out.

What you see on social media is an algorithmic assessment of relevance and value – the computer is trying to get you the good stuff based on what it calculates you think good stuff looks like.

So, what you choose to look at matters.

For example, if you watch and entertaining and persuasive speaker’s video all the way through your feed will start to light up with similar stuff.

So, you have to get good at abandoning stuff quickly if you don’t want to be inundated by that kind of material.

And you have to do that, quite often, based on what you see first, on surface impressions.

So how do you go about doing that?

Telling versus showing

One good filter for separating the useful from the rest is to look at what the person is doing with their content.

Some people will tell you what to do – tell you their ideas and why you should believe what they say.

These can be entertaining, inspiring, passionate people who have a message that resonates with you, that feels like it can take you anywhere.

There must be people like this you’ve come across – people like Tony Robbins, Brian Tracey, Gary Vaynerchuck more recently.

The basic message is something on the lines of believe in yourself, work hard, have a vision and goals and you can make anything happen.

Most self-help books come down to some kind of variation on that kind of message.

A different kind of message comes from people who show you what they’ve done, who give you a window into the way in which they think about things and the way in which they go about doing things.

And they do this in a way that shows you how you can do it as well, how you can “model” them – act in the way they act so that you can act yourself into doing the kinds of things they do.

It’s a little ironic that the first kind of message works on your mind to try and make you change what you do while the second method shows you what to do and changes your mind in the process.

The second kind of approach, in my view, is more likely to help you actually change and improve your situation.

But it depends on finding people who are right for you in your situation to model.

And you don’t need to put people into such rigid teach/show baskets – you can still take away useful tips from anyone.

Just make sure that you’re balancing the ones who tell you what to do with the ones that show you how to do it so that you can actually make something happen.

How do you find these people?

We are lucky these days because these people are all around you and their body of work is accessible on the Internet.

I spent years reading Warren Buffett’s work, for example.

His essays are on the Internet, the previous letters he wrote are floating out there somewhere.

You can read the work of a lifetime of investing and travel the path he did, learn the lessons he did.

These days, investment comes down to finding a low-cost tracker and sticking your money in there while you get on with the day job – but learning that can be an expensive process.

Doing the day job well is what you need to learn about now – so who can you find in your industry who does that well?

Who writes well, creates good content, shows good work?

These are probably not the superstars or the viral videos or the things that “blow up” on YouTube.

They’re the thoughtful, reflective pieces that people put out there, showing their real world and real practice.

And what surprises me is how few views they have – but then again I think every one of those views is someone who really wants to learn what’s in that content – rather than the entertainment that you get from something that goes viral.

It actually shouldn’t surprise you that you’re in the minority when you look for content that you can learn from rather than content that tells you something.

Being told is easier, it’s passive, you don’t have to do anything at the end and you can always go back for more when you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere.

Being asked to learn is harder – you can pick up what you need to know pretty quickly – the challenge is taking the time to practise and fail and reflect and try again and learn and go round the loop again.

But if you can do that you will get better – it’s impossible not to, and things will change – it’s impossible for them not to.

They will change because of the actions you are taking and the practise you are doing and the way in which you are learning.

Change needs action.

They won’t change however many videos you watch about how to reprogram your mind.

And action needs you to know what actions are good ones to take.

And you learn that by finding good people to show you how to do it – good people that you can model and learn from.

So spend some time finding people who are right for you in your situation, people who have put their work out there and talked and written about why they do what they do to help others like you learn.

Watch videos, read interviews with successful people in your field, sift through and comb the material for ideas that you can test and practise with and make your own.

Pull out what seem like the main points, the critical success factors and make them part of your own process, your way of thinking and living and acting.

Because any change you make, anything you improve will only come from the actions you take.

And that’s where the profession of acting may have something to teach you.

We’ll look at that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What’s The Best And Most Strategic Way To Use Your Time?

strategic-use-of-time.png

Wednesday, 5.52am

Sheffield, U.K.

Your best strategy is to manage your creativity, not your time. People who manage their creativity get happy and rich. People who manage their time get tired. – Scott Adams

Do you feel like there is never enough time to get everything done?

Or do you get the feeling that you’re not being as productive as you could be, guilty for not putting in the hours, worrying about the results you’re getting?

How do you spend your days right now?

All of us have the same twenty four blocks of time a day.

The natural division of the day is probably in three parts.

We should be getting eight hours of sleep.

We have eight hours to eat and exercise and have time with friends and family and do whatever we want to do.

And we have eight hours to work.

In the image above, the red blocks are unavailable – you’re asleep.

The orange blocks are your own time – time which many of us increasingly spend glued to a phone.

And work time is green – a period often dictated by other people – a constant stream of anxiety and frustration.

We repeat this pattern day after day and feel like we’re getting nowhere.

So, what can you do?

What is the one thing you could change?

When we look at this pattern the first thing to recognise is that we can’t change the number of blocks – we can’t create time.

We can steal it from other parts of our life and use it for something else – but doing that often results in causing a different problem further down the line.

For example, you could sleep five hours a night and work more – but you’ll probably find that you start accumulating a sleep debt which has to be paid off at some point.

My approach would be to start by protecting your sleep time and your off time.

Those sixteen hours should be left alone – filled with rest and friendship and family time.

The thing that you can be flexible with is work time – because trying to work harder and longer isn’t really the smart thing to do.

Instead, you have to get strategic with your time – moving from doing work to doing work that’s the best use of your time.

The way you can contribute the most and do the most – but you may have to spend some time discovering exactly what that is.

The strategic use of time

You can think of strategy as your direction of travel – something you’re heading towards.

So think about what you’re heading towards in the work that you’re doing every day.

If you’re employed then your work probably revolves around a set of tasks, something that fits into the overall flow of work for a client or in an organisation.

The work you do fits into someone else’s strategy but what does it do for you?

For example, let’s say you’re a project manager working on making sure several crucial projects are moved forward.

The vast majority of your time is going to be spend coordinating and communicating and expediting activities.

You’re gaining lots of skills at getting things done – but how would you start thinking about making this work for you when you get started on your own project?

You won’t really be able to do that until you put some time aside to actually think strategically – and act in line with that strategy.

You need a couple of hours a day to get started – a couple of blue blocks that you set aside for strategic work.

That’s enough to get started and you will probably achieve more if you commit to spending that time than you will trying to make larger or more dramatic changes like quitting your job to start a business.

What matters first is to set aside and protect some time to work on what really matters for you.

What will you do with that strategic time?

The short answer to how you should spend that time is to work on creative projects.

Creativity is not just about art and inspiration – anything you do can be creative – from getting better at designing spreadsheets to improving a process so you can do things in a tenth of the time.

The form your creative work takes depends on your situation – but there are a few models you will see other people doing.

One approach you will see is people building their profile – spending time on creating a personal brand for themselves.

That can be useful as you grow your connections and try to establish your credentials and capability in a field.

Another approach you will see is people sharing their work – showing you what they are doing, whether it’s their ability to create beautiful objects or their skills at a task.

You’ll see those kinds of things because people put them out into the world for you to stumble across.

But what you do doesn’t have to be shareable in that kind of way.

Your creative time can be spent in just creating, working on your own project, building up a portfolio of examples.

Here’s one way to think about it.

Right now, if someone were to ask you what you do, would you describe your job – the kind of things other people ask you to do?

Or would you point to your body of work, the stuff that exists in the world because of you.

The distinction can be tricky.

Sometimes it’s straightforward – you’re an architect and here are twenty buildings you helped design and that were built.

Sometimes it’s harder – you’re an HR manager and you worked on certain projects or you’re an administrative officer and you had certain tasks.

But if you want to get started what you need to do is spend time building a body of work – and if you’re not sure what that body of work looks like, the first use of that strategic time is to work that out.

It might take weeks or months or years – but if you don’t set the time aside you’ll never get started.

One day at a time

Change doesn’t often happen in big, dramatic leaps.

It’s more likely to happen over time, bit by bit, almost invisibly.

But it will happen if you put in the time – taking small steps day after day.

But what are the steps you should take if you’re unsure about how to get started?

One way of figuring that out is to look at what other people have done along the way.

Let’s look at an approach for doing that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why Would Someone Hire A Professional Like You

fit-for-purpose.png

Tuesday, 5.50am

Sheffield, U.K.

Quality means fitness for purpose. So no matter what you produce – a good or a service – it must be fit for its purpose. To be fit for purpose, every good and service must have the right features to satisfy customer needs and must be delivered with few failures. It must be effective to meet the customer requirements and efficient for superior business performance. – Juran’s Quality Handbook, 6th Edition

Thinking for too long can be a problem.

Sometimes you just have to get out there and find out what people need so that you can build something that they want.

Something that helps them achieve their purpose.

Building something fit for purpose

The idea of quality seems simple but it’s a word that can get complicated very quickly.

After all, what does quality mean to you?

For some of us quality is found in the aesthetics, the design, the look and feel.

I know people who are turned off instantly if what they see is ugly.

Other’s couldn’t care less about the surface impression – they’re interested in the numbers, the detail.

Other’s think about the philosophy, the values, the intent of the producers.

And it can get quite complicated to unravel very quickly.

Take the iPhone, for example.

The iPhone is designed to be beautiful, to be eye catching – to be the best phone, to be a symbol of prestige.

It’s certainly an indicator of wealth.

It turns out that you can map where the rich people are by mapping the density of iPhones – the more iPhones, the wealthier the neighbourhood.

Then again, if you just want a phone, some apps and a camera there are cheaper options, there are second-hand options.

It depends on whether you care about having the latest model.

And then, for me personally, I haven’t bought an iPhone for a while because the philosophy of Apple irritates me – the focus on keeping control and trying to imprison you in their ecosystem.

They make it hard to use their phones with any non-Apple systems and that lack of interoperability just makes it too hard to trust their machines – I’d rather use something else than deal with all that.

The point I’m making is that what is obviously a great quality product to one person may be seen very differently by someone else.

Your job as a professional is to work out what quality looks like to the person you’re trying to provide a product or service to.

And that starts by understanding their purpose – what are they trying to do and what are their constraints.

When you understand that you can build something that helps them achieve their purpose within their constraints.

Something that is fit for purpose.

But first you have to understand what all that looks like from their point of view.

Letting the prospect talk

A good sales process starts not with answers but with questions.

Why does the person need a professional like you, what are they trying to do in the first place?

You’re not going to think your way to the answer there, you need to start listening to what people have to say.

For example, let’s say you have a software development firm and a prospect comes to you – most people will launch into a pitch about what they do and the features and benefits of their product.

Not many will let the prospect talk about their situation, their problems and the reasons why they are looking for a solution.

But that’s where you really should start – by understanding the situation they are in, the problems they are facing and what that means for them – the impact that it has.

And you can’t find out any of that without letting them talk and asking questions that illuminate their situation.

When you do that you start to get a feel for why they are in the market for a product of service.

Are they looking at the value of time – they haven’t got time internally or their time is busy doing other work – so they’re looking to buy some time from someone who can do the work.

Do they realise that they haven’t got the skills they need so they’re looking for someone who can provide those complementary capabilities.

Or perhaps what they need is a restricted capability – something only a lawyer or accountant can provide – or they have to do it in order to comply with a rule or regulation.

Perhaps they don’t know what they’re looking for exactly – but they do know they’re trying to solve a problem that’s been around for a while.

It’s only when they recognise the unique shape and size of what they want and see that there is a need for it that they’re going to take the next step of working with someone like you.

Think of it like a puzzle – one with a strange shape that they don’t yet recognise.

They just know there is a hole.

If you can help them understand and articulate the shape that will fill that space, that’s a start – now they know what they need.

If you can show them that you can do it with quality – build something that’s fit for purpose then you’re in with a good chance of getting that project – now they know they can get it from you.

If you can show them that going with you is the best alternative – because you both now know what needs to be done you can do it at the best possible quality and the lowest possible cost – they now know you’re the best choice.

Bringing it all together

Once you’ve listened to what the prospect has to say and asked questions and helped them to understand what they need and how you can help you now need to put it all together in a proposal they can approve.

That actually becomes quite a simple task.

Because you know what they want you can simply list out what you’re going to do to give them what they want.

One of the things I’ve learned is that short proposals work if you put in the time to understand what people need.

When you don’t know you throw in everything you have – you try and explain everything you do hoping that something will stick and attract their attention and interest.

But if you know what they need you can cut out everything that isn’t relevant – you can create something short and to the point.

Just add costs, preferably costs that you’ve already established work within their budgets and you’re done.

Now, what’s the value you’re brought here?

It’s showing the difference between doing it yourself and hiring a professional.

A professional can help you do a quality job – quality in the sense of doing what’s needed to the standard needed, free of failures.

And you can only be a professional if you can provide a quality service – something which you have spent time developing and which is the best use of your time.

That’s something to explore next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why You Need To Find Your Happy Zone And Play Just There

first-rule-of-hitting-get-a-good-ball-to-hit.png

Monday, 5.44am

Sheffield, U.K.

The hardest thing to do in baseball is to hit a round baseball with a round bat, squarely – Ted Williams

Baseball is a game of statistics, one of which is a player’s batting average.

The batting average is the ratio of times a batter hits the ball and gets to at least first base to the number of turns they take batting against a pitcher.

Getting .400 or hitting the ball 40% of the time is considered a standard of excellence and was last reached in 1941 by Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox who also wrote a book called “The Science of Hitting”.

Warren Buffett is a fan of the book and talks about an image from the book helps him think about investing strategy and the importance of knowing your sweet spot – and how it can work for anything else you do as well.

The science of hitting

Ted Williams writes in his book that his “first rule of hitting was to get a good ball to hit.”

A strike zone is around 7 balls wide and 11 balls tall, giving you a grid of 77 locations.

Some of those locations sit in a happy zone, a sweet spot – a place where you know you can swing and bat .400.

Outside that you’re going to do less well, perhaps hit the ball 30% of the time.

And then there will be an area where your hit rate drops, where you only get a .230 average.

The difference between getting a high average and a low one is knowing when to hit.

Do you swing at everything?

How often have you heard someone try and chase a trend?

They’ve heard about an opportunity that someone else has capitalised on and want some of that for themselves.

It might be a stock, it might be cryptocurrency or it might be a new manufacturing project.

Should you get involved?

Warren Buffett talks about how the problem with baseball is that you do have to swing at something eventually.

You don’t have that problem with business.

You never get sent off for not swinging.

You can wait, pitch after pitch, until the right ball comes along, right in your happy zone, for you to take a swing at.

For example, let’s say you’re a building contractor and have been pretty successful at that, should you diversify into media production?

After all, everyone is making money on YouTube, aren’t they?

It isn’t a yes or no answer – you need to define your own strike zone and see if you’re playing in your happy zone or not.

For example, I’ve seen this done well where a contractor uses YouTube to create content that shows how they work, give a prospective customer a glimpse behind the scenes.

People love this.

Others have created entirely new channels, completely different from their main work and have had thousands of views.

As individuals, they have decided whether they go into an opportunity or not – and know whether the result is good or not – given the standards they have for themselves.

And you do have to try things to see if they work or not, you have to experiment or risk being left behind.

But most of the time you should probably wait to get a good ball to hit.

Learning to say No

Years ago I went to a shop that I used to go to a decade before that – the owner was a friend of the family and his children were now in charge as shop managers.

They were in the clothing business in a small shop in a small town.

I lived in a city and while I Was in the shop my parents asked the managers, jokingly, if they would like to expand and sell their cloth in the city and if I could help.

The manager smiled and nodded yes and said “no.”

That was a little confusing so we asked again and got the same “no.”

No explanation, just a smile and a flat decline.

And looking back at that, it seems like a sensible thing to do – the kind of thing experienced people do who have learned from a young age how to run a business.

Many of us are afraid of coming across as unhelpful, unwilling.

We’re not comfortable saying no to people, but if you want to be successful, if you want to be rich, that’s precisely what you need to learn to do.

You need to say no to everything that isn’t in your happy zone, in that place where you know you can hit hard and hit well.

Most of us would be better off if we stuck to a few things and did them really well rather than dissipating our energy doing lots of things just fine.

It’s good to say yes to the things that you know you can do well, it’s ok to say yes to the things that you can do, or would like to try out.

It’s okay to say no to the things you know you can’t do that well and it’s just fine to turn down everything that’s outside your strike zone.

The wider your zone, the less successful you’ll be – the more chances you give a pitcher to get a bad one past you.

But when you say no to everything except the stuff that you’re good at, then you’re going to be one of the best out there.

And when you’re the best you’re giving people a reason to work with you.

Let’s look at how that works in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why You Should Make The Drafts Process Work For You

making-drafts-work-for-you.png

Sunday, 7.43am

Sheffield, U.K.

Fiction, like sculpture or painting, begins with a rough sketch. One gets down the characters and their behavior any way one can, knowing the sentences will have to be revised,knowing the characters’ actions may change. – John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist

It’s easy to look at a finished piece of work and imagine that it sprang to life, fully formed, in an instant.

But nothing has.

Everything that grows takes time, time before a seed finds fertile soil, time to push through the ground and emerge into sunlight and then more time to fix its roots and grow tall.

I can look out of my window and see three potato plants that went into the ground a few months ago.

One towers over the others, one is a medium size and the last one is struggling to grow at all.

They are within a few feet of each other, in the same ground, but they are growing very differently.

You cannot control the outcome

There are things you can control and things you can not – and wisdom comes from knowing the difference between the two.

If you create a work of art you have control over the material, the subject, the execution, the lines, the colours.

You cannot control how people react to it, whether they like it or not.

If you want them to like it then you may have to first discover what they like and then build that for them.

But even if you build something that’s based on exactly what they said you can’t control how they react.

Sometimes, when people get what they’ve asked for they find that it’s not what they wanted at all.

You can’t control that.

You can control your process

What you can do is work on your art – whatever that art is.

If you treat your career, your business, your product as an art project how would you go about getting started?

It’s too hard to get perfect lines the first time.

Instead, you rough it out – starting with blocks that position the main elements you want, go over it with a light pencil sketching out the lines and then pressing down creating the detail.

Finally, you add colour, ink – finishing it off.

Along the way you might use tools – guide lines, layout principles.

None of the approaches you take or the methods you use are visible to the person who sees the finished product, but without them the product would not exist at all.

And if you want to make something what you have to get control over is that invisible work, the work that makes it possible for your finished work to exist.

Think of it like doing multiple drafts

The romantic idea of a startup founder is that they come up with a new concept – something different.

They raise money, build a product, get a following, make a huge amount of sales and get very rich.

And repeat.

And perhaps that happens sometimes – but more often you find that the path an entrepreneur took was never quite that straightforward.

Take Steve Jobs and the iPad, for example.

When the iPad first came out it seemed like a bold and visionary creation that just emerged from the brilliant minds at Apple.

The idea, however, was something that Jobs had talked about decades ago and which perhaps built on ideas first articulated a decade or more before that.

Many successful businesses have been built over generations as the founders passed on their skills and creations to their children or to successors who went on to develop the business further.

It’s hard to see how anyone could start a project and on their first try create something that’s finished and ready.

It’s more likely that we all need to give ourselves time – time to try and learn and refine and improve.

And over time, we’ll create something that has value.

The challenge is focusing on the right things

When you first get started it’s possible that you have no idea how your project is going to go.

For example, when I first started this blog I didn’t really know what I was going to write about – I just knew I wanted to write and this was a routine I could follow.

When you do that it’s like throwing stones in the dark – you scrabble about find something then launch it.

Not quite sure what will happen.

After a while you start to get a sense of what’s around you – you get a feel for the surroundings.

Then, perhaps there is a glimmer of light on the horizon – the sun starts to come up.

You can see faintly now, there are shapes and shadows and the faintest outline of a target.

Something you can now aim towards, something you can hit.

In my case, that’s something like this Getting Started book project, which takes three years of writing practice and uses structuring methods I’ve learned and rediscovered along the way and has helped me work on a first draft relatively painlessly.

It’s a few months in the writing but years in the making.

And it’s probably the same with your project, with your business.

You work on gathering the capability and skills and connections for years.

And then, when you’re ready, you explode into action – you build and test and refine and improve.

You go from draft to draft until you’re finished.

Well, that’s the theory anyway.

That works if you’re operating in an area you are competent at – something you know, something you’ve taken the time to learn.

When you’re in the zone you can do stuff that looks like magic to others.

But outside that space you’re just as bad as everyone else.

Let’s look at that next before we move on.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Make Something Work By Focusing On Flow

give-the-next-person-clean-output.png

Monday, 5.46am

Sheffield, U.K.

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

As you build your business there is one question you should ask over and over again.

What happens next?

I once came across a concept called the velocity of money, something that people who really understood business seemed to understand instinctively, understand deep inside.

One way to think about this concept is to imagine a stream,

Imagine clear, sparkling water dancing its way along, moving, changing, shimmering.

It’s clean and crisp and refreshing and inviting.

Now, imagine a pool filled with stagnant water, unmoving.

That’s not so inviting, is it? It’s old, stale, dirty, polluted.

Rot starts to set in when something stops moving, when you stop being active and renewing yourself every day.

Staying still atrophies the mind and dulls the senses, just like metal rusts and tools lose their edge, when left alone and untouched.

It’s the same with work as you do it in your business.

Everything you do needs to move your business and your customer’s business on – it needs to work in a flow and it’s when that doesn’t happen that you start to struggle.

When something is finished and is now only fit to be preserved, kept pristine and untouched, we call it art.

Everything else is work in progress – something that fits into a greater purpose – and your job is to figure out how to keep things moving in the service of that purpose.

Which you can do by repeatedly asking, “What happens next?”

Raw in, clean out

Imagine you run a business that helps other businesses – like a management consultancy.

When you describe what you do to someone who has used consultants before you’ll often notice them wince.

They’ll probably ask you if you do something like come in, have a look around and write a report.

This is a common sales approach that many such consultancy organisations take – they carry out an audit examining the current situation and identify issues and recommend changes.

When this is done well they show the prospective client what needs to be fixed and they talk about how they (the supplier) can fix the issues.

This can lead to a sale.

The problem happen when the report tells the client what they (the client) has to do next – when it’s a prescription rather than a cure.

That kind of report tends to gather dust on a shelf.

And that’s because most people are too busy doing what they need to do.

They haven’t got time to do what you want to do.

If you want to be useful to them you have to fit into their flow – figure out how to insert yourself into their way of working and add value.

And you can do that by showing them what they will get from you that they can use in the next step of their own process.

For example, we recently visited a maze that the farmer creates every year using maize.

She described how she comes up with a design and then an experienced tractor driver plants the crop in rows.

She then plucks out plants to create the design.

When it’s ready she gets a drone operator to take an aerial image which then goes into the marketing literature and the maze is now open for business.

The farmer has a flow – a number of things she has to do over a few months to get this attraction ready for visitors.

Everything she buys in as a service has to help her move towards this outcome – help her achieve this goal.

If you can help her, then you might have an opportunity.

But you have to provide something that is clean, something that she can use in the next step of her process.

For example, that image from the drone operator is clearly useful for marketing – the picture itself, maybe some video footage, can be used for branding and publicity.

It’s not just a work of art, even if it looks good – it also has purpose and function and fits into a larger whole.

It’s useful.

Get rid of waste in your process

A useful side effect of asking what happens next is that you can identify things that don’t help.

In most cases, trying to track what’s doing on and create reports doesn’t help.

That creates busywork that you don’t really need to do.

Sometimes you have to monitor things to understand what is going on, but it’s not something you have to, or should do all the time.

What matters more is getting what needs to be done done.

Anything that doesn’t contribute to moving you own, to keeping the flow going, should be considered for elimination.

You can’t get things wrong that you don’t do at all.

The best way to improve quality is not to do what you do better – but to do less of everything you do and focus more on the things that matter.

When you stop thinking in terms of time or tasks and focus on flow – on what happens next – you’ll start to develop a feel for the velocity of your business.

The smoother, faster the flow, the more you keep things moving, the cleaner and more efficient you will be.

You’ll also be more effective.

As you design your business keep this principle in mind.

At each stage, provide clean output – something you or your client can use without modification.

Something that fits cleanly into the next step in the process.

But you won’t get this right on your first attempt – you’ll need to work at it to get to that point.

Which is what we’ll cover next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Learn Anything You Need To Know For Your Business

learning-through-modelling.png

Sunday, 7.11am

Sheffield, U.K.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. – Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

What do you do when you realise you don’t know something?

All study is self-study

There is an Indian story of a forest hunter called Ekalavya.

He wanted to study archery but the best teacher in the land, Dronacharya, who taught the royal princes, refused to take him as a student.

So Ekalavya built a mud statue of Dronacharya, literally modelling him out of clay, and taught himself, practising every day in front of his teacher until he became a great archer.

The story doesn’t end well for Ekalavya – but that’s in another time and place.

The main lesson – that you can teach yourself anything you want – is one we should take to heart.

Once upon a time you needed to be apprenticed, you needed a teacher.

And then we had books that distilled the knowledge of experienced people into packages that anyone could take up and learn from.

And now we have YouTube, where we can see how others do it and learn anything we want, from how to teach better to how to replace a broken door frame.

You have everything you need to learn anything you want – we all have access to more opportunity than anyone before in history.

But how do we go about using it successfully, rather than drowning in a flood of knowledge.

Focus on relevant, useful information

When information is everywhere you no longer need to absorb it all.

You can access it on a just-in-time basis rather than a just-in-case basis.

Rather than trying to learn everything about a subject, focus on the outcome you want and identify the things you need to know to make that outcome happen.

That list of things becomes what you need to know.

For example, to build your personal brand, you need to be clear about what you want to get across – what is it that you want to be seen as an expert on?

How will you showcase that content – will you write, create a podcast, create video, or do all three and more?

Will you do it yourself or get someone else to do it and manage the process?

How will you get people to come and look at your material – how will you get the word out?

When you are clear that the outcome is a enhanced personal brand, what you need to do will become obvious very quickly.

You have to ask yourself how you will do these things and how much it will cost you and how you can do them well.

And if you don’t already know how you are going to do this you should spend some time watching you other people do it well.

Learning through modelling

On my Twitter feed one of the posts said that you shouldn’t pay people to tell you how to get rich.

After all, if they were already rich, they wouldn’t need your money.

Paul Graham, the founder of YCombinator, responded by saying that they would often tell you how to do that for free.

Now, being rich isn’t the only outcome that matters – and you will find examples of all kinds of people who have created outcomes that are relevant and useful to you.

Some of them will share their story and what they’ve learned and when you come across them you have an amazing opportunity to learn because they are modelling how to do something and giving you the opportunity to watch and learn.

But you have to be careful.

With every person you watch, read or listen to, ask yourself how they make their money.

Most of the ads you see on YouTube for people who are offering you a course on how to be successful have no useful content.

You will often find a detailed breakdown of the flaws with their programmes if you do a search, but what most of them boil down to is that you make money by selling their programme.

It’s a network marketing strategy, where you create something that has little intrinsic value, but you persuade other people to join you in selling it and make money off the membership fees they pay.

You should ignore all these entirely.

Then you have a category of “personalities” who have strong opinions and are entertaining.

Many of the big names in self-help will fall into this category – they are inspiring, articulate performers who can make you think you can do anything if you have the will and the grit and the ability to outwork everyone else.

You should be careful with these people. Some of what they say is useful but most of it is entertainment.

If they make most of their money through speeches, courses, books, conferences – then you know that it’s the performance and the thrills they’re selling rather than the content.

Most of the content is folk-lore – common sense repackaged for your viewing pleasure.

But their main measure of success is eyeballs watching their content – eyeballs they can monetise.

And then you have people who show you how they do things – in an authentic and transparent way.

What you’re looking for here are real people – the ones that show it as it is.

Perhaps the best example here is Warren Buffett and his shareholder letters.

They articulate what he has thought and learned over decades of investing and if you’re interested in that field they are required reading.

People like this use their ability to create content as a way to showcase what they are interested in, what they do and the products and services they have to offer.

They make money either through the businesses and assets they have which they’re talking to you about, or they have created products that you can buy from them – but the products are how they make their money not by monetising you as their audience.

But, there aren’t that many examples of people doing this intentionally, but what’s interesting is that you can find better examples as you look into the early days of what people did.

When I come across someone on YouTube whose channel I like and find useful I often view their earliest videos – because that gives me a sense of where they started, and how their approach and message has changed over time.

Many develop their craft and ability to tell a story over time and it’s fascinating to see how they balance content and presentation.

For example, some focus on enhancing their content and teaching style while others improve their lighting, camera setup and on-screen presence with hair and makeup.

And when you come to their latest content you can tell whether they have a product to sell you or whether you are the product that they’re trying to sell to advertisers.

You also need to appreciate that you can learn different things from different people at different times in your career – and the best thing you can do is be intentional in who you follow and why.

Modelling over time

Different people will show you different approaches and you can learn different things from them.

The test is how relevant they are to you and what you want to get out of things.

If you want to learn about developing your screen presence, your ability to speak into a camera and be persuasive – then the big personalities of the Internet are where you go looking.

If you want to build a sustainable business then you might want to look elsewhere, to people who have found a niche and developed their business to fit into and dominate that little patch of cyberspace.

That’s certainly how I progressed over time – starting with persuasive speakers who told you to do things like write affirmations.

I still have books filled with daily writing somewhere – based on people saying that if you just wrote down what you wanted every day the universe would come along and give it to you.

The thing that changed the way I looked at these things was when I was introduced to the idea of thinking critically.

Critical thinking is not a negative thing – it’s not about criticising.

It is, instead, about taking in information and sifting it, evaluating it, and looking beyond the rhetoric, questioning tradition, not accepting authority unthinkingly and always being conscious of the objectivity of the people involved.

People will say things for many reasons.

You need to be careful to learn things for the right reasons, as best as you can given the situation you are in.

The test of knowledge for you is whether it is useful, whether it can help you take the next step you need to take.

And taking a series of steps will get you to where you want to be.

We’ll talk about that next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Are The Things You Need To Do?

system-holon-model.png

Saturday, 7.00am

Sheffield, U.K.

The basic managerial idea introduced by systems thinking, is that to manage a system effectively, you might focus on the interactions of the parts rather than their behavior taken separately. – Russell Ackoff

We have a tendency to focus on things – try and identify the one thing we can understand and improve.

That has been a very successful approach – taking something and deconstructing it, figuring out how it works.

It’s the basis of the scientific method and rational thinking and has created the modern world.

But the process of deconstruction always loses something – and it’s not always obvious what that is.

Because you won’t find it in the pieces that you’re left with.

So what is this thing and how can you be intentional about the way you go after it?

Understanding emergence

Imagine you’re running a large business with lots of departments that do different functions.

Which function do you think is the most important one?

Your sales people will argue that it’s what they do – without the customers they bring in you have no business.

The operations people will counter, saying that if they don’t make things people want the sales people will not have anything to sell.

Finance will weigh in now, pointing out that without their ability to keep money flowing in the business no one would have the space and time to do what they need to do.

When you think about it you realise that you need all the departments to function – or at least you need the essential ones to deliver your capability and you need the others to do superior work.

The performance of the business as a whole depends less on whether you have an amazing sales director or the most qualified finance person in the country than on whether they work well together as a team.

If you go and look for “performance” in the business you won’t find it in sales or operations or finance.

You might see performance in the shape of satisfied customers as a result of their interaction with your business at the various points at which they connect with each other.

Performance or customer satisfaction are “emergent” properties – they happen as a result of everything you do not from any one thing.

Making the best car in the world

This is why you cannot make things better just by improving one thing – and it’s the reason why improvement efforts focused on a particular function or department don’t deliver results as a whole.

The management thinking Russell Ackoff used to use an example with cars.

Imagine you want to build the best car in the world.

You start by getting a collection of the best cars in the world right now, one of each type.

You get the fastest one, the best looking, the biggest, the best seller,

Now that you have the best cars in the world you take them all apart.

You compare the pieces and select the best ones from each – the best suspension, chassis, engine, exhaust, seats.

And then you put them all together and now you have the best car in the world.

After all, it’s made from the best parts in the world, so it must be the best, right?

You know that isn’t the case – you’ll be lucky if the car even starts and moves.

It’s not the parts that make the difference, it’s how they work together.

Each of those “best” cars had components that fitted together and worked together to deliver that performance you rated as “best”.

Another way to think about this is the idea of “dream teams”.

There are individuals who play brilliantly in their teams – perhaps for various clubs with players from different countries.

Then, when you have a national game you get your best players together from these clubs – the superstars of the game and put them into a team.

Isn’t it odd how they seem to find it very hard to win – these are the best players at their clubs but together they don’t seem to be able to deliver a result?

Again, it’s because being the best isn’t enough – you need to be able to play well with the others in your team.

It’s a simple concept but one that many people just don’t see – because we’re so caught up in the approach that says you have to focus and have a target and be single minded to achieve something.

We fail to see that it’s about more than that one thing.

Seeing the things that matter

One way of seeing everything rather than one thing is to create a simple model.

Think of the things that matter – the things you need to do.

Write each one and draw a circle around it.

Then, draw arrows from each one to the others to indicate dependencies.

Finally, draw a circle around all of them.

This model has a number of properties.

It has a boundary – the things inside the big circle are the main things you need to do.

In our business example, there are things that you might think of like marketing, sales, operations, finance, logistics, strategy.

Some of those things are things you can do – things that go inside the big circle as little circles.

I’d probably include things like marketing, operations, sales,

But what about strategy?

Well, if you need to write a strategy document, perhaps it goes inside the circle but strategy could also be the whole picture itself – the strategy emerges from being able to clearly see everything that needs to be done.

And that happens because once you have the small circles of things to do you draw arrows that show what happens first and what happens next and if there are feedback loops where something that happens affects how you look at something that happens earlier.

Feedback from prospects, for example, may lead you to change your marketing message or tweak your product in operations.

Now you’re probably used to making a list of everything you do but the main thing that happens when you do it in this way is that you intentionally look at the relationships and dependencies between things.

This simple approach shows you everything you need to do and also tells you what you need to do first.

You start with the areas that have arrows pointing away from them but none pointing to them.

That’s the beginning.

Then you have the ones in the middle that have arrows pointing to them and have arrows pointing away from them.

And you end with the ones that only have arrows pointing to them.

This shows you everything you need to do and the order in which you need to do them – a strategy in one simple image.

Keep this high level – with only 5 to 9 nodes.

More than that gets complicated and you rarely need them.

If you want to expand on a node create a separate diagram for it.

What happens when you do this?

When you look at this map of nodes and relationships explicitly you can see you need them all to operate together for your business or project to succeed.

Imagine that the nodes are logs and the connections are strings.

Like in the image below, you need to choose logs that float and string that holds them together.

raft.png

Lead logs and spaghetti won’t work – you need wood and cord and the thing you build needs to be sound and strong and fulfil its purpose if you are to stand on it and stay afloat.

But that’s what you’re doing when you’re building your business or starting your project – doing something with purpose and making it work.

So, how do you do it well?

You start by learning how others do it well – which is what we’ll look at next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why You Should Plan In Ten-Year Chunks Of Time

ten-year-chunks.png

Friday, 5.35am

Sheffield, U.K.

People tend to overestimate what can be done in one year and to underestimate what can be done in five or ten years. – J. C. R. Licklider

Is there a good time to start anything?

As an old saying goes, the best time was ten years ago. The second best time is now.

Can you last the distance?

When you start your project you should ask yourself whether this is something you can commit to for ten years.

If you’re starting a new business, can you do what it takes – hustle, work all the hours you can, raise money, hire people, build product, get customers, create cashflow – all while maintaining a relationship and being there for your kids?

Maybe that’s not what you want – you want a lifestyle business that allows you to pursue your dream and give you enough time to enjoy life – so is your dream enough to keep you occupied for ten years?

A ten-year period is a significant chunk of time – it’s a serious part of your life to set aside pursuing something that may or may not work out.

So, how can you maximise the changes that you will make it and create something worth having.

Have a clear outcome you want from each decade

When we look back at the lives many of us lead, they probably follow a pattern something like this.

Until we get to ten, there isn’t much pressure on us, we play and get socialised – become part of the culture we live in.

From 10 to 20 we learn how to learn.

From 20 to 30 we start making our own money, get our first job; we go from depending on parents or the state to becoming cashflow positive, bringing in more than we spend on our own.

From 30 to 40 we develop in a profession, find our own place and start to find a niche that we can call our own. A niche that we can dominate and where we can do competent work when others ask us to.

From 40 to 50 we start becoming responsible, for others, for bringing in business. We operate increasingly independently, as the ones who take decisions rather than the ones who implement them.

From 50 to 60 we’re in charge – we are responsible for the future as well, so we spend more time training and developing others.

From 60 to 70, we wind down, easing our way out and letting others take over.

And after 70, we have the time to do what we want, with few responsibilities and obligations – and hopefully with the health and mental ability to use the time well.

Now, your chances of making it, of succeeding are greatest in that period from 30 to 60 but you can do it at any stage of your life.

It’s just that the chances are less of you being a child prodigy or being a 17-year old millionaire or an 80-year old startup founder.

But it happens.

Don’t let age hold you back.

Just recognise the reality of where you are and decide what you’re going to do in the next ten-year chunk.

But how do you do that – decide what to do?

Say yes until you have to say no

At the beginning of a period, when you’re just starting out, you have to take every opportunity you’re given.

For example, let’s say you want to build your consultancy practice but you’re at the start of your journey – then don’t worry about money.

Just take every chance you can to practise your craft.

For example, you may have spent the last decade working with top brands – but now you want to go independent.

Don’t just target the top brands that you used to work with.

Instead, book sessions with everyone, with individuals, small businesses, medium sized ones, large ones, charities, non-profits, startups – anyone who will take the time to talk to you.

Don’t make those sessions about money or value or exchange – just listen as hard as you can and give as much as you can.

Sometimes you will get paid, and sometimes you won’t.

But, if you do that for a while, pretty soon you will know what people need and are desperate to have and how much it costs them to do it the old way but they’re stuck because they can’t find someone who can solve that problem.

That will tell you what you need to make and how much you can charge and how big the market is and whether you have a viable business.

And once you match what you do to what people need you’ll start getting interest and once you have proof that it works – social proof, in the sense that others have used it and it worked – it will be easier to show others and get them to say yes.

As more people say yes you will have more work and so you start to have a problem as you haven’t got enough time and you’re working all the hours in the day to get everything done.

Which is the point at which you start putting in filters – things that reduce the amount you have to do – so that you can focus on what you do best.

You start by raising prices, then by reducing availability – and you fine-tune that until you can once again match supply and demand – your ability to create and your market’s desire for what you do.

Eventually, you will find yourself saying no to everything that doesn’t help move you towards that outcome you want.

Maybe you over-correct, stop doing too many things, and find you have to say yes again.

That’s ok – you don’t have to feel like you’re committed to anything other than making your customers happy.

If a process doesn’t work, abandon it. If a book isn’t engaging, stop reading.

Say yes, but don’t be afraid to stop if it’s wasting your time – abandon stuff without guilt – books, projects, opportunities.

Don’t put down an anchor until you’re certain you’re in the right place and this is going to work for you.

But once you do, commit, do it every day and make it a routine – get used to the idea that you’re going to do this for ten years.

Make fewer, better decisions

Warren Buffett has talked about how the ability to do more investments doesn’t do anything other than making the people who help you do transactions rich.

If you could pick only twenty stocks in your lifetime you’d be much more careful about which ones you chose.

If you could do only one thing in the next ten years, you might be much more careful about what you chose to do.

The thing to realise is that your success doesn’t depend on your age – there are advantages and disadvantages at every stage of life.

When you’re young, you have time but lack knowledge.

When you’re older you know what needs to be done but you have responsibilities that take up your time.

Success depends on making it easy to do what’s important for as long as it takes, being ready to commit for at least a decade to make what you want come true.

Ten years where you will build something – put together the pieces in a way that only you can to create something that didn’t exist before that people want and are willing to pay for.

And you have to work through what that looks like, which is what we’ll get to next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh