How Do You Make Something As Simple As It Needs To Be?

no-simpler.png

Monday, 7.17pm

Sheffield, U.K.

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. – H. L. Mencken

I have spent a lot of time doing customer interviews – the kind of thing where you are supposed to get out of the room and go and talk to real people. Fortunately, we can do this without leaving the room these days and that makes it a lot easier to get more of them done.

What I am always surprised by is how quickly a situation that appears simple on the surface turns out to be anything but as you unpack what’s going on and see all the links and connections and misunderstandings and wrong turns and hunches and insights and flashes of inspiration and brilliance. And this makes sense for one simple reason – there are few straight lines in nature.

The world around us is organic and complex and when you look at how it works there’s nothing planned and linear about it. We were in the woods the other day and I was struck by a particular arrangement of plants – something that started like a tree but which they wound itself around another, larger tree, like a vine. A strange combination but it happened in the way it did. You wouldn’t plan that – it just happened that way.

We are able to deal with the complexity and non-linearity of nature by taming it, by chopping down the disorder and building boxes in the spaces we’ve cleared. We don’t live in harmony with nature. Instead we live cocooned away from it with the only “natural” things we have consisting of carefully fashioned artifacts.

I’m less interested, however, in the outside world than the one inside our heads. That is a space where we construct a view of the world around us and we try and make sense of that world through the sense-making methods we learn over our lifetimes. And a lot of those tools are the same ones that were very successful at taming the natural world – putting things in boxes being one of the most important.

But our thoughts, like nature itself, are often organic and non-linear and rarely as simple as a box. They are complex shapes and we have to have mental tools that match the complexity of the situations we are thinking about. Things are as complex as they have to be. We can often make things more complicated but that doesn’t mean the same thing as dealing with a complex thing.

This is something that everyone has experience with. How often do you trust a complicated piece of analysis? If you can’t understand the reasoning you’re unlikely to place your trust in the results. This is why so much “analysis” is ignored by decision makers – they don’t know what it really means or if it’s riddled with errors so they ignore it and go with their guts.

But if the reasoning is transparent and clear and they can follow it then they are more likely to make the call you are recommending. But you have to do that by presenting the situation in its complexity – not making it simpler than it is. If you make the mistake of simplifying then you’ll be caught out and have to explain the things you ignored before a decision will be made by anyone.

Here’s the takeaway. When you talk to someone about their situation take the time to listen and then listen some more. And when you think you’re done, try and listen a little bit longer. That way you might get a chance of seeing what they’re facing in as much detail as possible and you can help them do the right thing next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Is Your First Thought On Seeing Something Negative Or Positive?

negative-reaction.png

Sunday, 8.26pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I don’t want to speak negativity into existence. – SZA

I was watching a TED talk today on a topic that I’ve been interested in for a while and when the speaker started talking someone else’s voice entered my head and I didn’t like it at all.

I’ve noticed a tendency for a certain group of people to attack others on this topic. Someone says something on social media and then you get a response – these comments and negativity pointing out that the person is wrong or doesn’t understand what they’re talking about.

I’m not a big fan of those voices and I need to stop myself becoming one of them. But it’s very easy, once you know something about something, to think you know all about it and everyone else must be wrong or stupid or incompetent or dumb. It’s like the people who come out and correct grammar and speling – quite often their responses contain errors of their own which sort of defeats the purpose. And yes, I do know how to spell spelling…

There’s also an age-stage thing going on with knowing things. Sometimes you aren’t ready for the more nuanced stuff until you’ve been through some time trying to make the obvious stuff work. I find myself thinking things like, “I went through that phase five years earlier.” And I need to remind myself that because I have had an experience and come to a conclusion doesn’t mean that others are at the same point. There’s this idea that life is like being on tracks and some people are coming up behind you and going through the stations you were at and that there are stations that you are heading towards that others have passed through before you. It can make your head hurt a bit when you think about it too much.

One of the best things you can do when faced with these situations is to look at the context – what is going on around the thing that you are looking at. When someone puts an approach forward for you to think about – a solution that they have come up with – what you need to remind yourself is to think of that solution in the context of the problem that it solves. It is very tempting to generalize a solution and feel like it should fit all circumstances. It sometimes can but you can often end up trying to put in a solution for a situation that doesn’t need that particular one.

Ernesto Sirolli has a story that helps to make this point. Imagine you go to a remote location to help a village and see that there is a very deep and fast flowing river that separates them from resources on the other side. They have to brave the water and ferry things across. What would you do to help them?

Sirolli says that everyone who goes there wonders why the villagers haven’t built a bridge. So, they apply for funding, get international donors to pitch in and start building their bridge. They do all the earthworks, drive in the pillars get everything built and get ready for the adulation of the villages. And then the rains come and the river changes course, running half a mile to the side leaving the bridge proudly spanning dry earth. And that’s why, the villagers tell them, we don’t build a bridge over this river.

What this should tell you is that you should probably be wary when someone gets up and promises to tell you how to fix all your problems. The problem is that what they tell you may have worked for them in their context but you need to figure out what will work for you in yours. Use other people’s solutions as a starting point to figure out what you need to do – not as a prescription to follow that will give you the results you want. At the same time you need to be careful not to discard what other people have done because they don’t do it like you do. You will still be able to learn something if you look at what they say critically – working to put it in context and seeing if that context has similarities to your context.

Of course, it does mean you find it harder to provide simple, easy, canned solutions and some people don’t have the patience to deal with all that complexity or, more charitably, they aren’t quite at that stage yet. And that’s ok. These things take time. What you don’t want to do is become such a know-it-all that you turn into a cantankerous grouch when you hear anyone say something that you don’t agree with.

Better, in those situations, to say nothing. Or smile and nod.

If it’s any good, it will still be around in ten years. If it’s not, it won’t. And you will have all that time to make up your own mind.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Is The Essence Of Planning?

plan.png

If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life. – Abraham Maslow

Saturday, 7.37pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I am, on the one hand, quite resistant to planning, and on the other, rather fixated on time – and I wonder if those two things are related. For example, I find it hard to follow a recipe. But I also know how important it is to start cooking at the right time so food is ready when people are hungry.

That last point – about being ready when people are hungry is an idea that I don’t think everyone shares. Some people start to think about food when they are hungry – and then start looking for what they can make. And that’s a bad combination. Trying to make decisions when hungry rarely ends well.

Here’s the thing. You’re at home – so many of us are right now. It gets to 4pm. You want to work till five or six so what do you do? Do you keep working until you’re done and then make food? Or do you make food at four, feed the kids at five and then go back and do some more work if you have to?

I tell my kids all the time that early is on time and on time is late. If you get where you need to get to early you don’t need to plan how to get there on time. Planning starts to be unnecessary if you focus on time instead.

I’m sure there are problems with this line of argument but let’s just meander down a world where you decide what to do with time rather than plan what to do.

What are you going to do first? The most important thing? That would make sense, especially if you want to start and maintain a new habit. When I started writing, for example, I always wrote early in the morning, first thing. And then it started to become a habit and when I started writing in the evening it didn’t take much time to adjust. But I think the thing that made it work wasn’t that I planned to write – but that I wrote at the same time, more or less, each day.

Now, you might argue that planning is necessary when you’re working with others because otherwise how would you know what everyone needed to do? But again that comes down to time, doesn’t it. Coordination is about time, about getting things done so that you meet at the right time with the right things done. Right now, for example, I’m racing through these words trying to get them down before the kid’s bedtime as I hear their not so gentle thumps heading upstairs.

Many choices and decisions seem to come down to questions of how much time you’re going to spend on what. Time with the kids, time on your relationship, time at work, time on the side hustle, time on a hobby. Time is all we have and how you spend it is what becomes your life.

There is a systems thinking quote from Stafford Beer that says the purpose of a system is what it does. I think that works for people too. Your purpose is what you do.

Spend your time wisely.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Are You Trying To Give Or Teach In Your Business?

message-matters.png

Friday, 7pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A good teacher, like a good entertainer first must hold his audience’s attention, then he can teach his lesson. – John Henrik Clarke

There are consistent tensions that emerge when you create something that you think is new and valuable. While its an idea or a vision it’s just floating out there. But the minute you make it tangible, put it into the world in some kind of form you start to lose control – and so I suppose people try and exert control once again. If only to be able to exploit what they create – to monetise it. But in doing so you constrain the idea and it’s hard for it to adapt and expand until it stops, stuck where it is. At which point you have to go and start looking for another idea. You get a sense of this in the picture below.

protected-method.png

How do you find a balance between holding something so tightly that you crush it and so loosely that it flies away? I don’t know how to do that but I think it’s work changing the way we think from wanting to reach a goal to going through a process or a cycle. And there is just a small difference between the two things – but it has a big impact.

goal-vs-process.png

That small amount of circularity in the process mindset means you can think about things for longer. You can take a bit more time because you get another chance to do it better. But there are lots of things that you have to do perfectly – you have to sing that song right, hit that ball straight – and the kind of approach you take depends on the kind of thing you’re doing.

For example, we will all probably be in situations where we have to figure out how to market what we do – and there are really two big choices in this day and age. You can give people something or you can teach them something. You can be a giver or a teacher.

The model below is a cognitive map that is meant to be read in a particular way. It’s full of bipolar constructs – which means that each sentence has two opposite poles separated by three dots. The three dots. “…”, mean “rather than”. So, in the first oval you read the sentence as “Get paid for your work rather than get paid to teach”. The second thing is that the tiny minus sign on the line linking “Teacher” to the next oval means that the second statement applies to that point. So, as you read down the model the “Giver” relates to the first pole of each construct and the “Teacher” relates to the second pole.

give-teach.png

Yes it’s complicated – bear with me – I’m trying to wrap my head around this way of thinking too.

The way I took “real” sketchnotes is like the image below – paper in a clipboard and a pencil. And it helped me learn – and now, years later, those concepts still make sense. It’s not pretty, but it helped me with what I needed to do.

sketchnote.jpg

What this means really is that if you want to teach someone something like visual thinking – then making really lovely pictures that you need an art degree to be able to do is more likely to scare them off than help them. If you want to show your work and have people admire it – then do the best work you can. But that’s not teaching. Teaching is about showing people work that’s possible in the situation, in the heat of the moment. For example, if you google “Sketchnotes” you will see some amazing examples. But in practice most of us are not going to be able to create those works of art in a real classroom while learning.

So, the answer to the question of what matters – the message or how it looks is really to respond by saying that’s the wrong question. The right question is asking, “What are you trying to do – give or teach?” And the answer to that question will help you get the balance you need.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Are You What You Wanted To Be When You Grew Up?

perceptions.png

Thursday, 8.20pm

Sheffield, U.K.

There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. – Oscar Wilde

I’ve been thinking about models this week – so this could be a technical sort of post. Or be quite short, we’ll see.

Here’s the thing. How do you know what to do with your life? What kind of thought process do you go through as you work this out?

The thing most people are familiar with is the power of positive thinking. Believe in yourself and the universe will give you what you want. Write a list, focus on your goal and it will happen.

Now, this is a way of thinking but how do we capture it? How do we set it down in a way that can be analysed?

One way of doing that is to put down the logic – the arguments that are being made in order and look at them. Just look. So, if you did that, you might see something like this.

focus.png

Now that you have a model in front of you, that’s something that can be analysed. so, you ask yourself, is this really a question about a beginning and an end. If you wanted to be a train driver when you were a kid and you are now a painter and decorator – does that make you a failure? I suppose it sort of depends on how you see the world.

Right, so how could you see the world?

There’s a mathematical view which says there are lots of possibilities branching out in front of you and as you make decisions you travel along some branches and make other branches disappear. If you don’t take biology at school your chances of becoming a doctor start to fall as the branches leading to that career start to thin – until eventually you have no way to bridge the gap between where you are and that particular way of life.

If you were suggesting to your child what they should do in life you’d probably advise them to pick something that led to a safe and secure career. You’d have a number of thoughts that you’d arrange in order to make your point. These thoughts are what you believe and you’d try and get that across to your child – trying to help him or her make the “right” decision as you see it.

That might look something like this.

reality_simple.png

This pretty binary route is what seems to be the idea that most parents have in their heads as possible futures for their kids. And if you make decisions based on what you think – then you had better hope that you have the right thoughts in the first place. But how do you tell without living that life that you’ve thought about?

Well, most of us can probably relate to one of these branches but also know it’s not quite as simple as that. Reality is a little more messy and there are multiple routes that life could take. In a sense, there are happenings that result from the arrangement of our lives. In that sense what happens to us emerges from what is happening to us. And that doesn’t entirely make sense in words but it does when you think in terms of feedback loops. And that looks something like this.

reality.png

Now, I’ve thrown these models together in a few minutes and not really thought them through but that’s not the point. The point is that once the thinking is visible you can look at the arguments and see what might happen as a result of using any one of the thinking approaches that I’ve described – which loosely approximate making decisions based on a formula, a path of possibilities or based on thoughts, an argument for action or based on a systems model, a basis for emergence. These are a little technical, and you need some familiarity with the terminology to appreciate the differences, but the important point is that life is rather more complex than we sometimes make it out to be.

You are where you are because of all the choices you made over your lifetime and all the ideas you had, including the ideas about what you wanted to be when you grew up. If you aren’t happy with where you are – then you might benefit from thinking from all these vantage points. Is there a branching set of possibilities that could still give you what you want? Do you think there is a way to make it happen? Or could you arrange your life to have more of what you think is missing?

When I was young, I wanted to be a photographer and an artist. And I didn’t do those things for a career. But I draw a lot now, although not very well. And I think and write and do interesting work – and all in all – although I am not a National Geographic photographer – I have little to complain about.

Cheers,

And perhaps that is good too.

Karthik Suresh

How Does Your Model Of Reality Work?

bipolar-construct.png

Wednesday, 9.33pm

Sheffield, U.K.

We know from chaos theory that even if you had a perfect model of the world, you’d need infinite precision in order to predict future events. With sociopolitical or economic phenomena, we don’t have anything like that. – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Do you know why you think the way you do? Why do you act the way you do? What is it that explains your thoughts and actions and behaviour?

Answers to those questions won’t fit on a postcard – we’re talking about the entire field of psychology here – but there’s one bit that I want to focus on called Personal Construct Theory (PCT). George Kelly developed PCT as a way to help people analyse the way they saw the world. He called this “way they saw the world” a personal construct and suggested it explained quite a lot about the way we dealt with the world.

Let’s start with a construct – that could be anything. How are you feeling, for example?

happy.png

If you say you feel happy – then that’s a construct, a way of seeing the world. But a construct by itself isn’t very helpful. What you often need is to put it in context so that you can make sense of it. So, when you say happy, what do you mean?

happy-sad.png

You could say that happy only makes sense when sad is also in the picture. If happy and sad are two extremes then you’re on one end or the other. Or you could be somewhere in between the two. This kind of duality – the idea that you can make sense of one thing only when you also have a sense of what its opposite happens to be is what Kelly called a “bipolar” construct. And because you need both elements to make sense you can crash them together in a sentence saying something like you feel “happy rather than sad”. And this bipolar construct is different from saying you feel happy rather than overjoyed.

happy-rather-than.png

This is an important distinction because if your choice is between happy and sad and happy and overjoyed you end up being in a different place when you choose happy. You’re happy that you won a game of pool is different from saying that you’re happy because you made it through the first mile of a marathon in good time. What your view is depends on what’s happening around you in addition to what you see through your own eyes.

Kelly’s argument goes a little further and I think it can be understood by looking at the argument itself and its context. Typically psychologists seem to have looked at people as either being behaviourally driven – sticks and carrots – or as dealing with things that happened to them in childhood. If you think Pavlov’s dogs and Freud we’re talking about that kind of thing. Kelly says that there’s an alternative – perhaps people try things out, see if they work for them and then go with the things that work. So, in a bipolar construct sense you have two extremes – behaviour or psychoanalysis and many people fall somewhere between these two in contrast to Kelly’s approach of an actively experimental approach.

Using bipolar constructs is not a natural way to speak – it requires you to constantly question whether what you’re saying actually makes sense. For example, if you’re anti capitalist you could say something like “greedy capitalists” – and that sounds good. Boo hiss – all these people that just make money and keep it. But what is it that you’re saying? Are you saying “greedy capitalists rather than generous socialists?” Or are you saying “greedy capitalists rather than generous capitalists?” There are lots of capitalists that are generous and lots of socialists that aren’t.

If this sounds like hard work – constantly checking for poles – I think it well might be. But it sounds a bit like Jacobi’s saying, “Invert, always invert”. If you want to work through a chain of reasoning then perhaps this is a good idea. For example, does the image below help make the argument clearer?

reasoning.png

Now, this argument, captured in this way can be discussed and analysed. For example, I don’t agree that words should be used instead of pictures. I’d argue that you could use both to get a richer understanding. But the other points I’m ok with, mostly.

Now, when you use this approach to build up more complex strands of reasoning – that’s when it becomes useful or perhaps more confusing. Let’s look at applications of that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Here Are The Things I Find Hard About Writing

writing-process-2020.png

Tuesday, 8.00pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The heart and soul of good writing is research; you should write not what you know but what you can find out about. – Robert J. Sawyer

For those of you reading this for the first time I’m using this blog as a place to practice writing – a way to develop the skills and techniques needed to create long form work. I suppose it would be nice if the work was useful and readable and you liked it – but that’s not the aim of the project – to get you to like something. It’s a practice, an attempt to improve by intentionally working on the art of putting words one after the other and trying to get them to make sense.

I started writing a few years ago and quickly honed in on a formula that seemed to work for me. I’d start with an idea or a model, draw a representation, look for a quote that seemed relevant and then start writing. The first few years were mostly about exploring management theory and looking at models that people had put out there. A random walk down ideas lane. But really it was whatever I was thinking about or what caught my eye. There was no plan other than to sit down every day at around the same time and write something and hit publish.

There was, of course, no real reaction. The Internet wasn’t waiting to read my half-baked thoughts. I pushed things onto social media and I’m sure people who knew me wondered what I was doing but were too polite to say what they thought. And some friends liked stuff which gave me a bit of a boost. But I think I eventually figured out that just because you do something that doesn’t mean it’s worth sharing and shut down all the automatic posts – apart from one lonely Twitter account that has recent content on there.

But what I did start to learn, from that experience, was about the importance of showing up. It’s hard to get started – that first step to overcome inertia is quite often the hardest one you’ll take. But once you get moving it’s a lot easier to keep moving. Once you’ve written for a week it’s easier to know you can do another week. After a year, you know you can do another year. And the days go by, relentlessly, whether you do your thing or not. And now, 977 posts later, I’m pretty confident that, if I sit down and start tapping these keys, another one will pop out.

The second thing I’ve realised is that you’ll see benefits in places you didn’t expect to see them when you start a new habit. Writing for pleasure makes writing for work much easier. When you practice articulating ideas daily then it’s easier to do it under pressure. When you work with models day after day then coming up with one for a client is a simple thing to do. This thing that I do as a practice has had unexpected professional benefits – including helping me deepen my own understanding of Systems Thinking and Practice.

But writing about different things every day does not add up to a useful body of work. To do that, you have to start planning – something I resist doing with every fibre of my being – but I’ve discovered a way that works for me. With some caveats. The general model is shown in the picture above.

I start with an idea, a central theme – perhaps the title of a book. I’m only doing non-fiction at the moment – I don’t feel anywhere near being able to try my hand at storytelling. The first thing to do is get some ideas down on a sheet of paper – a sort of brainstorm that works through things that come to mind. Then I take a bunch of A6 slips of paper and write down an idea or question on each slip – just filling them in as I go along. Some of these slips are also informed by research – from the work I’ve done previously, although I had a problem on my most recent project and we’ll come back to that in a minute. We’ll end up with 30-50 slips of paper at the end of this process.

The next thing to do is sort the big set of slips into ones that seem like they should be in the beginning, middle or end. There’s no sorting within the piles yet – just dropping them into three stacks and one more for unsure. Then I pick up each stack and compare the slips, putting them in what seems like a logical order.

This last step is important to notice because of the mathematical optimisation involved. I can’t really be bothered to check the formulas so trust me on this. If you try and put 30 slips of paper in logical order then you’ll have to go through a lot more comparisons than if you first put those slips in 3 sets of 10 each and then sort the 10 in each set at a time. It’s a lot faster doing it the second way. This is, in fact, a standard team bonding exercise. Give people 15 steps and ask them to discuss them and put them in order. If they try and talk through all of them they’ll never get it done. If they chunk it into a start, middle and end, and then order the 5 steps in each one it will get done pretty quickly.

Okay, so now we have our slips – I then pick up the first one and draw a model – a picture, nodes and arrows – something that can hold the idea. and start writing. And when I’m writing – it’s just writing. I don’t stop and think – the keys sort of press themselves as the words flow through me. I’m just reading what’s appearing on the screen without really trying to make them get there. That’s when it works.

Oh yes.. before I start any writing session, I do three paragraphs of freewriting, just to get things moving before getting on to the actual topic.

So, this makes the writing sound quite easy, and I suppose it is. But that doesn’t mean what I create is any good. And I’ve had two main issues.

The first has to do with research. With my first couple of projects all that random writing over the years was actually research – many of the things I had read and written about resurfaced in the points and arguments I was making. By the third project, however, I had started to run out of material and that lack of research made it much harder to get a flow going. I didn’t know what I was talking about – I was trying to think through it and write about it at the same time. And that’s not easy. The research feeds you and if you stop reading and start watching TV instead you’ll find that you’ll start to run out of ideas.

The second thing had to do with editing. I wrote my first two projects in sentences rather than paragraphs – you know that blog habit where you press enter after every sentence because that’s what you do. Well, don’t do that. It’s a nightmare to edit because you have to collect your sentences together again. It’s the maths problem with the slips of paper again except this time you’re working with 18,000 lines rather than 50 slips. So that was a bad idea.

But in my most recent project I’ve managed to improve the paragraphing but failed on the research. And I don’t know what’s worse – well, anything that increases effort is worse so I’m going to have to say when you do your first draft do your research and write in paragraphs.

That seems obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s taken me 205,642 words to work that out. That’s ok though – I’m a slow learner. Give me time.

What else then… oh yes, word count. The number of words I come out with goes up and down but in a normal session an easy number is around 600-800. It takes some effort to put past a thousand. In 2020, with lockdown, I averaged 1,019 words per post but I think that was pushing it beyond the point that was sensible. It’s like driving in the red so this year I’m easing back down to the 800s. Not this post – it’s gone way beyond – but in principle anyway.

Okay – so I’ve tried to write three books and had different kinds of issues with each one. Do I try and fix them or do I throw that stuff away and move to the next one? Or do I spend 2021 doing some research. That’s probably the way things are going to go. I’m planning on starting a research programme so perhaps what I read is what I write about over the next 12 months.

Perhaps that’s the thing to look at in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

The Two Marketing Strategies You Need To Know To Compete Today

transactional-consultative-model.png

Monday, 8.05pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Let’s be honest here: Twitter, for me, is 90 per cent a marketing tool. – Ricky Gervais

The most useful marketing model I have come across in the last five years is the one above, by Neil Rackham, most famous as the author of Spin Selling. Neil’s work sparked a bit of a revolution in the art of selling – albeit one perhaps unnoticed by much of the world. Spin selling was about listening to the customer, understanding their situation, diagnosing their problem, understanding the implications of that problem and working out what they needed to solve it.

And then life moved on and the Internet appeared and started to change things. The thing with Spin selling is the implication that you as an expert add value – you’re the one that can come along and look at the situation, diagnosing a problem like a doctor prodding a lump and telling you what’s wrong with you. And being an expert in the days BI (Before Internet) had value – because you had knowledge and people trusted you to tell them what to do. As a car salesperson, for example, you could discuss the advantages and disadvantages of models with customers and if they trusted you and bought from you and found that you had told them the right things then they’d come back and buy from you again.

But in these AI (After Internet) days you know as much as any salesperson. I remember being a little surprised when using an agent to rent out our property that he came along with a printout of local listings – something I could have done myself. I expected him to add something extra – but what is there to add? Our doctor goes onto Google to check details like what a number should be. And why should that surprise us? No one is as expert on anything as the entire Internet – this hive mind that holds everything and that can be interrogated for answers.

And this has caught out a lot of people who have lived through the BI and AI transition and who depended on their status as experts to make a living. Everyone knows what they know now or can find it out with a search query. In the past, if a car salesperson helped you out with advice you were ok with paying a bit more for a car to cover that person’s commission. That’s the dashed line in the chart above – a little more service, a little higher the price. These days you double check what they say and then buy something wherever it’s cheapest. Expertise has lost its value. But what has replaced it?

It’s the other line in the chart. The middle of the market has been eviscerated and the pandemic has shown that more clearly than ever before. On the left hand side of the curve live transactional sales – where anything, whether cheap or expensive, can be described in a listing and put up for sale. The best listings get the most views and make the most sales. You need modern marketing skills – the ability to create content, craft ads, get attention, promote deals – all the things you had to do offline as well, but now even better online. If it can be understood and specified and described you’re going to go to a marketplace and pick it up. No humans needed in the delivery of the product – they’re all sat behind their computers crafting their listings.

On the other end of the chart is the world of consultative sales. This is where you don’t know what you need or want and need to work it through with someone. Not an “expert” – those are redundant – but someone who can work with you to figure out what needs to be done. A collaborator, a participant, a fellow traveller. On that side of the curve everyone is an expert at what they do. What you’re trying to do is work together to improve a situation. The difference is between asking a doctor to help you out and two colleagues working together on a particularly difficult case. It’s about working together to figure out what to do, not about “fixing” a problem.

I think that when you understand these two models you’ll start to see them everywhere. Transactional sales are what makes the Internet hum – and it’s going to steadily take over every product that relies on a description and listing. What’s left is collaborative problem solving – informed participants working together to make things better and sharing the value they create. And that’s it.

Right, now for something different. This particular group of posts started off as something around a book idea called “Community” and it has been hard and painful going. Mainly because, I think, I was trying to figure out what I was thinking as I was writing it. But that’s ok, that’s the nature of first drafts. The book’s probably somewhere in the last few tens of posts – there’s 70,000 words that must have something useful in there somewhere… But I think I’ve just run out of steam for this particular group.

Now, I think I might spend a few posts just reflecting on the writing process so far. I’ve learned a few things along the way that make things easier and I’m a fan of easy. I think hard work is pointless – you should make things so easy to do that there’s no point putting it off. If it’s hard the chances are it won’t get done. So let’s see where that takes us in the next post or few.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh