What Would You Do If You Could Do Anything Right Now?


Friday, 8.21pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The thing I love most about my job is watching people age backward, becoming more lively and energetic as they free themselves from situations that are toxic to their essential selves. – Martha Beck

One of the exercises psychologists ask you to do is the perfect day exercise.

Imagine you could do anything – you had no limits or constraints at all – and you had all the resources and money to do whatever you could possibly want.

What would you do?

If you’re interested, take a minute and write down your perfect day – go into detail and be as imaginative as you want.

You can do the same exercise with your business or your job role.

What would a perfect day at work look like, a perfect business trajectory – how would you describe that to someone else.

Now, when you’ve done this you have an opportunity to learn more about yourself.

Many of us think that we would like to do something – be a famous singer, a racing car driver, a President.

When you look at your perfect day the thing you should ask is how much time you spend doing the thing you think you want to do.

For example, does your perfect day include practising for three or four hours?

Does it include doing to track days?

Or does it involve actively getting involved in local politics?

If your idea of a perfect day is to spend your morning in bed with several attractive members of the opposite sex and then take your private jet to Paris for breakfast, followed by lunch in the Riviera while your chauffeur waits to take you to a private dinner with the Queen followed by an exclusive nightclub – then perhaps what you want is to be famous and have lots of money – not actually sing or drive or lead.

When it comes to your business the same considerations apply – do you want a passive income generating machine that gives you money for doing no work at all – or are you pursuing a calling that means a huge amount to you?

The chances are that what we think we want is often what we think we should want – or what others want for us.

How do we know what we really want – what’s the thing that would drive us if we only knew what it was?

What are the possible selves we could have?

Do you think you would like writing poetry or painting?

Is being a good parent the thing you want to do – know that your children will look back on their childhood with happiness and gratitude?

Do you want to tinker with things, invent or make stuff that helps people – or do you want to be a good friend, someone with strong, deep relationships?

Or do you want to be the life and soul of the party – the person who is in charge of happiness?

Here’s the thing.

If you can’t do anything you want in your imagination when there is nothing holding you back – how will you do it in real life with all the constraints and excuses around you?

When you have a job that drains all your energy, when you have children and a mortgage and car payments and holidays and no money – how will you find the time to create or learn or be who you want to be?

And there’s no easy answer to that – because all the things you have bought over time – the things that you own now own you and your life.

You’re loaded down – just imagine yourself like a mule weighted down with all the possessions in your life.

When you were young and carefree you didn’t have a care in the world and the time seemed endless.

When you’re older time passes more quickly and you move more slowly – because of all the baggage you’re carrying.

So, the first step to making a change, especially later in life, is to jettison some of that load – get rid of everything you don’t need and most of what you do and keep only what is absolutely crucial to your existence.

Your family, friends and passion for what you do.

And then maybe you can start working on making life just that bit more perfect.


Karthik Suresh

What Is The Best Way To Learn To Do Something Well?


Thursday, 8.47pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Perform your duty equipoised, O Arjuna, abandoning all attachment to success or failure. Such equanimity is called yoga – Bhagavad Gita

I felt like there’s been something missing the last few days of writing – a feeling of being tapped out, exhausted, running out of energy and content.

Maybe that because the big ideas seem to run into each other – the differences seem less relevant and the insights questionable.

For example, take the value of mathematical modelling.

That’s something I would have been quite interested in once upon a time for decision making.

But now I’m not so sure.

If you want to design a new bridge or a heart valve then modelling is crucial – you’re building something real and if it doesn’t work people could die.

But when you’re trying to choose between options the value of maths seems to fall – and what seems to matter more is maximising the opportunity to gain power and avoid blame.

It starts to be about people and people are hard to model mathematically.

It can also seem a hopeless task to try and understand anything new well.

After all, the 10,000 hour rule says that you must spend that much time over around ten years to get any good.

I’ve always had that rule in mind which is why I’ve given myself ten years and a million words to get better at writing.

And it appears that I’m wrong.

I watched a talk by Josh Kaufman, the author of The first 20 hours where he explained why what I thought was wrong.

The 10,000 hour rule, it turns out, comes from research into how much time you need to spend to become one of the best in the world at something that can be easily tested and ranked.

If you want to become one of the best violinists, for example, you’ve got to put in your time and then some.

But you don’t need to spend anything like that amount of time to get merely good.

Kaufman argues you can get to good in as little as 20 hours – 40 minutes of practice a day for a month – if you’re strategic about it.

Kaufman has a model and lists for how to go about acquiring a new skill – but the main takeaways for me are about two things.

First, sort out the environmental issues.

Decide what you’re going to do and block out time every day – preferably at the same time – to practise doing it. And get rid of distractions – notifications, children, your spouse.

And get the tools and space you need and keep them to hand – basically make it really easy to do what you want to do when you’re ready to do it.

And second, be structured about how you learn.

Focus on the things that come up often – the high frequency components.

Create a way to check you’re doing it right.

And practise, practise, practise – repeat, repeat, repeat.

Now, to give you an example of how this might be done – I’ve created the picture at the top of this blog.

I’ve been drawing images for my posts (badly) for a couple of years – nearly 700 of them so far.

I’ve been telling myself that it’s all about communication, not art.

But recently I found a book called The cartoonist’s workbook by Robin Hall which breaks down the drawing process in a way I hadn’t seen before – and this is what you see in the image above.

First, if you want to learn to draw cartoons, you will need to draw people – but those people are often built up from simple shapes – circles, boxes and so on.

So, you need to practise doing those fundamental shapes because you’ll use them again and again.

That’s the first thing then – selecting high frequency elements to practice – common chords in music, common steps in dance and so on.

The next thing is to make it easy to get things right.

Hall is the first cartoonist I’ve seen who says to draw on lined paper – and that makes a huge difference.

Suddenly, getting the size of things right is easy because the guides are there.

A head, for example is one line while a whole body is four lines.

In another life when I used to teach dance we used to tell students to take a step that was hip-width apart.

This often ended up with some people taking tiny steps and others taking huge leaps – and we had to clarify – but eventually they got it.

And then the last bit is repetition – doing the bits again and again until you start committing them to muscle memory.

And then you move on to the next element.

Now, I suppose if I were to add my own approach to this I would do a couple of things.

First, it’s not enough to practise the elements alone – it’s important that during each learning attempt you try and create the sum of the parts – a whole.

Break the thing you want to do into its elements, practice the elements but then put them together as well.

And the second is to worry only about what you’re doing – not about reward or failure.

It’s worth learning if you’re having fun doing it.

And that’s enough reward.

In Indian culture we think of Yoga not as an exercise – but as a way to do something – a way to learn, a way to be, a way to act.

The way is what matters.


Karthik Suresh

What Would You Tell Your Children To Do When They Grow Up?


Wednesday, 9.38pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes

One of the small people that live with us asked at the dinner table, rather unexpectedly, “What should I do when I grow up?”

The other small person piped up immediately. “I thought you wanted to be a Lego designer?”

The first small person looked uncertain. “I’m not sure anymore.”

The question arose, I think, because they had been talking about the rise of automation in the world – and how you now had self driving cars and robot that flipped burgers.

What kind of jobs should a young person aspire to these days?

Although that concern, it has to be said, is not limited to young people.

We older ones have the same worries – are our skills still relevant in a networked, always on, social media ruled world?

When we look in the mirror what do we see staring back at us?

And does that person approve of who we have turned out to be?

There are a few ways to look at this – and one of them is to realise that the person you are now is not the person you were ten years ago.

If you could somehow talk to that other, older person, what would you say?

Would you tell them to take more risks, try more things, be more adventurous?

Would you have told them not to settle too quickly – to find something that they looked forward to doing every day?

Or would you have said that life is hard and life is grim and you need a job – so get a skill or a trade and get on with it.

You can always have fun when you’re at the pub or at a game – and leave the work behind.

Are you pleased that the older you made the decisions he or she did or are you resentful at the chances that were passed up and the opportunities that were missed?

But you are where you are, but there is a younger you, ten years from now, who will look back at you and ask the same questions.

How will you answer?

I think that when I was young I made too many decisions that were safe ones.

The time to take risks is when you have nothing to lose – and it is later in life when you have more and are responsible for more.

But then, when you are young, you know less – and that’s why having the right teacher is crucial.

And if you can’t find a teacher, finding the right books may help.

It’s a big responsibility to place on a child – asking them to decide what they are going to do for the next sixty or seventy years.

Instead, perhaps what you should do is help them go through the process of what you would do now, given the chance.

Try many things.

Reflect on which ones you like.

Observe the ones you like doing.

And see if there is a living to be made doing the things you like.

All too often we twist our hopes and dreams to fit a narrative of success.

But a story is no substitute for the real life you’re living.

What is your’s telling you about how you’re doing?


Karthik Suresh

Under What Conditions Should You Consider Making A Major Change?


Wednesday, 7.42pm

Sheffield, U.K.

To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing – Raymond Williams

Change is not always a good thing.

As I write this, I have in front of me a shark tooth, allegedly a fossilised one, that we saw in a London market.

The little card that came with it says, “FOSSILISED SHARK’S TOOTH. From the species Otodus Obliquus. A cousin of the Great White Shark, this species is estimated to have grown to as much as 30 feet long. Found in Morocco. Circa 50 million years old.”

Sharks have done very well out of refusing to change one little bit – they’re pretty much the same as they were 300 million years ago, single minded killing machines, from the age of the dinosaurs.

But most other creatures have had to change – to adapt or die.

What about organisations or even individuals?

Are we different? Are we subject to different rules or do the same forces inexorably act on us as well?

I came across a 1992 paper by Heather A. Haveman titled Between a rock and a hard place: Organisational change and performance under conditions of fundamental environmental transformation that looks like it might have some interesting ideas.

The first point Haveman makes is change in organisations is limited by inertia.

Inertia is a tendency to stay the same, to not change, to leave well alone.

There are lots of factors that contribute to inertia – but they all come down in the end to people – because the people in the organisations are the only ones that can decide to make change happen.

And they don’t because they’re comfortable where they are, or have created rules that enable some things to happen and stop other things from happening.

For example, almost every organisation you come across will insist on a payback on a project of under two years.

Why two years?

Well, it’s probably because most investments the company makes are in things that wear out after a few years.

If you buy a machine that does a lot of hard work – then there’s a good chance you’ll need to replace it as some point.

So what you want to do is make sure that it makes you back the money you’ve spent and then some so you can make a profit.

But the two years starts being used to look at every opportunity the organisation has and anything that’s over two years gets thrown out.

It’s now a rule, something unbreakable, so people don’t even try bringing up such projects.

And a some of the time such an approach is fine.

Not that long ago retailers probably thought that as long as they invested in their stores and made sure it was a pleasant experience the shoppers would keep coming.

Investing in this whole new-fangled Internet store thing was too expensive, too complicated and didn’t meet the investment criteria.

They were happy in their little world.

Until the world changed around them.

What happens is that animals that have evolved to fit a niche are perfectly happy until their niche disappears – and they tend to disappear as well.

Organisations and people have an alternative – but it’s not an easy one.

They can change when they have to but Haveman argues that it takes the same amount of effort as it does to set up a new organisation.

That’s because it’s like setting up a whole new nervous system – creating the roles and information flows and communication protocols that enable the organisation to operate in a changed world.

And there’s a risk to doing that – a risk that it won’t work and a risk that the organisation will fail.

On an individual level the same things apply.

You might have spent a significant chunk of your life learning to operate heavy steel making machinery and then the whole business just disappears – and you’re left with skills that no one needs any more.

At what point should you have thought about changing?

This question is, quite frankly, one of the hardest ones around and I don’t have a simple answer.

But, if you don’t think about it you’ll end up in a place a little like the person in the picture above, hanging by your fingertips to a crumbling ledge while sharks circle below.

It doesn’t look like it’s going to end well under any possible future.

Perhaps you should just give up and let go?

But that’s not what an animal would do.

An animal would fight to the very end – until it was entirely defeated.

For people and for organisations – the equivalent is to, as Williams says, make hope possible.

Because all change happens in the minds of people – and people will do amazing things when there is hope.

Which is why that is the first thing you must create if you want to make change possible.


Karthik Suresh

Why It’s Crucial To Pick A Game You Like Playing When It Comes To Life Strategy


Monday, 9.04pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play. – James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility

It is really hard to find a quote about games or sport that doesn’t have something to do with winning or losing.

It feels like everything in life is seen through this prism of sport – the idea that a competitive nature is what matters – beating others and reaching the top and excelling and getting the prize is the most important thing in the world.

And it’s just not.

Many people will disagree – surely you want your kids to be competitive – to push themselves – to get ahead?

Well, the first question you have to ask yourself is how much success is down to native talent these days.

And how much is down to the resources invested in a particular person to make them the best in the world.

In sports like tennis parents spend huge amounts of money and time taking their children to the best coaches and training facilities in the world.

One would assume that there is a reason why countries that have a lot of snow and ice tend to be the ones that come up with sportspeople who dominate the winter games.

If the sport you’re interested in is an individual one – then there’s only one winner.

And if it’s a team game, there’s one team.

And the fact is that sport is an arena event – it’s a battle, a bloodsport, and humans like nothing more than watching a fight.

That’s really what watching sport comes down to – the vicarious thrill of battle.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

What’s wrong is taking that bloodlust and imagining it’s a way to also do things in society.

Which is where Carse’s quote that starts this post is right on the money.

If you have a finite game, one that you play and then it ends – you can win, shake hands and walk away.

And if there is a prize you can walk away with that as well.

These games, you could argue, are played not just to win but also for the prize.

Then there are games that continue – and continue – until life runs out.

The games you play because you want to stay healthy – keep your relationships alive, get ahead in work.

All these are forms of play, where what matters is what you get out of the game.

For example, let’s say you always wanted to be an artist but your parents convinced you that engineering was the right thing for you to do and now you spend your days doing technical support – would you say you were winning or losing?

It’s not that easy, is it?

Maybe the job has provided you with a steady income, given you the ability to raise a family and keep a house.

And yet you wonder where you might have been if you had followed your heart?

Probably penniless.

The point, I suppose, is this.

Just like life isn’t about winning or losing, it’s also not about grand gestures and big wishes.

Just look at what children do, naturally.

They want to play – they get engrossed in what they’re doing.

They carry on until they get bored and want to try something else.

The one thing that destroys play for children is technology, in the form of the telly and devices.

Then they stop playing and start consuming instead – until they find video games and spend all their time exercising their eyes and fingers.

But, despite the pitfalls the thing to see is that kids like to play and as adults we’re no different.

If we see the thing we do as play, then we’ll do it happily for the rest of our lives.

If we see it as work, we’ll stop doing it the minute we stop getting money for doing it.

If we see it as a competition we’ll probably stop doing it once we start losing consistently.

There is an end when you do something for a reason outside yourself.

When you do something because the reason is inside you – because you like doing it – then you’ll find it’s easy to do it day after day, week after week, year after year.

And somehow, without realising it you’ll probably end up winning.

But, better still, if you don’t, you probably won’t care.

Because you’d have enjoyed yourself every step of the way.


Karthik Suresh

How Should You Try And Spend Your Time Every Day?


Sunday, 6.42pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Whoever renders service to many puts himself in line for greatness – great wealth, great return, great satisfaction, great reputation, and great joy. – Jim Rohn

I was thinking about one of the things that Jay Abraham talks about every once in a while in his podcasts.

Highest and best use theory.

So, what does that mean?

Well, if you check out Wikipedia it has to do with figuring out what the value of something should be rather than what it is.

In the case of property, real estate, the value of it depends on the best use it can be put to rather than what it’s being used for now.

But of course, there are constraints.

Let’s take the example of a farmer’s field on the outskirts of a city – one that is growing.

The chances are that the farmer is using the land for pasture or growing crops – but the highest return will come if houses were built on it instead.

Unless the land is on a flood plain and houses built there will regularly get flooded and ruined.

Or unless the land is in a green belt zone and no new buildings are allowed in the area.

Or unless the soil is so soft and sandy that it will be far too expensive to put in the foundations you need.

In a more formal way – the ability to achieve the highest and best use value depends on four main things – whether you can do it legally, whether you can do it physically and whether you can do it financially AND if it’s the highest return option.

Now, it’s worth seeing if this highest and best use theory can be used to decide how you’re going to spend your time every day.

In some situations the more time you spend the bigger the result you get.

If you get a balloon and spend a minute blowing it up, you’ll get a small balloon.

If you spend a lot more time and assuming the thing doesn’t burst, you’ll get a bigger one.

There are many tasks where to get a bigger return you have to put in more resources.

And your time is a resource – which leads many people to believe that the more time they spend on the job the bigger the reward.

The harder you work the better your return.

But there is another school of thought that holds that it takes about the same amount of time and effort to do something small as it does to do something big.

For example, if you spend your time labouring for $10 an hour and your lawyer sister bills herself at $400 an hour, how do you compare the effort that goes into both activities?

Well, you don’t really. Both tasks need doing and the amount paid for them depends on the market for those services.

There are lots of people willing to work as labourers while there are few people allowed to work as lawyers and supply and demand ends up setting the price.

The same person who is labouring right now could end up learning everything about the real estate business and in ten years end up owning their own building company and making in a day what the lawyer makes in a year.

You just don’t know what is going to work out.

So, what should you keep in mind about how you spend your time.

My feeling is that the first test you should have is whether you’re learning something new every day.

With whatever you’re doing, are you stretching yourself, trying new things, understanding more about your business.

Do you just do the same thing day after day or do you learn more day after day.

And then the next test is whether you are at a stage when you can teach what you’ve learned.

If you can teach, then you can start a business or grow a business – because the point of being in charge is not to order and shout and bully but to teach and coach and develop people.

And throughout life maybe you can do both.

The thing that make humans special is our brains – the ability that gives us.

And the highest and best use of our brains is to do two things in our lives – learn and teach.

If you do that it’s hard to see how you could ever be dissatisfied with the life you live.


Karthik Suresh

p.s. As it’s Sunday, today’s paper is about The art of learning.

What To Do When You Feel Like You’re Getting Nowhere


Saturday, 9.40pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. – Confucius

Saturday, 9.41pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If we regret anything in life it’s probably the things we didn’t do when we had the chance.

If you did do it and it didn’t work out – well, at least you tried.

But in most cases it’s the things you haven’t tried when you were still able to do so that come to mind.

I was listening to a YouTube talk by Kurt Vonnegut when, rather inexplicably and right at the very end, they inserted an advert for an online course by a writer.

I was a little startled and it took me a while to tune in – mainly because when that sort of thing happens I tend to reach for a sketchbook and start doodling until I can press the skip ad button.

Anyway, somewhere in there the author said that he wrote every day for fifteen years before writing his first book.

And then I watched a TED talk by Andrew Stanton, the writer behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Wall-E, as he went back through the timeline of events and experiences that brought him to where he is today.

And then another TED talk on humour – and all these talks had one thing in common.

It takes time to get to where you are.

Okay, that’s obvious, time passes whether you do anything or not – inexorably, unforgivingly.

Slight sense of deja vu as I write these words because this morning, for some reason, I had Kipling’s poem running through my mind.

“If you can fill the unforgiving minute; With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it…”

Time is, when you look at it, simply the most vital non-renewable resource in your life.

So what you do with it matters.

We know it takes time to master anything.

You have to start by learning to see, to deconstruct what the thing you want to do.

Then you have to practice, learn how to do each element and get better and better at the parts.

Then you have to reconstruct the pieces, put them together so that they make something – first something that looks like the things other people make and then a new thing – that you’ve made and brought into the world.

These three steps – deconstruction, practice and reconstruction – are the way to learn things.

And it’s frustrating and sometimes it feels like you’re not getting anywhere, you’re stuck and it’s impossible to break through.

But what that also tells you is that you’re at the edge of what you know now – and there is something else for you to find – as long as you keep working at it.

I feel, for example, that my writing is all over the place – there is no theme, structure, focus, goal, objective, plan, story or technique.

There is just the practice of trying to draw and write something daily.

I have a book by Natalie Goldberg called Writing down the bones and she talks about how she was finding it hard to understand Zen by doing sitting meditation and her teacher said, “Why do you come to sit meditation? Why don’t you make writing your practice? If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you everyplace.”

Goldberg writes that this idea of a “practise” can be applied to everything, to business, to comedy, to exercise – because there are many “truths” out there for you to consider.

And that is what I find as I write about the topics that interest me – about strategy and management and you career – there are so many “truths” and they could even be true.

But you can’t approach the truth head on – just like you can’t really approach yourself head on.

You sort of have to sneak up – keep doing things and looking around and then, if you’re lucky, you might spot the truth that works for you – or get what you really want to do with the rest of your life.

What you need is faith – not in a god – but in yourself.

Faith that if you do the practise everything will work out.


Karthik Suresh

How Can You Intentionally Make Your Life Better?


Friday, 6.58pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I watched Bill Burnett’s talk, Designing your life, which is worth sitting through and reflecting on.

I took away a few points – adapted slightly, perhaps, from the original message – but perhaps more useful to me.

The first thing that’s interesting is the idea – how to design your life.

The important word is design – what you’re trying to do when you design something is to make it better – not worse.

And it’s very easy to make things worse – think of the outcome of nearly every meeting you’ve been to.

Burnett has five points to keep in mind when it comes to design – but I find four useful, and one of those in a slightly different form.

The first one is to connect the dots.

Burnett argues that meaning comes from connecting dots – dots like what you believe, what you do and who you are.

The idea is that these things are three separate elements within you – and it’s by aligning, connecting, resolving these points that you find meaning in your life.

I’m not so sure.

I see the dots as elements of a system, the parts that need to be in place and that also need to work together for something to happen.

This does have to do with what you do, but also where you do it, what others do and the culture and environment in which you find yourself.

In other words, you have to look at yourself as a system – do all the parts actually work together, like a car driving along on the road, or are they just parts, like the bits of a car dismantled and laid out on a lawn.

Meaning, I think, is an emergent property – it comes out of the system that you have created through choice – and without choice.

It’s only when you connect the dots that you get a line.

And all the dots you need have to be there to get the line you want.

The second point is to avoid gravity problems.

Gravity problems are ones that you really have no choice over – problems that you can’t affect or influence or change.

Either accept them or find a place where they don’t exist.

Which is clearly hard in the case of gravity – but less so when it comes to bosses who you don’t get on with or people who hold you back.

The third point is to try things out before you buy.

Before you quit your job to start a flower shop, try selling flowers at a market to see if you like the experience.

If you can’t try it yourself ask people who do it now – ask a surgeon what the life is like before starting a 14 year programme of study.

Don’t watch enviously, or hide behind your desk.

Get stuck in – trying something out is often cost free or very low cost – which is a cheap price to pay for the learning you get.

There is a missing point here – one about prototyping – thinking about the thing you want to create.

I’m not that sure about that – mainly because when it comes to life I feel that we’re so encrusted with societal views, parental expectations and our own justifications that any design we come up with is likely to be encumbered with elements of those things.

Instead – just try things out that you can try out – keep your eyes open for opportunities and when you see them put your hand up.

Eventually you’ll find yourself doing more of the things you like and less of the things you don’t – as long as you bear the fourth point in mind.

Don’t be afraid to let go and move on.

A sure fire way to make yourself miserable is to keep your options open or be able to reverse a decision.

Choices cause us angst – and having the option to change our minds makes us worry whether we did the right thing in the first place.

Traders know this – it’s too easy to worry about the trades you’ve done and whether they will work out.

You can’t look back – you just need to look at the next trade – the next deal.

And that’s the case with life as well – try something out and if it doesn’t work or you don’t like it don’t hesitate to quit and walk away.

You have nothing to prove to anyone else – the only thing that matters is whether your life is better after you make your choice.

And it always is – your brain is wired to make you feel good about a choice you have made when there is no turning back.

For most of us the essential elements for a good life are in place or accessible to us – it’s often the system that doesn’t work.

But that’s the point of design thinking – there is no best.

But there is better.


Karthik Suresh

How To Break Down What Happens And Get Your Timing Right


Thursday, 6.47pm

Sheffield, U.K.

All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this. – Miyamoto Musashi

In a police investigation, I understand, the most important thing is the timeline of events.

What happened first? What happened next? And so on.

It’s useful to keep this in mind because, although we sort of know time happens in this sequential kind of way we sometimes forget.

Actually, it’s probably fair to say we often forget.

And that probably has something to do with how our brains work.

For example, I read something on social media today that has a line that looked like “Why is no one talking about … thing?”

And someone responded, agreeing that no one was talking about it, and pointing to a report on the issue.

So, someone is talking about it – just because it’s news to you doesn’t mean that somewhere else there’s an army of people working on the subject.

When we first become aware of something our brain adjusts its filter, now showing you everything that’s similar – the so called reticular activating system.

It’s when you decide you want a new car you see models of the ones you’re considering everywhere you look.

Now, let’s turn this the other way around – what if you have a message you want to get out there.

Is the right time to send out that message when you’ve written it?

That’s what many of us do – we do stuff and send it out.

This post, for example, will come to your inbox in a short while when I press the right button.

And that’s fine if your focus is on creating material – that’s what I’m trying to do.

But you need to think differently when you want someone to react to your stuff – to respond to what you do.

If you want that to happen you first need to work out what their timeline looks like.

Let’s say you sell a cost reduction service.

When is the best time to get in touch with a person at a prospect organisation?

First, obviously, you need to figure out who the best person is to get in touch with – is it the Managing Director, a plant operator?

Who is the person or group of people with the responsibility and the power to commission your services?

If it’s the MD, do you work down a list of companies from A-Z, highest to lowest turnover?

Bash the phones or send spam email and hope you get through?

Or can you be more strategic about it all?

What if you look at companies and see how their results look year on year – which ones are under pressure to do something?

What if you look at companies where a new MD has taken over – someone who wants to make their mark quickly?

What about companies that have negative reviews and are struggling to manage the impact on their reputation?

All these organisations may be willing to listen to your message about how you can take out costs because of what you know.

There are many reasons why you might be rejected by someone – and it often has to do with when you’ve approached them.

If you adopt a random approach then you will have a certain success rate – because for a proportion of the people you talk to you’ll get the timing right.

The question for you is whether by looking more closely at the timeline of events you can figure out which entry point will increase your chances of success.

But that information isn’t just out there – it’s not easy to find.

It takes some detective work.

You have to get into the minds of your prospects – the way they act and think.

Maybe you interview them, maybe you gather research, maybe you set up google alerts for significant events.

You create a research division – even if it’s just you – your own private investigative office to support your marketing efforts.

You know how in stories the detective gets the bad guys by piecing together bits of evidence that are there for everyone to see – but only the detective put together.

That’s the skill we need to develop as marketers.

Because you can get your timing right by accident.

But if you understand the way the timeline works, you can get it right on purpose.


Karthik Suresh

What Kind Of Work Should You Focus On Creating?


Wednesday, 9.39pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before. – Neil Gaiman

I rarely have a plan when I begin the process of writing one of these posts.

I do have a ritual, however, a ritual that means I never have to start with a blank page – a ritual that makes it possible to eventually post something in an hour or so.

A blank page can be a forbidding, fear inducing thing.

Those first words, that first scrawl – it doesn’t look like anything and it probably won’t be anything and you’re best off just throwing it in the bin now.

You see this happening early on in life – first your children scribble and draw without fear.

And then they start school and learn that things are good or bad, perfect or imperfect, and they worry about getting the spelling right, or the spacing right, or the pronunciation right.

And in trying to get things right we slow down, we spend less time practising and more time correcting – and eventually controlling.

And eventually correction and control kills the thing you started doing because you liked doing it.

How many children continue to draw into adulthood?

At around six, seven, eight, nine, ten – they start to leave behind childish things and childish scrawls – they grow up.

An organisation is similar to a child in that respect.

When you’re running a startup what you’re focused on is creating something – something that you believe should exist or something that a customer needs you to create.

That’s exciting work, creative work – and you’ll get on and do it.

And then your startup grows, you add people – and calls start for training, and quality and management.

You start creating processes – which go out of date almost instantly if you do any kind of innovation at all – so in order to keep the process moving you stop innovating.

Richard Feynman had this story about the space programme where mechanics had to count a number of holes across a rocket body to work out where the fasteners should go.

Feynman suggested that they paint four marks on the quadrants, because that way you would only need to count a quarter of the holes.

“Too expensive,” he was told.

Too expensive to paint four little marks?

No – too expensive to revise and reprint all the manuals.

And so children stop drawing, companies stop innovating and everyone gets old and miserable.

But it doesn’t have to be that way – if you keep a few pointers in mind.

These particular ones come from the mind of Neil Gaiman and his famous keynote address at the Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

What you should do, Gaiman says, is make good art.

Art, I think, is anything you do – and it includes writing, programming, sculpting, steel-making.

Because there is an art to doing almost everything.

Everything that adds value, that is.

This is where we should keep in mind that there are things we do that add value – things that customers need.

Then there are things we do that are as a consequence of failures in a system somewhere – things that have gone wrong.

It’s easy to see why working on the first type of demand on our time – value demand – is worth doing.

The second kind of demand – failure demand – is easy to get wrong.

Failure demand is the time you spend dealing with the consequences of a problem rather than fixing the system so the problem stops happening.

Fixing things is also an art – as Pirsig pointed out in Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.

So, the first thing to remember is to make art – and make good art.

The second thing, Gaiman says, is to make your art.

Make the stuff only you can do, the stuff that excites you, the stuff that emerges as you lean make art – first copying, then adapting and then innovating – all the while creating.

But, the will to make good art or your art is not enough.

I suspect even trying to do it will actually throw you off.

What you need instead is a ritual – starting work on your art at around the same time, using the same approach, and getting on with it.

On some days your work will be rubbish.

On other days it will be good.

But at the end of a year at least you’ll have a body of work.

And you’ll know yourself better.


Karthik Suresh