How To Map The Stages Of Your Career To Date And Work Out What’s Next

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Sunday, 5.20am

Sheffield, U.K.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin

We’re working through the second act of the Getting Started book project.

This is the last of three techniques to help explore the past and get some perspective on what you have experienced so far.

The first technique, lifelines, let you see the sweep and trend of what’s happened.

The second, defining experiences, asked you to pick out key events that have made you who you are.

And this technique, stages of growth, will ask you to take a hard look at the development of your career to date.

What stage of your career are you in?

This is not, as I have explained elsewhere, a book that promises shortcuts.

Transformation takes time and you should think in terms of decades, not weeks or months or years.

If something is easy to do then it’s as easy for someone else to do – it gives you no competitive edge, no protection, no defensive moat.

Those things come with time, with accumulating experience and creating artefacts and building proof.

And over a period of time, your own career will have developed.

For example, let’s look at a typical knowledge worker’s career over a span of fifteen years..

The first five years are spent in learning about the field and doing analytical work on a customer’s account.

These tasks include carrying out research, documenting findings, creating analyses, creating presentations, dealing with queries and handling administration.

Most of the time you do what you’re told to do and, if you’re lucky, you get the chance to improve systems and processes and demonstrate your competence.

Over the next five years you might progress into the role of a consultant.

You now have the experience and understanding of workflows and how things are done.

Instead of having to be told what to do you can start having conversations about what needs to be done – moving from an task focus to thinking in terms of outcomes.

As a consultant, your focus is on delivering what the client needs, not completing a particular task – and the better you are at understanding their objectives and marshalling resources to deliver what is needed the more likely you are to get given responsibility and oversight.

Then, in the next five years you start to move into the role of a specialist, someone who is an expert in a particular area.

You may have your own team or operate with few resources and bring in others when needed – but you become the “go to” person when there is something that needs to be done related to your field of expertise.

Most people should be able to see themselves somewhere on this continuum, as they look back on their careers.

You can get started at any point

You can start a new project at any time in this timeline – but the way you think about it will be heavily influenced by what you know at the time.

Early in your career you will focus on the tasks you can help with – the specific skills you bring to the project.

The kind of business you may gravitate towards will be a freelancing structure working on a project basis.

Later in your career you will have a better understanding of the landscape and how what you do fits into what the customer does.

This gives you the ability to range more widely, creating value where you think you can.

Still later in your career you will focus on specific value creation, preferably as high as possible, to justify using your experience and higher costs.

But these will be dynamic times, filled with tension and difficult choices.

Early in your career you have less to offer but more flexibility and the ability to learn and change.

Later in your career you have more to offer but may also be getting more rigid in your thinking, less open to change, both professionally and personally.

It’s important to be clear sighted about where you are right now – because there is much still left to do.

Complete the model

Draw this model out for yourself, starting with three overlapping ellipses and adding as many as you need.

Work through your career and label the stages you think you’ve been through – use words that capture the roles and expertise you’ve developed over time.

Try and separate the stages so that they are clear in terms of growth, not title.

Going from a junior analyst to an analyst to a senior analyst may simply mean that you’ve become more competent at doing the same tasks.

Moving from being focused on getting a task done to being focused on what the client needs doing is a significant growth step in any career.

It the first step in moving from being self-centered to being customer-centered.

Getting Started

The important thing to remember the fact that you can get started on a new project at any time – but keep in mind that the next stage is likely to take another five years, regardless of which stage you’re in when you start.

Especially when what you’re trying to do is start a business or create a step change in your career.

That’s because in addition to doing what you do you need to learn how to sell what you do.

And that requires some deep thinking about the way in which you’ve changed people’s lives, which we’ll get into in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Do You Remember As The Defining Experiences Of Your Life?

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Saturday, 5.18am

Sheffield, U.K.

A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar. – Stephen King

In my last post we looked at lifelines – following the story of your moments in patterns of pencil.

Along the way we talked about noticing defining moments, events that played a big part in making you who you are now.

Let’s talk about those in more detail.

Think of three defining moments

The purpose of this exercise is to search for cause and effect – the events of the past that make you who you are today.

We’re looking for events that stand out in your memory, perhaps because of how they affected you, perhaps because of how they shaped you and influenced you.

Most of all, we’re looking for the events that have developed the things about you that are at the core of your being, the things that you can form a structure and business around that is centred and stable and ready for the future you want to build.

Get your thoughts down on paper

Start by drawing a simple figure in the middle of the page that represents you.

We tend to think in terms of cause and effect as flowing from left to right, so on the left, list a few things that come to mind.

You just need to jot down a few words that mean something to you.

For example, I’ve put down boarding school, books and unix.

Behind each of these words is a story – one that is important to you.

And each of those stories has led to making you the person you are today.

I Went to boarding school when I was eight years old.

That early experience taught me many things, especially how little actual things matter.

At the start of a term you have to put everything you need into a trunk to go to school and at the end of the term you have to fit the things you want to take home back in the trunk.

You get good at getting rid of things – at being frugal – at only keeping the things that matter to you.

Books have always mattered to me.

I was one of those people who was always reading and had another book in my back pocket.

I have found that books turn up when I need them with answers to the questions that I have.

And that has led to a lifelong interest in writing as a way to make sense of the world.

I don’t write for money or for fame.

I write because I enjoy writing.

My first dog was named unix, after the operating system.

My dad had just bought our first computer, an IBM PC/XT with only a floppy disk drive and no hard drive.

I helped create a database for a conference he was organising using whatever database software came on the disk, using the DOS command prompt.

Someone my parents knew had a dog which gave birth to a litter of dogs and I went to pick out one.

We named the pup, a little pointer, unix – I guess because computers were in the air at the time.

Around ten years later I discovered GNU/Linux and I am writing these words in a unix environment.

And it’s an environment that enables problem solving, where your computer works with you to help you tackle things rather than, as most commercial systems seem to do, prevent you from getting things done.

You will have very different words and very different stories – and you may share some of my interests or have very different ones.

But they will be, they must be your own – because you have to start getting clarity on your own story if you are to build on it.

Why are these stories important to you?

These stories are important because you can go back to them and remind yourself that at your centre is a hard core, formed early in life.

This is a core that has been compressed and hardened a steel ball that you can build around.

These core experiences have defined and set the way you look the world – they are the reason for the perspective you take and the approaches you prefer.

They help you decide whether you should face obstacles head on or whether you should go around them.

And because they are what you’ve lived through it’s hard to see them for what they are – you’re inside them.

Step outside the circle

Take another look at that drawing of you on the page.

You’re looking at yourself from outside, seeing yourself on the page and the experiences that went into you and the characteristics that define you now.

Is this a picture you are pleased with, one that you can live with, one that you can build on?

Or are the experiences negative ones, are the outcomes ones you would rather change?

What next?

The end result of this exercise and all the others in this book is not about getting to some magical end point where you will find riches and contentment.

It’s about getting started on your journey, whether that’s building on the good that has happened so far or picking yourself back up again after the bad.

It about you, where you are and what happens next.

If the person in the centre of that image was a friend, what would you tell them to do?

Nothing yet, perhaps.

We’ve looked at lifelines, and at defining moments.

Let’s try a few more exercises first before we come to any conclusions and the next one to consider is stages of growth.

That’s in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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

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Monday, 9.12pm

Sheffield, U.K

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not your fault

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The negative forces on your life

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

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

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

What gets you down?

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

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

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

What pushes you back?

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

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

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

What destroys your plans?

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

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

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

Are you frozen in place?

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

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

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

Is your situation the problem?

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

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

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

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

Or is it?

Your job is to make change happen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Analyse The Way You Interact With Others

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Thursday, 7.39pm

Sheffield. U.K.

This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play. – Alan Watts

The last post and the one before that were about introspective models – approaches to see who you really are with fresh eyes.

There are a few more of those approaches to look at, but it’s worth looking now at where your edge is – where do you end?

And, if you think about it, you end where someone else begins, and it’s hard to always tell where the boundary lies.

It’s like having your bubble – the bubble that contains you, your thoughts, your feelings – and having it come into contact with someone else’s bubble.

A huge amount depends on what happens when those two bubbles bump into each other – when that overlap and interaction take place between two people.

Think about it for a minute.

If you send out a cold marketing email your success depends on what happens at the interface, when your message comes to the attention of the recipient – if it’s not filtered out first.

The first meeting you have with someone, the subsequent meetings to talk about a project – all those interactions that take place time after time and which decide the success or failure of your business and career, or at least that particular project that you’re working on right then.

So, how do you get this right, what do you need to do to make this interaction work well?

A good way to understand this is to look at how children communicate – what they need to do in order to get on with each other.

In order to play nicely with each other.

If you look at child psychology textbooks, they will tell you that there are three things children have to be able to do to be able to play together.

Swapping information

The first is that they have to be able to swap information.

Partly, this has to do with language but, as you will know if you have ever taken children to a foreign country, kids can communicate quite well even if they don’t know each other’s language.

It has to do with what each person wants to do and trying to communicate that – swap information about each other’s likes and dislikes.

Finding something in common

The next thing children have to be able to do is decide on a common activity, something they’re both willing to do.

This creates the conditions for joint play, where they can both do something together that they’re both interested in.

Dealing with and resolving conflicts

The third key element that children have to be able to do is sort out the conflicts that inevitably arise.

If they can’t and it ends in tears then they’ll either walk away or be separated by grown-ups.

If they can sort it out themselves that will mean a longer period of play and perhaps the start of a friendship.

Applying these elements to your business

Now, if you think about it, the interactions you have in your business are really all about these same things.

Your marketing copy and advertising material are designed to give information to others.

At the same time the people who need what you’re providing have to make themselves findable.

So a lot of your initial work is all about figuring out what kind of person is interested in what you provide and swapping information with them.

Then, you have to find out if you have something in common – does your product fit their needs.

If it does then you have to resolve the questions and objections they have.

You’re not looking for someone like you

If you watch children playing conflict arises when two of them want the same thing – the same toy, the same role, the same reward.

The key to getting along is having a common interest and complementary capabilities – be able to work together and each bring something to the effort.

In any group of children you’ll find a mix of characters – and that’s what makes the dynamics of play work.

Once again, it’s the same with your business.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to do everything yourself or needs to have absolute control over the way things are done – you’ll find that only certain kinds of people will work with you.

If you’re loose and unstructured you’ll attract different kinds of people.

What you’re looking for is interpersonal fit

You need to understand how you work with others – how you play nicely – so that you can develop your project and grow your business.

You need to understand where you fit in, what your niche is and how that works with others in the same space.

When you understand that you’ll start to see the strategy and approach that’s going to work for you and the business you’re trying to build.

That’s what we’ll look at tomorrow.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Analyse Your Personal Situation – Deeply

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Wednesday, 8.34pm

Sheffield, U.K.

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path. – Buddha

There are a few problem structuring tools that are so familiar that we simply assume we know how to use them.

This often isn’t the case.

They are powerful techniques – that’s how they became popular in the first place – but if we use them in a careless way we don’t make full use of their power.

One of these techniques is the SWOT analysis – where you reflect on your strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats.

It’s a basic model that you learn well before business school – the kind of model you bring out whenever you’re trying to think through a new project.

In this section I’m going to revisit the SWOT analysis and try to see if we can deepen our understanding and use of the tool by being more specific and critical of what we focus on as we do the analysis.

What are your strengths?

Imagine that we’re testing whether a business idea has potential – that’s the kind of place where a SWOT analysis comes in useful.

Let’s start with why this business idea is a good one for you to do – what is it about you that is going to help.

These are your strengths and you should list them in the first quadrant of the SWOT matrix, as above.

This can be surprisingly hard to do.

If you ask someone to list their strengths they’ll probably come up with things like their experience, their qualifications and their personal qualities.

Something like 10 years work experience, an engineering degree and hard work.

And then they start to run out of things to say.

Now, are these strengths?

Well, the thing to notice is that they aren’t too different from what anyone else in the same situation might say.

If you’re going for a job or trying to win a client – everyone who is in the running has the qualifications, experience and personal attributes – you wouldn’t get shortlisted if you didn’t.

So you have to look deeper, draw on the factors that set you apart.

Look for proof points – what results did you achieve, how much revenue did you bring in, how many clients did you add, what volume of work did you do.

When you’ve been involved in a billion pounds worth of transactions you’ve probably learned a few things along the way.

The other source of strengths are the things you are obsessed by – what is it you do on which you spend more time and effort than almost everyone else?

That’s the thing that’s most likely to set you apart.

Circle those strengths – and keep them in mind as you carry on through the process.

What are your weaknesses?

People hate admitting that they have weaknesses.

The classic interview coaching response to this question is, “My greatest weakness is that I don’t know when to stop working.”

You might lie on an interview, but you shouldn’t lie to yourself.

There are some things that you are just not going to be good at – things you don’t like to do.

They are things that you avoid doing and so you practice them less and so you’re not as strong.

Maybe it has to do with managing others, or keeping up with administrative paperwork.

Look hard at your weaknesses because quite often they are simply the counterbalance to your strengths.

For example, if you are a creative person who spends the majority of their day engaged in focused creative activity – you probably don’t have time to file away documents and do the garden.

It’s your focus on creative excellence that means you are weak at administrative excellence.

A weakness simply means it’s a job you should give someone else to do.

If you are clear about your own strengths and weaknesses, you’re now ready to look around and examine opportunities and threats.

What are the opportunities you have?

When you look around and see booming businesses it’s tempting to think that there is opportunity everywhere.

Surely you can make the next Facebook, Google or Amazon?

What’s stopping you from making a killing in the property market?

With all these people making money on YouTube what’s stopping you from achieving passive income and financial freedom as well?

If you’re asked to list the opportunities out there you might easily put down technology, property and finance.

That’s where most fortunes are made, after all.

But what you also have to work out is whether that opportunity is one that’s going to work for you.

If it’s the right opportunity it’s like a greased slide, you’ll be able to get on and gravity will be on your side.

So you have to look hard at your list and think about why you’re going to be able to develop those opportunities.

Do you have a background in property?

Do you understand finance or technology – are you an analyst or a coder?

Just because you can see other people making money from an opportunity – it doesn’t mean that those are the only ways to succeed.

In fact, it’s more likely that there is a way for you to succeed that you are perfectly positioned for.

Maybe it’s a change in the market, maybe it’s a job that others find hard to do, maybe it’s something you’ve developed for your own use that could be useful to others.

Rather than looking for opportunities, what you need to do is think about how you can develop them – using the strengths at your disposal.

Opportunities are not things you find – they are things you create.

But in order to develop them you have to do one last thing – remove risk.

And you do this by analysing the threats you face.

What are the threats?

As with the other three categories it’s easy to list threats in a vague and general way.

You might be threatened, for example, by bad customer feedback, cash flow problems, late payments from customers.

These threats might cause you to trip, make mistakes, cost you money.

But there are two elements to a threat – the first is the impact it has on your business and the second is how likely is it to happen.

The less you understand about your business, the more likely it is that you will make mistakes you can’t recover from.

It really comes back to knowing where you’re strong and where you’re weak – and being clear about what opportunities you pursue as a result.

If you’ve got those first three elements lined up, then the last job you have is identifying and eliminating threats.

It’s risk management, really – if you’re climbing a steep hill with loose rocks – start by asking yourself whether you really need to do the climb at all.

Why not go around, get a cab or hire a helicopter.

But if you have to climb it wear good footwear, take some equipment to help and have a plan in case you run into trouble.

There are some threats you can’t do anything about – the weather, the electricity network.

So you only focus on the threats that you can do something about – the ones you can mitigate.

And by doing that you’re dramatically increasing the overall chances of success you have.

The key is being specific

A SWOT analysis is least useful when it’s done in a quick and lazy way – when you fill it with the first thoughts that come to mind.

What you need to do is sit there and keep writing until the second and third thoughts come to you.

Draw, doodle, do anything but keep that pen moving until you get down more ideas than the ones that come immediately to mind.

Be critical of what you put down – ask yourself whether they are really different from what anyone else would say – are you drawing on what is your own unique experience or is this something anyone could put down?

The purpose of the exercise is to deepen your understanding of yourself and the situation you are in.

Armed with this knowledge you can start to move on to understanding the next part – seeing yourself in context and figuring out how to play nicely with others.

We’ll talk about that next time.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Discover Where You Are Right Now

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Tuesday, 10.06pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin. – Mother Theresa

Over the next sixty to eighty days I will be roughing out the structure of a book in these posts.

I’ve tried this a few times in the past and it hasn’t quite worked out, but I’m using a different process this time, so bear with me.

The working title of the book is “Getting Started” and it’s about the messy process of getting going on a project, an idea I introduced yesterday.

Eventually, I’ll turn the raw material from these posts into a book – I hope.

But for now I want to talk about understanding where you are right now.

What is it that makes you you?

You learn a lot by listening to children, by trying to understand what they’re going through and trying to remember how you felt back then.

Perhaps the most important thing you can help your child to learn is the art of interaction – the skill to play with others.

Not, you should notice, play nicely, but play with others.

That means learning how the game is played and, equally importantly, how you’re playing it.

Each of us is a complex mix of chemicals and signals – bags of thinking water as Terry Pratchett puts it.

And what people around us get from us is what we say and what we do.

They listen to our stories and look at what we produce – these are the two categories of things that help them learn about us.

For all practical purposes, what the world things is “you” is this bundle of words and actions – so if you want to understand how you are seen, you have to start here.

Let’s take each one in turn.

How do you describe yourself to someone else?

We’ve all heard about the elevator pitch – but life isn’t really spent in elevators.

It’s spent in social and business gatherings, where you’re introduced to people and eventually they ask you to tell them about yourself.

When that happens you usually have a selection of stories ready to choose from.

Maybe it’s all about your job for you – what you do in the office and how important or powerful you are.

Maybe it’s about your research, your interests, your hobbies.

Perhaps it’s about where you live, your family.

There will be things that come to mind as you talk about yourself and you need to write them down – the actual words you use, not what you think you would say.

Next, write down what you do each day

Once again, go through your days and pick out the main things you do.

What do you work on, what kind of projects take up your time, how much time do you spend doing creative work and how much doing managerial and administrative work?

Perhaps you spend a lot of time in front of a computer doing analyses.

Maybe you’re doing a lot of internal work, helping various departments operate more effectively.

Or you’re out there, getting in touch with prospects and taking them through a sales development process.

Get these activities down – you’ll need to look at them every once in a while to remind yourself what was important then.

Why do you say what you say?

If you’ve followed these steps you now have a collection of words and phrases that capture what you say and do.

It’s time to look at these in some more detail.

What you need to ask yourself is where these ideas come from, starting with what you say.

For example, you might have written something like “money is not important.”

Where does that kind of idea come from?

Does money not matter because you had everything you wanted when you were young and you don’t want for anything now?

Is it because you’re not materialistic and don’t really need things to make you happy?

Is it because you went to boarding school and learned early on that if it didn’t fit in your trunk you needed to throw it away?

Those ideas you have about yourself have roots – roots in experiences and stories and families.

Pay attention to them – write them down.

The ideas held by an immigrant will quite often be very different from those held by someone who has had generations live in the place they are in now.

Think about why you do what you do

Finally, do the same exercise for what you do now.

Is the work you do something you trained for?

Are you a doctor or lawyer, did you spend years building your knowledge of an area?

Or is what you do a job you stumbled into when you were young, a temporary job that turned into a career 20 years later?

Or did you develop a skill to the point where you could get a job – perhaps you’re good at computers or got accepted into an apprenticeship because you were interested in a particular subject or craft.

This exercise is about knowing who you are and why

You may feel like you know all this stuff but this exercise is designed to make you look through yourself, not just at yourself.

The world sees what’s on the outside – what you say and do.

So, first you need to try and understand what they’re looking at.

But then you also need to try and understand why you are the way you are – look back to see what pressures formed you over time into the person that you are now.

None of these exercises have a “correct” answer – they’re about collecting impressions, collecting data about yourself.

We’re going to look at a few ways to do this – some different approaches to see yourself through someone else’s eyes.

Because before you try and make any changes, you really have to see yourself the way others see you.

It’s the difference between looking in a mirror and seeing a recorded video of yourself.

The video is always surprising because it’s a different point of view.

And that’s what we’re trying to do here.

We’ll try another approach, a more traditional one tomorrow.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Is The Best Way Of Getting Started?

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Monday, 9.00pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If you have a dream, you can spend a lifetime studying, planning, and getting ready for it. What you should be doing is getting started. – Drew Houston

I was thinking about the kind of advice people give you when you’re thinking about starting a project.

Let’s say it’s a marketing campaign or a new book or a startup idea – what are they likely to say?

There are two main places people start – at the end or at the beginning.

For example, backward thinking starts with where you want to be and works back from there to work out exactly what you need to do.

With a startup this might mean knowing exactly what your customer looks like – working out their avatar, their persona – whatever description helps you to get a really clear idea of how they think and feel and act.

If you know that your target market is a particular age, gender and demographic you can then work back to figure out which channels are the best ones to reach them.

On the other hand you could start at the macro level – look at the environment you will be operating in and the main characteristics.

Look at the political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental factors – the PESTLE – and see how you need to position yourself to fit in.

There’s nothing wrong with these methods – they’re all useful ones to have in your toolkit.

But is it the right advice when it comes to starting something?

Let’s stick with the startup example for a minute – imagine that you have to start your business tomorrow morning.

There’s no time to prepare, no time to research or question – it’s late.

You’re going to go to bed and in ten hours or so your new day begins.

Where will you start?

The answer is pretty obvious – you’ll start from where you are.

Right in the middle of now.

If I were to sit you down and ask you to tell me about all the stuff you do right now and all the tools you have right now – that’s the core of your startup, that’s the raw material you have to get started with.

For some people this means that what they have to start with is their brains – the knowledge they carry around inside their heads.

For others it’s the skills they have in their hands, the muscle memory they’ve built up over years of doing something.

Brains and hands – those are the assets you’ll have tomorrow morning.

Now everyone will be in a different stage – some will be young and still learning their trade.

Others will be old and will have forgotten what they know and not learned anything new in a while.

It really doesn’t matter – it’s not going to change that reality of what’s happening right now.

And that’s actually quite exciting, when you look at it in the right way.

There’s a reason why writers are told to start their books in the middle of the action – that’s where things are happening.

The middle is where the action is taking place and where the possibilities are – you are in the best possible place you could be right now.

You might as well believe that – there’s no real alternative to that reality.

When you open that window into your space – when you look at yourself in the middle of the action and what you’re saying and doing – you’re know where you’re going to start.

Right there and right now.

We’ll come back to how you do that in another post – first it’s worth looking at why you should do this, why you shouldn’t go back and do your research on everything from the start or work backwards from the end.

And it’s because when you’re in the middle, possibilities stretch out both backwards and forwards in time for you.

When you start at one beginning, it might seem like you can do anything, but you’re also constrained with the possibilities that start from just that point.

In the same way when you start from the end and constrain what you do to activities that help you get to that end – you’ve limited what else could happen.

In the middle, you have the opportunity to craft a beginning and an end that suits your purpose.

For example, let’s say that your skillset right now is data science – advanced analytics in nanotechnology.

What led up to that expertise?

It’s probably a mix of things – you found maths easy, a friend liked the same subjects, your parents pushed you in that direction.

Let’s say you’re talking to a prospect and they really want someone to help them with analysing social data – Twitter feeds.

If you started by limiting yourself to data science work in nanotechnology, you might simply pass on the Twitter feed analysis opportunity.

And you might just have missed your opportunity to found a cutting edge data-driven marketing consultancy.

You might not know anything about marketing – but you probably use Twitter, you can probably get up to speed on the APIs in a few hours.

But why should they work with you?

Well, that comes back to your origin story – your beginnings.

And if you’ve left yourself room you can craft an origin story that helps customers understand why they should trust you with their business.

Now, as you develop your business you’ll start to see different opportunities to progress.

Maybe you see yourself becoming a consultant, telling others what to do, standing on stage.

Or you get on and produce tools and content, books, podcasts, videos.

You make what your audience wants and what you want to make – and if you’re lucky those two things will be the same.

But all that comes later.

The journey begins with realising an inescapable truth.

You are going to start from where you are right now.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Are Your options When You Come Across An Obstacle?

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Sunday, 9.24pm

Sheffield, U.K.

There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don’t allow yourself to become one of them. – Ralph Marston

The essential ingredient you need to make a story work is to give your hero an obstacle to overcome – something that they can beat.

That’s the essence of conflict – put your characters in a difficult situation, make it so it beats them down and then show how they fight back and emerge victorious.

Stories are about triumph, about victory, about winning.

They are not about real life.

In real life the detective does not pick on a collection of tiny clues and figure out the entire life story of a person.

In real life a teacher does not walk into a deprived school and turn the lives of all the children there around.

In real life getting that huge promotion doesn’t hinge on you getting that lucrative contract signed against all the odds.

Real life is about finding the easiest way to move onto the next thing – move through the day and get ready for the next one.

If you want to be happy – to create a life that is low-stress, what you have to learn is the art of getting around problems.

It is far better to notice problems when they are some distance away and take steps to avoid them.

In much of life the image to keep in mind is that of water.

Water flows downhill – it goes the way it’s easiest to go, the way gravity tells it to go.

And there are always obstacles in the way, sometimes big ones, sometimes mountains.

When this happens there are two main choices.

The first is to go around the mountain – as long as you have gravity on your side you can keep moving.

Find a way that’s easier than climbing the mountain.

It’s the same in business – go around problems whenever you can rather than fighting them.

Handle objections before they turn up.

Train staff before they have a chance to make silly mistakes.

Don’t put your money into projects you don’t understand.

If you stick to the easy path you will rarely put a foot wrong.

But, the romantic side of you screams, you’ll never achieve greatness, you’ll never create the next Amazon or Google.

Why not?

Google’s big idea is pretty simple – peer review is the basis of getting you good information.

Amazon’s big idea is pretty simple – make online shopping frictionless.

Now, those founders didn’t get there with gigantic, heroic leaps.

They had the right background, were in the right place with the right idea and executed it as best they could and survived and grew to the point where they are now.

The fact is that you are where you are right now – not where those founders were then or are now.

And the only thing for you to consider is which way is the easiest for you to keep moving.

Standing still is the problem – becoming stagnant, building up behind a dam.

That’s what stops you.

While there are options to keep flowing you’re never really stopped – you just need to find another way.

Which brings us to the second main option.

Sometimes you are stuck, sometimes there is no way forward.

You need to be absolutely sure about this.

Because when there is no way around an obstacle the only way left is to go through it.

That’s not always easy.

It helps if you have nothing to lose.

Most of us are not in that situation – we are lucky enough to have some element of choice.

We’re not restricted by oppressive regimes or the limits of our education.

We’re lucky.

The only real obstacle that stands in our way, all too often, is our self.

The self that talks to us, filled with doubt and fear – the voice that says we cannot do it or are not good enough.

The voice may be right.

But gravity is still gravity and downhill is still downhill.

And all you have to do is move – find a way to flow.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Should You Hold On To More Things Than You Absolutely Need To?

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Saturday, 6.01pm

Sheffield, U.K.

As the biggest library if it is in disorder is not as useful as a small but well-arranged one, so you may accumulate a vast amount of knowledge but it will be of far less value than a much smaller amount if you have not thought it over for yourself. – Arthur Schopenhauer

For a while I was a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach to work.

It worked when there were lots of things to do and you wanted to capture them all, make sure that they were moved on.

Now, however, as I look back – what is the main purpose of a system like that?

Is it to do things in the best way possible – to apply yourself to the most important problems?

Or is it a way to avoid being shouted at?

I think productivity systems like GTD are actually armaments for the workplace – a way of showing people that it’s definitely, absolutely not your fault with extreme prejudice.

Here’s the task, I sent you the analysis and then I followed up every week and you didn’t respond.

So, how can you blame me for the mess you’re now in?

Now, in many situations, you need that kind of approach, especially if you work in an industry that addresses failure demand.

Failure demand, if you remember, is John Seddon’s term for work that has no value – work that is done to fix failures elsewhere.

It looks like work, but it isn’t.

Real work is value demand – stuff that matters and makes a difference.

Should you treat value demand the same way – record everything, list it all out and make sure you get it done?

I’m starting to think that isn’t the point.

Stephen King, I think, said something like he doesn’t take any notes, doesn’t put down ideas when they come to him.

If they’re good enough they’ll stick in the mind, they’ll come back to nag at him.

I guess you should pay attention to the things around you, the thoughts and events, but you don’t need to document everything, put everything on a list.

“Not-doing” is a form of filtering.

You have a limited amount of time – you should probably spend it doing the highest value work you can – the work that calls to you.

Everything else can wait – preferably for ever – but certainly for next week.

Until someone nags you, anyway.

This idea has a certain power when you start to implement it.

There are so many boxes you could pick up – but only so many you can hold.

There are only so many things you can own before you become a person whose job it is to own things, to look after them and sort out their care and maintenance.

Having more things might make you feel rich – but it’s also a form of imprisonment, an open jail that you have to bar against others.

Now, does that mean you should never collect anything, never look back, never finish jobs?

Nothing really is ever that absolute.

It all depends.

If you want to do something – write a book, create art, grow a business – there are things you need to do and things you don’t.

You have to decide which things are which.

Doing everything will probably just make you tired – too tired to notice that an opportunity has passed you by.

You were too busy working to see it.

There will always be more jobs to do, more tasks to do, they will fall from the sky like rain.

And like rain, they will come around again.

But your time will not.

So spend it wisely.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Do You Work Out The Best Way To Use Your Unique Talent?

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Monday, 9.42pm

Sheffield, U.K.

No one respects a talent that is concealed. – Desiderius Erasmus

I was browsing through a list of books and picked up The 80/20 Individual: How to Build on the 20% of What You Do Best by Richard Koch.

The whole 80/20 thing seems done to death – you will probably be aware of the Pareto principle and that 80% of the output from almost every activity comes from 20% of the input.

A few things matter more than most.

On the whole, the elements of how Koch applies the rule seem predictable.

Do more of the stuff you’re good at would seem to be the main message.

But I suppose, like any superficially simple message, there are things to consider.

Let’s say you’re starting something now – a new business, a new service, a new product – how might you apply this principle?

Let’s take starting a YouTube channel as an example – something that I have no experience in.

One way to do it might be to create a beautifully scripted, filmed and edited piece of content – something that you are really proud of.

Something like that can easily take 4-8 hours of work for a 10-15 minute segment – the kind of ratio that’s normal in good quality video production.

It’s probably not the filming or the script writing that takes the time – it’s the editing.

On the other hand, what would it look like if it were easy?

Well, you’d probably have the biggest impact if you cut the editing time down as much as possible.

How would you do that?

Probably by doing things in such a way that you didn’t have to do all that editing.

The “not doing” element is something we miss in the application of this principle.

Let’s assume that 20% of the stuff is what you actually have to do.

That’s the scripting and filming – maybe you can make that tighter – but it’s the knowledge you have that creates the value in the script and it’s the filming that collects the raw content for your product.

Now, of the remaining 80%, does it follow that 20% is value adding and the rest not?

Is it the case that 80% of that remaining 80% is not worth doing?

Should your next step, after deciding what you are going to do, to be to figure out the nearly 2/3rds of work that you have to actively choose not to do?

This is really quite hard – because you will probably feel like you’re not doing your best.

Now, I’m no expert at video – but I do know that the prospect of spending hours of work to create a product is not an option – I don’t have hours to spare.

So I need a way to get what I want to do done using the skills I do have – skills at programming and automation.

But if there’s stuff that I can’t do which still has to be done – then I need to outsource that bit.

If I’ve broken my tasks down in the right way – that bit should only be 20% of the 80% – 16% where I have to persuade someone else to do the work for me.

What’s interesting is that the outsourcing and the doing aren’t the things that make the difference.

Together, they account for only 36% of what’s going on.

What makes the biggest impact on your result is what you don’t do.

The not-todo list rather than the todo list.

So maybe here’s the thing.

If you want to be the best version of you – the thing you have to figure out is absolutely, definitely, what you are not going to do any more.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh