The One Thing You Have To Do If You Want To Change Your Life

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Saturday, 8.46pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Sometimes we make the process more complicated than we need to. We will never make a journey of a thousand miles by fretting about how long it will take or how hard it will be. We make the journey by taking each day step by step and then repeating it again and again until we reach our destination. – Joseph B. Wirthlin

I watched a TEDx talk the other day by Patti Dobrowolski called Creative Genius: You about how you can achieve your dreams.

The drawing above is adapted from the one she did in her talk – it’s the image I took away.

The message I heard, however, is slightly different from what she was talking about.

So let’s look at that in some more detail.

The model itself is really simple.

The ground represents where you are now – the reality of your existence.

You are where you are because of the hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions you’ve taken – even before you knew the importance of decision making or why you were making decisions.

Those decisions about whether to engage in team sports or not, whether to do an activity or not, whether to read or not, and then later, the choice of subjects, of major, of degree – all these led to now, step by inexorable step.

Looking back, there probably isn’t any one thing you would do differently – but there are lots of things you might have done to nudge yourself down a different path.

Up there in the sky is where you want to be – a dream floating high above.

For some people these are dreams – dreams of more money, a bigger house, fancy holidays.

For some it’s the hope of a promotion, of the next step on a career ladder, of being selected for a competition, hitting the jackpot, being lucky at the lottery.

And for many of us they remain dreams – because there are things holding us back – fears – lots of them.

We’re afraid of what others will think, what they will do, how our managers will respond, how we will change.

And fear in its many forms stops us – it’s simply too scary to do anything different from what we’re doing now.

Patti’s solution to this is direct and simple – use this model to draw your future, change your mind and draw on your inner creative genius to make it happen.

And she also talks about love.

This is where we part company – perhaps differing on method rather than methodology.

In principle, she is right.

You need to know what you want if you are to know when you’ve got it.

You’ve got to get over those fears – and that does mean changing your mind.

And you have to do the work – it’s kind of difficult to do it any other way.

But I think underselling how long and dull and boring the journey might be is not the best thing you can do.

Well – actually, it’s probably not going to be dull or boring – but it will be long – longer than you expect, longer than you hope, longer than you are prepared for.

We’ve all probably got examples of journeys that we’ve already taken.

It must have taken you some time to get to the point you are now – to the career you have.

In my experience it seems to take around ten years.

Ten years to first find a niche for yourself – something you can do to earn more money than you’re spending.

Another ten years to get to a point where you’re good at it – where you are trusted to take responsibility and deliver.

Along the way, around year 15, you start to wonder whether you’re on the right track – whether you’re doing what you wanted in the first place or whether you’re doing what other people advised you to do all along.

In my case that thing is probably writing – something that I’d have liked to do earlier but only started twenty years into my journey.

Almost exactly twenty years, thinking back.

That’s a long time to put off doing the thing you like doing.

I decided that I would have to be ready to throw away a million words to practice and get better at writing – and that would take ten years.

I’m seven hundred and seventy thousand, six hundred and two words into doing that, half a million of which are in this blog.

And counting.

And the thing I’ve taken from my experience is that it doesn’t really matter whether you have a big dream or decide to do three big things or change your mind or whatever.

What matters is what you do every day.

Because a small amount of work on the thing that matters to you every day adds up, it compounds, and in a decade you have a body of work that you can call your own.

And you can do that while you have a job, a career, while you do the thing you spent the first couple of decades getting in position to do.

If you’re lucky you can do both – you don’t have to give anything up unless you want to.

Because if you’ve grown your dream from a seed, tended it as a sapling and watched it grow into a tree, pushing past the weeds of fear – then you know that what you have is no longer a dream – it’s a new reality.

And it emerged from your work – from your every day work – and not from a shortcut or a hack or a decision or a mind change.

It’s rooted in work, in toil, in graft.

And that’s what you’ve got to do – stop whining and hoping and dreaming.

Start working instead.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What’s Keeping You Trapped Where You Are?

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Thursday, 6.44pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear. – Rosa Parks

I started this post wondering about the things that get in our way – the things that stop us from doing what we want to do or being who we want to be.

It was a simple question really – and the conclusion I came to was that many of the things that hold us back – the bars that imprison us – have to do with fear.

If you’ve been in a job or a relationship or a profession for a long time, you have a lot to lose if you stop doing what you’re doing.

If you’ve invested twenty years of your life becoming a doctor when what you really wanted to do was to be an artist – it’s hard to step away from the big salary and it’s frightening to think how you will afford that big mortgage and car payments.

The more you have, after all, the more you have to lose.

Now, on the one hand, this kind of thinking is only available to those who are already very privileged.

The quote that starts this post, from Rosa Parks, is a product of a very different time, a very different set of circumstances.

In those days the things holding you back were real bars, real people who wanted to do you real harm.

And when you were up against that kind of opposition – the kind of people who had power and wanted to keep it – you couldn’t just rock up and change things.

You needed to be organised.

Rosa Parks’ act of resistance against bus segregation wasn’t a sudden, impulsive act but a deliberate act of defiance aimed at getting long overdue justice.

Parks attended sessions at the Highlander Folk School, a place that trained activists working for social justice.

People didn’t like that kind of thing at the time – they still don’t now.

And so the school was viciously attacked and people with power tried hard to discredit and ruin the people involved.

One of those people was Maurice McCraken and his story is told in Judith B. Bechtel’s book, out of print but available on the web.

McCraken was a conscientious objector and his treatment at the hands of the state should not be forgotten.

The book starts with how Oswald Petite, a Marshall, uses an electric stun gun on the 80-year old McCraken seven or eight times because of his refusal to walk to and from the court.

In 1985.

Not that very long ago.

When you read about these people and the decisions they had to take and the sacrifices they had to make to take a stand so that future generations could have equality and justice, the comparative freedom we have to do anything we want is a luxury we should be ashamed to take for granted.

But, if you feel trapped, whether it’s by society and real oppression or the bars you’ve built in your mind you’re still trapped.

And the fact is that one does not escape from prison easily.

No one is going to come along and unlock the doors, dismantle the bars.

You need to make your way out, chip away at the walls, tunnel through the floor, saw through the bars.

And that takes time – time you get your head straight and time to get your plans in order.

It helps if you have little to lose because then you can move fast.

If you have more to lose then you have to figure out how you will manage if things go wrong.

The advantage you have now is that there is information everywhere, training everywhere.

If you want to change your life you don’t need to find a school – you just need to read and learn and try and do.

And Parks’ words do sum up everything you need to do.

If you’re trapped where you are the first step is making up your mind to change things.

And then its about study, learning how to make change happen in your life and doing what must be done.

When you do that the bars in your mind will rust and break.

And you will be free.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Think About Training Plans In Your Business

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Tuesday, 9.07pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Training is a loop, a two-way communication in which an event at one end of the loop changes events at the other, exactly like a cybernetic feedback system; yet many psychologists treat their work as something they do to a subject, not with the subject. – Karen Pryor, Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training

What approach do you take to develop capability in your business?

For example, let’s say you want to expand into a new area or a customer asks if you can help with a task what’s your approach to resourcing that kind of project?

One approach is to hire the expertise – go out and find someone who has a track record in that area and can help you build your practice.

You could give it to your best member of staff – the one that is able to do things without being told how to do things.

Both these approaches have problems.

You often don’t know whether an expert will deliver until after you’ve set them on the task.

And if you use up your best resources then you’ll have less time left to work with other clients – maybe even existing ones.

In knowledge businesses this is a major problem – the costs of hiring expertise are high and so you’ll never be able to carry them without the revenue stream also being in place.

At the same time if you don’t have the capability then you won’t be able to pick up jobs when they come available on the market.

Unless you get better at training your people.

There will always be a shortage of experts when you most need them.

There will always be a surplus of people entering the job market looking for internships and training.

And quite often if you find someone with the personality and attitude that comes with a willingness to learn you will be able to train them to do the work.

As long as you know how and what to train them on.

Which is where a model from Professor John Seddon is quite useful to keep in mind.

Training in your business is very different from teaching or learning in school or university – and not everyone gets that.

In formal education you start at the beginning and go through to the end.

How many training programmes have you sat in where the leader goes through a hundred slides, taking you from start to finish through a process.

And how often have you listened?

Seddon, on the other hand, suggests that you should focus on training that gets people productive quickly.

What difference would it make if you could get someone working in hours or days rather than weeks or months?

Quite a lot – it turns out that speed wins.

The faster you are at something the easier it is to outpace others.

For example, lets say you run a graphic design agency and you have a new starter.

Would you give her the software manual and ask her to read it from start to finish?

Some people might.

A better approach would be to look at the tasks that you do quite often – what are the elements of graphic design that need doing?

For example, perhaps you need to lay out flyers or white papers – maybe that’s something that your set of clients use quite a lot in their process.

So, the skill set that’s required a lot is the ability to lay out pages in a professional and attractive way.

So, that’s a high frequency task.

If your clients ask for flyers quite a lot – perhaps a certain number a month – you might be able to predict how many jobs of that type come through by looking at your order book.

That’s predictable.

Finally, there’s demand.

One kind of demand is people calling you up and complaining that the layout doesn’t work for them and you need to do some work to fix things.

It’s work – but it’s bad work.

It’s rework, fixes, apologies.

Value demand is work that makes the client happy and that’s the kind of work you want to do as much of as possible.

In this situation, you need someone skilled in the art of laying out a flyer in a way that clients will like – that’s the high frequency, predictable, value demand tasks that you have.

So, train for that.

You could probably get your new starter doing that on their own in a couple of hours.

They will need support – but that’s what you’re there for.

When you know that, at the end of training, you will have someone working on work that matters and makes money, it’s easier for you to make the time to train them properly.

Because here’s the thing.

Your ability to develop your staff is as much of a competitive advantage as having experienced staff or software assets.

In fact, it’s probably an even better asset.

Anyone can buy software.

In many businesses when the experts walk out the knowledge and clients walk with them.

If you’re a training business – a learning one – then that problem doesn’t arise because you’re always developing the next batch of experts.

And they’ll stay with you because there is more to learn.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Kind Of Working Model Makes You Most Productive?

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Friday, 7.53pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I like working with people. I believe change can only come through collaboration. – Alain de Botton

Quite by coincidence I’ve been watching the series “The last man in the world” at about the same time as hysteria sweeps the world about the Coronavirus.

The story, in case you aren’t familiar, is about how there is one man left on earth after a virus strikes and… well, the story goes from there.

There interesting thing about this particular virus is not that it’s spreading, but that the information about it is spreading faster than any virus before it.

We are all so connected that once the news started spreading everyone became aware and then started changing behaviour – probably hoarding and stockpiling.

In fact, the supermarkets shelves are showing gaps – and it really looks like people are panicking a little and laying down supplies.

When thing look like they’re going bad we start preparing for the inevitable fallout and all out conflict.

The fact that we regress so quickly to such behaviour tells us that flight or fight is an accurate depiction of our underlying humanity and one or brain’s biggest tasks is to override our evolutionary conditioning.

And it’s hard.

Take collaboration, for example.

You would probably agree that it’s the best way to work with someone else – to find a way to be open and honest and create value for each other.

The reality of work, however, is far from that.

All too often we have misunderstandings and power struggles, politicking and whinging.

While our brains have developed the ability to be rational when we’re in a safe space we still are some way from having the tools we need to help us work better together.

Although you could argue we’ve had them all the time – our ability to listen and talk and draw.

Collaboration is something that has to come from the lack of fear.

If you go into a meeting afraid you’re going to lose your job, afraid you’re going to lose the sale or afraid that you’re going to lose something you have then that fear will permeate everything – and it will make the other person uneasy as well.

It’s like the high pressure salesperson – you can tell desperation and it’s not nice.

When I look at collaboration these days I think you need to get better at doing three things.

First you have to listen.

Whether it’s your kids or coworkers, whether it’s your boss or a customer, the essential skill to develop is the ability to listen.

When you listen you start to get a feeling for the shape of someone else’s thoughts – how they see the world.

To understand them better you ask questions.

Questions help you find the gaps, discover connections and see possibilities.

And then, when you’ve done those two things you can offer suggestions – possibilities for what you could do together.

And you will, in turn, hopefully be listened to and asked questions.

Just like that you’re collaborating.

Simple. Yes.

Easy. No.

But essential.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

The Slightly Unexpected Secret To Power

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Sunday, 7.32pm

Sheffield, U.K.

That was how you got to be a power in the land, he thought. You never cared a toss about whatever anyone else thought and you were never, ever, uncertain about anything – Captain Vimes in Terry Pratchett’s “Guards! Guards!”

I have rediscovered Terry Pratchett recently, and realised something – or at least had it pointed out by Neil Gaiman in another book.

Pratchett is a hard to pin down writer, combining the wit of Douglas Adams with the output of P.G Wodehouse.

His writing is funny and clever, which means that clever people probably look at the funny bit and assume that it’s not going to be something they will get into while funny people don’t perhaps get just how clever some of the stuff is.

And there is lots of it, buried within the funny bits.

Let’s leave out the physics – just focus on the social observations he makes.

For example, in one of his books he says that when people ask for advice they don’t really want you to tell them anything.

The sort of want you to be around while they talk about it.

It’s taken me a while to realise that – but having done so it’s created a rather interesting line of business so far.

And then you have his observation about power, which is in the quote above that for me, anyway, is a complete eye-opener.

Let me explain.

For a while, I have been observing people that I term born business folk – people who have a certain something about them.

It’s their ability to look at a situation and make a decision.

Now, that decision may be based on facts and opinion, some of which I agree with and some of which seem wrong, and some of which I know to be wrong.

But it’s not just a decision – it’s a sense of certainty they give out when they make that decision.

As if they’ve just said, “Here I stand!”, they’ve planted a standard and there is no moving them.

You wonder sometimes whether they realise just how badly things could go… and come to the conclusion that they do not.

And so you scuttle back, step into the shadows, and wait and see what happens.

Perhaps with a touch of schadenfreude, waiting for the inevitable downfall.

Now clearly, to any right thinking person, that way of operating – certainty until the fates prove you right or wrong – has a range of outcomes.

We remember the wins and forget the losses – heroes are created by selecting winners after all.

And eventually there seems to be a link between confidence and certainty and success.

We follow the leader that sounds confident because in the past such leaders led others to victory.

Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Joan of Arc.

It’s the other observation of Terry’s that starts to balance things out.

Do you care what other people think?

If you do, then you’re in a different game – one where politics is important and keeping up appearances is crucial.

In such a world it’s far more important not to fail than it is to win.

It’s the “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” sort of world.

Certainty in a world where success depends on what other people think can lead to odd results.

Take painters, for example.

Many have been certain in their art but less successful in a market.

What matters as much is knowing your business – knowing what needs to happen regardless of what other people think.

So, how do these two things relate?

Imagine you’re building a product because you think someone else is going to need it – then your chances of success are probably the same as most products that are brought to the market – perhaps 5 percent or so.

If you build something because you need it – because you’re scratching your own itch – then you’re starting to tilt the odds in your favour.

Let’s say you’ve done your research and you understand the approach you need to take and how viable your product is – how are you going to market it?

If you are diffident and balanced about the pros and cons of what you are going to do – then you’ll find that people will be equally circumspect.

They will note your lack of confidence and instinctively move away.

It’s just what happens.

But, if you can marry research and a thorough knowledge of your business – if you’re operating in what Warren Buffett calls your circle of competence then you need to – you must take decisive action when the time calls for it.

You must be confident that you are right and you will prevail.

What got the ancestors of old their portraits on the wall was because they brought this combination of skills to their battles.

If they were green, untrained, able only to fight on paper – but confident in their approach and holding power, they probably sent their soldiers to their slaughter.

But if they knew their field, their tactics, their people – and then they led the battle, their army followed and they probably won.

And ended up with the loot and the castle and the portrait.

What this means for us is this.

If you want power temporarily, you can get it through politics.

If you want real power, the kind of thing that lasts for generations – you get that through your work.

And power does not have to be money and jewels and castles.

These days power has more to do with what you have in your mind.

Which is why your work matters.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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

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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.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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

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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.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Can You Intentionally Make Your Life Better?

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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.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Kind Of Work Should You Focus On Creating?

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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.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Kind Of Professional Do You Need To Be To Succeed In The World Today?

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Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune. – Jim Rohn

Saturday, 9.35pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If there’s one thing that matters to you it’s probably your career – whether you’re an employee or run your own business.

What you do to make a living is right up there on a list of the most important things in your life.

So, do you have a plan for how to build and develop your career?

When I look around one kind of approach is very “Rah Rah”.

This is the kind of talk where someone is on a ladder and they’re going to get to the very top – they believe and they want you to know that they’re unstoppable.

It’s the approach that’s drilled into us – maybe not literally but at least it’s the image that we have from popular culture – which after all is mostly American.

It’s sort of summed up in that quote from the football coach Vince Lombardi that “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

Now that’s all very well if you really believe that personal performance – grit, hard work, perseverance – is what leads to success.

But is that really the case?

I came across the book Globality: Competing with everyone from everywhere for everything by Harold L. Sirkin, James W. Hemerling and Arindam K. Bhattacharya and it makes for interesting, even eye opening reading.

Here’s the (recent) history of the world in a nutshell.

In the middle of the last millennium China and India were the world’s largest economies.

In the second half of the millennium Europe started to emerge – it had an industrial revolution and set the foundations for a modern world.

Then in the last century Europe blew itself to pieces and America found itself with a large population, abundant resources and no competition.

And it prospered.

And then the rest of the world started doing business again, picking itself up from the aftermath of war – hungry to learn and develop and grow and modernise.

And we’re here now – with developed economies and developing ones – more people living longer with better healthcare and more stuff and trying to figure out how we can all live on the planet without ruining it in the process.

And, of course, trying to find jobs – do something useful.

Now what you will know if you read this blog or are generally interested in the topic is that success is often down to the environment more than the people.

Success has moved from continent to continent over the last thousand years.

Is it possible that people were successful because they were lucky enough to be born on the particular continent that was taking its turn at being successful?

Now clearly we don’t know – and to some extent we don’t care.

We don’t care about all those other people – we care about us and where we are right now.

And it’s probably fair to say that you are competing with more people in more places than anyone before you.

Now, hidden in the book on page 101 is perhaps the secret of career success you need for this new world – a secret set out in the image that starts this post.

Established companies are led by what the book calls operators – people who keep things going and make small improvements.

But when it comes to challenging the status quo you need individuals who are builders – part entrepreneur and part team captain.

These people look for opportunities and take risks to go after them – personal risks.

And they are good at finding people to get on their team, developing and training them and inspiring them to act.

They’re also good at finding partners to work with.

This kind of individual doesn’t need a ladder – they’ll get wood and nails and make one themselves – or find something else like a rope or cannon to get them where they need to be.

That skill – being a builder – is not one you’ll find easily.

And because that’s the case perhaps developing it will help you get ahead in your own career.

After all waiting for someone to get out of your way so you can get ahead is a strategy from the past – a “dead man’s shoes” approach.

It doesn’t work so well in a world where we’re all living longer.

You need to make your own shoes.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh