Why You Need To Research How People Allocate Their Attention

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Friday, 5.16am

Sheffield, U.K.

The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it. – Elbert Hubbard

In my last post I talked about the importance of studying who you could help so that you could build empathy and understanding with them, which in turn helps you understand what kinds of products and services you can build for them.

Let’s start by studying the things they pay attention to.

Data is everywhere now

One characteristic that you will start to notice if you study what happens on the Internet is that there is a pattern that repeats all the time.

It’s called a power law, and tells you the difference between being number one and anything else.

Let’s say you run a YouTube channel and list out your videos with the number of views each one has had, it’s very likely that one will be the clear winner.

The next one will have half to two-thirds of the views.

The third one will have half to two-thirds of the second’s numbers.

And then you have all the others.

This applies almost everywhere, actually, but it’s most visible on the Internet because the statistics are easy to collect.

For example, the chart below shows the views on my blog for the last month showing the first, second and third page views and then the average views of the next seven pages.

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But, while there is usually a clear winner with this kind of situation, there are two observations you should take away.

The first thing is that you need first place to get attention.

But you will only get first place for one of your pieces of work – and the rest of your list, the backlist, still matters to build your credibility and conversion.

And while the winner brings people in through the door, it’s everything else that will get them to stay and convert them into paying customers.

Again, this is a phenomenon you see all over the place.

In the publishing industry, for example, it’s the initial book sales that makes reputations – as the publicity and attention get people to notice you.

But it’s the sales over time that make you a fortune.

Given that situation, what do we need to look for?

Look for models of how getting attention is done well

As part of this Getting Started book project I’m running experiments that can help support some of the suggestions made in these posts.

For example, one project that you may be considering is whether you should start a YouTube channel.

How would you go about looking for models of how this is done well in your sector – what people have done to get attention from others?

I started by doing a search for a term on Google and comparing the results on the “All” results tab and the “Videos” tab.

You get around 6 million hits for the term on the All page and around 550,000 on the videos page.

This first term is fairly technical so I put in a non-technical but also fairly specific term.

That had 440 million hits on the All page and 2 million hits on videos.

What this tells you is that the more technical the subject the less competition there is.

The richer the content, in terms of adding images, audio and video to text, the less competition there is.

And the more detailed, useful and longer your content, the less competition there is.

When you do this you’ll end up with a much smaller universe of people who you might be in competition with – and then you have to look at what they do well.

And the chances are that they do the basics extremely well – they do the things that make life easier for their viewers and audience.

As you look at each one take notes of the elements that you think they do well, the things you notice.

I like doing this on index cards or slips of paper for the first five or so results, because you notice different things each time you look at a video or page.

If you have notes on separate cards, you can then spread them out and see what elements are common, what are the things these successful pages or videos do well?

And then you have to ask yourself whether this is a space in which you can compete.

If you think you can do something differently, combine your skills to create value in a way that isn’t being done already, then you may have discovered a niche.

If the field is dominated by a small number of very well-known people then you’re going to find it harder to get attention – but if you keep researching and digging you’ll probably eventually find a niche that has space for you.

And then you have to make that niche your own, so that the next time someone comes digging they take a look at what you’ve done and decided there is no point competing with you and go away to find their own niche.

And that’s when you become a model for others.

Why can’t you just make stuff and not bother with research?

I wouldn’t argue with that point of view – I’m in favour of creating without restrictions, without keeping an eye on the market, without looking for an outcome.

But that’s about you – about you doing what you enjoy and creating something that you would make anyway whether people bought it or not.

And the best projects have their inspiration in something you care about, something you like doing.

If you enjoy DIY or writing or technology, then the core of what you do is the work, the thing you do.

And the first element of getting started is just to do more of that thing you want to do.

But we’re talking here about developing a market for what you do – getting other people interested in buying it from you.

In getting them to first give you their attention and later their money in exchange for the things you make.

And that requires a different approach – it requires starting from how they see the world and the kinds of things they need.

Now that you can see the kinds of things they already pay attention to from the research process described in this post, it’s time to start thinking about why they pay that attention – what kind of person are they?

We need to develop empathy with them, so let’s try and do that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Arrange The Elements Of Your Story

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Wednesday, 5.31am

Sheffield, U.K.

Nonfiction is both easier and harder to write than fiction. It’s easier because the facts are already laid out before you, and there is already a narrative arc. What makes it harder is that you are not free to use your imagination and creativity to fill in any missing gaps within the story. – Amy Bloom

Why should we believe you?

Why should we buy into your idea, sign your proposal, invest in your scheme, go with what you say?

In the last few posts on this book project I’ve been discussing ways to look back at your life and get a sense of what you’ve done.

The idea is to look at things from multiple perspectives and, as you do that you will start to notice significant elements, from significant events that influenced you to specific creative opportunities that helped you grow.

We need to capture these memories.

The power of slips of paper

Robert Pirsig’s book Lila describes the way in which the main character, Phaedrus, documents his research on slips of paper.

When you write things down on paper, you freeze them in place.

What we want to do is capture your thoughts but put them into a form that’s flexible and useful for what we want to do next.

Get a stack of index cards or tear up some A4 paper that you need to recycle into 4 parts.

It’s time to mine for memories.

Look back at your past and start to jot down key memories about what you’ve done so far.

On one slip, you might make a note about a school you attended.

On another, a particular class that opened your mind.

Perhaps notes about each of the mentors you had and what you learned from them.

A note about each of the projects you’ve done and what’s significant about them.

These notes don’t need to be long and detailed, a few words will do unless you want to add detail.

Now, you could write about anything and everything, so how do you keep from writing forever?

Perhaps the time to worry about that is after you’ve got a few down – for most people the act of remembering and writing is going to be naturally tiring and you’ll stop after a while.

So perhaps give yourself twenty minutes or so to write as much as possible and then sit back to look at what you’ve done so far.

What is your purpose?

The reason why you are collecting these memories is to support the project that you’re trying to get started on.

For example, let’s say you want to start a business as a consultant, doing something you specialise in like analysis or data management.

You’ve made things a little more challenging by handing in your resignation shortly before the start of a global pandemic and it’s important that you get something in place fairly quickly.

Now, let’s say you are given the opportunity to pitch to a prospect – what are you going to do to get them interested in you?

You could list a series of facts about yourself.

Or you could tell them your story.

What is a story?

A story, your story, is at its simplest a telling of one thing that happened after another.

This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.

The things are connected in time and you go from start to finish like travelling along a road.

What do you need to keep in mind when making that journey?

The first is to recognise that there is a main path, one that takes you from start to finish.

Other paths and side roads are not relevant to this particular story.

The second is that darting about to different points in the road is probably not the best way to make the journey.

Going from start to finish along the road is the most effective way, unless you find that it’s useful to dart forwards and back, flash forward or back.

The third is that an interesting road is not a straight line from A to B, a narrative arc is more interesting.

So, how do you tell your story?

Arranging the elements of story

Let’s go back to those slips of paper.

The first thing to do is put them in order.

You can do that simply by taking two slips and comparing them.

Does one come before the other in a narrative – did one happen before the other?

If so, arrange them in order.

Then pick up the next slip and compare them with the ones you’ve already ordered.

They will fit in there somewhere.

Repeat until done.

When you’ve finished you will have an ordered pile of slips of paper that set out key memories as they’ve happened over time.

You now have the raw materials for your stories.

Creating a narrative arc

Let’s go back to that example of a consultant and that pitch.

What is it that the prospect wants?

They may have a “presenting problem”, something they say is an issue that they’re looking for help with.

That’s their state at the start of your discussion.

When you’ve finished doing your work you want to have helped them solve that issue, improve their state.

And so the purpose of the stories you tell is to provide proof, a narrative of how you’ve done that before so that they can see that you know what you’re doing and should believe that you have the ability to solve their problem.

Too many people spend these valuable pitch minutes talking about things unrelated to the presenting problem.

Not you, not when you have your slips of paper at the back of your mind.

You can draw on the ones that create a linear narrative that provides proof of what you can do.

And you make it interesting by following an arc – a road or through-line – that connects the elements.

Start with the introduction – I’ve solved this very problem in a few other situations.

Provide a build up – for example, I was in this situation and these were the challenges we were facing.

Rise to the main problem – things came to a head because we had to deliver in two weeks and our systems just couldn’t cope.

Resolve the problem – what I did was create a set of spreadsheets that could work with our systems to deliver the information.

Provide an ending – and so we shipped on time and the client was happy.

That simple narrative is often much more powerful than a list of facts or certificates or courses you’ve taken.

Why does storytelling matter in business?

People don’t care about you and what you’ve done and why you’re so clever.

Not because they’re mean or cantankerous – it’s just they’re busy and they have their own problems.

They care about what you can do for them.

But they won’t just believe you – you have to show them why they should believe in you.

And the best way to do that is to provide proof – evidence that they should believe.

And the best way to present that proof is in the form of stories, narratives that describe how you did this, for whom and when.

And it helps if you can make it interesting.

Now that you know how to mine your memories, record them and select and arrange them to tell a story it’s time to find someone who’s willing to listen to you.

Let’s look at that next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

When Have You Helped Transform Something Into Something Better

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Monday, 5.27am

Sheffield, U.K.

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. – Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

Let’s talk about transformation today.

In the last post we looked at a technique to look back at your career in terms of stages.

Along the way you’ve done much, achieved much.

But how have you changed things?

That’s what we need to find out next.

What is a transformation?

The essence of transformation is in taking something in, doing something with it and pushing something out.

You could have a transformation that does nothing – and that could be because of the input what happens in the process of transformation.

For example, if you just pour water through a sieve, nothing happens – the water drains out even through the sieve’s purpose is to hold something back.

But if you use a sieve to drain a saucepan of potatoes you’ve put on the boil you’ve transformed wet potatoes into dry ones.

Transformations are all around us.

Everything we see that’s made by humans has involved taking in raw materials, doing something to them and producing something different.

It’s the most fundamental act of human creativity and every single manufactured thing that you see in front of you right now is an example of how it’s done right – how raw materials turn into a finished product that someone like you is willing to buy.

It’s a concept that’s so ubiquitous that we don’t always recognise that’s it’s happening so it’s worth spending a little time digging into what this means for you.

What have you made today?

Let’s start with something simple.

What did you make today?

What raw materials did you gather and shape into a product that someone else found valuable?

Arguably, everything you do meets that criteria.

As long as you haven’t spent the last eight hours asleep in bed or in front of the TV, you’ve been doing things that involve transformations, even if it’s just for your benefit.

You’ve transformed a sink full of dirty dishes into a sink free of dirty dishes.

You’ve transformed dirty clothes into clean ones.

As I write these words, I’m working on transforming an idea on a slip of paper into a small essay on the subject.

The thing to remember about transformations – the absolutely essential point – is that something has to change.

If something doesn’t change it’s all just talk.

Which transformations matter

If everything humans do is some kind of transformation then which ones matter – which ones create value?

Value is something that is created in the eyes of the person who benefits from the transformation.

The same activity can be classed as a transformation or a waste of time depending on how the observer sees things.

The easiest way to see this is to think about any kind of expert consultancy activity.

The first thing a consultant will do is transform facts into an opinion.

For example, a lawyer may give you an opinion on whether the facts of the situation surrounding your dismissal justify bringing a claim against your employers.

If the opinion favours what you want to do then you might judge it worthwhile.

If it doesn’t, you might judge it worthless.

If you see an opinion that is negative as one that has potentially saved you from spending a lot of money fruitlessly then you might judge it worthwhile.

Value is a layer of perception built on something that passes for an agreed reality.

We agree I have transformed something into something else – for example, an idea into an essay in this post.

You judge if that was worth doing, if it is valuable.

What valuable transformations have you done in the past?

This idea of transformations is something that you need to take a good look at if you want to get started on that new business or project.

It’s not enough to have skills, to say that you can do something and are available for hire.

That’s just a job – one for which you’re either paid a steady salary or an irregular one, depending on how you’re hired.

But it’s not a business.

You have to look back at your career and look for examples of where you helped someone in a situation move to a better situation.

In business, this often comes down to increasing revenues, cutting costs or improving operations.

Preferably all three.

For example, if your marketing services helped a client understand what their customers needed better, created a focused project scope that meant they could make it with fewer resources and associated costs and, in the process, cut down their sales conversion from 12 months to 6 weeks, you have an example of a valuable transformation.

The more experience you have the more of these examples you will have to draw on.

We hope.

Think back over your career and life so far, and list the times when you did something that was transformative and valuable.

These are the examples around which you can build your story.

But what if you don’t have any yet – what if you don’t have anything to talk about?

If you haven’t got a past, you first have to create one before you can move forward.

Let’s talk about that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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

How To Map Your Lifeline

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Friday, 5.22am

Sheffield, U.K.

The path to our destination is not always a straight one. We go down the wrong road, we get lost, we turn back. Maybe it doesn’t matter which road we embark on. Maybe what matters is that we embark. – Barbara Hall

In the next few posts, as we continue with this Getting Started book project, we’ll look at different ways to map your past and squeeze out some insights.

Let’s start with a lifeline.

Drawing a lifeline

You’re probably aware of palm reading – the idea that the lines on your palms have something to say about your life in general.

One of those lines is called a lifeline.

Let’s use that idea of a line that represents your life to take a first pass at what’s happened so far.

Get a pencil and some paper and let’s get started.

The point you make when you first touch your pencil to the paper is when you’re born.

What’s happened since then?

Were you born into a rich or a poor family, or did you have no family at all?

Did life get better – did you have a warm, safe home and all the things you could want – or was it a difficult childhood.

Let the pencil make a record, as you run the past through your mind, going up and down as things get better or worse.

Was school good or bad, did you enjoy it or did you feel like an outsider, someone who didn’t fit in.

Keep going, playing back memories, and changing direction at key events as your life improves or becomes worse.

And stop when you reach the present.

What does your lifeline look like?

Every one of us will have a unique lifeline, the experiences accumulated over our lifetime.

But there may be patterns, the kind of patterns you see around you when you take the time to learn about other people and their lives.

Some might have had a very steady improvement – from being born into the right family to having access to opportunities and taking advantage of them.

In many cases, you have ups and downs – good experiences followed by bad ones – but as you learn from the bad ones and build on the good your life becomes steadily better.

Then again, maybe it’s not good news. Early tragedy or misfortune pushed you down and has kept you down even when you tried to change things.

Or you’ve had early success and an equally spectacular fall and have spent much of the intervening time since then trying to recapture some of that lost glory.

Why is a lifeline useful?

A lifeline is a very simple way of compressing your experiences into a compact image that you can critically evaluate.

Right now, at this very instant, you’re at the end of the line.

Every instant before that, each mark making up the whole line, has led you to where you are now.

It is your history, your story – and where you are now and why you are who you are now is captured in those up and down marks on that sheet of paper.

You could annotate the line if you wanted with the main events that make it up but you don’t have to, especially if the memories aren’t great.

Just drawing this line and looking at it is a start – a way of facing your past instead of hiding from it or glossing over it.

This is what is there and this is what you have to build with.

And maybe it’s amazing and you can go on to great things or it’s not so good and you have some rebuilding to do – either way you’ll get a sense of what you’re up against.

And some of these points, the ones that turn, are defining experiences – the times that have made you who you are today.

Let’s look at what that’s created in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why You Should Look To Your Past For The Way To Build Your Future

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Thursday, 5.19am

Sheffield, U.K.

Study the past if you would define the future. – Confucius

I’ve worked through the first act of my Getting Started book project which looks at where you are right now.

The next section looks at your past, where you’ve been and what you’ve done so far before we move to the future in the last section.

The past is something you can understand

If you want to really understand what someone will do in the future, the best way to do that is to ask them what they’ve done in the past.

The past is a place where you’ve passed through. one that you’re familiar with.

You have memories of the past.

And these are important, the story of your past – your history – is the most valuable thing you have right now.

The word history comes from an ancient Greek verb for “to know” – and brings together methods of collecting information, organising it and constructing a narrative.

This is not an easy task – a narrative can be a list of facts or it can weave together myth and truth or it can be manipulative, a retelling of history to suit the point of view of the person telling the story.

Think of how this works in a business setting.

How would you present yourself at an interview?

You’d probably send in a resume or CV, which would be a list of facts – where you went to school, your work experience, your accomplishments so far.

When you go for an interview you come out with stories, with narratives about your past.

The past is where you go to when you look for certainty and truth – it’s clear and known.

Or at least, it’s a plausible story that you can believe in.

Why don’t people just believe in you?

The next time someone is trying to persuade you to do something, listen to how they speak.

If they’re not too experienced at sales, they will probably be passionate about the future.

Listen to a founder talk about the business – there will be lots of sentences starting with, “You could do…” this or that with our product.

There’s a lot of fantasy in such statements, and the problem with them is that they are fantastical – they’re imagined possibilities.

And no one really believes in fantasies.

Especially if they are your fantasies.

We know instinctively that the future is uncertain

The problem is that we know in our gut that the future is unknown and mysterious.

There are a million possible futures that could be potentially realised, and who knows what’s going to happen.

Whether we say this out loud or not, what we really want from the future is the past but with better benefits.

Few people walk around asking for their businesses to be radically transformed, looking to create huge changes in the way they operate, or invest in huge ideas that could change everything.

Mostly, they want certainty and a few improvements.

Think about the way in which your other half will react if you come to them with a business proposal.

One is based on a get-rich quick scheme based on trading international properties that you’ve just learned about in a small room in a hotel.

The other is based on starting an independent firm based on the job you’ve been doing for the last ten years.

Which one is more likely to get a sympathetic hearing?

Which one is more likely to put food on the table and a roof over your head?

The past is what others can believe in

If you want to persuade others stop talking about the future, about what you can do, and talk about your past, what you have done.

You have probably done more than you realise.

There are skills and experiences and capabilities you possess right now that can help you in the future, if you list them, organise them and enlist them in the service of your cause.

There are also the realities and constraints of the past which will restrict what is possible in the future.

You have to understand these and work with them to build the future you want.

We all have different histories to start with – some are scarred, barren landscapes while others are lush, verdant pastures.

Nevertheless, they are our histories – and we must look at them before we can move forward.

The next series of posts will look at how to understand your past so that you can build a better future.

Cheers,

Karthik

What The Freemasons Can Tell Us About Building A Business Or Career

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Wednesday, 5.23am

Sheffield, U.K.

May the Great Architect of the universe enable us as successfully to carry out and finish this work. May He protect the workmen from danger and accident, and long preserve the structure from decay; and may He grant us all our needed supply, the corn of nourishment, the wine of refreshment, and the oil of joy, Amen. So mote it be.Masonic Order prayer, Wikipedia

I’m nearly at the end of the first act of this. Getting Started book project

If you’ve been following along, what we’ve been doing so far is understanding where you are right now – because that’s the place from where you start.

What happens next depends on two things.

The foundation you start with and the structure you build.

So, to wrap up this first act let’s look at the idea of building and see what we can learn from it.

The foundation stone

What do the words “foundation stone” bring to mind?

I thought of it as something like the first brick, one that starts everything off.

But, it is much more than that.

It’s also called a cornerstone and in addition to being the first it’s also the one used to decide where every other stone goes.

The entire structure that’s built afterwards will be positioned with reference to this stone.

So, it matters. It’s important.

And it leads to the question – how will you lay your foundation stone?

What you’re trying to achieve

The Masonic prayer that starts this post sets out everything you need to keep in mind.

It asks for God’s help to start the work, carry it out successfully, have the resources needed to do the job safely, finish it, and build something that will endure over time.

Is there anything else you want for your project?

This overarching principle, expressed as a prayer, captures the essence of what you are trying to achieve when you get started on something new.

But, to actually get your build done, you need to do two things.

You need build on sound foundations, on ground that will support the structure you want to create.

And you have to have a clear idea of the structure you want to build, have a design that you’re going to try and make real.

When it comes to business that means you have to do two things.

You have to look back at your life and experience so far because that’s the foundation you will build on.

Then you look forward, create a design for the future that you want to build

Then you get started by laying the foundation stone, the one that will determine how the structure you build will be positioned.

And, of course, you want to build something that’s going to be of use, that’s going to be valuable for the rest of your life – because you’ll be around to see it and it’s something that you want to be proud of.

The importance of rituals

The laying of a foundation stone has, over time, become a ritual act.

That’s why there is a prayer and a ceremony.

And this makes sense, when you think about it.

When you do something as important as positioning the first stone, you need to get it right.

And you get things right by paying attention to the details, by focusing on getting it right.

And what better way to do that than in full view of everyone, under scrutiny.

In that situation, everyone involved wants to get it perfect, and will check and double check everything that needs to be done.

In the Freemason ceremony they check and declare that the foundation stone is “duly and truly laid.”

I’m not suggesting that you start your project with a prayer.

But, having some rituals makes it easier to get started.

For example, when you’re writing it’s hard to start with a blank page.

One of my rituals is to start with freewriting – getting down three paragraphs of anything which I’m not going to use anyway.

Once that’s done the words I’m going to use start to flow more easily.

Whether it’s going into an office, the morning cup of coffee, working in the same place every day – all the small habits and rituals make it easier to get started on your project every day.

And it’s with these small acts that you will eventually build the grand structure you have in mind.

But before you do that we have to check the ground you’re building on.

We’ll start looking at that section next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Do You Know Who Your Ideal Customer Is And What They Want?

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Tuesday 5.16am

Sheffield, U.K.

The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself. – Peter Drucker

I said that I would start looking at risks in my last post and perhaps a good one to start with is the risk of spending time and effort making something for which there isn’t a market.

In this post we’ll look at why you’re doing what you’re doing and if its time for a rethink.

Three big reasons to make a thing

Most of the business ideas that I have come across seem to fall into three categories.

First there are the people who build something for themselves – they “scratch their own itch.”

Then there are the people nwho know there is a market out there for what they’re creating – they just need to get in front of the right people.

And finally there are people who create for a market that they believe exists out there – and they construct an imaginary person, a persona or archetype to focus on.

There are pros and cons with each of these approaches so how do you work through where you are and increase your chances of success?

When you are your own customer

When you make something for yourself, the good thing is that you know there is at least a market of one.

Many great ideas start off this way – people creating products and services because they need those things in their lives.

The iconic example here is Apple.

Steve Jobs had a vision of the kind of portable computer he wanted and that eventually became the family of products which include the iPad and iPhone.

The great thing about this kind of approach to getting started is that you already know about yourself, you know how you see the world and what is missing there.

If something isn’t working, something could be better, something would make life simpler – that is something that you could work on as a project.

Eventually you’ll end up with something that works for you – and you might even end up creating something that works for many other people.

Something they want and are willing to pay for.

And find that you’ve created a viable business along the way.

Tapping a market you understand

The second way of getting started is to build for a market that you understand really well.

Rather than thinking of that group as a market – which brings up images of a place where transactions happen with no connection between buyer and seller, think of it as creating something for a community – people that are held together by things they have in common.

The key thing to have when you are creating for that community is empathy – you have to be able to see the world the way they see it.

The easist way to do this is if you are part of that community already, if you can see what’s needed and go about fixing it.

Inside a company, for example, this might be what you call an intrapreneurship role, where you create something new from inside the group.

If you aren’t part of the community they you need to learn about the way they see the world before you can really help.

You have to talk to them, participate in their world and you will then start to build a model of what you think they see.

And if what you see matches what they see then what you make has a chance of being what they need and are willing to pay for.

Building for an imaginary person

Now, most people will argue that they’re creating something for one of the first two reasons – for themselves or for a defined market.

But it’s easy to fool yourself sometimes.

For example, a big part of marketing is segmentation and targeting.

This is all about working out your ideal customer – creating an archetype and persona and listing out demographic attributes, psychographic attributes.

Or, more simply, just saying something like, “Everyone is going to want this.”

I think this leads to two kinds of errors.

The first is to create a glossy, glamour magazine style picture of your consumer.

This is inevitably shallow and biased – based on the media and images that tend to dominate what we see.

The second is to pull together a bunch of factors that make sense in isolation but don’t work so well when you put them together.

A sort of Frankenstein’s monster of a customer.

You might think that this is an exception, but it’s often the first thing many people do.

They create things that they think people will want.

And crucial word is “think” – you can spend a lot of money on something you think is needed before you realise that you were wrong.

Know, don’t think

The way to improve your chances of succeeding is to move from thinking something needs to existing to knowing it does.

If you’re building for yourself, then it’s relatively easy – you can make it, use it, see if it makes your life better.

As long as you don’t fall in love with the idea and can stay somewhat objective you’ll end up with something that might have a future.

If you’re building for a market that you either already know well, or take the time to get to know well, then you’re going to be able to make something useful for them.

The final category is the dangerous one – the one where you spend time because you think or believe that something should exist.

This is the tragedy of the inventor who makes something that no one wants or needs, right now anyway.

And the key to changing this is developing empathy, seeing the world the way someone else sees it.

When you see the world the way that your prospective customer sees it, then you’ll be able to build something that fits into their world – something they want and are willing to pay for.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Click here for the video behind the post

How Does Money Help You When You’re Getting Started?

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Monday, 5.23am

Sheffield, U.K.

Making money, it seems, is all about the velocity of moving it around, so that it can exist in Hong Kong one moment and Wall Street a split second later. – Richard Dooling

In my last post I looked at how taking the time to understand your customer’s customer could help you create a better sales pitch – one based around how you could help them rather than what you could sell them.

I said I would look at risk next, but before that I think I want to look at money.

Your and my money.

And I want to just see how we go about spending it when we’re getting started and whether the way we do that makes sense.

How can you spend your money?

There are many ways to lighten your wallet, but only a few of them result in money coming back to you as well.

It seems to me that there are three good ways and a whole bunch of not-so-good ways.

The first three have varying chances of making a profit while the remainder will usually lose you money.

Let’s see why and how.

Spending on production expenses

One of the conclusions I have come to while writing this blog is that we should start thinking of ourselves as producers.

If you think of yourself as a creative or a writer or a photographer – then you’re thinking about things in terms of what you do.

The only problem with that is no one really cares about you – even your immediate family – who have to pretend like they are interested, but what they’re really doing is waiting for you to finish talking so they can talk about their problems.

I think that when you go into a situation and talk about yourself – your skills, track record, ambitions – people are really not listening at all.

But they get interested – sit up and become alert – when they hear about what’s in it for them, how it relates to what they do and want and are interested in.

If you really want to get their attention you have to start thinking in terms of what they are interested in.

And if you also want their money you have to think in terms of what you’re going to give them – what actual “thing” are you going to hand over.

And then you have to produce that “thing”.

Which is why production is a good mental model for this kind of work – your task as a producer is to take resources and transform them to produce the thing that your customer needs.

Now, this works if you’re your own customer.

If you want to be something – a writer, an actor, a businessperson – then all the thinking in the world will not help.

You have to produce words, acts and products to improve your craft and create a market for your work.

In this kind of situation what you have to do is match your costs to your income, to revenues.

When you have no revenue, keep your costs low, spend as little as possible and focus on producing what your customer needs.

As you start to sell and the revenue comes in, you’ll start to make a profit.

But still, you’re best off investing money only when it’s helping you produce that “thing” your customer wants.

Unless you’re getting something else out of the process.

Test and learn

The one exception to spending money to produce something is when you’re focused on also learning something.

We usually don’t know exactly what needs to be done when we get started on a new project.

There is a period of trial and experimentation and finding out what works and what doesn’t work.

This can take a while – and it will not always make money.

But it will almost always produce learning, if you’re looking out for it.

In this model you’re putting money into a project in the expectation that revenues will come in and you’ll make a profit.

But if you don’t, that’s ok because you will also get some learning out of it.

But you would be wise not to try and get things perfect at this stage – learn to live with imperfections because you can always get rid of them when you’ve learned what’s going to work.

Paying for success

Another spending model you will come across all the time is a commission model – where you pay for success.

The simplest case is when you pay someone for an introduction that later generates some business.

There is usually little or no up front cost but you do have to give the person a share of any income you make as a commission.

What you’re paying for here is a leg up, a little bit of help in climbing a wall, finding that customer, making those sales.

That’s an old and perfectly justifiable way of doing a deal.

Except when it’s not.

There are many business, with financial services among the most egregious, that take commissions on transactions without creating value.

That’s because they make money on the number of transactions that happen – not on the value that is created for you or your customer.

The difference is not always clear cut.

Take estate agents, for example.

If you pay them a commission on sale, are you paying for success?

Well, it turns out that agents aren’t interested in what you make – they want a sale to happen as quickly as possible – because that’s how their incentives work.

You’re better off paying for what they do for you – advertising your property and showing it – rather than linking it to the sale.

Production costs rather than success based commission, in other words.

But as you can see the distinctions get hard fast.

Which is why hoping and praying is a big thing

All the other ways of spending money seem to fall best into a hope and pray category.

Advertising and marketing can be viewed as test and learn in some cases but all too often it’s hope and pray.

Every single get rich quick scheme is in this category.

As are all the ads you see for whatever magical course is on your media feed for the day.

Not for the people promoting the scheme, of course – for them these are legitimate production cots, or a test and learn model.

But if you put your money into something hoping for a fast return, then you’re in this camp.

And the one thing to realise is that if you don’t fully understand how it works then you’re best off staying far far away.

Put your money to work in the right way.

Focus on what you get

The first three ways to spend your money produce something.

They produce a “thing” that people want, learning for you or sales and results.

They also keep you costs low – which is crucial when getting started on any project.

And they help speed up the process of getting results – another crucial element.

But what you have to do is learn to recognise the ways that don’t do that – that trip you up, cost you more and waste your time.

Those ways you have to avoid – you need to see the risks and get around them.

If you can’t manage your own risks, how will you manage them for your customer?

We’ll carry on with this topic the next time.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

You’ll find the YouTube version here with some additional hand-drawn footage.