How To Learn Good Ways Of Doing Things You Need To Do


Thursday, 5.57am

Sheffield, U.K.

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young. – Henry Ford

There will come a point, my dad once said, when you will work for someone younger than you – and how will that make you feel?

The point to ponder, I suppose, is where does your sense of self-worth come from?

Is it from your job, from your role, your title, your seniority, your pay?

All those can be stripped away from you, taken by someone else leaving you with nothing.

What’s left is what’s in your head – the ideas you have stored, and the stuff in your body – the skills you’ve gained over time.

So, how do you make sure you have the right stuff in there?

Select people who model the right things for you

We learn from others and who you choose to learn from is going to make a huge difference to what happens to you over time,

We live in a world where the network effect means that you have a winner take all situation.

What that means is that if someone becomes popular they’re going to become even more well-known as the viral effects of exposure kick in.

It’s easy to assume that because a particular person is popular and visible, that means they’re also right about the things they say.

That’s where you have to be careful and develop the capability to tell who is the right influence for you.

Anyone can sell you an idea.

You, as the buyer, must learn to tell which ones are quality merchandise and which ones are not.

So how do you go about doing that?

What’s on the surface?

If you’re investing your money it’s hard to tell the difference between a bubble and a trend.

They can look the same – a novel proposition, a changing situation, an emerging need.

There might be warning signs along the way.

For example, if you find it increasingly hard to explain why this thing that has an increasing valuation is actually that valuable, then there might be an issue.

Then again, you might just not be as smart as the ones who are piling into the opportunity.

Remember the dot com or the housing bubbles?

People who sell you ideas can be just as hard to figure out.

What you see on social media is an algorithmic assessment of relevance and value – the computer is trying to get you the good stuff based on what it calculates you think good stuff looks like.

So, what you choose to look at matters.

For example, if you watch and entertaining and persuasive speaker’s video all the way through your feed will start to light up with similar stuff.

So, you have to get good at abandoning stuff quickly if you don’t want to be inundated by that kind of material.

And you have to do that, quite often, based on what you see first, on surface impressions.

So how do you go about doing that?

Telling versus showing

One good filter for separating the useful from the rest is to look at what the person is doing with their content.

Some people will tell you what to do – tell you their ideas and why you should believe what they say.

These can be entertaining, inspiring, passionate people who have a message that resonates with you, that feels like it can take you anywhere.

There must be people like this you’ve come across – people like Tony Robbins, Brian Tracey, Gary Vaynerchuck more recently.

The basic message is something on the lines of believe in yourself, work hard, have a vision and goals and you can make anything happen.

Most self-help books come down to some kind of variation on that kind of message.

A different kind of message comes from people who show you what they’ve done, who give you a window into the way in which they think about things and the way in which they go about doing things.

And they do this in a way that shows you how you can do it as well, how you can “model” them – act in the way they act so that you can act yourself into doing the kinds of things they do.

It’s a little ironic that the first kind of message works on your mind to try and make you change what you do while the second method shows you what to do and changes your mind in the process.

The second kind of approach, in my view, is more likely to help you actually change and improve your situation.

But it depends on finding people who are right for you in your situation to model.

And you don’t need to put people into such rigid teach/show baskets – you can still take away useful tips from anyone.

Just make sure that you’re balancing the ones who tell you what to do with the ones that show you how to do it so that you can actually make something happen.

How do you find these people?

We are lucky these days because these people are all around you and their body of work is accessible on the Internet.

I spent years reading Warren Buffett’s work, for example.

His essays are on the Internet, the previous letters he wrote are floating out there somewhere.

You can read the work of a lifetime of investing and travel the path he did, learn the lessons he did.

These days, investment comes down to finding a low-cost tracker and sticking your money in there while you get on with the day job – but learning that can be an expensive process.

Doing the day job well is what you need to learn about now – so who can you find in your industry who does that well?

Who writes well, creates good content, shows good work?

These are probably not the superstars or the viral videos or the things that “blow up” on YouTube.

They’re the thoughtful, reflective pieces that people put out there, showing their real world and real practice.

And what surprises me is how few views they have – but then again I think every one of those views is someone who really wants to learn what’s in that content – rather than the entertainment that you get from something that goes viral.

It actually shouldn’t surprise you that you’re in the minority when you look for content that you can learn from rather than content that tells you something.

Being told is easier, it’s passive, you don’t have to do anything at the end and you can always go back for more when you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere.

Being asked to learn is harder – you can pick up what you need to know pretty quickly – the challenge is taking the time to practise and fail and reflect and try again and learn and go round the loop again.

But if you can do that you will get better – it’s impossible not to, and things will change – it’s impossible for them not to.

They will change because of the actions you are taking and the practise you are doing and the way in which you are learning.

Change needs action.

They won’t change however many videos you watch about how to reprogram your mind.

And action needs you to know what actions are good ones to take.

And you learn that by finding good people to show you how to do it – good people that you can model and learn from.

So spend some time finding people who are right for you in your situation, people who have put their work out there and talked and written about why they do what they do to help others like you learn.

Watch videos, read interviews with successful people in your field, sift through and comb the material for ideas that you can test and practise with and make your own.

Pull out what seem like the main points, the critical success factors and make them part of your own process, your way of thinking and living and acting.

Because any change you make, anything you improve will only come from the actions you take.

And that’s where the profession of acting may have something to teach you.

We’ll look at that in the next post.


Karthik Suresh

How To Make The Shift From Student To Participant In An Intellectual Ecosystem


Thursday, 6.53pm

Sheffield, U.K.

What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others. – Pericles

It takes time to be able to see the same thing through different eyes.

What comes to mind when you think about learning and developing – yourself, your career, your relationships?

Probably a bunch of books, mainly self-help ones – that genre which packages inspiration and motivation and serves it with a helping of guilt.

Books have been my friends, my companions for a long time – the places where I have discovered ideas and approaches and strategies and tried many of them out.

You have to try things out.

And over time I’ve learned that lists of things you want stay in the pages where you’ve written them.

Writing daily affirmations ends with you using up stacks of paper and wondering whether you should throw out the pads or keep them.

Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t.

But maybe the greatest value in starting with that kind of material is that it gets you started.

If you’re stuck somewhere taking a step in any direction probably won’t make things worse.

One area where many of us are stuck – I certainly was, perhaps still am – is the quagmire of culture.

I was watching a documentary on Leonardo Da Vinci which talked about how an idea formed and escaped from East to West in the fourteenth century.

Knowledge, before that period, was all about theology – it was god centric, deity centric,

If you said anything that disagreed with doctrine, it usually turned out pretty badly for you.

The idea that escaped was humanism, a way of thinking that put humans at the centre – and opened up new fields of study about what it was to be human.

Now, more than five centuries later, we’re still confused about the difference between ideas trapped in books and ideas that live in the human experience.

Let me explain.

I come from a culture that venerates knowledge – where books are worshipped.

Which perhaps accounts for why I’ve always turned to books when I need to find out something.

But that kind of thinking has a trap – it pushes you towards thinking that the stuff that’s written down is knowledge.

It takes some time to realise that’s knowledge for a particular time and place – not knowledge for the ages.

And I learned that lesson the expensive way.

If you are a fan of investing you may have come across the work of Benjamin Graham, who developed an approach to value investing in a time of social and economic crisis.

Some of his fame comes from having had Warren Buffett as a student.

Buy bargains, he said.

Around seventy years later, I tried doing what he said.

With real money.

And I lost a lot of it.

That was an expensive lesson – but a worthwhile one because it helped me change my approach when it came to investing money I couldn’t afford to lose.

A more modern approach to knowledge sees it as rivers of dialogue – a continually constructed reality held in the minds of a community.

That community holds useful knowledge, some of which is established lore, some of which comes along and upturns certain principles – which are then removed from the group consensus over time.

It’s that image of a party, where lots of people are talking and the conversations are the knowledge.

In that image modern social media stops being a distraction and turns into the manifestation of a community.

If knowledge is held in a community and that community shares its thinking on social media – then what is held in social media is the knowledge you want.

Not the stuff locked in books or papers or institutions.

So what, you ask yourself – what’s the point of all this?

For me, the point is quite important – it marks a major shift in the way I think I should view knowledge.

I should put down my books.

And I should engage more with the communities that talk about the things I’m interested in.

If you want to do that it’s not going to happen quickly.

Communities form over time, they accept newcomers in a more or less friendly way depending on how you act.

If you come in as a know-it-all then you’ll probably be ignored.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to join a group in a playground.

And that way doesn’t change when you leave primary school.

Hang around the edges, make a few contributions, positive ones, and wait to be invited in.

Because, in sharp contradistinction to what your parents told you all your life – what you really should do is stop studying and go to the party.


Karthik Suresh

How To Use Bloom’s Taxonomy As A Learning Framework In Your Company


Friday, 9.33pm

Sheffield, U.K.

You live and learn. At any rate, you live. – Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless

Over the last few weeks I’ve discovered that teachers think in a different way to the rest of us.

I never found school that useful – nor university.

I learned the most from doing work – from struggling with a problem and working at it till I found a way to solve it.

The one thing I had learned early on was that what mattered was patience – patience to look at a problem for as long as it took.

Just look at it.

And eventually it will blink – and give way.

Clearly after a while you can’t do that with every problem – you have to get better at telling the important problems from the ones that don’t matter.

Now, what teachers are taught that we don’t know are theories of learning – models of how to help students learn material.

Now, what do you see when someone “learns” something – what does that mean?

It’s important to be clear about that – because you’ll get what you train for.

For example, if you want to train your administrative staff in a particular task – what exactly do you want them to be able to do?

On the other hand if you want to take a promising senior consultant on as a partner, what do you want her to be able to do?

What does a lecturer aiming to become a tenured professor need to be able to do?

The things you want to see are probably somewhere on the continuum proposed by Benjamin Bloom which is a core part of many approaches to learning.

This approach is called Blooms Taxonomy and is often shown as a pyramid of skills.

I’ve shown an adapted model that’s based on the 2001 edition.

The first thing you want people to be able to do is remember – do tasks in a certain way.

Remember, for example, to answer the phone with a standard greeting every time.

The next thing you want them to do is understand – get a handle on the things they need to do and why they need to do it.

So, you explain that they need telephone skills and writing skills and analytical skills.

The next thing you want them to do is apply those skills – get better at having conversations, drafting emails and longer documents and using spreadsheet models.

This is where the vast majority of instruction tends to stop in the vocational space.

This is what you need to get the job done – remember, understand and apply.

But, if you want to climb the management ladder or if you are in a career that requires you to do more than just what’s in the job description, you have to keep going around the taxonomy.

The next thing is being able to analyse – to tease out from the mess that is real life a way to look at it – perhaps a different way.

This is the kind of thing when someone takes a task that they have been given – say update a model in Excel – and says this is stupid and I have a better way to do it.

And they go off and automate the job and now something that used to take a week gets done in 30 seconds.

There’s a lot of that kind of stuff out there in the real world.

But then what happens is people learn different approaches and start to believe in them – like the people who believe in Agile versus the people who believe in Waterfall as software development methodologies.

Belief is the thing that stops you – but the thing that lets you keep going is learning how to evaluate.

The ability to evaluate is the ability to think critically about something – to compare and contrast different approaches.

For example, in the picture above you can see that the learner was taught that squares were the way to do things.

Then, they discovered triangles.

Now triangles are the way – the square is the way of the old and the triangle is the sharp new thing.

Think about squares as currency markets and triangles as cryptocurrency and you’ll see the difference.

If you understand these different approaches then you will be in a position to reconcile them, to innovate on them.

To, in other words, create.

If you look back at the image you’ll see that you learned about a box and applied that to build a house.

It was useful at the time but now, in the create phase, you’ve come up with a better model to represents that house by combining what you learned with what you came up with in the analyse phase.

And now you’re back at the beginning, trying to teach that new model to other people.

And the first thing you will want them to do is remember.

The beauty of this model is that once you know what you want your learners to be able to do once they complete your course – you can pitch it at the right level.

At a level where you will get an outcome that makes them more effective in your business.

Which is good for them – and you.


Karthik Suresh

Who Is It That You Are Doing Your Work For?


Friday, 9.19pm

Sheffield, U.K.

‘Are you offering to teach me something?’

‘Teach? No,’said Granny. ‘Ain’t got the patience for teaching. But I might let you learn.’ – Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

Who is at the centre of your work – who is it that you do your work for?

This is actually not the easiest thing to figure out, because we have a habit of fooling ourselves.

There are three choices that come to mind.

First, you’re doing what you’re doing for a client, like building a new system.

You might be doing something for yourself, such as creating a work of art.

Or you’re doing something for someone in a position of power – your boss or an official.

And depending on who is at the centre of your endeavour, you’ll create different structures and ways of doing things.

A good example is to look at how schools work.

Are they designed to give kids the education they need?

Or are they a way to give teachers a job?

Or are they a way for the government to demonstrate its investment in education?

It could be any of the three to different people in different situations associated with the delivery of teaching to children.

Now what happens is that you create a structure to make the person at the centre happy.

If the person at the centre is the minister for education who needs statistics on how well all the schools are doing – then you’ll find that managers will focus on metrics that can be measured and ask teachers to teach those things.

The kids might not enjoy those things, but they’re not the ones that matter in this system.

Some teachers will still persist in the belief that their real clients are the kids, but they still have to deal with the metrics and stats if they want to keep their jobs.

So they follow a two track system, teaching to the test and also trying to teach their children something useful.

This is not something new.

I remember a teacher of mine telling a story of a teacher of his decades ago.

Apparently this teacher spent the first few weeks of the term getting the children to copy down everything they needed to pass the tests.

And then he said it was time to get an education, and they started doing useful and interesting stuff that they enjoyed learning.

I suppose the thing is that you always have to look at the incentive, look for who benefits and how to see why things work the way they do.

Most people in businesses are focused on keeping their bosses happy, not their customers.

We write marketing material to keep people inside the business happy rather than for prospects who have questions they want the copy to answer.

Now, when you want to try and change the conversation, you talk about a “something” centered approach.

A client centered approach, a child centered approach.

But how much of that is talk and how much is reality?

Some of it comes down to the difference between learning and teaching.

Teaching is something you do to someone else – it’s probably something you get paid for.

Learning is something people do for themselves, and sometimes they seek out a teacher.

How do you become the kind of teacher people seek out?

Probably the same way you create a service that people seek out, or a business that customers seek out.

By putting them at the centre of your work.

And that is a very hard thing to do.


Karthik Suresh

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