Why Opting For Safety Can Be The Riskiest Strategy Of All


The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary. – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Many years ago, when I was around ten, we had an art class where we were introduced to Japanese painting.

We used a brush to make swift, sure strokes with dark, black ink on delicate, gossamer-thin rice paper.

Well – that was the idea, anyway.

My clumsy attempts to draw bamboo stalks would have won few prizes back then judging from my performance today in the picture above but it still serves to illustrate a point.

Would you rather have one leaf or many if you were a plant?

Do you ever wonder sometimes how you ended up where you are?

What choices led you to the precise place you now find yourself?

Perhaps you’re fortunate – you have all the things that society prizes.

Or perhaps you’re trapped, with all you want and nothing you need.

We often make decisions not to make the most of opportunities but to avoid risk.

And that makes sense because we’re hard-wired to dislike losing more than we like winning.

I remember reading somewhere that there’s no right way to look at this.

For example, the quote from Taleb derides an addiction to a monthly income.

That’s a bad thing – clearly.

Then again, recently I heard a wife talk about how her husband brought home a wage for forty years – and the stability and life that gave them.

You have stability – and the uncertainty that comes with it.

If you lose the one wage you lose a lot.

If you have lots of little streams of income coming in then you’re less reliant on any given one and if it stops flowing you still carry on.

The flip side to this is that if you don’t have enough then you’re always uncertain about where the next penny is going to come from.

It’s only an issue when you’re comparing bamboo, I suppose.

After all, there are things like cacti that seem to do very well with one very large equivalent of a leaf.

Is there a point to all this?

I suppose what it comes down to is that whether you have one leaf or several it’s nice to be in a position to make a choice about which one works for you.

And that choice is easier if you don’t depend on the leaves in the first place.

So, for example, if you have 12 months of living expenses stashed away you have more freedom than someone who needs next month’s pay packet to pay the bills.

Maybe it’s less to do with choosing safety or risk but being in a position where neither has an impact you can’t come back from.

Which I suppose starts with answering the question “What’s the worst that could happen?”


Karthik Suresh

What Is The One True Way To Do Something?


Monday, 10.40pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Wealth is not about having a lot of money; it’s about having a lot of options. – Chris Rock

I’ve only been fishing once in my life.

It didn’t go well.

The good thing was that I didn’t catch anything – if I had I’m not entirely sure what I would have done as I don’t really like fish.

I also got stuck.

I was by myself, at the edge of a small pond. I cast my line and it hooked onto the bushes on the other side of the pond.

So there I was, with a borrowed rod in my hands, deep water in front of me and a stuck line.

I resigned myself to having to wait for a few hours till someone who know what they were doing came and rescued me.

Then, after a while, I figured out that I could just put my rod down, walk around the pond and get my line free.

So then I was back to the casting and the failing to catch anything.

So, I am not a reliable source of fishing knowledge.

But, the idea of fishing is interesting when it comes to what you do with your life.

And it boils down to having options.

If you’re sat at the edge of the water with a single line then you’ll catch the occasional fish.

If, on the other hand, you’re like the French anglers we come across on vacation – the ones who park their caravan at the edge of the canal and set out a dozen rods – you’re going to catch more than your fair share.

One of them came across to us once and gave us a dozen fish – he just had too many for his family to have.

And that’s a good model – to have many lines in the water.

If you’re marketing your business you need to use all the channels you can – from cold calling, direct mail, referrals, advertising – everything that you can economically and competently do.

If you’re trying to get promoted you need to try your hand at different tasks, multiple areas of need – because doing more than just the one thing you’re paid to do is what results in a lucky break.

The point is that there is never really one true way to do something.

There are a multitude of possibilities and the more you can explore the better your chances of finding the one that works for you.

You can also put up with a lot more when you have options – it makes it much easier to deal with demanding situations and bosses when you know there is something else you’re also working on.

It’s a simple picture really – having one line versus having several.

We’ve just got to make sure we get on with getting them set up.


Karthik Suresh

What Is It You Really Want To Be To A Client?


Sunday, 8.52pm

Sheffield, U.K.

To profit from good advice requires more wisdom than to give it. – Wilson Mizner

The term “Trusted Advisor” has a thin, displeasingly metallic sound.

There’s nothing wrong with the term as such – it’s loved by professional services firms – and popularised by authors such as David H. Maister.

But you’d feel a little too self-promotional if you called yourelf one.

The idea behind it, however, is a good one and it does help you think about your business and how you want to come across to a client.

And Maister et.al have a model, adapted in the figure above, that is useful for this.

Think of the thing you’re good at – whether it’s boiler repair or software programming – you have built up expertise and can get a job done.

At that point, you’re available for hire.

You’re a consultant now. Even if you’re hired by a company full-time you’re still really a consultant to them.

But for any other firm you’re an expert that can come in and do a specific task for them.

From that point, the client needs to think not just about whether you can do the job but what else you’re bringing with you.

Do you work well with them? Can you collaborate? Do you get what they’re trying to do and how what you do fits in?

When you do, they’ll want to work with you on a regular basis.

You become a supplier – not just a consultant called in for one-off jobs.

Then what?

Do you put their interests ahead of your own?

Do you help them get what they need rather than what they say they want?

Do they see you as part of their team – on their side?

As the way you work with them moves from offering expertise to providing insight and as you go from getting a task done to collaborating with them you move from an expert for hire to an advisor they trust.

This model is nice because it shows you a pathway – what happens over time as you go from having your head down getting things done to looking up and doing the right things.

Then, I think, you may find yourself in a situation where you are trusted.

But I don’t think you should try and get trust – to try and force it or manipulate things so you appear trusted.

That’s false – and nothing ensures that trust is lost forever than a falsehood.

It may come down to this…

Start by doing things right.

Follow up by showing the client the right things to do.

Always do the right thing.

And trust, one day, will simply be there.


Karthik Suresh

Do You Act Like A Predator Or Like Prey?


Friday, 9.27pm

Sheffield, U.K.

This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits. – Rachel Carson

Why do I write this blog?

It forces me to ask questions – to consider approaches, options and alternatives – and choose one to do.

Yesterday, for example, I learned that it was important to create links – to try and distribute yourself widely.

So, I thought, maybe I should share these posts more widely on social media.

Today, I’m re-thinking that approach.

For a start, these posts are a first draft. I write them, proof read them, hope they’re ok and send them out into the world.

Some of you read them and a few of you give me feedback in the form of likes and comments.

Now, think of this blog like an organism.

Something that exists in an ecosystem – just out there trying to stay alive.

What could it do?

It could try and adapt – to camouflage itself and be like the others out there.

It could stand out, have bold colours, a loud cry and show itself off.

It could become huge and dominate its space lumbering through with little regard for anyone else.

Or it could be predatory, opportunistic and targeted, going after a target with precision and focus.

At the moment, however, it’s a bit like a petri dish full of uni-cellular organisms.

Each post is self contained, there are few links between them and the topics sort of bounce about based on whatever seems interesting right now.

Okay… you get the point.

Blog – like an organism – but not a big one.

More like jelly on a plate.

What next?

Well,the next bit is evolution.

Let’s take anything that’s at this stage – a blog, a new business, a new relationship.

Can you come along and shout at this thing to improve?

Can you create a business that has the gravitas of one that has been around for 130 years in the next twelve months?

Can you pack a 10 year relationship with this person you’ve just met into the next week?

Or do you have to evolve?

Do you have to go from being an employee to being a one-person business to hiring your first part-timer to your first full-time employee to two, to ten to five hundred?

Clearly not – as any advisor will say.

What you need to do is create explosive scale and growth.

And that comes from getting lots of money and lots of people and shouting very loudly and working very hard.

That sounds quite exhausting.

What does any of this have to do with the title of this post?

Well… it’s one way to think about where you are right now.

Are you uncertain, nervous, looking up all the time to see if you’re safe – in your job, career and relationship?

Or do you pad along, working on stuff you know is important and going after opportunities you want?

Whether you’re either of those or something different what’s happened is that you fit into your environment – there’s a niche shaped just like you.

For others, we’re still evolving – trying to being the parts together to become something bigger, something better fitted for its environment.

And at this stage it’s probably wrong to force it.

It’s better to have one reader that enjoys your writing than many that have somehow been persuaded to share it.

At these early stages staying organic seems a better way to survive.

But if you have a choice right now of choosing which direction you want to evolve in next – wouldn’t you rather be a predator?


Karthik Suresh

What Is The One Thing You Should Optimize For When Marketing A Message?


Your network is your net worth – Porter Gale

It’s very easy to confuse outcomes and goals.

If you want to lose weight, for example, it’s easy to set a goal to lose 20 pounds when what you want as an outcome is to look good when you’re going out.

Or, if you run a business, to set a financial goal of increasing business by $500,000 when the outcome you want is a promotion.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re questioning those last two statements.

Surely the two are obviously linked – you can’t just separate them.

If you lose 20 pounds, you’ll look better and if you add $500,000 in earnings you’ll be promoted.

But here’s the thing.

Neither of those goals are really goals – they’re outcomes as well.

You lose 20 pounds by doing something and add $500,000 by doing other things.

So… what are those things and are they the goals to go after?

Why does any of this matter? Surely you just need to decide on a goal and get on with it and stop worrying about all this stuff?

Well, it matters because of what Buzzfeed found when they looked at how things spread.

Life is not linear – it doesn’t proceed in a step by step way.

The future is a distribution – a thicket of possibilities.

So, if you want to get your message out there what should you do?

Is it the quality of copy that matters?

Can you post something great on your website and expect the traffic to pour in?

No, it turns out. What matters is putting that content out to more networks.

Then, it spreads, from network to network and back again.

From Pinterest to Facebook, from email to Twitter and back and forth and maybe to a completely new platform.

That’s how things really spread and, if you want to get your message out, you’ve got to spend the time working on those different networks.

Which brings us back to weight and revenue.

You could lose weight just cutting out everything but protein.

But, to keep it off, you’ll need a mix – exercise, diet, sleep, water.

With your business, you need email, personal networks, referrals, social networks, media, advertising.

The message is important – It’s got to be a good one.

But it appears that the distribution is even more important.

Which is why after several months I might start sharing these posts on social media again.


Karthik Suresh

What Should You Pay To Get A Customer?


What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing. Lord Darlington in Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan

How hard is to get new business?

Quite hard, I’m sure you agree.

It takes time and money to do research, send out cold emails, make cold calls and nurture relationships.

All those costs add up to quite a lot.

Many of us just see that as a fact of doing business.

Perhaps we hire salespeople and put marketing programs in place. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t – and we’re not entirely sure why.

Marketing can often feel like a bit of a punt – not a science or anything remotely predictable – despite what the experts say.

So it was interesting to learn about the idea of Customer Lifetime Value and follow the thread to see where it led.

In a nutshell Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) has to do with the profit you make from a customer over all the time they’re with you – and thinking this way means you might make different decisions about how you price and sell your product.

An early mention of CLV was in the book Database Marketing and the author, Professor Robert Shaw, castigates marketers for failing to learn key insights and, just not use maths very well.

Now, one of the things is that the maths is probably harder than it needs to be.

For example, A 1998 paper by Paul Berger and Nada Nasr shows you how to calculate CLV in a number of cases.

The definition of CLV is the discounted net profit you get per customer.

That should turn most people off at this point.

If it doesn’t the series formula that follows will.

But it’s not that hard actually.

Let’s say a customer spends $100 with you and is probably going to sign every year for the next three years you’re going to make $300 over those three years.

Now if you’re focused on just the first sale you make then you’ll see the customer as worth $100.

You’ll grudgingly give your salesperson a commission of 20%, pocketing $80.

And after you’ve paid salaries you probably won’t have much left.

If, on the other hand, you knew you were going to make three sales you could give your salesperson the entire profit on the first sale and still make money.

Even better, you could probably get better salespeople who will work just for commission because what they make is larger.

The CLV calculation changes the way you look at things – instead of having a single shot you realise that you can spend a lot more to get a customer as long as you keep them for long enough.

And really – that’s entirely in your control.

Getting them in the first place is hard and painful – they don’t know you, trust you or think they need you.

But if, once you’ve shown them what you do, they still leave then you need to get better at delivery.

But that’s something you can sort out.

There are two things here…

First, understanding CLV properly gives you new ways in which to buy customers because the prize is bigger.

And second, the price you pay will be repaid based on the value you give.

As the saying goes, price is what you pay and value is what you get.


Karthik Suresh

Why The Cages That Keep Us In Are First Built In Our Own Minds


Sunday, 8.49pm

Sheffield, U.K.

They makes cages in all sizes and shapes, you know. Bank-shaped some of ’em, carpets and all. – Bert in Mary Poppins

For many of us a job started as something we fell into and then became something we started to depend on and then became something that the people around us relied on.

How about bosses?

For some business owners a sense of feeling responsible for their employees is a very real thing – something that affects how they make decisions about who to hire and keep and let go.

For other owners – perhaps not quite so much.

But what about employees? How many are loyal to the business that has put food on the table for the past several years? How many would just walk away for a little bit more?

And how many stay, afraid that they will never make as much somewhere else – afraid that they would not get another job?

We watched Mary Poppins this weekend and Dick Van Dyke as Bert said to the Banks children that the person he felt sorry for was their father – caged in that cold, heartless bank where he worked.

And, for many of us, has the modern world indeed become one of cages?

The typical day for someone working in an office is effectively a process of prisoner transfer – from vehicle to building and back again.

You might be your own prison office but the results are much the same.

You’re dragged away from your warm cosy space and transported somewhere else at a time decided by others.

There’s something vaguely uncomfortable about seeing things like that. Aren’t you there of your own free will?

You signed a contract – agreed to the corporation’s terms.

You are there in the way that you are because you chose to be.

Isn’t that right?

I’m not sure. I think the conditioning starts early.

Some people suggest it all started with the invention of modern armies that needed well trained recruits – a structure that was equally useful to create well-trained recruits for businesses.

So, is education really all about equipping people to fill jobs? To fit into the openings available out there?

By the time you emerge, blinking, out of school and university in your twenties what most of us have learned is that we need to look for a job.

It takes ten to twenty years to get good at something.

Some of us do – we get good enough to perhaps start our own businesses, create new industries.

Although that can be a whole new learning experience as many of us have never run a business before.

Others reach a plateau and watch with increasing concern as other younger, cheaper, better trained recruits look hungrily at their jobs.

So, what does all this boil down to?

Well, if you were in prison for ten years, what would you do every day?

Me – I’d read and exercise – preparing for the day when I’d get out.

I’d hope that I’d know enough and have enough health to be able to start a second life.

At the start of a working life maybe the next ten years is just a sentence you have to serve to get skills that someone else values enough to pay for.

If you haven’t got those skills then freedom is likely to be cold and miserable.

If you’re in a cage – so be it.

After that you might think about opening the door – it’s been unlocked all this time waiting for you to decide when to walk through.

The question is are you brave enough after all this time?


Karthik Suresh

How Do You Get So Good At Something That You Can’t Be Ignored?


Friday, 8.49pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up. – Babe Ruth

An acquaintance mentioned the other day that he had been out climbing roofs.

Roofs? Like house roofs? Who does that and why?

Not many people, it turns out. He’d been talking about cave roofs – where you climb and then hang from the roof.

Absolute madness, in my view, requiring more abs than I’ve seen in a long time.

Sheffield apparently has some of the best climbing rocks in the world. And this is the sort of thing people get good at.

And people get really good at things like climbing and sports and music – things where you can win or show how good you are.

Researchers studying such people worked out that they had something in common – they spent years and practised their skill in a way that has come to be called deliberate practice.

The way you get good is by doing practice deliberately.

As the saying goes, you don’t just go out for a walk and find yourself on top of Mount Everest.

If you practice something for long enough you’ll get good. And then you’ll hit a ceiling and really not make much more progress.

In fact, in many professions, you spend a lot of time getting to a certain standard and then stop trying – and the only way then is down.

As I read somewhere recently, you don’t rise to the level of your training. You sink to it.

So what does it mean to practice deliberately and how can you do it?

Ericsson et al tell you how in a long paper – but it boils down to three things.

  1. You need to build on existing knowledge.
  2. You need to get immediate feedback on your performance
  3. You need to put the time into trying again and again.

Seems simple – but is it easy?

If you’re on track to be an elite athlete or musician then you already know what to do.

What about the rest of us?

What if you’re trying to become a better programmer or writer or marketer or entrepreneur?

The starting point here is to realise that you’ll do better building on what you know than what you don’t.

If you never used a computer don’t expect to become a whiz at C# overnight. Or, if you’ve written an essay at school, expect to publish your best selling novel next year.

But… you can do those things as long as you climb the rungs in between on the way.

Then there is feedback.

When you watch your kids’ sports teachers do you notice that they have a game where you need to catch a ball and if you drop it you have to leave the game?

How inane is that? The kids that need to spend the most time with the ball learning how to catch it are asked to sit out while the ones who are good get to stay in and practice some more.

What you need is time – time to repeat and try again and again.

As a writer, for example, you’re advised to throw away your first million words.

Those are your learning words.

Now, I’ve not been writing that long – 445 posts, 250,000 words plus another 150,000 in warm up text. That’s 400,000 words over the last couple of years and I still feel like I’m just learning every time I start a new piece.

And I’m prepared to keep feeling that way for the next ten years because I enjoy writing and the only way to get better is to keep trying.

But you also need feedback and that’s where a coach comes in or, if you don’t have a coach, getting tools to help you coach yourself.

That’s easier in some fields. A programmer, for example, gets feedback all the time when a program doesn’t run.

But what about things like business where there are complex things you do that aren’t easily measurable?

But I suppose the point about deliberate practice is that it has nothing to do with the results of your business.

It has to do with your results.

It’s a way to work on yourself to get good at something – something that matters to you and that you care about.

And when you do that you just can’t help getting better every day.


Karthik Suresh

Are There Really Shortcuts In Life To Success?


Wednesday, 9.32pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It worries me that young singers think you can shortcut the training and go straight to fame and fortune, and programmes like Pop Idol have encouraged that – Lesley Garrett

I was listening to Jay Abraham’s podcast for the first time and he said something that is obvious and yet clearly not obvious at the same time.

Most businesses, he said, do exactly what other businesses like them do.

You look around and act in the way other people act.

And that’s not surprising. For years we’ve been taught to conform, to do what we are told, to say at the table until we’re finished and do our homework.

So we end up looking to those around us for confirmation that what we’re doing is right.

You see this in financial markets – most fund managers want to be in the middle of the pack. Not the best, not the worst – not an outlier.

In a Goldilocks band of not too hot and not too cold – just right where there is little chance of being blamed.

So what happens after ten, twenty years of thinking like that?

We naturally assume that the way to do it is the way others do it – the way we see it being done around us.

So we see websites that look identical, messaging that is a variation on a theme, everyone trying to stand out by doing much the same thing as everyone else.

Are there shortcuts? Perhaps you get there swinging like a gymnast, flying from bar to bar to the top in one smooth motion?

Of course, you need to be a gymnast first.

For the rest of us the stairs are the only sensible option.

So this poses a problem – how can you stand out if you play it safe?

That’s the point at which a quick response starts to falter.

Jay, for example, talks about what you could do differently. For an audience of real estate agents, for example, you could stress that your list can be found nowhere else – that you have gems that no one else will see first.

That, of course, requires you to corner a market, something which is not easy to do.

Or you could stand out because of who you become – you could wear orange like Joe Pulizzi, swear like Gary Vaynerchuck or get a job as the CEO of Microsoft.

Maybe the reality is simpler than that.

Your competitors behave in a certain way because that’s how buyers want them to act.

What they show is what the market wants – that’s why it’s there in the first place.

No one wants to hire someone with a completely different point of view.

For example, there are Government guidance documents that are plain wrong. Wrong in a way that can be proved mathematically.

But, can you convince someone with a Government job to do something differently?

The fact is people will do what they feel is the lowest risk option – not the best one, not the most exciting but the one that is safest.

We’re wired to hate risk much much more than we love opportunity.

And that’s why shortcuts don’t work.

We don’t trust them.

We value a track record, a demonstrable history of achievement and improvement.

In most things the key is little and often not a lot every once in a while.

As Longfellow remarked, people don’t get to the top “by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”


Karthik Suresh

Why What You Know Can Get In The Way Of Getting It Done


Tuesday, 9.02pm

Sheffield, U.K.

To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence. – Mark Twain

Megan McArdle, in her book The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is The Key To Success, writes about the spaghetti problem – a challenge where teams are given some spaghetti and asked to build the tallest structure they can.

Things kind of work out as expected.

The engineers get it sort of right and build something that stands up.

Business students and lawyers spend all their time arguing about who is the leader and don’t actually build anything.

The ones who get it right are the kids – who crack on with it and figure it out as they go along.

Crucially – they tend to be the ones that ask for more spaghetti – and there’s nothing in the rules to stop them getting more.

They just didn’t know what everyone else assumed – that what you had was what you got.

There’s something common about many successful business people. You often wonder how they got to be so successful – and it certainly wasn’t their smarts.

Sometimes, you can talk to them and think to yourself “If you only knew how crazy an idea that was you’d never get started.”

But they don’t know. And they go right ahead and make a ton of money.

Mark Twain’s comment is tongue-in-cheek but it’s one of those comments that is also literally true.

Industries get turned upside down when someone comes along and creates a new way of doing things – something that everyone thought was impossible.

After all, people once thought there wouldn’t be a need for more than ten or so computers in the whole world.

So, should we cultivate ignorance then? Is not knowing stuff the answer to being successful?

And that’s not the case either. Those successful people are smart – but just not in the traditional way. They’re smart about people, about what sells, about what excites others. They’re smart about getting smart people to work for them.

It’s a kind of smart that’s called instinct.

When that’s paired with confidence those people go far because they’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done while the rest of us play it safe and do the sensible thing.

And there are two other things.

One is luck.

You can’t discount the effect of luck in how many things turn out.

And the second is who wants it more.

The lawyers and the business students want to lead the group.

The engineers want to figure it out.

The kids want to win.

In any situation the people who want it the most are the ones who are going to make the most of things.

So, for those of us who do not have Mark Twain’s qualities it may be useful to act as if we do – to stop letting what we know and the fears we have get in the way of what we could be.


Karthik Suresh