The Difference Between Expertise And A Service

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Thursday, 5.34am

Sheffield, U.K.

For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you. – Neil deGrasse Tyson

In the last post I set out a template to analyse the resources you have and figure out what increases them and what depletes them.

If you know this, then you know more of what you need to do more of and also what you need to do less of.

There’s a missing piece – how to list the resources you have in the first place, or perhaps which ones are essential or important – and I need to expand on that in one of the posts.

But first, imagine you have thought a little bit about the resources you have, what does that mean for your strategy when it comes to Getting Started?

How valuable is expertise?

Most of us start in a career and develop expertise in a particular role.

If you think of that expertise as a dot, you start with nothing on a page.

On your first day, as you’re inducted and introduced to what you’re going to be doing, you make your first dot.

And then, over the next few years, that dot representing what you know and what you can do expands, it gets bigger and bigger.

You know more, you have experience, you know how to carry out your task efficiently and competently.

You’re more valuable.

Well, as long as you bring in enough revenue to cover your costs, that is.

In the early days you’re cheap, hungry to learn and willing to work for little money or even free.

The size of your dot increases rapidly as you suck in knowledge.

Then, over time, things start to slow down.

You know a lot, you can do a lot, and you’re paid a lot.

And at some point the balance starts to tip – where what you bring in as revenue and what you contribute as a cost start to look around the same.

At which point many employers will look around to see if there is someone new and young and hungry and cheap who can do what you do.

Now, no one would argue that expertise is not important.

But expertise, in a world where information is universally accessible and costs virtually nothing, expertise has stopped having value in itself.

When I go to the pharmacist, I often know more about what I have and what is needed because I’ve searched the web than they do.

There are numerous places where expertise still matters – you want an experienced surgeon doing that work on your knee rather than the local barber.

But in many other places the expertise you have is taken as a given, it’s what everyone competing for a piece of business needs to have to even be considered.

But, increasingly, you cannot make the case for adding value based on bringing expertise.

You have to do something else.

Get the customer from A to B

One way of creating value is by using your expertise to get the customer from A to B, from one place to another.

For example, if you are a writer, your copy editor will go through your text and look for any places where you’ve used language incorrectly.

That gets you from one printout to another printout that should have fewer errors.

That’s a valuable service, delivered using expertise to move the task of getting a book published along a few steps.

On the other hand you might need a temp to do some paperwork or fill orders for a bit.

That needs someone with a different kind of expertise.

If you focus on expanding your expertise, you are developing yourself as a dot, someone who does one task and moves things along a little – a step at a time.

But that’s clearly not enough to build a business – you need more.

What you need are lines

If you want to build a business or produce a project you’re going to have to take quite a few steps.

Yes, you might start with what you know right now, your expertise.

But you’ll quickly find that there are lots of other things that you need to have and do – and you can’t always just buy them in or outsource the work.

For example, you’ll need to learn marketing, lead generation, sales and conversion before you deliver any services.

You’ll have to deliver those services competently.

Then you’re going to have to bill and chase and account for what you’ve done.

And these top level projects have multiple sub-projects that you need to sequence and do.

But it’s all those small pieces of work lined up and completed that actually create value for a customer.

What matters is lining up all those dots of expertise so that you make a line that takes the customer from where they are to as far along the journey they want to take as you can take them.

You know this intuitively – it’s connecting the dots – but it’s harder to do well than it looks.

But if you get it right you’re performing a useful service.

How to create value

So far, what we’ve looked at is unpacking the idea of expertise as something that is useful – but limited.

A service, on the other hand, is when you line up all those dots of expertise to help a customer get from a start point to further along their journey.

Actually, expertise is just one of the types of dots you can put in there.

All the other resources you have also play a part.

Moving from thinking in terms of dots to thinking in terms of lines is a necessary first step to getting started.

But you also need to figure out if that line you’re drawing is going to be a valuable one.

We’ll look at how to work that out in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Manage Your Resources And Why That Matters

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Wednesday, 5.22am

Sheffield, U.K.

One strategy for getting ahead is being incredibly good at a particular skill; you need to be world-class to stand out for that skill. In my case, I layered fairly average skills together until the combination became special. – Scott Adams

I’ve had two attempts at talking through resources and why they are important.

The first used an accounting approach but then started to get muddled because money is not a good representation of everything out there.

The second used a systems approach which got complicated pretty quickly.

I once tried to explain how a business could grow using systems dynamics to a room full of smart people – but failed entirely.

They looked at me, polite but puzzled, partly because it was complex stuff and mostly because I think I didn’t really understand it myself.

Anyway, today I’m going to take a final pass to see if I can come up with a simple approach to understanding resources because we need to close off after that by looking at competitive strategy and then into marketing as we carry on with this Getting Started book project

Why do resources matter?

Everything you do depends on the resources you have.

It’s the prosaic, down-to-earth, real life thing that will make or break your strategy.

Will power isn’t enough, determination isn’t enough – you need to have and use resources if you want to succeed.

What are resources anyway?

A resource is something you have.

Some resources are physical and some are intangible, existing only in our minds.

That doesn’t make them any less real.

If I were to ask you to list out resources that are important to you, you’d probably come up with things like money, time, knowledge, skills, network and energy.

The management literature includes things like the abilities of managers, relationships with customers and specific process or trade knowledge.

In the last post I tried to differentiate between different types of resources but I am not sure that helps a huge amount.

It probably easier to think of any resource as a stock – something you can increase or deplete.

You can increase your stock of money, for example, by doing things that other people want and are willing to pay for, and deplete your stock by spending money on things that don’t give you a return on that investment.

If we look at resources through that kind of lens – seeing a resource as something that we can fill and empty or something that is charged and discharged – we probably have enough flexibility to consider most kinds of resources that we’re going to analyse.

How to think about a resource

The image above is a simplified template to analyse your resources.

There are three parts to it.

First, there is the resource you want to think about.

Let’s take knowledge as an example.

What kind of knowledge do you need to start and run your business?

Well, that is probably a very long list – and includes things that you don’t know you need to know yet.

But let’s say your interest is in video production – you’d like to have a business based around that.

Some things you do will increase your stock of knowledge in that area.

Studying the body of knowledge that makes up the field is clearly a good start.

But that isn’t enough, you need to practise, to create material and work to improve.

You see what is possible by watching experts and trying to figure out how they work.

And you build your library of examples and inspiration by curating content and building swipe files – things you can go to when you’re looking for ideas on how to do things.

Now, this may seem obvious but how many people really do the things they need to do to build up their resources?

It’s far too easy to do the things that deplete those resources instead.

The simplest way to make what you know obsolete is to do nothing – apply what you’ve learned in a routine way, rely on old methods.

Most managers still use theory that was developed in the fifties.

We’re not even really using stuff that was developed in the 80s and 90s across organisations today.

Old thinking is easy thinking – it’s stuff that we assume is right because it’s been taught to everyone.

But it’s when someone comes along who has taken the trouble to study and develop a better knowledge resource that you realise just how depleted your own stocks are.

And then it’s time to worry, or get motivated and start to work again.

This resource analysis template is very “you” dependent – what are the things you can do to increase or deplete your relationships.

Take a network, for example.

You could grow your network by spending time making individual connections.

You could learn to advertise and spend money to make contact.

You could create useful and interesting content that attracts people to you.

Or you could do nothing and watch your existing connections wither and fade.

Or you could join groups that are polarised and divided, where you spend more time on politics than you do on your business.

All these things go on one side or the other of the resource analysis template – and once you put them down you can’t ignore the conclusions shouting out at you.

You need to do more of the things that increase your resources and less of the things that deplete them.

Use resources to increase other resources

One of the things to recognise is that resources can be used to increase other resources.

You do have to deplete the first resource to do that – but then you come around and fill it back up again.

For example, you’ll have to spend time to study to increase knowledge.

You’ll have to use knowledge to do work that creates money.

You’ll spend money to pay for the things that help you build knowledge.

Your resources are interrelated, connected by the decisions you make about where to allocate them.

These choices matter, which is why getting them down on paper, along with the things you do to affect them, is a good idea.

That will help you look at them clearly, both individually and at the way in which they relate to each other.

What good does it do knowing what resources you have?

This is what we’re going to cover in the next post, but in a nutshell there are two ways in which knowing what resources you have will help you get started.

The first is understanding whether you have enough resources to compete in the first place – do you meet a minimum standard.

If you don’t, then you have some more work to do to get there first.

Then, which resources help you stand out – which ones provide you with a competitive advantage?

Those are the ones you need to develop and build on, while keeping an eye out for changes that could make you obsolete at a stroke.

We’ll get into that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Resources Do You Have? A Systems Approach

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Tuesday, 5.28am

Sheffield, U.K.

Everything in nature is not just a straight up. It’s an S-curve. It arises for a while until it hits some physical limitation, and then it plateaus again. – Ramez Naam

In my last post I took an accounting approach to analysing resources, defining an asset as something that increases your resources and a liability as something that decreases your resources.

It’s not technically accurate, but it’s useful.

But then again, it didn’t really capture the complexity of resources so I thought I would try again in this post and see if a different approach might help.

I think this might be too complex, but if we don’t try and explore it we won’t find out.

So, let’s start.

There are different kinds of resources

The tricky thing about language is that when you try and think about something you start getting drawn into the business of definitions, at which point you should probably walk briskly in the opposite direction.

We’re going to have to ignore that advice for a while.

Let’s think of a resource as something you have – something you can use and draw on.

Money is clearly a resource.

If you have money you can use it to do things.

But, when you think about it there are at least three kinds of resources you could have.

Money is something you can have more of or less of.

You can put it in a bucket and take it out again – it’s what the Systems Dynamics people would think of as a stock – a resource that you can fill up or let out.

Keep that image of a container in mind, as in the above image.

A second kind of resource is your own time – but unlike money you can’t buy more of it or give it away.

The number of hours in the day don’t change – but you can allocate your time to different things.

It’s a balancing act – do you spend your time doing what you want or doing things other people want?

And if you spend more time on one thing, there’s less time for something else.

When I get up early to write I have to accept the fact that I have less time to sleep.

Think of time as a seesaw.

Another kind of resource is knowledge.

The more knowledge you accumulate the more you shine, you might become a teacher, a knowledgeable colleague, an inspiration.

But if you give away that knowledge you don’t lose it yourself.

it’s not like money where you know less if you tell someone else what you know – in fact both of you are enriched.

And it’s not like time, where you have to choose a fixed amount of knowledge – you can fill your mind with as much as you want.

Perhaps the image of a sun is appropriate here.

So, with these three kinds of resource you can see that some can grow and fall, some are about balance and some are simply about becoming brighter.

I’ve chosen a circle, square and triangle to represent these three types of resources – and the idea I had was to see if you could use them to build a model of your situation right now.

Brace yourself, this may get complicated.

Building a resource model

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In real life what you do affects other things, the ripples move through the rest of your life.

Traditionally you use a plumbing metaphor to think about this – you have flows and stocks and as things flow levels rise and fall.

The metaphor takes you down an engineering way of thinking, you can draw lines and start doing maths and pretty quickly you get lost in a bunch of calculations and forget that the point is to make sense of things.

So, maybe we should think more in terms of ripples, how what you do affects the resources you have and what that means for you.

In the image above, the things you can do have blobby, fried-egg outlines.

Red arrows are bad and green arrows are good for the resource they point to.

Let’s say you decide to learn a new skill – like a language or programming.

Learning a skill might improve your knowledge but it might cost you, and lower your bank balance.

It will also mean that you have to allocate time for studying, and this might be a good thing as you’re doing something you want to do.

Eventually, once you’ve gained that knowledge you can create stuff, and maybe that will even make you money.

Or if it’s something no one really wants to buy it costs you – in terms of opportunity cost anyway, you could have done something else to earn money.

But creating what you want to do may increase your stock of joy – a new resource but perhaps something that can go up and down.

And then there’s something like admin, which takes up time.

Maybe you have to do it but that means allocating time for the task.

But then you can use money to use someone else’s time and so free up some of your own time that you can allocate to something else.

What became quickly clear as I drew this model is that everything affects everything else.

The image above doesn’t have all the arrows you need and sometimes you have red and green arrows which means you need to look at the net effect.

And really you won’t capture it all, or you’ll fool yourself into thinking you have.

So, what can you do with this kind of model, how can you make it useful?

Using the model to ask questions

Let’s take a step back from the whole measuring and accounting and weighing way we’re looking at things.

Perhaps that’s the wrong approach to take.

I’ve been trying to say let’s count how much money you have, measure how you allocate your time and tot up the knowledge you have.

If you do that, will it help?

Maybe it will, but what if you start with questioning yourself using this model as a reference?

For example:

  • Do you know everything you need to about your field or are you still learning?
  • Do you have enough money for your basic needs or are you struggling?
  • Do you have time for your own projects or does work consume all your time?
  • Are you happy with your life right now, does it bring you joy?

A simple yes or no to these questions is going to help you get a feel for the state of your resources and what that means for the things you do.

For example, I have spent some time learning how to write, but I know very little about telling a story with video.

If I want to get that knowledge I have to put the time aside to learn.

I can only do that if I have spare time, time that I don’t already have to use earning money to pay for food and accommodation.

It’s very hard to do things that you want to do, the creative things that bring you joy if your income is barely enough to cover your basic needs.

And some kinds of knowledge will help you get money better than other ways, so maybe that’s what you’ve got to get first.

What matters is what you do

The point is that a resource is changed by what you do, by the choices you make every day.

Those blobby activities matter – they are how you change the state of your resources.

And it’s a mutual relationship – what you can do is constrained by the state of your resources.

If you want to get started on a project, a business, there are resources you must have.

For example, if you don’t have the knowledge needed to create an invoice, you need to get that knowledge or spend money to get a tool that does it for you or spend time building something yourself.

Or all three.

This may seem obvious but it’s not easy, not when you’re swimming in the ocean of your life.

You don’t know if the next thing that’s going to come along is a wave that will lift you up or a rip current that will pull you down.

Maybe being explicit about the state of your resources will help you choose what to do next more wisely.

Is this useful?

I’m not sure yet – the systems dynamics model gets complicated quickly but I think that the different types of resources might be a useful insight.

Perhaps we can combine the insight into resource types with a simpler kind of assessment that makes it easier for you to decide what to do next.

Because some kinds of resources are more valuable than others.

One of the reasons I’m going over these things so many times is because most books I’ve read give you simple models that sound good on the surface but don’t really reflect the realities of our day-to-day lives.

If I put forward a theory I’d like it to be grounded, so that there is something you can work off to do something useful.

Just saying, “I did this and it worked, so it will work for you if you work hard!” is not really enough.

Hard work and individual effort are not enough to overcome basic problems with the system.

You have to first change the system, and understanding it is a first step.

One that these posts are trying to work through.

More on that next time.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Assess And Analyse The Resources At Your Disposal

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Monday, 5.26am

Sheffield, U.K.

All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike. – Maya Angelou

So far in this Getting Started book project I’ve written about how to appreciate yourself, what you have achieved so far, and your situation, where you are right now.

We’ve also spent a little time looking at networks, and how to break into them and use the ones you already have.

Now its time to look at resources – a few different ones – because what you can do is quite often determined by what you have.

But how do you work out what you have, how to use it and how that will help?

Let’s look at that in more detail for the next few posts.

Making accounting interesting

Accounting can get complicated when you look into it – but that’s partly because companies “manage” the numbers rather than report on them and much of what goes into a report is interpretation, what you think you can get away with under the rules.

It’s a way of manipulating the reporting of reality.

That’s not really what we’re interested in.

We want to see if the methods of accounting can help us make sense of reality.

And one of the best ways I’ve seen this being applied is in Robert Kiyosaki’s book “Rich Dad Poor Dad”.

The picture above shows the traditional American style accounting report – with a profit and loss (P&L) statement and a balance sheet.

There are four words that you need to understand when it comes to these reports.

They are income, expense, assets and liabilities.

Income is something you get, something comes in, expenses are something you pay, and something goes out.

Now, you probably understand what assets and assets and liabilities mean but Kiyosaki has a nice definition that links everything together.

He writes, “Assets put money in your pocket, whether you work or not, and liabilities take money from your pocket”.

This is not an accounting definition – but it is a very useful idea – and something that you could generalise and use in other situations.

Let’s see how that might work.

What are resources?

If you were to put down a list of resources you have it might include things like money, time, knowledge, skills, networks, partners and so on.

You might include personal qualities: determination, courage, grit, persistence.

All these things are clearly not equivalent.

Money is something you can put in a bank, accumulate, get more of and spend of.

Time, on the other hand, is fixed. You can’t make more of it but have to use what you have.

Knowledge is something you have, or don’t have.

Once you get it, it can’t be taken away from you, even if you give it all away you haven’t lost the knowledge you have.

This explanation is starting to get a little complicated because it’s a mix of accounting, but it’s also systems dynamics, and both approaches are not quite rich enough or flexible enough to really get the idea.

I may have to rework this post entirely to see if I can create a better model to capture what I’m trying to get across here.

But let’s carry on for now and see where we end up.

What’s important is working out what you have and what that means for you.

And let’s work out what that means when it comes to time, for example.

What happens to your time?

You have a fixed amount of time, the same 24 hours as everyone else.

All you can do is allocate your time to different activities, remembering that sleeping and eating and life in general take up quite a lot.

If you look at this through the accounting lens in the picture above, some of the things you do help give you time and other things take time away.

If you think of these things as assets and liabilities, assets release your time and liabilities consume your time.

Or alternatively, assets multiply your time.

How would you fill in your list of assets and liabilities in these tables?

As I thought about the things that I’d put on my list I started with programming.

For most of my career the ability to program has released time and multiplied time for me.

When I was a research student I automated my entire work pipeline, coming into the office in the morning, setting up the flow and letting the computers work away, doing their thing, while I had coffee and chatted with my friends.

Even now, everything I do is made easier because it’s done using programming knowledge that helps speed up the process and does in seconds or minutes what takes many people hours or days.

Another thing that releases time is getting up early or working late – when everyone else is asleep or busy.

If you look at the timestamps on these posts you’ll see that’s the case.

Then there’s daily practise – committing to doing something every day – like writing these posts in the first place.

That kind of daily work helps build up the skills to do the task better and more efficiently over time.

These assets help you do more of what you want to do.

Liabilities, on the other hand, are the things that make you spend time on the things you don’t want to do, or rather would not do.

The biggest thing on the list here is probably your job.

Most people, if they could, would rather do their own thing than clock in for work every day.

Perhaps you have a range of responsibilities – it might include tasks like caring for someone else.

Something you have to do and would feel bad about not doing – but still something that consumes your time.

And then there are all the small time-wasters, the administration, the jobs around the house, maintenance and gardening.

Of course, if spending time with your family is something you like doing and doing the gardening and washing your car gives you a sense of peace and satisfaction, then maybe those things are assets, ways to help you de-stress.

Just like in real accounting, it’s all about interpretation, whether something you do increases your satisfaction with how that time is spent.

It’s not quite that simple, however

If you look at things and how they impact your time then you’ll put them in certain places on your balance sheet.

But, if you look at them in they way they impact other things then you might take a different view.

When it comes to money, for example, is your job an asset?

After all, it gives you money.

And all these things that you do as a hobby – programming, writing every day – don’t make money immediately.

So does that mean they’re actually liabilities?

Or is it actually about what they are at any point in time, just like a balance sheet is actually a snapshot that’s only right for that instant.

A job is an asset while you’re trying to build your business but it becomes a liability once you’re making a decent income from your side hustle?

And things like daily practise are great as a hobby but do they actually get in the way if your objective is to be noticed and catapulted into a senior role in your organisation, perhaps even be the youngest person to lead it?

What you put where depends on what you’re trying to do.

Or the interplay between what you do, what that impacts and what emerges as a result.

It’s complicated and complex – but life is not about easy choices and boxes with straight lines.

It’s messy and mixed up, and you have to work out what it means for you.

The simple answer is usually not the right answer for you in your situation.

Let’s try and address this again in the next post and see if we can build a better model.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

The Nature Of Networks And How To Work With Them

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Sunday, 5.26am

Sheffield, U.K.

Everybody gets everything handed to them. The rich inherit it. I don’t mean just inheritance of money. I mean what people take for granted among the middle and upper classes, which is nepotism, the old-boy network. – Toni Morrison

I’ve used a few posts to explore ideas around communities and how you’re positioned in relation to them.

I Want to carry on exploring the nature of networks today to see what kinds of strategies might apply to your own situation and what to do next.

What’s your current level of privilege?

There’s always a distribution – a range of values or circumstances when you look at a situation.

Take privilege, for example.

Let’s think of privilege as something that gets handed to you, something you don’t have to work for.

Something you get right from the start, from the moment you’re born.

I don’t think it’s the same as what you make in your lifetime.

For example, you’ll hear things like, “the richest 250 people in the world have the same amount of money as the poorest 2.5 billion.”

Some of those rich people inherited their money, to be sure, but an increasingly number of them made it.

But money does show you where privilege exists.

For example, when our children were born we went to two training programmes for new parents; one free and one that we paid for.

The free session had a mix of people, single parent families, clear socio-economic differentials, disparities in education.

In other words, you could see that here were families that were struggling now – in terms of money, education and prospects.

The sessions that you had to pay for attracted stable two-parent families, all professionals, in good jobs.

The small additional cost for the second programme showed me, possibly for the first time, just how privileged the children in the second group would be from the day they were born.

They would be born into households filled with books and resources, with parents who believed that you could do things with your life.

By the time that group was ready for school, the second parents would have invested three, four years of effort and resources into those children, giving them an early advantage over many in the first group.

That’s not to say that the first group wouldn’t try their best – it’s simply recognising that they had fewer resources in terms of time, money and capability – and so children born to that group would have to try more, work harder to overcome that differential in privilege.

So, how do you build on the privilege you have – what does this mean for your life and business?

The power of the network

I’m going to look at this through the lens of network maps – the idea that you can represent your relationships using a structure of nodes and links.

I’m not sure I have all the terms right yet, but this is a first draft so we’ll see how things work out.

The first question you need to ask yourself is whether you already belong to a particular network because of the position you are in – possibly because of the privilege you have.

For example, if you belong to a particular community, will you get support from that community anywhere else in the world?

That’s the way a lot of merchant communities operate in India – they trust you because you’re a distant relative.

It’s something like being part of a tribe – you are part of the network because you share much in common with the others in the tribe.

If your parents are wealthy and well-connected in the business and social scene where you live – then you’re also in a position where you can tap into their network – the old boys club approach.

In situations like there, what you’re doing is organising your activity in a web of existing connections – they way most people get started.

These networks have their dark sides – the exclude people not like them, it leads to nepotism and control.

But we have to recognise that this is how people have operated for millennia – the social, tribal system is part of our genetic makeup.

You cannot wish away reality.

But the positive aspect of such networks is that they dramatically reduce the time it’s going to take you to get started, by giving you access to people and resources that can help.

Instead of the 20 years I suggest you should plan for if you’re starting from scratch in a new place where you don’t know anyone, you’re looking at three to five years to get started and fit in.

The power of influence

You can build a different kind of network around the idea of influence.

If you’re a prominent figure, a politician, a rich person, a star, then you have a lot of people who connect to you.

That might be something that comes with your job, and you have to learn to live with being the centre of attention.

It seems especially hard for royalty – the poster children for privilege.

Influence is a little more hit and miss – it’s something that perhaps emerges as a consequence of what you do rather than something you create yourself.

Unless you’re born into wealth and status, of course – then it’s something that you use or fritter away.

Attracting people into your orbit

Then there’s a different kind of influence, something I think of as an attractor.

This type of network is something that’s been amplified by the Internet – as it’s created the ability to follow people.

If someone creates content you like then you can start to follow their work, subscribe to stay updated.

You’ve effectively started to orbit around them.

The marketing opportunity

I think it’s worth distinguishing between influencers and attractors, as they’re sometimes talked about in the same breath.

An attractor may become an influencer when they try and make stronger links between themselves and those orbiting around them.

When they try to monetise them.

If you aren’t already tapped into a network that will help you, or you aren’t an influencer that people connected with – then you can still access their power by paying for access.

This is the core element of what a marketer does – directly paying an influencer to promote a business or opportunity, or spend time developing a relationship with a network to tap into their organised influence.

The reason I draw a distinction between attractors and influencers is because with attractors, the people orbiting around them are a side effect of what they do.

With influencers, the people around them are also their product.

And attractors can become influencers over time by creating the links they need to monetise their audience.

And then there’s freedom

We must remember that there are people who don’t bother with the whole network, influence or attraction thing.

They are people who opt out of the mainstream – let’s call them monks.

The essential thing to recognise is that they’re free because they’ve matched their expenses to their income – or perhaps even their expenses to the income from their assets.

If you have enough money to cover your costs without having to work, then you don’t have to answer to anyone, try and influence anyone.

You can get on with your life, doing what you want and ignoring the hubbub outside as people try to get started.

You’ve done it already.

This kind of thinking underpins things like the idea of FIRE – financially independent, retire early.

And the less you need the faster you can get to this point.

Figuring out your network

If you’re reading this material then the chances are that you’re trying to get ahead in life – and a big part of that is figuring out what kind of network you need.

If you can tap into an existing one that will make life easy.

If not, you can try building a network, by going down the influencer route or the attractor route.

In the first case you get yourself into a position where you can become well known.

In the second case you make stuff you like and see if the world agrees with you.

Lastly, you can just choose to want and need less – and you’ll probably get to that point much faster – maybe you’re there already.

Once you’ve got some level of clarity on what you need to do in terms of your network – it’s time to think about how to do it.

And that comes down to thinking about the kinds of resources you have.

We’ll tackle that next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Is It Exactly That You Do?

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Remarkably successful people habitually do what other people won’t do. They go where others won’t go because there’s a lot less competition and a much greater chance for success. – Dan Pena

Saturday, 6.12am

Sheffield, U.K.

In the last post I talked about scenes and how to break into them – by studying them first and understanding that community’s culture.

Today I want to focus on the delicate balance you have to find, the narrow path you have to tread as you work out your own place in this space.

An opportunity to learn the business

The place where it all starts is when you get your first job.

Maybe you join the family business, do whatever your parents do.

Or you’ve studied towards becoming a particular kind of professional – a doctor, lawyer, accountant – and what’s crucial is getting that first internship, posting or training contract.

Or perhaps you don’t really know what you want to do and so you start anywhere, doing temp work, to see what you might enjoy.

What seems like a tiny, insignificant step, just a thing you can do until you work out what you want to do next, seems to end up having a disproportionate impact on the next couple of decades of your life.

You often end up somewhere that is directly a result of that first choice you made.

And that somewhere is a community of people with you in it – but it’s someone else’s community, their business.

For example, let’s say you join a law firm as a new graduate, you’ll find quite a strong hierarchy in how things are done.

The partners “own” the firm and get to share profits.

Everyone else gets paid and has a bundle of incentives that are based on their performance and history at the firm.

Everything you create – the intellectual property you generate – belongs to the firm.

As you progress in your career you may get to the point where you have a chance to buy into the firm, where you become an owner yourself.

And then it becomes your business, along with the others.

But that’s quite rare, most of the time ownership is held in the hands of a few people, and the rest just work there.

While you’re an employee your task is to learn as much as possible and contribute as much as you can.

To their business.

What you want and what they want

You’ll get to a stage at some point where you start to wonder whether you’re making a fair exchange.

What are you getting and what are they getting?

For example, you might have received a lot of work-specific training and now you can do the jobs they want.

But what about your own development, what makes you special, what helps you to stand out?

This is where companies start to get reluctant to invest in you.

Most companies will help you get skills that help them.

But if you want to get a skill that helps you personally, why should they fund that?

A classic question that comes up is whether your company will fund a specialist master’s degree in their core area of work or an MBA, which is a more general management degree that boosts your own personal skill set.

At this point, people start to wonder whether they can go off and start a new business doing what they were doing at the old business.

Start a new law firm, for example.

What you’ll find is that it’s usually not that work related skillset that matters.

What’s really important is the whole collection of business building and business management skills no one bothered to teach you while you were working there.

So you spend the first five years of that new business figuring all that out.

If the previous firm hasn’t managed things that well then you might be able to get away with it.

In most cases, however, if you’ve taken knowledge and capability with you and started a direct competitor, you’ll probably find yourself facing legal issues.

Now, all this has to do with the messy business of working for someone else, but what about your colleagues and professional network, the people who do what you do?

You and your community of practice

A similar situation exists when you interact with peers in your community.

Early in your career you might all be doing the same sort of thing – have the same skills and work on similar projects.

Maybe you’re open about sharing knowledge, maybe you’re not.

There will be people within that community who are the shining stars, the bright lights.

Maybe you want to be one of them – but they’re already occupying that space.

So what are you going to do?

You could wait for your time, continue to contribute and be there and pay your dues, wait your turn.

It may eventually happen.

But just like when you’re an employee it’s hard to tell what’s special about you – what makes you different?

Are you just in a pool with everyone else?

Figuring out your business

Drawing a boundary around yourself – trying to figure out what makes you different is the first step to being able to figure out what is “your business”.

I’m not thinking about this in terms of ownership just yet – more in terms of what’s your niche, what do you contribute that’s unique to you.

Now, unique doesn’t have to mean unique over time and space.

It’s unique when it comes to the space you operate in – the colleagues and peers and customers – that you come across.

If you’re the one person they know who can do that thing you do then they know who to call when they need that thing doing.

And it takes time to figure that out.

Once upon a time you had help.

If your dad was the baker or your mother the candlestick maker, you knew you had a business to step into.

These days what your parents do may have very little to do with what you decide to do.

They might be able to help, with advice, with money.

But how relevant is the advice of even a highly-skilled lawyer when you want to build a career in genetic engineering?

How can they help you find your niche?

How do you know when you’ve found your business?

You probably have something you can build “your” business around when you find that you’re doing something that people find useful but not threatening.

If you can do something in your company that others are happy to call on you for, without feeling that you are a threat to their own jobs, that’s a hint.

After all, most people are worried that the others around them are either trying to get the job they have right now or competing for that next job they both want to get.

If you’re doing something that a peer in the space finds useful – but doesn’t want to, or doesn’t feel that they can do themselves – then you might have spotted something.

It’s not always easy to appreciate just how important it is not to spook others – to make them nervous – especially if you come from a culture where it’s all about the individual and showing your own power and control in a situation.

But if you want to play nicely with others you have to fit in and be useful – find your space and place where you can do your thing and others are curious and intrigued rather than being worried or threatened.

And that takes some figuring out – testing what the edges are, how your thing can work for you to build a career, a business, a life.

I’m starting to feel, as I write these sections, that readers could really do with some real-life case studies.

If you’re reading these posts and you’re in a position where you think your experience might be useful or interesting, and you’re open to participating in a research process, let me know through the contact form or a comment.

And if you’re interested in progress so far, I’ve written 13 posts that have around 15,000 words.

I expect around half of these words will turn out to be filler and irrelevant like this stuff right here, which will all come out when I work on the second draft.

But at least we’re getting started on the project.

Which is the point.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Break Into A Scene – Like An Anthropologist

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Friday, 5.20am

Sheffield, U.K.

For a Punjabi singer to find acceptance down South is a tall task. I’m glad I earned their love and respect. – Yo Yo Honey Singh

In the last post I looked at how figure out what was “your thing” was important, and the posts before that were about what stood in your way, both externally and inside your mind.

Let’s say you’ve found your thing, then, and have pushed past the obstacles in your way, what next?

We need to look at breaking into a scene, the value of networks and routes to success – again from a few different perspectives.

Being the new kid at school

One of the things about self-help books is that they rarely tell you how hard it is to fit into somewhere new.

They suggest that if you do the right things, work hard on your stuff, then success is a natural consequence, that the universe will align to give you what you want.

But that’s not always the case. Human nature and the nature of society play a much stronger part in that than we might realise.

Take Van Gogh, for example.

His art is worth millions now, but he died virtually unknown and penniless.

We don’t know about all the people that worked really hard and did the right things but failed to make it – because no one has written their story or told you all about it.

We only see the successes, and that’s a biased sample set – you can’t generalise from their experience to create universal truth.

You’re better off going back to your own experience, how you know the world works.

Like life was back in school.

If you can remember your first day in school, or the experience of changing schools, then you know about that feeling of being out of place, in unfamiliar territory.

Or you might want to join a game but not know anyone else there – and you’re hanging around on the fringes trying to get in.

That’s what life is like again and again – places where there are people who already know each other and have a community going, and new people who are trying to break into that group, to get accepted and recognised for what they bring and do.

It took time to do that back in school, and it still takes time as an adult.

Prepare to work for 20 years, maybe more

Let’s start with the bad news first, there’s no point sugar-coating it.

If you move to a new place, a new scene and you’re different, it’s going to take you around twenty years to break in.

Ten years to find your feet, and another ten years to find your place.

That seems like a long time to wait, and it is, but I think it’s realistic.

Let’s see why that is the case.

From the outside, looking in

I’m going to look at this from the point of view of an immigrant and a person of colour – what’s that experience like?

Let’s say you’re a young Indian student and you move to the UK or US, you’re exposed to a bewildering new world, a different culture, different ways of doing things, different smells and food.

People are infuriatingly polite, they don’t just come out and say what they mean.

They spend a weird amount of time talking about the weather and the best way to drive from A to B.

They’re nice, but very different from you.

Now, race is the most visible difference, and it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that it’s what makes the difference – the colour of your skin is what keeps you out, but that would be a lazy way to think.

What keeps you out is that you don’t know what keeps others in.

Yet.

If you want to fit into that culture, you spend the first ten years learning about it and how they talk and act and think.

You watch and imitate and learn, speak the way they do, see the world the way they do.

It really comes down to learning how to do field anthropology, you’re in a strange new culture and you have to carry out participant observation, you have to join in and act and live the way they do.

And then you’ll start to be accepted into their way of life, their way of living.

This is not rocket science, really.

It’s easy to get exercised about how you shouldn’t lose your culture, how you shouldn’t be absorbed into the mainstream and have to change who you are to fit in.

And that’s all true.

You’re not changing who you are, what you believe in, the essence of your being.

What you’re doing is empathising, learning to see the world the way that community sees it – and when people see that you empathise with them then they open up and accept you, along with what you bring with you.

When you think of anthropology the picture that comes to mind is Livingstone in Africa.

Actually, it’s something that describes what everyone who comes to a new place should be prepared to do – to listen, talk and empathise with the people you find there.

Here’s an amazing course and resource kit from Professor Mike Wesch to get you started with learning anthropology.

*When you’re inside, looking in*xn

It’s not easy going someplace new, and different communities have different ways to adapt.

Many people will go to places where there are others like them.

Many Indian communities, for example, especially those that have a merchant background, will always welcome someone from their own community, put them up, help them with finance for a new business, and help them get on their feet.

There are closely knit communities living in larger, different societies like this all over the world.

You could very easily spend a lifetime in another place and live the way you’ve always lived.

Because you’re already part of a community, and it’s easier to look inwards rather than worrying about engaging with the wider world.

What often happens in these situations is that it’s the next generation, your kids, who grow up in this new society, go to school with others and then start to learn about more than what they see at home and in your community.

Perhaps they’ll try and find their way in the wider world, and they’re the ones that come up against those barriers of understanding and comprehension.

And it’s going to take them time to find their feet and their place, but it might be faster because they started as children rather than as adults.

It’s not about breaking in, it’s about being accepted

There is no doubt that for much of history the story has been about exclusion, about being prevented from achieving your full potential.

Whether its race or gender, there have been, there are issues around barriers to entry and unlevel playing fields.

Those have to be fought and dismantled, and that’s a task for society as a whole and change-makers in particular.

For you, personally, whatever your race or gender, the question is more about whether you are in or out of the community doing the thing you want to do.

If you are entering a completely new world and you are visibly different and don’t know the culture – my argument is that you should prepare to work for twenty years before you really have a chance to get going.

Treat it as a field study, take the time to jump in and learn about their culture.

If you’re further along the path to understanding, you already know enough to empathise with that group, it will take you less time.

And there’s no guarantee that you will succeed.

So it helps if you do something you enjoy doing anyway, where the process gives you the satisfaction you need, and it’s not just about the outcome.

What next?

Now, with all these caveats that it’s going to take time, what are you going to do next to develop your business?

There are two things to look at – the power of networks and what to do if you haven’t got a network.

Let’s explore those as we go ahead with this Getting Started book project

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Can You Do Easily That Others Find Hard To Do

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Wednesday, 10.09pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Carving is easy, you just go down to the skin and stop. – Michelangelo

In the last couple of posts, which you can find by following the Getting Started category in the blog, I’ve been looking at the things that get in your way – both outside you and inside you.

Today I want to look at the things that you find easy to do to see if you’re creating a life and business that is aligned with what you’re naturally good at.

The education system is broken

We live in a world where the education system has been industrialised – like most other things we see around us.

It’s purpose is to turn out workers that are ready for the jobs of yesterday – punctual, reliable, steady individuals willing to put in the hours for thirty, forty years doing the tasks you need doing.

It differs from country to country, of course, and the quality of education varies as well.

It’s worth thinking back to your own education – seeing if you can remember when you first started to feel that you weren’t good at something.

I always felt that I was in the bottom half of my school group, that I didn’t get things as quickly as everyone else.

Except when it came to English, that is.

I could read fast, write comfortably and I enjoyed studying history – stories of the past.

But that wasn’t a good idea, I was told.

The education system I grew up in had a very simple set of choices.

If you were smart you got to study the sciences.

If you were less able then you studied commerce.

And everyone else – well they weren’t going to amount to much anyway.

I, like millions of others, went on to study science and technology subjects.

The one good thing is that we were taught how to study, how to pass exams, how to pretend that we’d learned something.

So, we could get good marks and look the part – but really I learned very little from around the age of 15 onwards.

I don’t think this experience is atypical, if anything it’s probably the norm.

And it probably comes down to the fact that we’re afraid to believe in ourselves.

How do you feel when something comes easily to you?

Some time back I took my children to the park, where they clambered around the playground.

One of them found that he could hang on the bars with one hand, wave hello with the other, and then get hold again and make his way across.

That’s something I’ve never been able to do, even as a child.

The other child had a go and managed to do it – but found it hard going.

The one that found it easy hung there effortlessly, smiling and waving.

That feeling you get when you do something that comes to you easily – those are the things that you should keep an eye on.

They are things that the world may not consider as important, that your parents may miss.

But it’s noticing that your child can do that sort of thing and then giving them the opportunity to try something like gymnastics that might make the difference between them finding an activity they might fall in love with or spending the rest of their lives in a fruitless search for that amazing feeling they once had when they were young.

When you children are little you really should watch for these signs – for the things that they could build a life and career around.

And if you’re lucky you may be able to do this for yourself as well.

If you’re struggling, maybe you should stop

The biggest block I see with people is not that they’re faced with an obstacle but that they are too afraid to put down what they already have.

If you’ve spent years learning a profession and yet more years practising – but you go to work every day with a leaden feeling in your gut – that’s not a nice place to be.

Maybe you feel that if you walk away from it all you’re going to be a failure.

Maybe you hate what you do but you’re attached to what you get from it – the money, the prestige, and that’s what you can’t walk away from.

There are no easy answers to that – but you need to remember that you can’t do anything about what’s happened.

You can choose, however, whether it holds you back in the future or not.

If you’re doing something you love, then great, carry on.

If you don’t, then face up to the fear and ask yourself what’s going to happen if you stop.

And then figure out a way to help yourself.

It’s never too late to start again with what you love doing

If I think about my own experience, the world has arranged itself to help me do what I love doing.

If you like reading, the Internet is your friend.

If you like writing – a text editor is all you need.

But it took me thirty six years to feel like writing was something I could do again.

I’ve always written, of course, and much of what I’ve done professionally has been because I could write rather than the years of engineering training I’ve had.

Maybe I could have written more, published more if I had started earlier.

But, then again, you need something to write about – you have to experience life in some form or the other to get the material for your prose.

Your story is likely to be different – but it still comes back to whether or not you’re doing something that’s aligned with your core capabilities – the things you find easy to do.

Just run through how you use your senses.

Are you visual? Did you take pictures as a child, draw, paint, watch?

Are you auditory? Do you love music, did you listen to others, did you hear everything around you?

Are you physical, tactile? Was your thing sport, movement, dance? Did you experience things through your body?

For people like me the smell of ink and the rustle of paper makes us happy.

For the farmer who pops in notes with our grocery box, it’s the feeling of the ground under his feet, watching for tadpoles and swimming in his reservoir.

None of which appeal in the slightest for me – but that’s his thing.

So, maybe what you have to do before we go any further is answer this one simple question.

What’s your thing?

And then lets see how to build a life and business around that as we keep writing.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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

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Monday, 9.12pm

Sheffield, U.K

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not your fault

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The negative forces on your life

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

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

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

What gets you down?

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

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

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

What pushes you back?

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

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

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

What destroys your plans?

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

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

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

Are you frozen in place?

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

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

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

Is your situation the problem?

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

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

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

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

Or is it?

Your job is to make change happen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

The Dynamics Of Power And Control And Your Business

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Thursday, 8.31pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control. – Epictetus

In the last post I started looking at demand and that’s a theme I want to continue here.

The goal for this post is to help you find out whether you have control over demand or not – and what your options are in both situations.

The oldest kind of control there is

The history of humanity is littered with examples of how one group of people organised things so that they could control another group.

I remember reading how, there was a time in the US where anyone could get control over land – as long as you were the right colour.

If there was a river teeming with fish you could build a canning factory across it and stop the people who had fished there for free for generations from being able to do that any more.

The only thing they could then do was get jobs in the factory to feed themselves.

This idea of a stream and control over that stream is an ancient practice.

From control of trade routes to control of your thoughts – that’s the model practised by every group that’s exercised power over others.

Traditionally, it’s been exercised using formal power – the power of the sword or gun.

But these days technology has created different streams and new equivalents of canning factories.

Take Google, for example.

The vast majority of people – all of us – are like fish swimming in the information ocean – and Google has built a gigantic factory that we all swim through.

Google has huge power because it controls demand – when people want something they start by asking Google and then Google decides where to send them and therefore who will serve them.

And the same goes for all the other mega services.

So what does this mean for you?

How to sup with the devil

You are advised to use a long spoon when you sup with the devil.

The Internet is a huge and complex place and the big businesses that have created effective monopolies in that space have done so because of us – because we use them.

And that’s not about to change in a hurry.

If Google doesn’t like your business you’re probably not going to have a business at all.

So, you do have to learn to live with Google – and somehow find yourself your own stream of demand to control.

But what does that stream look like?

What’s yours is mine and what’s mine’s me own

Your stream of demand is something that you control.

For example, if you have put in the effort to create process that brings in leads on the major platforms then that’s a huge asset.

Most people believe that what they do is the most important thing.

It’s not.

Focusing on what you do is like owning a canning factory – having the structure, the machinery, the people.

But what is it that made those canning factories in old America so profitable?

It was control of the river.

There is a constant dance going on between the people in the river and the people who want to put them in cans.

Every major player, from Apple to Facebook to Medium, need you to swim into their factories, of your own free will and get processed.

And it’s hard to escape.

Is there another way?

Most of us will never have the kind of control that these big firms have.

We have to rely, instead, on finding the smaller streams where we can build our own small factories.

The good news is that while the supply of actual rivers is finite – we’re only limited by our imagination and the needs of customers.

We live in a world where you can create your own rivers and fill them with fish.

Who would have thought, for example, that an idea like the Bullet Journal, would have taken over the imagination of millions of people and created a devoted following.

I have an article on this on the wall in front of me.

The old world is full of examples of people taking from other people because they had the power.

That old world is still there now – we’re still seeing this happening all around us.

But, at the same time, every one of us also has the opportunity to enter this new world where you are only limited by your own imagination.

And that’s a better place to be than any other time in history.

But, what you make of it still depends more on where you are, what surrounds you, than who you are.

Let’s dig into that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh