Why It Makes Sense To Reset Things To An Optimum Point


Wednesday, 9.36pm

Sheffield, U.K.

People in Bali understand: in order to be happy you must always know where you are. Every moment. Right here is perfect balance. Right at meeting of Heaven and Earth. Not too much God, not too much selfish, otherwise, life too crazy. – Ketut in Eat Pray Love

I watched Eat, Pray, Love today – because I had some time – and sat up at the point where Ketut, a medicine man, drew a picture of a cross with a circle in the middle and said the words quoted above.

The camera moved on quickly.

Was there more to the picture?

The Internet doesn’t say, so I’ve added bits to the picture and perhaps they’ll make sense.

This idea of balance is interesting.

There isn’t a perfect place you reach, where all is good.

Instead, you’re constantly balancing everything.

You’re balancing your need to find meaning and purpose with your need to eat and house your family.

How many stories have you heard of people achieving staggering wealth and losing their families on the way?

After all, if you walk along looking down at your feet or up at the skies you’re far more likely to get run over than if you’re looking straight ahead.

So, we have heaven and earth on one axis. What about the other?

Perhaps it has to do with what’s inside and what’s outside.

Some people take good care of what’s on the outside – their looks, their bodies, their environment but have doubts and uncertainty inside.

Others are the opposite – they spend so much time thinking about what’s inside that they miss what is all around them.

So, the aim is to navigate back to the centre, to that place where we’re in balance.

And that’s easier said than done.

You can, however, approach the issue from the side – creep up on it without being noticed.

Take good habits in the kitchen, for example.

The French idea of mise-en-place is about having the right things so you can use them in the right order.

The Japanese have Kichiri – the art of having things exactly, perfectly straight – with everything set out either parallel or at right angles to everything else.

Or take your computer desktop – when you’ve got everything closed except what you’re working on aren’t you much calmer than when there are tens of windows trying to get your attention?

Stress, anxiety, worry – in many cases your body must be telling you that you’re out of balance.

You need to do more of something and less of something else.

There is an argument that you get to balance by taking the average of extremes.

Today you break your back pushing your body to extremes.

Tomorrow you take the day off and don’t bother getting out of bed.

And maybe that’s true – it’s simply two points on the chart rather than a circle in the middle.

I heard someone say “The devil’s in the defaults”, which appears in The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World by Laurence Scott.

So I guess where one should start is by working out where your defaults are set right now.

Do you spend all your time focused on what to do next and what your boss wants?

Or do you think about what you want to do?

Are you so lost in ideas and possibilities that you want to do that you forget to take action?

Or are you enraptured by a movement or ideology to the point of zealotry?

It’s only when you know where you are and how far away you are from the centre that you can start to think about shifting your position.

And that takes awareness – awareness of yourself and what’s around you.

Something many of us are too busy to spend time on.


Karthik Suresh

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’s The Biggest Marketing Mistake You Can Make?


I do uphill skiing; I don’t do downhill skiing. I think that’s for nerd amateurs. – Judah Friedlander

What is it that means some people struggle to sell their time at $10 an hour and others are fully booked at $10,000 an hour?

As you know platforms are the big thing now – you can get people from all over the word to bid for your work and get amazing results.

Or can you?

I’ve not seen that really. I’ve had some competent work and some pretty shoddy work. But because it was cheap it wasn’t really worth worrying about.

And that’s the thing about how you think about what you do.

If you’re cheap people will take a punt because they haven’t got much to lose but you’ll still be under the same pressure to perform as you would be if you were paid ten times as much.

In most professions it doesn’t take you any less time to service a small account than a big one.

That means it’s almost always a good idea to raise prices – to charge more than you think the market will bear.

But then, you’re asking, why would anyone pay that?

Let’s say you charge $300 a day at the moment. Why would anyone pay you $900 a day?

What is it you do that justifies that level of pay when others are doing the same job for $300?

If you’re asking that – then you’re asking the wrong question.

The point is that the value in what you do is not in the job you do.

It’s in what happens after the job is done.

If you think about your time as worth a fixed amount that’s thinking about it all wrong.

Your time is actually worth a share of what happens when you’ve spent it.

If you spend your time digging a hole you end up with a hole.

The value of that hole depends on whether you’re now going to chuck some rubbish in or whether there’s a vein of gold in there somewhere.

Boiling this down what this means is you’re on commission and whatever you’re paid is a percentage of the value you create.

If what you do saves someone $30 an hour then they’ll pay you $10.

If you save them $30,000 then you’ll get your $10,000.

But this is where the marketing problem comes into play.

If you say to someone “Give me $10,0000, and I’ll do some work that will make you three times that”, their first reaction will be “How can I be sure of that?”

And this is where you can go in one of two ways.

You can make it hard for them to be sure – create a road filled with potholes of uncertainty.

Or you can remove all the risk they can have.

For example, you might be very clear that you do everything at your own cost and risk and only get paid if you’re successful.

What if you’re too successful?

Maybe you cap the amount. Give the person a chance to buy you out.

But whatever you do you have to make it easy for them to buy.

And that’s harder than it looks unless you are totally clear that the customer getting the benefit they’ve been promised comes first – ahead of anything you get.

It’s very easy to make things hard – but what you’ve got to make sure you do is go the other way.


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

What Is It We’re Trying To Do Here Anyway?


Saturday, 8.22pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child. – Pablo Picasso

My eye fell on a copy of Brutal Simplicity Of Thought: How It Changed The World at a charity shop today and, when browsing through it, stopped at a line drawing by Picasso of a camel.

Well, actually it’s a single line, which gets across the idea of a camel well enough that I, several hours later, can reconstruct it from memory as you can see above.

And this line drawing has revealed something to me that I just hadn’t seen until now.

If you’ve been reading these posts you’ll remember that I got a little angsty sometime back about being too theoretical and not having enough hard, practical stuff in here.

Others seem to do it much better.

Tim Ferriss, for example, is all about routines and habits and precise doses of complex chemical compounds.

Tim Urban at Wait But Why has long-form posts that go into complex topics in depth.

Writers like Seth Godin dominate marketing strategy and John Carlton delivers much needed straight talk about copywriting.

What makes this blog different from those? what is it that I can do that adds to the world of knowledge we live in?

And to answer that I have to go back a few years to when my eldest child was born.

If you’ve had contact with children you’ll know that they’re not very rational about most things.

The whole crying and making a fuss thing works so well for them that any “adult” way of dealing with it soon fails.

So, when I wanted to get something across I would draw with the sprog – something we called Drawing A Story.

We’d sit down and draw situations and people and emotions and interactions and try and talk about them.

And when we did that interesting things happened.

For example, a three-year old, it appears, doesn’t seem to have the capacity to understand the golden rule.

If you show the kid a drawing of a big kid laughing and being mean to a small one and ask them how they would feel if they were the small one they’ll probably say sad – tearful.

The big kid on the other hand is having fun – and they can see that as well.

What’s a little harder to compute is that if they’re the big kid they shouldn’t be mean to the small one because if they were small they’d feel bad.

In other words – the whole do unto others the way you would have them do unto you doesn’t seem to be wired into their brains yet.

So, in cases like that, you have to lay down the law and make not being mean a rule rather than appealing to the child’s better nature.

Anyway… I discovered that drawing was a way to discuss quite complex things with a child and explore the limits of their understanding and, for that matter, my understanding as well.

And when I started a management degree it turned out that using drawings to discuss ideas with a three year old worked just as well when discussing ideas with a thirty-three year old.

What’s happened since then is that simple drawings – situations, people, structures, relationships – have become the way I try to learn and understand ideas and concepts.

What Picasso was doing was reducing art to a kind of essentialism – down to lines and form.

What minimalists do in life is try and reduce their possessions to the essentials – what they need to live and survive and be happy.

I think what I’m doing is working towards a kind of intellectual minimalism – to understand ideas and concepts that might help us live better in a way that I can explain to my children by drawing a story.

After all, we live in a world where things last for ever and the clutter builds up – physical clutter, intellectual clutter and media clutter.

But the world is full of great stuff, thoughts and ideas that can help us live better lives, create better businesses, communicate with others better and focus on the thing that matter.

And maybe what I’m trying to with this blog is help us see things with that child-like vision – that beginner’s mind – which is the foundation for real understanding.

And hopefully that is a useful thing to do.


Karthik Suresh