Why You Should Tell Your Story – Many Many Times


Saturday, 5.48am

Sheffield, U.K.

When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story’s voice makes everything its own. – John Berger, Keeping a Rendezvous

There is just one thing I have to say about marketing.

Tell your story

All you have to do when you want to get started with a new project – building a business, moving your career on – is tell your story.

If you’re not used to doing this, be warned, it’s going to take some time until you feel like you’re getting it right.

So start telling stories five, ten years before you think you’re going to be ready.

Because every good story is about your life, and it starts, “Once upon a time,”

Why marketing yourself comes down to stories

Think back to a few hundred thousand years ago, when our ancestors first huddled around a fire in a cave.

Imagine a hunter, standing at the cave wall, putting the final touches on a drawing of the day’s hunt – the animals, the chase, the trap, the kill.

One image – there’s no Powerpoint, no fancy visuals – just the scene.

Imagine the story of the hunt, told by the hunter, perhaps with a few embellishments – perhaps the buffalo are a little larger than in real life, perhaps the snakes a little more vicious.

But it’s the story of their life, their day, the animals, the chase, the trap, the kill.

And the audience listened, with rapt attention, lit by flickering firelight, to the story, learning and being entertained.

We’re not really that different from those people – a few hundred thousand years doesn’t make that much of a difference in our genetic makeup.

Flickering firelight, or the mobile screen, will draw us in every time.

What will keep us there is story.

So what’s your story?

The story mountain

Let’s go back to the first year of school where you learned about story mountains.

You go up and down the story mountain, starting with an inciting event – an introduction, and then build up the story until you reach the top – the problem. Then you have a resolution to the problem and an ending.

It sounds really dull when you put it that way – and it’s even worse when you apply it to your business as in the image above.

Your story starts with an opening, an introduction to you. You move on to make an assertion and build up to an example that sets out the problem or problems your clients typically face. You then talk about how you solve that problem – showing the result you get and providing proof and then you move on to the next step.

You’ll see this pattern in almost every YouTube advert out there, except people will normally start with the assertion (I’m going to show you how easy it is to make money on Amazon) and then do a build up including an intro (Hello, I’m Jane Bloggs, and I started with nothing).

Now, the thing to remember about things like story mountains is that they are an artefact – something created after the fact.

First lots of people told stories and then someone said, “Hey, look at this, it looks like there is a pattern here that all the good stories follow.”

And for your business the most important element of the pattern is that when you say something – make an assertion – back it up with an example.

For example, if you’re a video production company, then when you say something like “We specialise in videos showcasing manufacturing processes,” you follow up with, “For example, here’s one we did for ABC manufacturing that helps you understand how their complex machinery works.”

You probably already do this naturally, if you’ve spent any time already in a sales role.

If you haven’t, the idea is not to do this mechanically, but to start doing it intentionally.

Start being intentional about following your assertions with a proof point, something that helps to demonstrate that you know what you’re doing.

When you do that you’ve created a mini story, something that the listener can follow along with – and what happens when a listener hears your story is that they recreate it inside their own heads – they make it their own.

Now you are a part of their story, and you’ve just marketed your way in there.

Next steps

I can’t tell you what tools and methods to use in your particular situation – I don’t know enough about you.

But I can give you a prescription to take, which goes as follows:

  1. Understand yourself, your idea, your business
  2. Apply your understanding, learn through practice on the job or with projects
  3. Condense what you’re learning, find the nuggets that matter.
  4. Explain that condensed version – to yourself, to anyone who will listen to you face to face

Then, when you’re ready to face the world and market yourself:

  1. Select a medium you like communicating in – writing, audio, video.
  2. Make something every day.
  3. Look back at what you’ve made, reflect on it – see what you did well and what you can improve.
  4. Revise it in light of that reflection, if you can.
  5. Publish it.

But, you ask, what about quality, finish, polish, sound, video, editing, music?

That’s up to you – but remember that every additional thing you do makes it harder for you to get your marketing message out.

If you can do it by firelight using a cave wall then do it.

If you need to spend ten hours on fancy animation – then do it – but accept that you will probably be able to do less.

Quantity often leads to quality over time, but a focus on quality at the beginning can be paralysing because of the amount of effort you need to put in.

So start simple, start with what you already have, start with the simplest possible setup and technology.

But start.

The good news is that the vast majority of people will not do the doing – the minute you start intentionally working on telling your story you’ll start to set yourself apart.

And when you have this story to tell, in the early days, you will need some help getting it out into the world.

That’s where your friends and other complementary organisations come into the picture.

We’ll talk about them next.


Karthik Suresh

Taking The First Step Towards Marketing Yourself


Friday, 5.37am

Sheffield, U.K.

Here’s my whole marketing idea: treat people the way you want to be treated. – Garth Brooks

What comes to mind when you think about the word “marketing”?

Do you think social media ads, brochures and flyers, the video ads you see on TV and YouTube?

Is it your website, the branding, the images, the logo, the customer service, the technology, the network?

And it is all of those things, but what are we trying to do, what’s the essential purpose of all this activity?

Isn’t it to have a conversation with someone else?

Starting a conversation

When you first start marketing something new it’s a little like speaking in a dark room – trying to find out if there is anyone out there listening.

Conversely, it can be like entering a very busy and noisy room and trying to get someone’s attention.

Some people are naturally gifted at this – they seem to somehow make themselves the centre of attention.

They’re witty, charming, amusing and everyone loves them.

They’re born networkers, connectors, the kind of people who know everybody.

Some of us don’t like crowds, we shy away from large gatherings.

We’re much better at one-on-one conversations, at private reflection and are quite happy being by ourselves.

And there’s a range of people in between these two extremes, all the diversity of humanity, each of us trying to figure out how to have meaningful conversations with others.

Having Authentic Conversations

When you look at every marketing encounter you see around you in terms of a conversation, then which ones do you feel are authentic ones?

“Authentic” can be a tricky word. It’s been made popular, but what does it really mean to be authentic?

It’s not something you are, but something people feel about the way in which you come across to them.

Human beings are smart, they’re the product of a harsh evolutionary history that needed them to be in order to survive.

They can see when you’re being real and when you’re not, even when you use all the tools and technology at your disposal.

For example, there are a number of “laws” of persuasion that you can use to get people to act the way you want – to influence their behaviour.

Much of the history of marketing is littered with these methods, from spam email to pop-up boxes to cold calls to doorstep salespeople.

They work when your goal is to work with numbers, when you want to target a large number of people in a methodical way and you’re looking for a very small conversion rate that makes you your return.

If a few people buy you’re regained your investment.

They also work when your product is the person – like most multilevel marketing programmes.

The basic idea behind these programmes is that you get people to buy the idea that they’re selling a product when in fact the real money is in selling the programme to other people.

That’s not the kind of business this post is aimed at.

The kind of business we’re looking at here is one that is trying to build a customer base that’s going to stay and grow over time.

If you want to be an effective consultant, a good service provider, an innovative product creator, then you need to think about your customers as individuals who are going to work with you over the long term – and they need the real you, the authentic you – the person you can be over that length of time.

Not a person who is always desperately trying to keep a mask on.

Tools and strategies

It’s easy to avoid hard questions like “what do you do, really?” and focus instead on tools and systems and technology.

But tools and systems and technology will not make up for a lack of the core “why”, why should someone be interested in what you have to offer?

To answer that question you first need to understand the questioner, understand what they’re looking for in the world around them.

Then you answer the question.

Your success depends on how well your answer works for them.

No amount of technology will make your response better.

The font in which you write it, the timbre of your audio, the clarity of your video, the dizzying visuals you use – all of these things are decoration but the thing that matters is that answer you give.

All too often people think that they can come up with any old idea and then push it to marketing – it’s now their job to package it up and sell it.

But that’s not marketing – that’s the artistry around graphic design and media production and technology integration – they are all the components of a modern, integrated marketing system.

But you don’t need all that to create a message is clear and simple and says why a prospect should be interested enough in what you have to offer to start a conversation with you.

Crafting a message

How do you craft that clear and simple message?


You do it, reflect on what you’ve done and work on improving it.

No one comes out with a clear and compelling proposition that works for their entire market the very first time.

Marketing is, like everything else we do, a process of trial and error and progressive refinement.

Start with a message – what you think you do.

Say it – to yourself, to other people.

Study yourself, study their reaction.

Think about what you could change, change it and try again.

It really is that simple – test and learn and refine and try again.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

We all know that writing multiple drafts improves the quality of your writing.

But, once you write it, and format it and it looks so pretty and clean – it’s easy to assume the writing is good as well.

And it gets worse when you have more people involved – and when you get all their “input” and amend your message to include their views you end up with a mishmash of something that insiders are happy with but that means nothing to your prospect.

And that’s where marketing should come in – testing every line, every idea for clarity and conciseness.

Is what you’re saying clear and simple and compelling?

If it is, then we can package it up and send it out using a variety of media – whatever your budget can take.

But if it’s not, no amount of money can fix it.

Start simple, but start

The starting point for most people is to realise that marketing is a process of understanding yourself and your prospective customers so you can have better conversations.

So start by talking into the dark, talk about yourself, speak using media that you’re comfortable with.

If you like face to face, then get out there and meet people, if you like writing, express yourself in text, if you like video, record yourself and share your stuff.

Just get started with telling your story.

At first, you may just need to do that for a while.

Be ready to do that for a couple of years.

That’s how long it takes me anyway.

When I look back at the projects I’ve worked on, projects like this blog and various commercial projects, it’s taken roughly two years to get from an initial idea to something that starts to look like a workable model.

That’s the time when you should be testing and refining your story, not paying for marketing technology or expensive design.

The technology and design come into their own when it’s time to scale something you know works – when you have a compelling message that works when you deliver it in person or using very simple technology.

In the next few posts we’ll look at those elements – crafting your story and starting simple, before moving onto your vision for the future.


Karthik Suresh

How Well Can You Empathise With Your Prospect Or Customer?


Thursday, 5.24am

Sheffield, U.K.

…that the world is not as it seems, that we know the world only through our own cultural biases, that even the little things matter, that taken together all the little things we do make the world what it is, and that if we are willing to challenge ourselves, truly understand others with empathy, and shed the comfort of our familiar but sometimes blinding, binding, and taken-for-granted assumptions, we can make the world a better place. – Michael Wesch

How do we truly understand someone else?

We can try and appreciate what they take in through their senses but we will never really know what is going on inside their heads.

Unless we try.

Being obvious versus being familiar

One of the biggest mistakes we make in many aspects of life is thinking that there is a “natural” or “correct” way of doing things.

For example, it may seem obvious to you that a gear shift should look and operate in a certain way but that hasn’t always been the case.

In the early days of automobiles they were all over the place and the French car market Citroen seemed to delight in creating unexpected ones.

Over time, people have come up with interesting and beautiful variations on this concept.

But which one is “right”.

None, really – we’ve settled on one as the competitive battle between manufacturers settled down and the winners converged on an approach.

The thing to remember is that what seems obvious to you now has more to do with the fact that you are used to it – you don’t know any other way of doing things and so you take it for granted that this is the right way of doing it.

That’s a way of thinking called ethnocentrism – thinking that what you believe, think, value is the approach that’s true, the one that everyone else should take.

If you are part of the majority culture in any situation, you can be blind to your own ethnocentrism – you see nothing different.

You often need to go into an entirely different culture to really see – to have your eyes opened – to just how much of the way you live your life is based on unquestioned assumptions and beliefs.

And you will run into people who look at you with puzzled incomprehension as you act in the way you think is right and proper and they wonder what is going on.

For example, native English speakers are often affronted when they feel they are spoken to impolitely by non-native English speakers.

If I said to you, “Pass the salt,” your first reaction as a native speaker is probably going to be negative.

Where’s the “please”? Who do you think you are?

The thing is that the first language of the speaker may have no such thing as a word for “please”.

Using the word please indicates respect for the other person – it is a request, not an order.

Some languages have respect built in as a feature, when you speak to someone else there are elements like prefixes and suffixes you add to indicate respect.

To such speakers constantly saying “please” can be harsh and grating – it comes across completely differently from the way it was intended.

The way to be less ethnocentric is to practice empathy – the way anthropologists do it.

Empathy is not the same as sympathy, feeling what others feel and it is not the same as agreeing with them, and accepting they are right.

It’s understanding the way in which they understand the world in their terms.

And it’s a powerful tool to help you with your career and business.

Developing empathy with someone else

Can you project yourself into the life of your prospect?

What does the world look like through their eyes?

What do they see?

Now, it’s easiest to do this if you have already immersed yourself in their world for a while.

If you have spent time in their culture, worked with them before, observed them for a while, then you’re going to be able to create a more accurate picture of what’s going on.

The best business people don’t guess what someone else wants – they know because they know their prospect’s world already.

That’s why you first start with research, desktop research if that’s all you can do but ideally you interact with and talk to your prospects to understand them, well before you try and sell anything to them.

But let’s assume you’ve done some homework, you aren’t just guessing, what do they see?

For example, let’s say you provide a technology consultancy service, how would you describe the way the person you want to talk to – a CEO or founder – will see their world?

Let’s use the empathy map in the image above as a scaffold to think through this question.

If they are a decision maker, they probably have quite strong opinions.

They’re probably very interested in knowing about the latest stuff out there, the innovations that are changing the landscape for their business.

At the same time, they are veterans, they know that many fads fizzle out and they don’t want to waste their time.

They’re sceptical about whether things will actually work out – so while you’re touting all the features of what you do they’re thinking up ways it could break or go wrong.

They speak their minds, asking tough questions to test what you’re saying – it’s their money on the line and so they aren’t shy about saying no.

In fact, they probably say no to most things.

They’re probably quick thinkers and can see the pros and cons in a situation – but perhaps don’t always see all the details.

Because of that they rely a lot on their feelings – about you, about the situation.

They listen to their gut – if something doesn’t feel right they won’t do it.

But when it feels right and they smell an opportunity they will act decisively and quickly.

Now, how would you pitch to this kind of individual.

Well, you’d better be quick and on point and lead with what’s important to the listener.

But this will also probably only work in certain cultures, especially Anglo-Saxon ones.

In many European and Eastern cultures there is less focus on a single decisive individual and more focus on participatory decision making.

Which will require a different approach from you.

One that understands that your prospect sees the world around them as a web of relationships, how they are careful not to say things that shake that web, how they think long and hard before they say anything, and how perhaps feelings are expressed indirectly as reservations and how an action is taken only after a consensus has been achieved.

And that’s just geography – it gets more complicated as you factor in history and race.

But that’s the point of being human – you might as well spend the time understanding how other humans tick – developing empathy with them.

The better you understand them, the better you will be at working with them.

If you can get to them in the first place… which is where lead generation comes in.

Let’s look at strategies for that next.


Karthik Suresh

Understanding Your Prospects And Customers Using A Sensory Map


Wednesday, 5.26am

Sheffield, U.K.

All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason. – Immanuel kant, Critique of Pure Reason

In my last post we started looking at how to research your prospects, collect data that you can mine for insights into what they need and how you can help.

We’ll carry on with trying to see their world the way they see it – using a sensory map this time.

All information comes through the senses

One of the biggest mistakes we make as human beings is called the curse of knowledge.

We assume that because we know something that means other people know it as well.

And that just isn’t the case – they have to gather knowledge in their own way and that starts with the senses.

However, you can look at the senses from two levels – one is the immediate surface impressions of what they actually see and then there is the question of what they expect to see – and if what they see is different from what they expected to see, there is a clash – something called cognitive dissonance – which can be good or bad.

Let’s see how this works when it comes to them and you.

What do they see?

When someone looks at you or your product, what do they see?

I had an experience recently where someone connected with me on LinkedIn.

It looked like a sales outreach, but as I didn’t want to turn it down without doing some research I connected with the person – because they seemed to have a product that was relevant to my area of interest.

I asked a question in response to their message – but then I also checked their website.

Which turned out to be a couple of pages – a brief description of products, an odd mix of content promoting two types of services and that ignored conventional principles of formatting.

Everything was written in lower case.

This is what people do – what you do – we can now very quickly research the people who get in touch with us and the first things we see form that initial surface impression.

And when someone looks your way is what they see what they expect to see?

And what do you want them to see?

For example, do you believe that it’s important to dress well – that an expensive suit and car demonstrates how successful you are?

When you look at a video on YouTube do you skip over anything that isn’t in high definition, with perfect lighting and sound?

Or do you think that people should see you are you are – that you should be authentic in the way you present yourself – normal rather than extraordinary?

There are rarely clear cut answers to these things – and often strongly held opinions.

I remember watching a show where entrepreneurs went up in front of investors for money and one of the investors asked why a group were there in jeans and t-shirts rather than in a suit and tie.

The group answered that they spent their days working on their business and they wanted to show themselves as real, hard-working people who could get the job done – and the investor said that was the best answer they could have made to that question.

So think about your customers and what they expect to see – do you think they would prefer the “real” you or do you need to present an “image” that is consistent with what they expect?

What do they hear?

If the first thing we do is see, then the next thing is usually to hear.

What does your prospect expect to hear from you?

Usually it’s one of two things – they expect information or they expect to be entertained.

They don’t want to be given irrelevant information or be bored.

But that’s what happens a lot of the time with the way in which we do things.

No one sets out deliberately to find useless information or waste time – but in business we end up putting prospects through that experience all the time.

So you have to think about what you are going to put out there that they are going to hear.

Is it polished and slick and perfect or is it more simple and real?

Are you going to write in “corporate speak” or in everyday language.

The style you choose for the way you are seen is going to probably influence the way you want to be heard as well.

Which is actually a disadvantage for corporates – they cannot afford to take risks and so they end up looking and sounding dull and predictable.

As an individual or a startup you can afford to be real or dynamic or innovative.

What do they smell?

After the first two senses comes smell.

Smell is an interesting one – you don’t physically have a smell when you’re doing digital products or marketing over the Internet, for example.

But a smell test can also be taken as does you product or business smell right.

Going back to the example of the website I looked at earlier – how many times have you looked at something and thought that something is off here.

This is what you might call a gateway sense – seeing and hearing are about initial impressions, but smell starts to get you involved and you will step forward or back away depending on whether it smells right or not.

What do they touch

The next sense that gets involved is touch.

In real life it’s an examination of the product, but in our digital world it’s an examination of the features and specifications.

Does this thing look like it will do what I need?

Your prospect is now getting involved, they’re look at the details and trying to see if your product or service will work for them.

When it comes to online sales, especially on marketplaces, this is crucial.

You have to get the descriptions right to be in the running, and quite often people will look quickly at the first few results if the price is low.

If it’s expensive they will spend a lot more time doing research.

But in either case touch, or the digital equivalent will come into play as they decide what to do.

What do they taste?

And then, finally, they’ve bought your product or service and it’s time for the last sense.

When they try it do they like it or not?

Satisfied customers come back for more.

Dissatisfied ones leave.

Unhappy ones leave bad reviews.

You need to make sure that you don’t assume people are happy with what you do – most people don’t speak out and tell you what they think.

You have to get it out of them – really look to see if they enjoyed themselves rather than taking the approach of disinterested waiters who come over and ask if your food is all right because that’s what they’ve been trained to do at the ten minute point into your meal.

Put aside what you know, and sense again

Look at the sensory map in the image above and try to put aside everything that you know.

Look again at your product and service, the way someone with no knowledge of you and what you do would do.

What would they see and hear.

When they got closer, what would they smell and touch.

And finally, when they asked you to serve them, what would they taste?

And is the experience they have the one you want them to have?

And if it isn’t, what do you need to change or do differently?

In the next post we’ll carry on with our exploration to map our customer’s worlds.


Karthik Suresh

Why You Need To Research How People Allocate Their Attention


Friday, 5.16am

Sheffield, U.K.

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

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

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

Data is everywhere now

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

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

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

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

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

And then you have all the others.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look for models of how getting attention is done well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Karthik Suresh

How To Arrange The Elements Of Your Story


Wednesday, 5.31am

Sheffield, U.K.

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

Why should we believe you?

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

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

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

We need to capture these memories.

The power of slips of paper

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

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

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

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

It’s time to mine for memories.

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

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

On another, a particular class that opened your mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your purpose?

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

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

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

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

You could list a series of facts about yourself.

Or you could tell them your story.

What is a story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how do you tell your story?

Arranging the elements of story

Let’s go back to those slips of paper.

The first thing to do is put them in order.

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

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

If so, arrange them in order.

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

They will fit in there somewhere.

Repeat until done.

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

You now have the raw materials for your stories.

Creating a narrative arc

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

What is it that the prospect wants?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does storytelling matter in business?

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

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

They care about what you can do for them.

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

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

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

And it helps if you can make it interesting.

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

Let’s look at that next.


Karthik Suresh

When Have You Helped Transform Something Into Something Better


Monday, 5.27am

Sheffield, U.K.

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

Let’s talk about transformation today.

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

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

But how have you changed things?

That’s what we need to find out next.

What is a transformation?

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

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

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

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

Transformations are all around us.

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

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

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

What have you made today?

Let’s start with something simple.

What did you make today?

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

Arguably, everything you do meets that criteria.

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

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

You’ve transformed dirty clothes into clean ones.

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

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

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

Which transformations matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What valuable transformations have you done in the past?

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

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

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

But it’s not a business.

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

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

Preferably all three.

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

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

We hope.

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk about that in the next post.


Karthik Suresh

How To Map The Stages Of Your Career To Date And Work Out What’s Next


Sunday, 5.20am

Sheffield, U.K.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin

We’re working through the second act of the Getting Started book project.

This is the last of three techniques to help explore the past and get some perspective on what you have experienced so far.

The first technique, lifelines, let you see the sweep and trend of what’s happened.

The second, defining experiences, asked you to pick out key events that have made you who you are.

And this technique, stages of growth, will ask you to take a hard look at the development of your career to date.

What stage of your career are you in?

This is not, as I have explained elsewhere, a book that promises shortcuts.

Transformation takes time and you should think in terms of decades, not weeks or months or years.

If something is easy to do then it’s as easy for someone else to do – it gives you no competitive edge, no protection, no defensive moat.

Those things come with time, with accumulating experience and creating artefacts and building proof.

And over a period of time, your own career will have developed.

For example, let’s look at a typical knowledge worker’s career over a span of fifteen years..

The first five years are spent in learning about the field and doing analytical work on a customer’s account.

These tasks include carrying out research, documenting findings, creating analyses, creating presentations, dealing with queries and handling administration.

Most of the time you do what you’re told to do and, if you’re lucky, you get the chance to improve systems and processes and demonstrate your competence.

Over the next five years you might progress into the role of a consultant.

You now have the experience and understanding of workflows and how things are done.

Instead of having to be told what to do you can start having conversations about what needs to be done – moving from an task focus to thinking in terms of outcomes.

As a consultant, your focus is on delivering what the client needs, not completing a particular task – and the better you are at understanding their objectives and marshalling resources to deliver what is needed the more likely you are to get given responsibility and oversight.

Then, in the next five years you start to move into the role of a specialist, someone who is an expert in a particular area.

You may have your own team or operate with few resources and bring in others when needed – but you become the “go to” person when there is something that needs to be done related to your field of expertise.

Most people should be able to see themselves somewhere on this continuum, as they look back on their careers.

You can get started at any point

You can start a new project at any time in this timeline – but the way you think about it will be heavily influenced by what you know at the time.

Early in your career you will focus on the tasks you can help with – the specific skills you bring to the project.

The kind of business you may gravitate towards will be a freelancing structure working on a project basis.

Later in your career you will have a better understanding of the landscape and how what you do fits into what the customer does.

This gives you the ability to range more widely, creating value where you think you can.

Still later in your career you will focus on specific value creation, preferably as high as possible, to justify using your experience and higher costs.

But these will be dynamic times, filled with tension and difficult choices.

Early in your career you have less to offer but more flexibility and the ability to learn and change.

Later in your career you have more to offer but may also be getting more rigid in your thinking, less open to change, both professionally and personally.

It’s important to be clear sighted about where you are right now – because there is much still left to do.

Complete the model

Draw this model out for yourself, starting with three overlapping ellipses and adding as many as you need.

Work through your career and label the stages you think you’ve been through – use words that capture the roles and expertise you’ve developed over time.

Try and separate the stages so that they are clear in terms of growth, not title.

Going from a junior analyst to an analyst to a senior analyst may simply mean that you’ve become more competent at doing the same tasks.

Moving from being focused on getting a task done to being focused on what the client needs doing is a significant growth step in any career.

It the first step in moving from being self-centered to being customer-centered.

Getting Started

The important thing to remember the fact that you can get started on a new project at any time – but keep in mind that the next stage is likely to take another five years, regardless of which stage you’re in when you start.

Especially when what you’re trying to do is start a business or create a step change in your career.

That’s because in addition to doing what you do you need to learn how to sell what you do.

And that requires some deep thinking about the way in which you’ve changed people’s lives, which we’ll get into in the next post.


Karthik Suresh

What Do You Remember As The Defining Experiences Of Your Life?


Saturday, 5.18am

Sheffield, U.K.

A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar. – Stephen King

In my last post we looked at lifelines – following the story of your moments in patterns of pencil.

Along the way we talked about noticing defining moments, events that played a big part in making you who you are now.

Let’s talk about those in more detail.

Think of three defining moments

The purpose of this exercise is to search for cause and effect – the events of the past that make you who you are today.

We’re looking for events that stand out in your memory, perhaps because of how they affected you, perhaps because of how they shaped you and influenced you.

Most of all, we’re looking for the events that have developed the things about you that are at the core of your being, the things that you can form a structure and business around that is centred and stable and ready for the future you want to build.

Get your thoughts down on paper

Start by drawing a simple figure in the middle of the page that represents you.

We tend to think in terms of cause and effect as flowing from left to right, so on the left, list a few things that come to mind.

You just need to jot down a few words that mean something to you.

For example, I’ve put down boarding school, books and unix.

Behind each of these words is a story – one that is important to you.

And each of those stories has led to making you the person you are today.

I Went to boarding school when I was eight years old.

That early experience taught me many things, especially how little actual things matter.

At the start of a term you have to put everything you need into a trunk to go to school and at the end of the term you have to fit the things you want to take home back in the trunk.

You get good at getting rid of things – at being frugal – at only keeping the things that matter to you.

Books have always mattered to me.

I was one of those people who was always reading and had another book in my back pocket.

I have found that books turn up when I need them with answers to the questions that I have.

And that has led to a lifelong interest in writing as a way to make sense of the world.

I don’t write for money or for fame.

I write because I enjoy writing.

My first dog was named unix, after the operating system.

My dad had just bought our first computer, an IBM PC/XT with only a floppy disk drive and no hard drive.

I helped create a database for a conference he was organising using whatever database software came on the disk, using the DOS command prompt.

Someone my parents knew had a dog which gave birth to a litter of dogs and I went to pick out one.

We named the pup, a little pointer, unix – I guess because computers were in the air at the time.

Around ten years later I discovered GNU/Linux and I am writing these words in a unix environment.

And it’s an environment that enables problem solving, where your computer works with you to help you tackle things rather than, as most commercial systems seem to do, prevent you from getting things done.

You will have very different words and very different stories – and you may share some of my interests or have very different ones.

But they will be, they must be your own – because you have to start getting clarity on your own story if you are to build on it.

Why are these stories important to you?

These stories are important because you can go back to them and remind yourself that at your centre is a hard core, formed early in life.

This is a core that has been compressed and hardened a steel ball that you can build around.

These core experiences have defined and set the way you look the world – they are the reason for the perspective you take and the approaches you prefer.

They help you decide whether you should face obstacles head on or whether you should go around them.

And because they are what you’ve lived through it’s hard to see them for what they are – you’re inside them.

Step outside the circle

Take another look at that drawing of you on the page.

You’re looking at yourself from outside, seeing yourself on the page and the experiences that went into you and the characteristics that define you now.

Is this a picture you are pleased with, one that you can live with, one that you can build on?

Or are the experiences negative ones, are the outcomes ones you would rather change?

What next?

The end result of this exercise and all the others in this book is not about getting to some magical end point where you will find riches and contentment.

It’s about getting started on your journey, whether that’s building on the good that has happened so far or picking yourself back up again after the bad.

It about you, where you are and what happens next.

If the person in the centre of that image was a friend, what would you tell them to do?

Nothing yet, perhaps.

We’ve looked at lifelines, and at defining moments.

Let’s try a few more exercises first before we come to any conclusions and the next one to consider is stages of growth.

That’s in the next post.


Karthik Suresh

How To Map Your Lifeline


Friday, 5.22am

Sheffield, U.K.

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

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

Let’s start with a lifeline.

Drawing a lifeline

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

One of those lines is called a lifeline.

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

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

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

What’s happened since then?

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

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

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

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

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

And stop when you reach the present.

What does your lifeline look like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is a lifeline useful?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Karthik Suresh