What Are The Main Things You Shouldn’t Lose Track Of In A Crisis?


Saturday, 7.25am

Sheffield, U.K.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. – Stephen Covey

As we continue to experience the Covid 19 lockdown in various places in various ways – there are some things that seem to have changed for the better.

Remote working, especially – many places are finding that they can get quite a lot done by letting their people work from home.

That’s a good thing, isn’t it?

Well, maybe not, depending on the particular situation you’re in right now.

Particularly if you can do everything from home.

Because if you can, why can’t anyone?

Especially someone who is willing to work harder and longer for less – maybe someone in a different state or country?

Even before we had to do what we’re doing now there were comments from people who were willing to be paid less if they could have more flexible work.

That may become a reality for many faster than you think – as companies that see demand drop make savings cuts of their own – which often comes down to headcount and salaries.

If that happens, are you ready?

To answer that question there are four areas you should look at critically.

Start with your projects – the things you are working on.

Are they easy or hard, are they essential or not?

Are you working on something that someone really needs done or is it a discretionary thing, something that takes up time but perhaps could be put to one side for a while.

Which projects do you think will be shelved first?

Now, clearly the projects you do are the projects that you have the resources and capability to do.

Your capability travels with you, it’s what you have in your head and muscle memory.

But what about your resources?

If you need a multi-million pound studio to do your work, or very expensive software – how will you carry out your projects if you don’t have access to them through work?

A lot of people only have their work equipment – they haven’t invested in their own kit because they believe that it’s something that they should be provided with as part of their job.

That may be a little short-sighted.

If you want to carry on doing projects, it might be worth thinking what you can do with the resources you personally own or what it will cost you to get set up.

If you can reduce the resource costs of working with you, then you make it more attractive for someone to hire you as well.

Then there’s your network – the group of people who are peers and champions and supporters.

Have you taken the time to develop a network – can you reach out to them and ask for help when you need it?

And lastly, there’s your market – again make up of people.

Markets and networks are not abstract, conceptual things – you measure them in the numbers of people you can reach out to that will respond.

And again, it’s easy to be short-sighted – to think that the market you have will not change.

But if those people you know move on, will you be able to have a connection with the new ones, especially if their job is to cut costs?

These four areas are common to all of us, whether you’re just starting your career or you’ve been in it for a while – and it works at the level of an entire business as well.

It’s very easy to focus on one of the areas and neglect the others.

Think about how you spend time learning how to do something and then spend all your time on projects – but perhaps not ones where you learn anything new.

You don’t tend your network or keep developing your market.

Your mix of projects is static and things change around you.

The point is that change is always going to happen.

And it might not be change that’s good for you.

You are, after all, at the centre of all this – and you have to look out for you.

When change happens, you have to be prepared – and these four areas are the main ones – the ones that make the difference.

And it might be necessary to stand back, take a look at where you are right now, and then take action to move the dial to a happier place.

And then you’ll be ready.


Karthik Suresh

What Must You Do When You Decide That It’s Time To Do Your Own Thing?


Wednesday, 9.09pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The idea of copyright did not exist in ancient times, when authors frequently copied other authors at length in works of non-fiction. This practice was useful, and is the only way many authors’ works have survived even in part. – Richard Stallman

We all learn by copying – we start by looking at what other people do and trying to do it ourselves.

We start jobs that way, progress in careers, make choices about what to study and which relationships to be in.

Learning from others is a fundamental part of what it means to be human.

For example I find that teaching children using the content put out by schools is quite hard.

Perhaps it’s the environment, the social urge to conform, that means children will do things in a classroom of their peers that they won’t do with their parents.

It’s easier to say no if they don’t want to do it.

Which means that if you want to get them to do something, a good way is to start with something they do want to do.

Throw away the English worksheets, for example, and start by reading Harry Potter aloud and stop and talk about interesting things you see about the way J.K Rowling uses language.

As you grow up a few things happen.

The first is that, at some point, you finish school, and the expectation to keep studying starts to ease.

Perhaps you go to university, or start a job – but eventually the book learning stops and the job learning starts.

And then forty years go by and that stops as well.

There’s something wrong with this picture – something deeply wrong about what’s happened over the last few hundred years.

And a bit part of it, I’m starting to suspect, has to do with ownership.

Somewhere along the way someone in power decided that it was in the interests of people with power to keep that power.

And, of course, knowledge is power.

So the codification of knowledge started to have walls put around it – because knowing stuff made the difference between having power and not having power.

And this leads to a situation now where you are almost certain to infringe copyright if you do work that does not start with a blank sheet of paper.

If you look at anything else first then that could count as infringement, because what you are making is derived from that original work.

And that leads to some interesting points for creators.

At some point you will decide that you need to grow up.

You’ve spent years learning from the world, from keeping your eyes open and looking out to see whatever is out there.

You’ve sucked in that knowledge, greedily absorbing it and learning from it and adapting it and shaping it and, in the process, finding out more about who you really are.

Now, you have to close the windows, shut the door and face the empty page on your own.

That’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

No more research, no more reading, no more checking what’s out there first?

And yet, it may be as long as we do a few things.

The first thing is to be careful about what we let into our world – we want ideas but not the expressions of those ideas.

Ideas can’t be copyrighted, but once they’re put down in some way then you start to hit those protection issues.

A simple way of doing this is not going on the Internet with a javascript enabled browser – vast tracts of the web will now be closed to you.

Clearly, the safest course of action is to let nothing in.

Or, in any case, old stuff.

Read the classics, read histories, read the stuff from a long time ago.

That’s out of copyright now and so you’re ok.

And then if you’re still looking for knowledge, read the stuff that’s released under a copyleft licence, something that encourages you to share and borrow and use.

It’s worked brilliantly for software, and maybe it will work for knowledge as well.

I guess something like Wikimedia commons is a starting point.

I think the sad thing about this kind of thinking is that knowledge should set you free – but instead it’s used to chain and bind people.

And the only way to get away from that is to refuse to play that game.

But few people have the courage to do that.

Stallman, for example, set out to develop a “clean room” version of Unix, locking himself away and writing the components he needed and it’s because of that work that we have a free software ecosystem and the alternatives we use now.

The editor I’m writing this in is emacs – Stallman’s emacs.

I’m going to try and experiment for a few weeks.

I’m going to see if I can write these posts without research, without references – only creating original work starting with a blank sheet of paper.

I don’t know if that’s even possible.

Shall we find out?


Karthik Suresh

p.s. I’ve now set up a dedicated Twitter account at @HndcrftdInsight for this project and to collect ideas that might help with future posts.

The Three Kinds Of Habits You Need To Develop


Tuesday, 10.12pm

Sheffield, U.K.

When one begins to live by habit and by quotation, one has begun to stop living. – James Baldwin

If you really want to learn what people think you should go and read the reviews people leave on Amazon.

Says Jay Abraham – the marketing guru – so I thought I would do just that.

You’ve probably heard about James Clear and his book Atomic habits – and I wondered what people thought of that kind of material.

You see, the problem is that most of the business books we’ve heard of are written by people who don’t always know the theory that underpins their ideas.

Many books are repackaged common sense and what mother would say.

It’s nice, uplifting material that makes you feel good and motivates you to do something – anything.

But is it going to work for you in your circumstances?

At the other end you have academic papers that are detailed studies of a very specific situation – so specific that you learn that something works – but only under those conditions.

How is that going to work for you if your conditions are different.

So, between these extremes, common sense and old wise sayings, and new, cutting edge research – you have to find a set of ideas that you’re happy to cling to.

Now the approach you need to take to find your way in this treacherous swamp of ideas is to get better at critical thinking – at looking at ideas and figuring out what to take and try and adapt so that you make it yours.

For example, the first comment that came up for me on Clear’s book was by Timothy Corwen who talks about how Clear doesn’t make it quite clear what kind of habits he’s talking about.

And this is something that’s easy to confuse – are all habits equal?

Corwen points out that they’re not – and there are at least three that you need to get your head around.

The first are habits that you do in order to make life easier for yourself.

The fictional writer Hank Moody, in the TV series Californication only has black t-shirts and blue jeans.

That makes choosing your outfit easy.

Or you only drink tea – coffee or any other kind of beverage is a no-go area.

These kinds of habits are about doing the same thing to reduce the number of decisions you need to make, saving your energy for the big stuff.

The second kind of habit is about removing friction for the things you want to do because they’re good for you.

Exercise, for example.

If you lay your clothes out the previous night or join a routine at the same time every day, like the nation is doing with PE in the morning in lockdown, you’re making it easy to perform that task.

These first two types of habits make it easy to do easy things and easy to do hard things.

When you’ve got those two nailed you can now focus on making it easy to do the important things.

Like climbing your mountain.

Your mountain might be your career, writing a book, doing your art, creating your music.

It’s your body of work, your life’s purpose, the asset you build, the legacy you leave.

And too many of us spend our lives so busy choosing the next outfit and watching TV on the sofa that we never have the time to look out and see which way our mountain might be.

So, when you look at your routines today – the habits you’re trying to develop – keep this model in mind.

They’ve got to help you address those three problematic areas in your life – the easy problems, the hard problems and the important problems.

And if you get this right you might be on your way to becoming healthy, wealthy and wise.


Karthik Suresh

Three Different Ways You Can Position Yourself And Your Philosophy


Friday, 7.37pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Wealth can only be accumulated by the earnings of industry and the savings of frugality. – John Tyler

I’ve been spending a lot of time on YouTube recently as I try and understand how to use different approaches to make sense of the work that I’ve been doing on this blog.

Over the last three years I’ve been exploring ideas – reaching into various places and finding models and approaches to dissect and put back together.

All the writing here is a first draft, a way of putting down what I’m learning as I’m learning it.

An exercise in collection – much like going out and finding interesting things in nature and bringing them back home, much to the distress of everyone around who suddenly finds a weird looking bug walking across the dining table.

But after you have the first draft down – the raw notes – you have to go back and work and re-work them, shaping them into something more useful.

For example, of the nearly 800 posts on here 208 have something to say about marketing.

Which ones are useful?

Well, to do that I have to go back and look at the models again, see which ones are more or less useful.

And one way of doing that is to approach it as an exercise in teaching – if I had to run a course teaching some of this content, how would I go about doing that?

Well, the first thing I would do is put some unnecessarily stringent constraints around how I do things.

For example, I’m not a fan of non-free software anywhere in my personal work processes.

And the same goes for the cloud and closed hardware and all that kind of jazz.

And that’s because of the philosophy that I have about this kind of thing – my views on knowledge and sharing.

But before I get to that what else is out there?

Well, if I take YouTube as an example, there are two main types of things you see out there.

They both start with Ultra.

First, there are the people who believe that what makes them stand out is putting out the highest quality content you can find – ultra high quality stuff.

And that’s really useful as you learn about the kinds of things that are possible if you really put your mind to the task.

Then you have the stuff that’s ultra-cheap – perhaps a webinar or a recording of a lecture as it happens in real-time that’s uploaded.

Now you can get a lot of value from both approaches – after all, you can watch lectures in MIT and other amazing universities in this format.

You find this same distinction in other markets – Ebay is a good example of where you can find cheap stuff and then you have the Apple store, where you pay a premium for what is perceived to be the highest quality product out there.

My preference is what you might call an ultra-frugal approach.

Frugal in terms of resources but, equally importantly, frugal in terms of time.

So, for me, that means learning how to use tools that make my life easy – not tools that have the best quality or brand, but ones that do what’s important in an effective way.

And that’s a personal thing – what matters to me is probably going to be different from what matters to you.

For example. I like a workflow that is based entirely around the command line.

So, I’m learning how to use ffmpeg and recording video directly to the computer rather than having an intermediate device like a phone or camcorder in the way.

Just because it’s faster if you can grab the video directly – which you can do with some cameras, just not the ones I have, unfortunately.

The purpose of all this is to make it easy – easy to carry on learning – learning how to create a second draft and how to package information in a way that’s more useful to readers and viewers.

And myself.

The thing is we need the people who want quality – they drive the creation of new markets.

We need the people who can make things cheap – they make it possible for all of us to have things.

But then, for some of us, all that choice out there is not a good thing.

We don’t want the best things out there, and we don’t want lots of tat.

We want to have peace of mind.

And that often comes with being frugal.


Karthik Suresh

Should You Be Open About How You Do Things In Your Business?


Thursday, 7.20pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Forget about being an expert or a professional, and wear your amateurism (your heart, your love) on your sleeve. Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you. – Austin Kleon, Show Your Work

I’m often asked questions about how I do things on this blog – the tools I use to create material.

The first response of most people, I suppose, is going to be one of concern.

If you tell others how you do things won’t that mean they can do what you do now as well?

Surely by being open about what you do and how you do it, you’ll be giving away your knowledge for free?

I don’t know where that thought comes from – perhaps it’s inbuilt from prehistoric times when if you held a little food back you were more likely to survive.

Or perhaps it comes from when we invented the idea of ownership – and property – first physical property and then the products of the mind.

But there are a few things that we should keep in mind.

The first is that ideas are things you can share without losing anything.

If you tell someone else what you know – you both go away richer.

You get a deeper understanding of what you know and they learn something they didn’t know.

When you cling to the idea that the things you have are the things that matter then you confuse the ability to hold a tool and do a manual task with the skills of a craftsperson.

If you’re working at the level of a tool operator – you can be easily replaced.

But what is it about a craft skill that is hard to replace in the same way – what’s the thing that makes it valuable?

A 1951 paper by W.M Macqueen called “What is craft skill?” may help.

Some elements of craft skill are about manual skills – about how you do things.

For example, do you understand your materials and if they are suitable for the job you’re doing?

Just as a woodworker knows what kind of wood to use for a chair and what kind of wood to use for a pipe.

Assuming they are different – I don’t know, after all.

Do you know what techniques work?

If you’re a consultant, for example, do you understand how to do joint work, remote work or group work?

And can you do it well – have you spent the time working on your ability to carry out those tasks.

These three skills are still pretty manual, they’re about time spent on learning your trade.

Macqueen then says craftspeople have a better understanding of non-skill elements.

They know why one approach works while another tends to fail – how to make things happen.

They also look beyond their field – and know how related approaches work.

Doctrinal wars appear to be a standard feature of situations where this is forgotten.

For example, you have people who believe that agile is the only way to go, or you might have lean startup approaches, or various systems approaches.

It’s the mistake we make when we think rituals matter more than the outcome.

And then people dedicated to the craft look beyond themselves – they get involved in the community and industry – as a contributing member rather than someone looking to do the most for themselves.

But after all that, what makes the difference between one person and another?

Warren Buffett, as is often the case, has a quote that sums it up.

Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.

The thing that makes the difference is character.

Macqueen has a few more points, but what it comes down to is be a person who can be trusted, who can get things done and someone who can respond intelligently to changing circumstances.

And that’s what makes the difference between you and a tool.


Karthik Suresh

p.s. As a result of this thinking here’s a list of the tools I use.

What Does An Expert Know About A Field That You Don’t?


Wednesday, 8.56pm

Sheffield, U.K

No one becomes an expert in a new career overnight, even if you are coming from another career where you were established and experienced. – Jack Canfield

Do you ever feel that anyone could do what you do – that you’re just marking time until someone comes along and tells you to move on because they’re going to do what you do better than you ever could?

At the same time you’ve probably developed more skill and expertise than you realise.

Quite often, when you look at what’s on the surface all you see is what’s in front of your eyes.

You see people spending time on tasks, looking relaxed or worried, displaying craft skills of one kind or another.

But is there all there is to getting things done – having a task list and improving your skills.

What’s missing from the picture.

What’s missing, it turns out, is everything under the surface – because the thing you don’t see is depth and complexity.

I came across this term on a website by Ian Byrd that’s about teaching gifted and talented students.

Hopefully some of the ideas will work for the rest of us as well.

But first, there’s clearly something you need to know about the idea – it’s got protections around it.

It seems that it’s important to mention that Dr. Sandra Kaplan and Bette Gould created and own the rights to Depth and Complexity – to the prompts, icons and framework and you can find their material here.

So, don’t take any of this commentary to be a view on the actual framework itself.

Instead, it’s a study of Byrd’s content on Kaplan and Gould’s framework, and how these ideas might be useful to us, perhaps in an adapted form in the learning we are doing.

The actual framework has 11 components while Byrd’s commentary is that some of these can be squished together – something that I’ve loosely followed in the image above.

So, what is it that experts in a field get that we don’t?

Let’s take YouTube as an example – if you look at stats it suggests that most people don’t make any money with their content.

But then others do, and the difference appears to be that some run their channels like a business while others put out content and hope for the best.

That’s a big idea right there – run your channel like a business.

And there are a host of essential details that fall out from that big idea – the fact that you should have a theme, a certain standard of production, a schedule and so on.

All the people who do well probably have these elements bottomed out.

And they can talk to you about precisely what they do – they’ve created a shared language about ads and revenues and intros and outros and all the things that go into putting a video together.

If you look closely you’ll see patterns in the way they do things – the way they use lighting, staging – the way they script their material.

And there are rules they follow – no profanity, perhaps to make sure they don’t offend anyone, or perhaps rules on comments.

Clearly some go the other way – and that comes down to the ethics they apply.

Do they believe it’s ok to be a foul talking person who tells the truth.

They can probably see the business from different perspectives – having gone through the pain of starting, the years of producing material while they figured out what they were doing to now, where they have a money making machine that still needs to be fed.

Now, if you’re trying to do what they do, then you are going to have to get better at asking the questions that have been left unsaid and unanswered.

Can you do something, how do you do this other thing – do you have to try it and discover what to do for yourself?

Then there is the issue of reaching across disciplines – not being stuck in ideas of a time and place.

I guess when you get stuck in doing the things you read from a single book – well, people write new books and the ways change and you’re then irrelevant.

So, don’t be that.

Then there is the fact that everything changes – that as Pratchett said, “future pours into the past via the pinch of now”.

When you look at the ideas that Kaplan and Gould came up with you can also see that there’s a lot of stuff there – a lot of stuff that you know that others don’t.

Even if they don’t see it yet.

There are still two challenges, though.

The first is for you to believe in yourself.

And the other is to get others to believe in you.

But that’s a question of marketing.


Karthik Suresh

How To Do Keyword Research For A Service Business


Tuesday, 10.15pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Key idea: To write successful ads, imagine what your customer is searching for – Google Learn documentation

I’ve been thinking recently about the stages in the sales process and how it’s important that lead generation and value creation are recognised as two separate parts of a purchase funnel.

The normal picture of a purchase funnel has customers going from awareness through to purchase, and there are modifications and adjustments to break up the steps or create more of a loop.

Lots of tinkering, in other words.

Most funnels assume that customers are in some kind of comparison mode all the time – it’s just a question of when they buy.

This is probably true with products, like bicycles, and straightforward services, like a haircut.

After that, it gets more complicated.

A really good service business has the ability to create value through its interaction with a prospect – value that might not have existed before the conversation.

Quite often people don’t know what they want until you’re able to show them.

I’m going to leave that for another post – what I’m interested here is what happens before you come to the value creation part – the bit about lead generation.

The biggest problem service providers have is seeing things from their customer’s point of view.

If you’ve been in a field for a while and then started off as a consultant, you’re immersed in the detail of what you do.

It’s very hard to take a step back and see things the way a customer does – it’s almost a physical hurdle in your mind.

I see this with relatively early stage practitioners as well, this insistence that what they know is what the world also knows – a kind of cognitive blindness to the world around them.

So, how do you overcome this hurdle in your brain?

I don’t know – but I thought I’d try and see if developing a graphic organiser might help.

The image above is a first attempt – a simple one that tries to look at things first through your eyes, and then through the customers – to try and see if you can move your point of view.

I ran an example through it – a fictional business coach.

From her point of view, she coaches leaders to become the best leaders they can be.

What does the prospective customer think?

I guessed maybe she wants to be really good at her job.

How does the coach start her story – the thing she tells when she’s asked to talk about how she works.

Well, she probably talks about how she’ll have a session with you and talk about where you are right now – a sort of diagnostic.

How does the prospect start their story?

Perhaps they wonder how they can become a better leader – or even – are they any good right now?

If someone was motivated enough to find out, what would they search for.

Having written down the four statements, the words “leadership aptitude test” came to mind.

And do people search for that?

It turns out they do.


Now, I know this may seem very basic – but often breaking things down to this kind of level makes the difference between thinking clearly – and failing to see what’s going on at all.

You could go the other way and bury yourself in keyword research – the technology is out there and I’ve spent hours getting bored stiff doing all that.

Maybe this low-tech way has a few advantages.

If you gently walk yourself across to the customer’s side – if you can coax your brain to make this journey – you might discover that you’ve got something unique that few others have realised that people are asking.

And, of course, if you have a friendly prospect you can ask them to help you fill out the graphic and see if you can work out some keywords together.

I don’t know if this is useful – we’ll see if there is a chance to test it in real life.

But here’s the thing.

What harm can it do to look more closely at the way you think?



Karthik Suresh

The Problem With Trying To Get What You Want By Giving Someone Else Something They Want


Sunday, 8.24pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Another generalised consequence of incentive-caused bias is that man tends to ‘game’ all human systems, often displaying great ingenuity in wrongly serving himself at the expense of others. Anti-gaming features, therefore, constitute a huge and necessary part of almost all system design. – Charlie Munger

Sport is a rubbish metaphor for life.

But we insist on using it – because it seems like sports is clean and simple – you have teams, there are rules they play, someone wins.

And it’s all good sportsmanship.


But have you noticed that the concept of a fair game seems alien to humans?

If it were natural – if policing our own behaviour to be fair and true were an inherent part of our nature – why would we need referees?

The reality, I think, is that most games bring out the worst in us – we just don’t notice because we’re too busy explaining away our behaviour as justified because it will help us win.

Now, what’s interesting is that behaviour – that tendency to cheat to win – carries over into everything else we do as well.

And it gets harder to resist the urge to cheat when we get rewarded for doing so.

Here’s the thing.

If someone gives you a ball and points to a basket, then it’s clear where they want you to shoot.

If they pay you for every ball you get through the hoop – but aren’t careful to specify how you should do it then what are you going to do?

Some people might stand there and shoot, being rewarded on the basis of their steadily improving skill.

Others will realise that there is a much easier way to get the money and go and find a step ladder.

This is not cynicism – it’s how the world works.

And that’s why incentive systems are so hard to get right.

Sales is probably the best example of where it’s hard to figure out what you should do.

If you pay your sales people a salary, why should they hustle?

If you pay them only on commission, then they need to shift things fast – even if that means pressuring customers and taking liberties with the truth.

But then again, maybe you don’t care as long as the money is coming in – you have your own incentives to act in one way or the other.

Then again, maybe we do have something to learn from sports about this whole thing.

We think that sports is about playing well.

But it’s actually about the way you try and have a good, clean game.

By having rules for how you should play and penalties when you break the rules.

If you really want to understand how to create incentives – study the rules and see how they have been created to deal with something that caused a problem in the past.

“Play the ball, not the man” – probably has something to do with the fact that some bright spark realised that the best way to win was to break the leg of the best player on the opposite team.

If you have to work with someone else – a sales person, a business partner, your children – think of the ways in which they will break the rules.

The first thing to remember is that the easiest rules to break are the ones that aren’t written down.

The next easiest are the ones that can be interpreted differently, depending on the argument you put forward.

A well known form of this is the Protagoras paradox.

Protagoras, a lawyer, took on a student, Euathlus, on the agreement that the student would pay the teacher when he won his first case.

When the student didn’t pay, the lawyer took him to court.

He reasoned that if he lost, the student would have won his first case, and would have to pay. And if he won, the student would still have to pay.

The student reasoned that if he lost the case, he would not have won and so would not have to pay, while if he won he still wouldn’t have to pay.

One way to work is to play with very clear rules and a small chance of loss with people you don’t know.

Make bigger bets only with people you know and trust – while avoiding being sucked into a long con by someone who sounds like they are a friend but is essentially working on getting money out of you.

But I suppose the single best rule before you work with someone else is this.

Make it your business to understand their business before you do any business.


Karthik Suresh

What Kind Of Business Idea Has A Decent Chance Of Succeeding?


Friday, 9.40pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Don’t be afraid of missing opportunities. Behind every failure is an opportunity somebody wishes they had missed. – Lily Tomlin

My YouTube suggestion machine came up with a video by Tim Ferriss where he talked through some of his key ideas and the books they came from.

And these ones are useful for someone looking at starting a business or developing a new product or service.

The whole startup thing is the easiest and the hardest thing to do at the same time.

Everyone has ideas – there is no shortage of people with ideas.

Few of those people go on to execute those ideas and create a real business.

And that’s because most things we see are things that are successful – we aren’t exposed to failures.

And really, if we want to succeed, we should study failures – because that’s how we learn to see what bad ideas look like and how to avoid them.

Let’s say we could do that – put on a pair of magic glasses that let us figure out what might fail.

What would a bad idea look like?

Would it be the opposite of a good idea?

One piece of advice you get often is to build something that scratches your own itch.

For example, there was an article on the news some time back about a father who built a hydraulic arm for his son who had his amputated at birth.

This was something big companies had said couldn’t be done – but this dad did it because he wanted his son to be able to hug his brother.

Now, that’s something that is special.

But is it a business?

I spoke to someone on a train who talked about a company that specialises in making prosthetic arms for children inspired by Lego designs.

A child can see a prosthetic arm as a dull, lifeless thing, something that he or she might be teased about at school.

Or it could be an awesomely cool bionic arm – something they could show off and be proud of.

There are so many stories of people creating things that are personal to them – because they were underserved by the existing product machinery that dominates the world.

And this leads to two other characteristics of ideas that have a chance of succeeding.

They can be easily differentiated from whatever else is out there.

And they are easy to explain – you can quickly see why someone would need or want those things you’re planning to make.

But, is that enough to grow – what if everyone simply copies what you do?

Well, that’s where there are benefits to being first to market.

But that’s not always possible, there might already be a market with an existing firm that dominates it.

In which case you shouldn’t try and compete with them.

Instead create a new category which you can dominate.

What does your category need to have?

If you want your business to actually survive and grow you need to have a market.

But you don’t need millions of sales – not for a new business anyway.

What you need are 1,000 true fans – people who will believe in your idea and buy what you create.

So, if you’re thinking of a business idea right now – or you’re thinking about how you can refocus what you’re doing so that it can become a better business – these ideas are probably useful to keep as a checklist.

Are you creating something that you would use yourself?

Is your idea easy to explain?

Can you easily show how you are different?

Are you the only person doing what you do – or demonstrably the best at what you do?

Is your marketing focused only on the people who could become your true fans – the ones who will support you in what you do?

If you get these things right then it will show up in the numbers – in the only number that matters.

The number of customers you have.

Profitable customers.

And your business has a chance of succeeding.


Karthik Suresh

What Do You Need To Do To Be Remarkable?


Thursday, 10.32pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If you are too afraid to offend anyone, then I’m afraid you may not be able to do anything remarkable – Bernard Kelvin Clive

Yesterday I picked up The essential Drucker – a distillation of the writings of arguably one of the greatest management theorists of his time.

I particularly liked his idea of management being something that applied to “every human effort” and how its real value lay in its ability to unite technology and society in the service of humanity – arguing that it is a liberal art in the humanities tradition.

All that I liked.

And then it rather went downhill from there, as the text started talking about objectives and missions: things that I am not convinced actually work that well in real life.

The reason for this is that what happens has much less to do with what you want to happen and much more to do with the context in which you operate – the structure is usually responsible for the majority of the results.

Now, this is not easy to always talk through – and a model can help think through those structural issues.

So, I thought I’d pick up Seth Godin’s Purple cow and have a first pass at a model and see if it actually helps.

Godin’s book is about being Remarkable – like a Purple Cow would be if you came across it.

But you can’t just decide that you are going to be Remarkable – set that as an objective.

Well, you could – you could dress provocatively and behave outrageously – but I don’t think that’s the point we’re trying to make here.

The point is being the kind of entity that is remarkable – the “remarkable” bit is an emergent property of the business you create – something that is about the business but that you won’t find in accounting or marketing or sales but in the customer experience as a whole.

Okay, enough technical talk about systems thinking – here’s how to apply this first pass model.

Say you want your business to be remarkable – ask yourself – do you stand out in any way?

Being like everyone else might seem like a safe way to be – but that way your business will never grow beyond a certain point.

And again, it’s not enough to just say you’re different – you actually have to be different.

But how do you do that?

One good way is to identify a niche that you can target and dominate.

For example, if you’re a hair dresser in a salon, you could just cut hair – or you could specialise in a particular hard to do technique that is remarkable.

But how do you find that niche?

You find people who care about something you can do – who care to the point where it’s more than a hobby and less than an obsession.

A kind of feeling captured, Godin says, by the Japanese word otaku.

You learn from these people about what they need – give them that – and because they are early adopters who will talk about you a lot – you’ll find that word of mouth marketing helps you build your business.

But why should they listen to you?

Because you listen to them and give them something that tests the limits – gives them more – better, faster, cheaper, higher quality: something that they will love.

Now, when you get all this right you’ll find that your business takes off – it just explodes.

But nothing goes on forever – eventually that momentum will stop, the market of early adopters will dry up and you may move into a more mainstream world, where not standing out and being safe start being important, and you slow down and earn what you can for the rest of your product’s lifetime.

But that can be left to your managers – you should be working on building your next remarkable venture.

Now, I’m not saying this model is correct or complete.

Always remember that all models are wrong, but some are useful.

The question is whether this model is useful in thinking about whether your business, as it stands right now, is remarkable.

And if it isn’t, does it highlight areas that you could work on?

The thing to note is that this is not a process – not something you can follow.

Every part matters and you need it all to work for that “remarkable” property to emerge eventually.

My feeling is that this kind of model is more useful in helping us ask questions about our businesses than the relatively mechanical task of setting an objective to be remarkable.

If you focus on what’s inside the envelope – the elements of structure – and work to improve them, then what people see will be remarkable.


Karthik Suresh

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