The Slightly Unexpected Secret To Power


Sunday, 7.32pm

Sheffield, U.K.

That was how you got to be a power in the land, he thought. You never cared a toss about whatever anyone else thought and you were never, ever, uncertain about anything – Captain Vimes in Terry Pratchett’s “Guards! Guards!”

I have rediscovered Terry Pratchett recently, and realised something – or at least had it pointed out by Neil Gaiman in another book.

Pratchett is a hard to pin down writer, combining the wit of Douglas Adams with the output of P.G Wodehouse.

His writing is funny and clever, which means that clever people probably look at the funny bit and assume that it’s not going to be something they will get into while funny people don’t perhaps get just how clever some of the stuff is.

And there is lots of it, buried within the funny bits.

Let’s leave out the physics – just focus on the social observations he makes.

For example, in one of his books he says that when people ask for advice they don’t really want you to tell them anything.

The sort of want you to be around while they talk about it.

It’s taken me a while to realise that – but having done so it’s created a rather interesting line of business so far.

And then you have his observation about power, which is in the quote above that for me, anyway, is a complete eye-opener.

Let me explain.

For a while, I have been observing people that I term born business folk – people who have a certain something about them.

It’s their ability to look at a situation and make a decision.

Now, that decision may be based on facts and opinion, some of which I agree with and some of which seem wrong, and some of which I know to be wrong.

But it’s not just a decision – it’s a sense of certainty they give out when they make that decision.

As if they’ve just said, “Here I stand!”, they’ve planted a standard and there is no moving them.

You wonder sometimes whether they realise just how badly things could go… and come to the conclusion that they do not.

And so you scuttle back, step into the shadows, and wait and see what happens.

Perhaps with a touch of schadenfreude, waiting for the inevitable downfall.

Now clearly, to any right thinking person, that way of operating – certainty until the fates prove you right or wrong – has a range of outcomes.

We remember the wins and forget the losses – heroes are created by selecting winners after all.

And eventually there seems to be a link between confidence and certainty and success.

We follow the leader that sounds confident because in the past such leaders led others to victory.

Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Joan of Arc.

It’s the other observation of Terry’s that starts to balance things out.

Do you care what other people think?

If you do, then you’re in a different game – one where politics is important and keeping up appearances is crucial.

In such a world it’s far more important not to fail than it is to win.

It’s the “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” sort of world.

Certainty in a world where success depends on what other people think can lead to odd results.

Take painters, for example.

Many have been certain in their art but less successful in a market.

What matters as much is knowing your business – knowing what needs to happen regardless of what other people think.

So, how do these two things relate?

Imagine you’re building a product because you think someone else is going to need it – then your chances of success are probably the same as most products that are brought to the market – perhaps 5 percent or so.

If you build something because you need it – because you’re scratching your own itch – then you’re starting to tilt the odds in your favour.

Let’s say you’ve done your research and you understand the approach you need to take and how viable your product is – how are you going to market it?

If you are diffident and balanced about the pros and cons of what you are going to do – then you’ll find that people will be equally circumspect.

They will note your lack of confidence and instinctively move away.

It’s just what happens.

But, if you can marry research and a thorough knowledge of your business – if you’re operating in what Warren Buffett calls your circle of competence then you need to – you must take decisive action when the time calls for it.

You must be confident that you are right and you will prevail.

What got the ancestors of old their portraits on the wall was because they brought this combination of skills to their battles.

If they were green, untrained, able only to fight on paper – but confident in their approach and holding power, they probably sent their soldiers to their slaughter.

But if they knew their field, their tactics, their people – and then they led the battle, their army followed and they probably won.

And ended up with the loot and the castle and the portrait.

What this means for us is this.

If you want power temporarily, you can get it through politics.

If you want real power, the kind of thing that lasts for generations – you get that through your work.

And power does not have to be money and jewels and castles.

These days power has more to do with what you have in your mind.

Which is why your work matters.


Karthik Suresh

Are The Days Of The Persuasive Salesperson Numbered?


Saturday, 7.28pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Ladies and gentlemen, attention, please! Come in close where everyone can see! I got a tale to tell, it isn’t gonna cost a dime! (And if you believe that, we’re gonna get along just fine.) – Stephen King, Needful Things

I feel like I have listened to lots of pitches, many of which sound quite plausible.

Others don’t.

I remember being invited to a multi-level marketing seminar which had all the carefully selected components needed to help you switch off the sceptical part of your brain.

The person inviting you sat with you, ready to answer any questions.

Loud, energetic music filled the air and a procession of happy, successful people trooped up to tell you how much money they were making and how good life was for them.

At the end of the session my host turned to me and asked what I thought and when it wasn’t what he wanted blanked me completely and turned instead to his other guest who had made noises about wanting to join.

In that particular case I knew the industry, and could work out the structure of the deal – which rarely works out for the majority of people.

At a much higher level occasion I heard another speaker trot out a pitch for their technology and how it was going to revolutionise everything.

But, if you listened carefully to what they said – their focus wasn’t on anything new and the abilities they talked about clearly didn’t have a link with the technologies they were talking about.

For example, AI was mentioned a lot.

And then it happened again – a smartly dressed person giving a pitch that, when you thought about it later, had a lot of marketing sizzle but a questionable type of meat.

I don’t want to be unkind about it all – but there is a certain kind of person that is very good at telling you a story, and it’s hard to tell the ones that have something real from the ones that don’t.

In some cases, the people telling you the story don’t even know they’re wrong – they truly believe in their product, or have been told that they have to believe in order to sell it so they’ve first sold it to themselves to get that authenticity.

Which clearly means that at the core what’s they’re doing is rotten.

Now the thing is that the art of the sale is more than just the person pitching one on one, or to a group – it’s now spread to the Internet.

Where people are being sold all kinds of things that they buy using emotion.

I’ve recently reviewed a couple of prospectuses for crowd funding and I’m quite curious as to exactly who gets value from the deals the way they are structured.

The promoters get free money effectively in exchange for offering discounts on the products they sell – a self funding proposition.

The people who sign up get shares that have no dividends and that can only be traded within a private market.

The main shareholders retain all the control and rely instead on selling a feeling – the feeling of “feeling good” in exchange for cold hard cash – and I wonder whether they think they’re really doing a social good or if they’re sitting there wondering how the heck they could con all these people out of so much cash.

Because here’s the thing about an investment.

It needs to give you a return.

If it doesn’t put money in your pocket then it’s an expense – borrowing Robert Kiyosaki’s very pithy description of an asset.

And an “investment” that gets you to spend more money is not an investment – it’s a long con.

When I look around it’s clear that the days of the persuasive salesperson are anything but numbered.

They’re probably just at the start of a huge growth phase.

There are so many ways now to confuse people and make them think they’re getting value when in reality they’re just handing over money they’ll never see again.

And the solution is probably not regulation – expecting someone to step in.

It’s the oldest advice out there.

Caveat emptor.

Let the buyer beware.


Karthik Suresh

Why These Two Modes Of Working Are Both Essential For Your Business


Friday, 9pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Innovation comes from the producer – not from the customer. W. Edwards Deming

I’m browsing through Robert I Sutton’s book Weird ideas that work: 11 and a half practices for promoting, managing and sustaining innovation and I’m not sure what to make of it.

It’s a catchy title and makes some good points right off, one of which I tried to work through and found myself having to modify to make sense to me.

Sutton argues that there are two kinds of work you tend to find people doing.

One kind of work is based around exploiting what we have now in the business.

That means doing what we do in a way that is standardised, that delivers a particular output every time.

This means that if your task is to create boxes or agree contracts you do it with a process that can be audited and justified – in other words you drive out and seek to reduce variance.

It also means doing things they way they should be done – using tried and tested methods.

For example, if your industry advertises in a particular way because it suits your demographic – well, why change?

And the biggest focus of this approach is keeping an eye on bringing in the money now – these companies have accountants whose job it is to tot everything up and make sure people can get paid.

A company that focuses on exploiting its capabilities will find, at some point, that it is no longer relevant.

It was once right for a market but over time markets change – and if you haven’t noticed that happening you could wake up one day and find you no longer have a business.

The other kind of work people do is exploration – the kind of thing that leads to innovation.

The best kind of innovation is driven by a need to serve the variety of demands your customers have.

If a customer comes to you and says they have a problem you have two choices.

You can look at the things you offer and if they don’t seem to fix the problem, you can regretfully say no.

Which a surprising number of people seem to think is the right approach.

Or, you could build the customer what they’re asking for, potentially creating a new line of business as a side effect.

But you can only do this if you’re open to trying new things, if you ask questions like do we have to walk up the stairs and would this bouncy thing work instead.

The point about this kind of work is that it’s like chasing a rainbow – the money might be out there but you’re going to have to go and find it.

People who are in the exploit frame of mind see themselves as the serious ones, the ones doing the important work while the explorers swan off and do pointless, wasteful things.

The explorers see the exploiters as dinosaurs who don’t know that they’re going to be extinct soon – the world will change, it always does, and some people will be left behind.

A company, however, is more than just one approach.

You need both kinds of people in your business – and you can’t let one get hold of all the power.

You need a balance between people who will do the daily work in the way it should be done and people who will create new things to delight customers.

In terms of staff, the chances are that the exploitation category will have many more people than the explorers.

But that shouldn’t mean that they’re more important – the few explorers will quite possibly do the work that enables the others to keep their jobs.

As an individual, you need to learn to straddle both worlds if you want to be in charge of anything.

There are great admin people who will never come up with a new idea, but will also never make a mistake.

There are great ideas people who you wouldn’t put in charge of the drinks round.

These two will always have a job.

But if you can see how to get the best out of both of them, then you have a chance of being in charge.

If you want to, that is.


Karthik Suresh

Why You Should Realise That A Weakness Can Be As Strong As A Strength


Wednesday, 9.40pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose. – Henry Kissinger

I was browsing through the on-demand film catalogue when I spotted Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot again.

This film, in case you don’t know, is based on the life of John Callahan, who became a quadriplegic after a car accident.

He went on to become a cartoonist, creating aggressive and controversial material and a whole new career for himself – after an incident that might have led many others to conclude there was nothing more they could do with their lives.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book David & Goliath: Underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants tells the story of David and Goliath again.

He argues that the story that most of us know probably doesn’t tell the whole story.

Goliath was big, yes. He was armoured and armed and could have killed anyone who came close enough to be struck with his weapon.

David, however, was an expert with a sling – not a toy but a real weapon – the artillery of the time.

Gladwell says that we think the fight was mismatched because Goliath was big and David was small.

The mistake we make is to view what is happening through a conventional lens – using a narrative that we think of as normal.

Big beats small, that’s obvious.

But, as Gladwell points out, this fight is actually the equivalent of a man with a sword facing another with a gun.

Who has the advantage then?

If the history of warfare has taught us one thing it is that superior forces can often be defeated by a smaller, less well equipped force if they choose to fight unconventionally.

There is an undeniable advantage to size, to being the biggest beast in the jungle, where you have no natural competitors.

Except the ones that are yet to come.

The point to take away, really, is not whether you are big or little, strong or weak, in full possession of your capacities or lacking in most of them.

You should try and remember to keep two things in mind.

If you are big, never become complacent.

That’s when you make a mistake and get beaten.

You have the advantage of size – use it.

If you are small, don’t give up.

You have advantages, in speed, agility and flexibility, that the big people just don’t have.

Use them.

The side that wins, all too often, is the one that plays best with the hand it’s dealt.


Karthik Suresh

What Do They Mean When They Say You Are The Product?


Tuesday, 9.08pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Many respectable physicists said that they weren’t going to stand for this – partly because it was a debasement of science, but mostly because they didn’t get invited to those sort of parties. – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I’ve been thinking about marketing mixes for a bit, and particularly about options that give you access to an audience of some kind.

For example, my LinkedIn feed right now is full of posts of conferences – places where people come together to share knowledge and connect with others in their industry.

That seems like a good thing.

But how do these conferences make money?

Well, they get speakers, high profile ones and ones from businesses that you would probably like to work with and invite them to speak.

They often give you free entry and cover their costs and make a profit by selling stalls and marketing packs to companies that might be interested.

One of the things I need to be careful of is my own scepticism – the urge to question whether something is of value.

That kind of thinking quickly leads to pithy sayings like “if you get it for free, then you’re the product” and variants on that theme.

And perhaps because I don’t get invited to participate in such sessions I feel a bit like the physicists in Douglas Adams’s quote above.

Now, there are people who argue that the saying about products and us should really be questioned further, such as Derek Powazek, because the fact is that just because you pay for something it doesn’t mean you get value.

In fact, we get a lot of value for free these days – and you know that Google makes money hand over fist even while it gives you free email.

There’s a business model there, perhaps not one we fully understand or can replicate – but it exists.

Powazek does sum this up quite elegantly when he writes “If you don’t know how a startup will make money, neither do they.”

Or a conference that you attend.

I started this post with a question – are the organisers of these events evil?

Do they stand there rubbing their hands at the prospect of making money off you?

Or are they promoters, showmen and women – who love nothing more than the buzz of getting a great event together, throwing a fabulous party and getting people out talking, laughing, drinking and doing business.

Should we be thanking them for the opportunity to get together with like minded business people and create value together?

If you think about it, throwing an event is a bet – a gamble that you can create enough buzz to attract people – some of whom teach and some of whom learn – and get others to pay for it all to happen.

It’s clearly a bet that more and more people are willing to take – the number of face to face events seems to be skyrocketing as people try and find real connection and take a break from their virtual social systems.

People seem to crave connection – and these events provide that.

The conclusion, then, is that events and products and businesses are not inherently evil.

But, like every other industry, the vary in quality and the value they provide.

I guess you have to try them out to see if they work for you.

The thing that won’t work is staying cooped up at home with the curtains drawn.

If you want to do business, you have to go out and do what needs to be done to help people find you.


Karthik Suresh

Why It Is Essential To Develop Your Curation Skills


Monday, 9.23pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Enlighten yourself and you will enlighten the viewer. – Jean-Christophe Ammann – Carin Kuoni, Words of Wisdom: A Curator’s Vade Mecum

As the Internet grows up we see an increasing polarisation of views and debate, the storms and tornadoes of a virtual landscape.

But, just because we see lots of noise, it doesn’t mean we have to react to every little thing that comes along.

If we do want to get better at responding, however, we have to get better at separating the signal from the noise, the stuff that matters from the stuff that doesn’t.

When you look at what is happening online these days you see lots of themes – cults of personality, new terms like humblebrag, and the strategic use of sympathy-generating stories to boost one’s social media profile.

Most of us probably feel like we’re being tossed about in a sea full of flotsam and are unsure what to hold on to – how to make sense of what is going on.

And one way to do that – one way to find a lifeboat – is to get better at curation.

Which is why I stopped when I came across James A. Cohen and Paul Mihailidis’s 2013 paper Exploring Curation as a core competency in digital and media literacy education.

Cohen and Mihailidis argue that learning how to curate content makes us more literate.

Literacy, you must remember, is not just the ability to read.

It also requires you to learn how to write.

And in a world where content comes at us in different forms, literacy means more than consuming it – it also means being able to critically consider, analyse and express ourselves online – perhaps through the content we select and present as the content we like and identify with – the content we curate.

And so, if you want to get better at curation ask yourself how much you use these six skills brought out in this paper.

First, we get content in two main ways these days – top down and bottom up.

We get a traditional or official view from the media, the kind of stuff you get from newspapers and the TV, where journalists go out and research the story and give it to us in a top down way.

The other way is through our peer to peer social networks – a bottom up method.

For example, I’ll often check BBC and then check Twitter and millions of people probably use a similar approach to get their news.

These two sources can often be in conflict – as has been shown over the last few years between the media and a certain prominent leader.

The next thing to consider is where you get the information – what’s the medium, message or platform?,

Do you still get newspapers or is your entire diet served online?

What do you miss by only having one of those media?

And how do you benefit by keeping an eye on more than one?

Then you have to think about sources, voices and credibility.

Do you believe a President, a group of scientists or a young activist when it comes to the scale and urgency of climate change?

Of course, you have to always keep in mind that people engage in framing, bias, agenda and perspective.

What’s their point of view, is it honest, do they have an angle, why should you trust them?

There are too many people in the world who are looking for a shortcut to becoming rich and famous.

And there are too many people working on important and useful work that are barely recognised.

You’re in the position of a miner working through lots of useless rock to get to a seam of gold.

And if you can’t tell the difference between a rock and a lump of gold, you might want to learn that first before investing in digging gear.

So, after all that are you making sure you’re being exposed to a diverse set of views?

Many people take a position and refuse to listen to others.

And that leaves no option but to engage in conflict, and no one usually wins, not in the long term anyway.

It’s important to be exposed to people who think differently, who see the world differently.

You might not like what they have to say, but if they’re right then eventually you’ll be found out as wrong.

The last point is that whatever you do should keep in mind civic values and civic voices.

We all live in communities, small ones where our children go to school, large ones that make up nations and a global one that is the only place we inhabit.

What’s going on in other parts of the world matters, especially when there is injustice and oppression.

And the only way to deal with that is to shine a light on it – or at least keep your eyes open and be a witness to what is going on.

The essential skill that we need to develop to deal with the world is the ability to think critically with what is happening around us.

In a world full of information that starts with what we curate for ourselves and each other.


Karthik Suresh

How To Use Tiny Habits To Create Lasting Change


Sunday, 8.23pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude. – Colin Powell

If you’re anything like me there are a lot of things you want to do.

From losing weight and getting fitter to developing your career and creating more options, there are more things to do than there are hours in the day in which to do them.

And something always seems to fall off because it’s too hard to make sure everything stays on track.

Which is why B.J Fogg’s book Tiny Habits seems worth a look.

The book is based on Dr Fogg’s research and experience at Stanford University, and he comes up with a simple model that you can use to install a new behaviour.

Let’s say you want to start exercising daily.

Deciding to go to the gym for an hour every day is a big ask – and you could start by doing that but the chances are that you’ll stop after a while, as you get bored and other priorities take over.

Fogg argues that you should instead start with the smallest possible, the tiniest possible behaviour that will meet the criteria for what you are trying to do.

For example, with exercise, deciding to do two pushups probably qualifies as a tiny habit.

Let’s say you decide to do two pushups – then you have to decide when you’re going to do them.

It helps if you create some kind of prompt – something that will remind you that you need to carry out this behaviour.

This is also called an anchor.

For example, you could do your tiny two pushup habit every time you go to the loo.

The action of going to the bathroom acts as a prompt – something that reminds you to do the behaviour you want to do.

And then Fogg suggests having a little celebration.

He shouts “Victory!” but that’s a little too expressive for some of us, and I might settle for a quiet self-congratulatory fist pump.

Now it’s easy to be sceptical of something like this without trying it, so the first step is to actually try it out.

Which is what I’m going to do with the exercise routine – but I probably have an example of where I’ve followed this model and it has worked, although I didn’t know about Fogg at the time.

A few years ago, in late 2016, I decided that I wanted to keep a blog.

But, I didn’t know what I wanted to write about, so I started by simply writing something in a text file every day.

It only needed to be three paragraphs or so – a sort of freewriting – with no expectations that it would turn into anything else.

After a few months of this, however, it started to become easier.

Later on, in 2017, going from freewriting to writing a blog post every day wasn’t that big a step.

Going from writing something to adding in a drawing didn’t seem too difficult.

Now, over 700 posts and 440,000 words later it’s probably fair to say that I’m starting to get the hang of this.

But it all did start with a tiny habit.

And I do let myself have a little celebration after I finish each post, although it involves watching a programme I like.

So, I’m going to give tiny habits a try for the next few years and we’ll see if it works when it comes to health as well.

Until then,


Karthik Suresh

How To Start Thinking About Content For A New Website


Saturday, 8.06pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The power of a website comes from the people using it, not the people making it. – Chris Edwards

I’m planning on creating a niche site on a particular topic – so it made sense to review what’s out there on website design – what are people talking about now?

Not a whole lot that’s new, apparently.

As a first pass it feels like there are three things you should start by considering.

Let’s start with intent. What does that mean?

These days almost everyone goes to Google as a first step to doing anything.

But what is it they’re trying to do?

Well, it could be any number of things – from is that discolouration on their arm a wart to how to change a washer on a specific brand of tap.

There are billions of people searching for billions of things.

Trying to figure out their intent is probably not the best idea in the world, come to think of it.

Instead, the world of internet search actually seems to function a bit like the way a market operates.

The function of a market is to match buyers and sellers through the discovery of a price that both can settle on.

The function of search engines is to match people with questions and people with answers with a page that one creates and the other uses.

It’s usually a mistake to think that you can control a traded market.

And I think it’s probably just as big a mistake to think you can control an information market – especially as Google and other search engines get better at figuring out what people want rather than what they ask for.

What does this mean for my new site?

Well, it probably means that I should create a site that I want to use – something that answers questions that I have.

That’s the core – if you start off trying to create something that you think someone else needs then your site isn’t anchored anywhere, it’s simply floating free hoping for an audience.

But if you start with a site that “scratches your own itch” you have an audience of at least one and that’s a start.

From that anchor point, it’s time to think about searches.

The general advice on searches seems to be look at what people seem to ask for on a search engine.

Type in a couple of words and autocomplete suggestions drop down – presumably showing you what other people have searched for before.

Now, a good tip I came across was the a-z principle.

Let’s say your site has to do with horses.

You type in “horses a” and make a note of what comes up in the suggestions dropdown.

Slightly unexpectedly, these results include the words arse, ankle and glue.

Do that for the remaining b-z options and go through them.

I’ve done this for the site I’m thinking about and need to go through the result – but you would think that this approach will give you a useful list of search terms that are being used – the voice of the people, in a way.

I think then what might make sense is to look at these terms and keywords in a connected graph – how are these terms related when you put them down with nodes and links.

If you want to think about planning content this kind of graph can give you an idea of the area you need to cover and perhaps tell you how much you need to create.

With some niche areas you can write a small amount and rank pretty well.

With others, you need more and also need to be prepared to keep it updated to keep the search engines happy.

A third thing to keep in mind is what stage is your user at in their journey?

This transcript on search intent is quite useful and explains that people might be looking just for information or actively seeking a business relationship.

They might be carrying out a transaction, like buying something on Ebay or looking for local information, like an event.

The stage they’re in will affect the intent they have when carrying out the searches they do.

So what you’ve got to construct in your site is the thing they interact with when they’re in a particular stage.

For example, your content comes up when they’re looking for information and they can find your contact details and check how credible you are when looking to do business.

These three points are just a start – something to consider when building a new website.

There are enough sites out there and many of them will be competing with you.

At the same time it’s an information market – you will find a match with people looking for the information you’re putting out there.

You might as well try and build your site for those particular folk.


Karthik Suresh

What Sort Of Metrics Should We Be Paying Attention To?


Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted – William Bruce Cameron, Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking

Do you have a wearable tech device that monitors your activity – something like a Fitbit or smart watch.

Have you set yourself a target, like 10,000 steps a day.

Then, in the coming days, when you’ve fallen short, have you tried taking extra steps, pacing the floor to make up the numbers and been delighted when you pushed through the virtual tape and reached your goal?

And then, after a while, as the novelty wore off, did you stop?

I think we many people make a huge mistake when they start using measures and metrics – one that most never really realise they’re making.

For example, year after year, managers set targets – targets that are based on some arbitrary increase from a previous figure – say 20% year on year growth.

Maybe they use that to set targets for bonuses because they believe that having a goal will incentivise people to work harder.

And this assumption turns out wrong time after time, but we don’t seem to learn.

And this is why.

It’s easiest to see this happening when it comes to your health.

When you start putting on weight it’s tempting to think that the answer is in a fix – more exercise, less bad food.

So we put effort into eating less, eating better, going out for a run.

We don’t change anything else about what we do – we just add this additional bit that takes effort and willpower to keep doing.

And eventually, almost inevitably, we run out of energy to maintain that effort.

And that’s because this effort we exert is an external thing – a forcing effect – like you’re pressing down on the bonnet of a car – forcing down the suspension.

Eventually, you’ll have to let go and the car goes back to its normal position.

Remove the forcing effect and the old system returns – the one where you weighed more and had snacks every day.

Now, you say, surely goals are good, targets are better.

Aren’t goals dreams with a deadline and all that kind of jazz?

Let’s go back to the steps example.

The first thing your tracker tells you is what “normal” looks like for your step count.

For example, on weekends I have no difficulty hitting the count because we’re out with the kids and doing stuff.

On work days it’s hard, because I’m in all the time and standing at a computer.

On the days when I walk to school I get closer to the limit, exceeding it on some days.

The beauty of the tracker is that it tells me what is going on – and that set of figures is what you could term an “emergent metric”.

It’s something that emerges from the natural pattern of your life – the voice of the process.

Now, if you try and force that metric up eventually you’ll go back to normal when the forcing activity stops.

If you really want to change that metric then you have to change the underlying system.

For example, you might walk your kids to school even on the days you don’t have to.

You might choose to do your mid-week shop on foot rather than driving down as you normally do.

When you make those kinds of changes what you’re trying to do is change the system – and if that change is something you can keep doing without additional effort – then you have a good change of getting your metric to move in the right direction.

Not by targeting it but by changing the system that results in it.

This is semantics, you might say, whether you force it or change it – the same thing is happening.

And you would be wrong.

People who focus on metrics fail to see that metrics simply express what is going on.

As Deming said, every system is perfectly designed to deliver the results it does.

If you want to change you have to change the system.

For centuries, the only way to track things was by keeping a manual record – which is why we perhaps confused the record with the thing that results in the record.

But now, we have systems that can help us track what we’re doing without having to think about it.

For example, the number of posts I write in a year and the average length of each post seem around the same year on year.

That’s because the system I have to write and publish creates that result.

All too often the way we work makes it difficult to get these figures naturally from the work we do.

But that’s a technical problem – something that can be solved if you have the expertise needed to automate the collection and analysis of data that is generated through activity.

If you imagine your life, your business, as something that just goes on – like life in a town space.

What would you need to overlay on top of that – what systems would you need to invisibly collect data on what is going on?

Collect data that emerges, that is.

Because when you analyse that data – it’s like a doctor with an ECG.

You’re seeing straight into the heart of your system.

And you’ll know whether it’s healthy or clogged.

More importantly, you’ll know whether you need to make a change or not.

And it will be effortless.


Karthik Suresh

Why Putting In Place Some Structure Can Help You Work More Freely


Thursday, 8.18pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It’s hard to write a good play because it’s hard to structure a plot. If you can think of it off the top of your head, so can the audience. – David Mamet

When it comes down to it a lot of things happen the same way.

I was reading Writing television sitcoms by Evan S. Smith, who described his approach as premise-driven comedy writing.

He explains that there are two ways writers usually work.

Some just start and get a first draft written quickly – which then goes through endless rewrites – sometimes for the better and sometimes worse.

Others create or are given an outline and then fill in the blanks – there’s much less freedom but also less to worry about.

Smith’s approach says start by “weaving funny elements into the premise of the episode” – put in things that will generate humour in situations.

For example, in many sitcoms you’ll find that the two main characters are diametrically opposed.

You have a laid back person and a very buttoned person – and conflict and funny situations just come out of putting them together.

This got me thinking about Steven Pressfield’s clothesline method of writing, where you pin up key scenes, almost like you would hang them out on a clothesline, to see what the major parts of your story might be.

Taking this one step further you have Shawn Coyne’s story grid, which tells you that any genre you write in will have conventions and obligatory scenes.

Conventions are things that people expect to see in your story while obligatory scenes are things that you must have if you want the story to work.

Coyne explains that in a mystery story you’d expect someone to set out to solve the mystery – that’s a convention.

An obligatory scene in a thriller is having the hero at the mercy of the villain – think of every Bond film you’ve seen – if that isn’t there it’s just not going to do it for you.

Now, when I think about business and marketing, the same things apply.

For example, if you want to sell something on Ebay these days you need to follow certain conventions.

You need to describe your item and tell Ebay how to categorise it, probably at a minimum.

But if you want to sell you have to do more – have pictures, a description that stands out, stuff that helps people see you as a real seller and not a scammer.

You’ve got to do the same thing on LinkedIn – have a profile picture, build a network, engage and share content.

In both cases there are conventions you adhere to.

Some people simply connect to everyone out there – and probably annoy more than a few.

Others take the time to personalise an invite, reaching fewer but perhaps getting better quality connections.

Take a different field – creating online ads or a direct marketing piece.

Again, there will be elements that you need to put into your content – conventions you follow.

An obligatory element in an ad might be the call to action – why should they get in touch?

When you start thinking of anything you do in these terms you start to see the value of knowing what these conventional and obligatory elements are.

If you know these you can pin them up on your imaginary clothesline – you know you need these to make things work.

And then, because you have those elements in place you can get on with creating something that is uniquely about you.

Pure novelty is hard to sell – and it’s usually ignored because people don’t know what to make of it.

Sitcoms and books that work do so not because they contain something novel – but because they contain timeless elements that are being presented in a novel way.

And really, when you think about it, businesses and campaigns that work probably do so for the same reason – they appeal to things that are timeless – but show them to you in a new way.

Which makes them unique.


Karthik Suresh