Why It’s Crucial To Pick A Game You Like Playing When It Comes To Life Strategy


Monday, 9.04pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play. – James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility

It is really hard to find a quote about games or sport that doesn’t have something to do with winning or losing.

It feels like everything in life is seen through this prism of sport – the idea that a competitive nature is what matters – beating others and reaching the top and excelling and getting the prize is the most important thing in the world.

And it’s just not.

Many people will disagree – surely you want your kids to be competitive – to push themselves – to get ahead?

Well, the first question you have to ask yourself is how much success is down to native talent these days.

And how much is down to the resources invested in a particular person to make them the best in the world.

In sports like tennis parents spend huge amounts of money and time taking their children to the best coaches and training facilities in the world.

One would assume that there is a reason why countries that have a lot of snow and ice tend to be the ones that come up with sportspeople who dominate the winter games.

If the sport you’re interested in is an individual one – then there’s only one winner.

And if it’s a team game, there’s one team.

And the fact is that sport is an arena event – it’s a battle, a bloodsport, and humans like nothing more than watching a fight.

That’s really what watching sport comes down to – the vicarious thrill of battle.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

What’s wrong is taking that bloodlust and imagining it’s a way to also do things in society.

Which is where Carse’s quote that starts this post is right on the money.

If you have a finite game, one that you play and then it ends – you can win, shake hands and walk away.

And if there is a prize you can walk away with that as well.

These games, you could argue, are played not just to win but also for the prize.

Then there are games that continue – and continue – until life runs out.

The games you play because you want to stay healthy – keep your relationships alive, get ahead in work.

All these are forms of play, where what matters is what you get out of the game.

For example, let’s say you always wanted to be an artist but your parents convinced you that engineering was the right thing for you to do and now you spend your days doing technical support – would you say you were winning or losing?

It’s not that easy, is it?

Maybe the job has provided you with a steady income, given you the ability to raise a family and keep a house.

And yet you wonder where you might have been if you had followed your heart?

Probably penniless.

The point, I suppose, is this.

Just like life isn’t about winning or losing, it’s also not about grand gestures and big wishes.

Just look at what children do, naturally.

They want to play – they get engrossed in what they’re doing.

They carry on until they get bored and want to try something else.

The one thing that destroys play for children is technology, in the form of the telly and devices.

Then they stop playing and start consuming instead – until they find video games and spend all their time exercising their eyes and fingers.

But, despite the pitfalls the thing to see is that kids like to play and as adults we’re no different.

If we see the thing we do as play, then we’ll do it happily for the rest of our lives.

If we see it as work, we’ll stop doing it the minute we stop getting money for doing it.

If we see it as a competition we’ll probably stop doing it once we start losing consistently.

There is an end when you do something for a reason outside yourself.

When you do something because the reason is inside you – because you like doing it – then you’ll find it’s easy to do it day after day, week after week, year after year.

And somehow, without realising it you’ll probably end up winning.

But, better still, if you don’t, you probably won’t care.

Because you’d have enjoyed yourself every step of the way.


Karthik Suresh

How Should You Try And Spend Your Time Every Day?


Sunday, 6.42pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Whoever renders service to many puts himself in line for greatness – great wealth, great return, great satisfaction, great reputation, and great joy. – Jim Rohn

I was thinking about one of the things that Jay Abraham talks about every once in a while in his podcasts.

Highest and best use theory.

So, what does that mean?

Well, if you check out Wikipedia it has to do with figuring out what the value of something should be rather than what it is.

In the case of property, real estate, the value of it depends on the best use it can be put to rather than what it’s being used for now.

But of course, there are constraints.

Let’s take the example of a farmer’s field on the outskirts of a city – one that is growing.

The chances are that the farmer is using the land for pasture or growing crops – but the highest return will come if houses were built on it instead.

Unless the land is on a flood plain and houses built there will regularly get flooded and ruined.

Or unless the land is in a green belt zone and no new buildings are allowed in the area.

Or unless the soil is so soft and sandy that it will be far too expensive to put in the foundations you need.

In a more formal way – the ability to achieve the highest and best use value depends on four main things – whether you can do it legally, whether you can do it physically and whether you can do it financially AND if it’s the highest return option.

Now, it’s worth seeing if this highest and best use theory can be used to decide how you’re going to spend your time every day.

In some situations the more time you spend the bigger the result you get.

If you get a balloon and spend a minute blowing it up, you’ll get a small balloon.

If you spend a lot more time and assuming the thing doesn’t burst, you’ll get a bigger one.

There are many tasks where to get a bigger return you have to put in more resources.

And your time is a resource – which leads many people to believe that the more time they spend on the job the bigger the reward.

The harder you work the better your return.

But there is another school of thought that holds that it takes about the same amount of time and effort to do something small as it does to do something big.

For example, if you spend your time labouring for $10 an hour and your lawyer sister bills herself at $400 an hour, how do you compare the effort that goes into both activities?

Well, you don’t really. Both tasks need doing and the amount paid for them depends on the market for those services.

There are lots of people willing to work as labourers while there are few people allowed to work as lawyers and supply and demand ends up setting the price.

The same person who is labouring right now could end up learning everything about the real estate business and in ten years end up owning their own building company and making in a day what the lawyer makes in a year.

You just don’t know what is going to work out.

So, what should you keep in mind about how you spend your time.

My feeling is that the first test you should have is whether you’re learning something new every day.

With whatever you’re doing, are you stretching yourself, trying new things, understanding more about your business.

Do you just do the same thing day after day or do you learn more day after day.

And then the next test is whether you are at a stage when you can teach what you’ve learned.

If you can teach, then you can start a business or grow a business – because the point of being in charge is not to order and shout and bully but to teach and coach and develop people.

And throughout life maybe you can do both.

The thing that make humans special is our brains – the ability that gives us.

And the highest and best use of our brains is to do two things in our lives – learn and teach.

If you do that it’s hard to see how you could ever be dissatisfied with the life you live.


Karthik Suresh

p.s. As it’s Sunday, today’s paper is about The art of learning.

What To Do When You Feel Like You’re Getting Nowhere


Saturday, 9.40pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. – Confucius

Saturday, 9.41pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If we regret anything in life it’s probably the things we didn’t do when we had the chance.

If you did do it and it didn’t work out – well, at least you tried.

But in most cases it’s the things you haven’t tried when you were still able to do so that come to mind.

I was listening to a YouTube talk by Kurt Vonnegut when, rather inexplicably and right at the very end, they inserted an advert for an online course by a writer.

I was a little startled and it took me a while to tune in – mainly because when that sort of thing happens I tend to reach for a sketchbook and start doodling until I can press the skip ad button.

Anyway, somewhere in there the author said that he wrote every day for fifteen years before writing his first book.

And then I watched a TED talk by Andrew Stanton, the writer behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Wall-E, as he went back through the timeline of events and experiences that brought him to where he is today.

And then another TED talk on humour – and all these talks had one thing in common.

It takes time to get to where you are.

Okay, that’s obvious, time passes whether you do anything or not – inexorably, unforgivingly.

Slight sense of deja vu as I write these words because this morning, for some reason, I had Kipling’s poem running through my mind.

“If you can fill the unforgiving minute; With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it…”

Time is, when you look at it, simply the most vital non-renewable resource in your life.

So what you do with it matters.

We know it takes time to master anything.

You have to start by learning to see, to deconstruct what the thing you want to do.

Then you have to practice, learn how to do each element and get better and better at the parts.

Then you have to reconstruct the pieces, put them together so that they make something – first something that looks like the things other people make and then a new thing – that you’ve made and brought into the world.

These three steps – deconstruction, practice and reconstruction – are the way to learn things.

And it’s frustrating and sometimes it feels like you’re not getting anywhere, you’re stuck and it’s impossible to break through.

But what that also tells you is that you’re at the edge of what you know now – and there is something else for you to find – as long as you keep working at it.

I feel, for example, that my writing is all over the place – there is no theme, structure, focus, goal, objective, plan, story or technique.

There is just the practice of trying to draw and write something daily.

I have a book by Natalie Goldberg called Writing down the bones and she talks about how she was finding it hard to understand Zen by doing sitting meditation and her teacher said, “Why do you come to sit meditation? Why don’t you make writing your practice? If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you everyplace.”

Goldberg writes that this idea of a “practise” can be applied to everything, to business, to comedy, to exercise – because there are many “truths” out there for you to consider.

And that is what I find as I write about the topics that interest me – about strategy and management and you career – there are so many “truths” and they could even be true.

But you can’t approach the truth head on – just like you can’t really approach yourself head on.

You sort of have to sneak up – keep doing things and looking around and then, if you’re lucky, you might spot the truth that works for you – or get what you really want to do with the rest of your life.

What you need is faith – not in a god – but in yourself.

Faith that if you do the practise everything will work out.


Karthik Suresh

How Can You Intentionally Make Your Life Better?


Friday, 6.58pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I watched Bill Burnett’s talk, Designing your life, which is worth sitting through and reflecting on.

I took away a few points – adapted slightly, perhaps, from the original message – but perhaps more useful to me.

The first thing that’s interesting is the idea – how to design your life.

The important word is design – what you’re trying to do when you design something is to make it better – not worse.

And it’s very easy to make things worse – think of the outcome of nearly every meeting you’ve been to.

Burnett has five points to keep in mind when it comes to design – but I find four useful, and one of those in a slightly different form.

The first one is to connect the dots.

Burnett argues that meaning comes from connecting dots – dots like what you believe, what you do and who you are.

The idea is that these things are three separate elements within you – and it’s by aligning, connecting, resolving these points that you find meaning in your life.

I’m not so sure.

I see the dots as elements of a system, the parts that need to be in place and that also need to work together for something to happen.

This does have to do with what you do, but also where you do it, what others do and the culture and environment in which you find yourself.

In other words, you have to look at yourself as a system – do all the parts actually work together, like a car driving along on the road, or are they just parts, like the bits of a car dismantled and laid out on a lawn.

Meaning, I think, is an emergent property – it comes out of the system that you have created through choice – and without choice.

It’s only when you connect the dots that you get a line.

And all the dots you need have to be there to get the line you want.

The second point is to avoid gravity problems.

Gravity problems are ones that you really have no choice over – problems that you can’t affect or influence or change.

Either accept them or find a place where they don’t exist.

Which is clearly hard in the case of gravity – but less so when it comes to bosses who you don’t get on with or people who hold you back.

The third point is to try things out before you buy.

Before you quit your job to start a flower shop, try selling flowers at a market to see if you like the experience.

If you can’t try it yourself ask people who do it now – ask a surgeon what the life is like before starting a 14 year programme of study.

Don’t watch enviously, or hide behind your desk.

Get stuck in – trying something out is often cost free or very low cost – which is a cheap price to pay for the learning you get.

There is a missing point here – one about prototyping – thinking about the thing you want to create.

I’m not that sure about that – mainly because when it comes to life I feel that we’re so encrusted with societal views, parental expectations and our own justifications that any design we come up with is likely to be encumbered with elements of those things.

Instead – just try things out that you can try out – keep your eyes open for opportunities and when you see them put your hand up.

Eventually you’ll find yourself doing more of the things you like and less of the things you don’t – as long as you bear the fourth point in mind.

Don’t be afraid to let go and move on.

A sure fire way to make yourself miserable is to keep your options open or be able to reverse a decision.

Choices cause us angst – and having the option to change our minds makes us worry whether we did the right thing in the first place.

Traders know this – it’s too easy to worry about the trades you’ve done and whether they will work out.

You can’t look back – you just need to look at the next trade – the next deal.

And that’s the case with life as well – try something out and if it doesn’t work or you don’t like it don’t hesitate to quit and walk away.

You have nothing to prove to anyone else – the only thing that matters is whether your life is better after you make your choice.

And it always is – your brain is wired to make you feel good about a choice you have made when there is no turning back.

For most of us the essential elements for a good life are in place or accessible to us – it’s often the system that doesn’t work.

But that’s the point of design thinking – there is no best.

But there is better.


Karthik Suresh

How To Break Down What Happens And Get Your Timing Right


Thursday, 6.47pm

Sheffield, U.K.

All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this. – Miyamoto Musashi

In a police investigation, I understand, the most important thing is the timeline of events.

What happened first? What happened next? And so on.

It’s useful to keep this in mind because, although we sort of know time happens in this sequential kind of way we sometimes forget.

Actually, it’s probably fair to say we often forget.

And that probably has something to do with how our brains work.

For example, I read something on social media today that has a line that looked like “Why is no one talking about … thing?”

And someone responded, agreeing that no one was talking about it, and pointing to a report on the issue.

So, someone is talking about it – just because it’s news to you doesn’t mean that somewhere else there’s an army of people working on the subject.

When we first become aware of something our brain adjusts its filter, now showing you everything that’s similar – the so called reticular activating system.

It’s when you decide you want a new car you see models of the ones you’re considering everywhere you look.

Now, let’s turn this the other way around – what if you have a message you want to get out there.

Is the right time to send out that message when you’ve written it?

That’s what many of us do – we do stuff and send it out.

This post, for example, will come to your inbox in a short while when I press the right button.

And that’s fine if your focus is on creating material – that’s what I’m trying to do.

But you need to think differently when you want someone to react to your stuff – to respond to what you do.

If you want that to happen you first need to work out what their timeline looks like.

Let’s say you sell a cost reduction service.

When is the best time to get in touch with a person at a prospect organisation?

First, obviously, you need to figure out who the best person is to get in touch with – is it the Managing Director, a plant operator?

Who is the person or group of people with the responsibility and the power to commission your services?

If it’s the MD, do you work down a list of companies from A-Z, highest to lowest turnover?

Bash the phones or send spam email and hope you get through?

Or can you be more strategic about it all?

What if you look at companies and see how their results look year on year – which ones are under pressure to do something?

What if you look at companies where a new MD has taken over – someone who wants to make their mark quickly?

What about companies that have negative reviews and are struggling to manage the impact on their reputation?

All these organisations may be willing to listen to your message about how you can take out costs because of what you know.

There are many reasons why you might be rejected by someone – and it often has to do with when you’ve approached them.

If you adopt a random approach then you will have a certain success rate – because for a proportion of the people you talk to you’ll get the timing right.

The question for you is whether by looking more closely at the timeline of events you can figure out which entry point will increase your chances of success.

But that information isn’t just out there – it’s not easy to find.

It takes some detective work.

You have to get into the minds of your prospects – the way they act and think.

Maybe you interview them, maybe you gather research, maybe you set up google alerts for significant events.

You create a research division – even if it’s just you – your own private investigative office to support your marketing efforts.

You know how in stories the detective gets the bad guys by piecing together bits of evidence that are there for everyone to see – but only the detective put together.

That’s the skill we need to develop as marketers.

Because you can get your timing right by accident.

But if you understand the way the timeline works, you can get it right on purpose.


Karthik Suresh

What Kind Of Work Should You Focus On Creating?


Wednesday, 9.39pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before. – Neil Gaiman

I rarely have a plan when I begin the process of writing one of these posts.

I do have a ritual, however, a ritual that means I never have to start with a blank page – a ritual that makes it possible to eventually post something in an hour or so.

A blank page can be a forbidding, fear inducing thing.

Those first words, that first scrawl – it doesn’t look like anything and it probably won’t be anything and you’re best off just throwing it in the bin now.

You see this happening early on in life – first your children scribble and draw without fear.

And then they start school and learn that things are good or bad, perfect or imperfect, and they worry about getting the spelling right, or the spacing right, or the pronunciation right.

And in trying to get things right we slow down, we spend less time practising and more time correcting – and eventually controlling.

And eventually correction and control kills the thing you started doing because you liked doing it.

How many children continue to draw into adulthood?

At around six, seven, eight, nine, ten – they start to leave behind childish things and childish scrawls – they grow up.

An organisation is similar to a child in that respect.

When you’re running a startup what you’re focused on is creating something – something that you believe should exist or something that a customer needs you to create.

That’s exciting work, creative work – and you’ll get on and do it.

And then your startup grows, you add people – and calls start for training, and quality and management.

You start creating processes – which go out of date almost instantly if you do any kind of innovation at all – so in order to keep the process moving you stop innovating.

Richard Feynman had this story about the space programme where mechanics had to count a number of holes across a rocket body to work out where the fasteners should go.

Feynman suggested that they paint four marks on the quadrants, because that way you would only need to count a quarter of the holes.

“Too expensive,” he was told.

Too expensive to paint four little marks?

No – too expensive to revise and reprint all the manuals.

And so children stop drawing, companies stop innovating and everyone gets old and miserable.

But it doesn’t have to be that way – if you keep a few pointers in mind.

These particular ones come from the mind of Neil Gaiman and his famous keynote address at the Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

What you should do, Gaiman says, is make good art.

Art, I think, is anything you do – and it includes writing, programming, sculpting, steel-making.

Because there is an art to doing almost everything.

Everything that adds value, that is.

This is where we should keep in mind that there are things we do that add value – things that customers need.

Then there are things we do that are as a consequence of failures in a system somewhere – things that have gone wrong.

It’s easy to see why working on the first type of demand on our time – value demand – is worth doing.

The second kind of demand – failure demand – is easy to get wrong.

Failure demand is the time you spend dealing with the consequences of a problem rather than fixing the system so the problem stops happening.

Fixing things is also an art – as Pirsig pointed out in Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.

So, the first thing to remember is to make art – and make good art.

The second thing, Gaiman says, is to make your art.

Make the stuff only you can do, the stuff that excites you, the stuff that emerges as you lean make art – first copying, then adapting and then innovating – all the while creating.

But, the will to make good art or your art is not enough.

I suspect even trying to do it will actually throw you off.

What you need instead is a ritual – starting work on your art at around the same time, using the same approach, and getting on with it.

On some days your work will be rubbish.

On other days it will be good.

But at the end of a year at least you’ll have a body of work.

And you’ll know yourself better.


Karthik Suresh

Why We Should Take Few Things As Finished Or Perfect


Tuesday, 8.24pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Looking not to any one time, but to all time, if my theory be true, numberless intermediate varieties, linking most closely all the species of the same group together, must assuredly have existed; but the very process of natural selection constantly tends, as has been so often remarked, to exterminate the parent forms and the intermediate links. Consequently evidence of their former existence could be found only amongst fossil remains. – Charles Darwin

In one of David Attenborough’s programmes there is an arresting scene of two bulls, a challenger and an old veteran, going head to head.

Weighing over half a ton each, their foreheads crash together, again and again.

The challenger seems to be winning until the veteran gets broadside and drives him away.

It’s the kind of clash you remember, that sticks in your mind – because of the beauty and majesty of these animals and the seeming pointlessness of their way of setting a dispute.

But then you have to ask yourself, what alternatives do you have?

In a post on Ben Orlin’s very funny Math With Bad Drawings blog he explains the Intermediate Value Theorem as effectively saying that if at one time you were three feet tall and then at a later time you were five, then at some time in between you must have been four feet tall.

Now, what this means for you and me is that evolution and maths are telling us that what we see is not all there is.

Let me explain.

If you have a job right now, in order to start that job you signed a contract.

A contract that sets out the rights and obligations between you and your employer.

Maybe it’s a very restrictive one, where they own everything you make, even what you come up with while you’re dreaming.

Maybe it’s one where they can fire you at any time.

Or maybe there isn’t one at all – it’s cash in hand, or sometimes it’s not.

Or it’s a loose contract setting out what you will do for this employer but leaving room for you to work for other as well.

Those of us that aren’t lawyers tend to look at contracts as perfect documents, set in stone – while to lawyers they might simply be a set of statements, often imperfect, and something to argue over and settle after they’ve been paid.

An approach to management might have evolved along similar lines, from forced labour to a postmodern network of capabilities – each approach fitting into a particular niche, surviving, evolving, dying.

What’s obvious is what is in front of you – the end products of all those small changes, those intermediate states.

We see them as they are now – bulls, markets, societies, economies, theories – and wonder how they ever got so big and complex – surely it cannot have been by chance?

There must have been a guiding hand, a creator, someone omnipotent?

But somehow, the more plausible explanation is that these things just happened over time.

And they took time.

Which human beings don’t like – I saw a post where Paul Graham quoted some as always asking if you think something will take ten years ask yourself how you will do it in six months.

Maybe some things can be addressed that way.

Others can’t.

You can’t make a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant, for example.

If you want to become good at something – playing music, writing, programming, managing, science, learning a language, assimilating into a society – it’s hard to shortcut those 10,000 hours or 10 years that you usually need.

But most of that applies to things that you want to do – like those bulls who want to protect their territory – or take over another one’s patch.

For human beings we have the advantage of being able to consider what to do.

We can see how those bulls resolve their differences and understand that it involves pain and a lingering headache.

And we can choose to do things differently – change the things we don’t like.

As long as we don’t get fooled into thinking that change is not possible – that the way things are is the way they have to be.

Because you can make a difference.


Karthik Suresh

What’s The Right Kind Of Risk To Take?


Monday, 8.47pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing. – Warren Buffett

I had a look again at David J. Schwartz’s The magic of thinking big yesterday – and was struck by a section on why some very clever people don’t achieve as much as you think they should.

As Robert Kiyosaki put it, A students end up working for C students, and B students end up working for the government.

Why is that?

One thing, Schwartz writes, has to do with attitude, the kind of person you are.

Early in your career people will pick you and promote you more on the basis of how you approach tasks and whether you get things done than how smart you are.

Being smart helps.

Knowing things is good.

But being useful is important.

If your managers find that you are useful you get more responsibility and are exposed to more opportunities than someone who is not.

But what is it about attitude that makes the difference – and how do you decide what kind of attitude is best?

Let’s take an extreme of the positive approach – the kind of person who always promises to deliver and is certain they can get things done, no matter the obstacle.

You find such people in many places, bull headed people who believe in themselves and are ready to push themselves to the limit.

You might think of such people as risk takers, the kind of person that would take a running jump across a canyon, the kind of person who will shoot for the stars.

Some of them make it.

Some of them don’t.

Those that make the leap might then tell you all about how you need to leap and then the net will appear, when one door closes another will open.

But while you listen to them you must keep in mind survivor bias – you’re only getting the message from those that got across.

You don’t hear from the ones who took the jump and for whom the net failed to appear, or the ones for whom the door turned out to be a window.

The other kind of person is the one who knows what can go wrong with anything and everything.

These people stand on the sidelines, watching the jumpers – knowing why they will fail – and why they would never themselves take the leap.

It’s a form of negative thinking, if you want to demean it, and a form of realism, if you want to accept it.

Either way such people choose to be safe – to do what should be done.

They live their lives but because they take no risk at all they perhaps don’t achieve what they could have done.

They’ll never know.

And then there is the image of the tightrope walker – a person who takes a calculated risk.

Someone who steps out into the void – but a step at a time feeling for safety.

Someone who trains and practises and has the skills needed to balance and maintain a precarious footing.

Someone who knows what can go wrong and takes the trouble to learn how to do things and get the right tools to help along the way.

Perhaps the way to think about this is as follows.

Some people take a leap and some of them succeed.

Some people search for reasons why doing something will fail – and so rarely achieve anything.

And some people try and work out how to make something succeed – and improve their chances of doing so as a result.

I’d put the three in a particular order – using a red, amber, green approach.

The wild leap, for me is the riskiest approach – and gets a red.

Staying put is better than jumping – and gets an amber.

Knowing what you’re doing gets a green.


Karthik Suresh

Why Looking At What You Do Tells You Who You Are


Sunday, 9.13pm

Sheffield, U.K

And Pharoah said, ‘You are lazy! You will be given no straw, but you must produce the same tally of bricks each day.’ – Exodus 5

Do you know how to find out what people will do in a given situation?

For example, if you’re marketing a new brand of healthy cereal, what questions would you ask to find out whether people will buy it?

Many people will assume the right thing to do is ask people what they will do.

“Would buy this type of cereal?”, might be one.

A simple direct question – would you do this.

Many people, when asked such a question, will probably say that they would buy that type of healthy cereal.

Should you now go and build your factories – start producing tons of the stuff?

Before you do that the question you should ask is “What types of cereal do you buy now?”

The point is that studying the past will tell often you more about what will happen in the future than any amount of prediction or forecasting.

Why is that?

Well, the future has an infinite set of alternatives – every possible thing that could happen from the next instant.

The past is defined – a single timeline of things that have happened.

The past is certain and the future uncertain.

But what is likely is that things that have happened in the past will happen again in the future.

If your preference has been for chocolate ice cream for most of your adult life you are unlikely to change to a pomegranate fusion.

This is the time of year for resolutions – for ideas and plans for how you will do things differently.

Imagine you were to tell a friend about how you have spent the last few days, the last few weeks, the last few months, the last year – what would you say?

If you could talk through what’s taken your time, what you’ve enjoyed doing, how things have gone – then you will have an insight into what you’ve done.

And in what you’ve done lies the information you need to understand what you’re going to do.

Let’s take writing as an example – something like keeping a blog like this one you’re reading.

If I look back at what I’ve done, the one constant that’s always been there is writing.

I have sheets of yellow paper with pencilled writing from 1998 in a file, letters, diary entries – not everything but enough to know that writing has been something I’ve done for a few decades.

I use writing as a way to examine what I think, as a way to understand other people’s ideas, as a way to work through unsettling situations.

In the first decade of this century I held a view that if something wasn’t in writing it practically didn’t exist.

In the second decade I revised that view to if something isn’t on the Internet it doesn’t exist.

Now, if someone starts a website or a blog or whatever else because they think it would be a useful thing to do – something utilitarian – perhaps something as part of a content marketing strategy – the test of whether they will keep at it is whether they have written much in the past.

Because if they haven’t this task will wear them down, doing something they don’t really like doing day after day.

And you can’t outsource it easily – because that person writing has the same problem.

Do they do it because they have to – in which case that angst will show – or do they do it because they like writing?

The thing you have to look for when trying to see whether something that you want to change is likely to do so is the voice of the process.

If you want to increase the number of customers you have, how much time did you spend last year having conversations with prospects, partners and introducers?

If you want to lose weight how many days a week did you exercise last year?

If you want to spend less how much time did you spend last year filling in your cashbook and updating your budget?

The fact is that we are all anchored in the past, rooted there – just like a giant tree.

If we want to change ourselves or our situation in a way that is very different from where we are now we need to pull up that anchor, uproot that tree – and that’s very hard work.

Not impossible – but very hard.

You should have started taking baby steps to change ten years ago.

But if you haven’t – today is good too.


Karthik Suresh

What Do You Do When You Feel Less Good Than Everyone Else?


Saturday, 9.30pm

Sheffield, U.K.

What fascinated me most was Churchill as a young child. He had a kind of Dickensian childhood. The neglect. And he was a terrible student. His whole life is a study in trying to overcome your feelings of inadequacy. – John Lithgow

I said I probably wouldn’t write about the fourth chapter of Alain de Botton’s book The consolations of philosophy but I’ve changed my mind.

The reason I thought I’d skip it is because it covers areas that are not nice to read about as part of an essay on inadequacy.

The problem is one of how people in history have treated other people because they were different – lesser than them.

And it’s happened all over the world, all across time – from South America to Africa to Europe and Asia and Australasia.

The scars of these histories are still visible today – just pick a country – it seems unfair to single out one and there will be something in their history people now wish was simply forgotten.

The good thing is that it now is unlikely that such things will be forgotten – the Internet has a long memory and gives people a voice when they did not have one.

Some of those stories are ones you may not wish to hear.

Right now, for example, with young children and knowing what we now know- I am unable to pick up a book in the library that has letters that Jewish children living in ghettos wrote during the war.

I know it’s there, and must be read – but later.

But my reason for writing about this chapter is that it introduces a French philosopher, Montaigne, who wrote about how important it was that we understand one another.

It is easy to see anything different as worse – and that is how people have seen things for most of history.

In some ways that is a natural, instinctive way to look at the world.

It’s natural and instinctive to see your country being filled up with foreigners and feeling like you’re being pushed out.

And that’s why it’s wrong.

If you want to be a “good” person they you have to fight against what is your natural and instinctive reaction to things – a reaction based on what you think is normal and abnormal based on what you have learned and been exposed to.

And Montaigne pointed out that they only way you can do that is by learning more about other people, other cultures and other ways of doing things.

In any situation you will have some people that are in charge, in control, this is their space.

And you will have others that try to fit in – but feel small, marginalised, without a voice, facing a glass ceiling or outright antagonism and violence.

Who feel inadequate.

And this happens to individuals as well – the inadequacy that affects us when we see people living perfect lives on social media – when we see others that seem to be doing much better than we are.

Montaigne points out that respect or value seems to come from people who are furthest away from you.

To your family you are an eccentric – while to someone on the other side of the world your words might be life changing.

Now one solution to the inequity in life and society is for the majority, the winners to make place for the minority, the marginalised.

Some places do this – and some places fight it and depending on where you live – you take the opportunity or you live with the injustice.

But if you are lucky you have something now that almost no one had in the past.

You have the ability to get a voice – a global one.

And one can hope that when we hear these voices we will be more open to change.

Let’s be real about this – you will have some people build walls and ignore the evidence – fight against any suggestion that they or their ancestors did anything wrong.

And you will have others that accept what happened and try to make a difference.

For example, this article analyses Japan’s history and suggests that what is needed in such situations is a permanent way of memorialising and apologising for national crimes – in law, in education, and in culture.

But while you’re waiting being able to tell your story is one way of dealing with what has happened.

What we should be doing is teaching people the right way to treat others.

You’ve all heard of the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

What’s actually needed, but less well known, is the platinum rule.

“Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.”


Karthik Suresh