How Are You Going To See Yourself In The Year Ahead?

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Sunday, 9.07pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Diversity: the art of thinking independently together. – Macolm Forbes

The last few days of the year are a good time to reflect and plan.

There’s a natural rhythm to it, just a natural time when you look back and forward and think.

And one of the things that we’re all probably more aware of has to do with diversity.

There are the struggles we have with outward diversity – the diversity that deals with gender and race and choice – but there is also the struggle for inner diversity – of knowing who you really are.

We’ve all reached wherever we are in life because of choices we made in the past.

But, what lay behind those choices? Did you make them because they felt right for you or because they felt like the right choices to make?

I’ve made many decisions because it seemed like the right thing to do – the thing that would help me fit in or do well or get ahead.

The danger with that is by trying to fit in you forget who you are.

And, at some point, it may make sense to try and rediscover yourself – and the end of one year and the start of another is not a bad time to do that.

The point I’m trying to make, I think, is that if you try and be the best at something anyone else can do you’re in for a rather stressful existence.

That’s because you’re always worried that someone else will come along, someone younger, harder working and with fewer commitments, someone cheaper – someone who can replace you.

And that’s no different for businesses. Anyone in a commodity business knows that they only way to survive is to be as efficient as possible – to sell at the lowest margin that allows you to survive.

Anything more than that requires something special – something that no one else has – a moat.

And that moat, whether you are an individual or a business has to come from something unique that only you can do.

The fact is that you have to deal with the world around you – and the world is full of different people.

But – if you try and change to fit in with those people you’ll forget who you are.

The point is about being able to communicate with others, not be like others.

Which brings us back to diversity, in thought and belief and action.

What’s unique about you is the way you think and act – and you show that by having a belief in yourself.

I think in the year ahead one of my goals is to look more widely – search out diverse thoughts and ideas – because it’s by understanding differences that we’re more likely to better understand ourselves.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

The Secret To Doing Work That Matters To You And Others

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Sunday, 9.04pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Social media is not about the exploitation of technology but service to community. – Simon Mainwaring

As the year draws to a close there are a few things I have learned that you may find interesting.

In 2008, I wrote on a piece of paper, if it isn’t written down, then it doesn’t exist.

A few years ago, that thought became if it isn’t on the internet, then it doesn’t exist.

Clearly, whatever it is that I was referring to does exist…

The point is that if others aren’t aware then does it matter whether it does or not?

It’s a bit like the old Zen question of if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound?

It’s all very well reading other people’s material and thinking hard about things but do you really need to start doing things yourself?

Well… the only way to find out was to start trying to do something and that’s where this blog started a few years ago.

And at first, it was awkward and halting. I didn’t quite know what I was writing about or who I was writing for and what would happen as a result.

But what I learned was that didn’t matter, for a few reasons.

First, the act of doing something had a benefit in itself.

Deciding to write at around the same time each day and just seeing where things went was the only way I would find out where I wanted to go.

To find treasure, you have to start to dig.

I started thinking I’d write about energy, a field in which I had some experience.

But I found that I hardly wrote about that. Instead, I wrote about things that interested me, things that I heard or read or came across and wanted to understand in a little more detail.

And really, its through writing that I started to discover what I was really interested in.

Second, you might start by trying to attract people or write for an audience but you soon realise that’s just tiring.

If you write about what you are interested in then at least there’s one person who’s getting some value from what you’re doing.

You’re happy.

The fact is that spreading it more widely has nothing to do with you.

At all.

Derek Silvers has a wonderful TED talk on how to start a movement that shows a lone dancer on a field.

At that point, he’s just a nut dancing around.

What changes is when he gets his first follower. That first person who joins in is the one makes everything change.

That bit of social proof is what gets more people to join in and eventually have everyone join in.

It’s Christmas, after all, so we watched Elf, with Will Ferrell.

And the same thing happens there when Zooey Deschanel starts carolling near the end. At first she’s a lone voice and it’s only when someone else joins in and then someone else that it registers on Santa’s Christmas spirit meters.

So that’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned in the last couple of years of writing.

If you want to create something – words, pictures, music, software, a business – you’ll need to do it for yourself first.

Check that you are happy when you do it regardless of anything that happens later.

And then, whether it goes anywhere else depends on the community out there and what they do.

You can’t control that but you can be thankful if they like what you do.

So, for those of you that take the time to read and like these posts thank you very much and I hope you have a great Christmas and Happy New Year.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Is The Most Important Thing You Need To Do When Negotiating?

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Friday, 9.27pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once. It seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come. – William Shakespeare

What is it that links economics, negotiation and freedom?

Well, let’s start with a little situation.

You run a software company and provide SAAS services to a number of customers.

You’ve recently been bought by a larger firm. What do you think is the first thing you should do?

The answer is: raise prices.

Why?

It all comes down to an economic principle called elasticity.

This is not as hard as it sounds if you keep the numbers simple.

Imagine that there are 12 people in the world who will buy what you have at the right price.

If you gave it away for free, all 12 would buy it. That’s the green 12 on the top chart.

If you charged $12, then no one would buy it.

These numbers give you a line on a chart, going from a cost of $12 for no customers to a cost of 0 for 12 customers – the blue line on the top chart.

So, what price should you charge to make the most money?

If you look at the middle of the chart, selling your product at $6 would result in six customers for a total income of $36.

If you charge more than that by, for example, raising the price to $7 then 5 customers will buy giving you $36.

If you dropped the price to $4, then 8 customers would buy giving you $32.

Anything you do to raise the price above or below that sweet spot in the middle will make you less money, as the second chart shows.

Still here?

Ok, so what this means for most people is that when you start, you price your product low.

And the easiest way to make more money is to raise prices which is what the experts will tell you because they know that when you raise prices the extra money you make will make up for the customers who leave you as long as your pricing is below that sweet spot.

That’s an easy way to get a quick win for the company that bought you. A tripling of income inside a year.

Now, how do you raise prices?

Well, you’ve got a SAAS product. The customers don’t own a single line of your code. They either pay more or lose the ability to do whatever you enabled them to do.

You’ve got a gun pointed at them and you aren’t afraid to use it now that you understand the power of pricing.

Now, let’s switch things around.

You aren’t really the SAAS provider with the power and the gun.

You’re the poor fool stood opposite looking at that nasty grey gun.

What is it you should do?

That choice you have to give in to the person opposite you will be made entirely on how much you care about what happens next.

Are you ready to walk away.

Do you care less than the other guy about what happens as a result?

Because here’s the thing.

Even if you had a good relationship with the guy opposite and consider him a friend you need to be ready to do what needs to be done when he demands you give in.

It really comes down to fear.

Fear – the lack of courage – is what will get you down.

Fear is what will make you give in.

That’s one reason why if you really have something important to do you need to have control over it.

Maybe you get that control by doing it yourself.

But whenever you deal with anyone else always be ready to walk away no matter what the consequences.

Because that’s the only way you’ll keep your freedom in the face of tyranny or a hostile negotiator.

Because nothing will be as bad as giving in.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Do You Get People To Pay Attention To Your Message?

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Thursday, 8.49pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The only way to influence people is to talk in terms of what the other person wants. – Dale Carnegie

I have a press release to write soon.

How would you go about writing one of these?

Let’s say you have a consulting business and you get an opportunity to submit a short piece to a local newspaper.

What should you do?

As always, there is much advice on the Internet and some of it is actually useful.

But to start with I’d suggest just putting down the first 300 words that come to mind.

That’s because a blank screen or piece of paper can be the most intimidating thing around.

Before you can get it perfect you have to get started.

Once you’ve done that what are the most likely mistakes you’ve made?

If you’re like me, your first draft is all me. me. me.

It’s about you and your product and how fabulous you are and how your journey is so interesting and different. And here’s a really special thing that happened to make you who you are now.

The first thing to remove, then, is the hyperbole.

Phrases like “this fantastic product” or “this amazing experience” fail the smell test. They smell like a sales pitch and make people turn away as quickly as possible.

Then the advice usually starts to address how you can benefit your reader and talk about the things they care about.

But I’m not sure that’s the place to go next.

And when I thought about this, the whole camel and the eye of a needle metaphor came to mind.

I think what you want to do is think hard about your needle.

A lot of people read the local paper: butchers, bakers and candlestick makers; homeowners, homewreckers and hopeful romantics.

But only a few people are right for you and what you’re offering to do for them.

That’s the real purpose of each line in your copy – to filter the people who don’t care about your stuff phrase by phrase.

Unsurprisingly, Amazon have a process for doing this sort of stuff.

A good press release, they write, is clear and to the point and gives you the product’s features and benefits. It’s what the world sees about the product.

So, lets say you have a consulting firm, you might write that you do lots of clever techy stuff.

But who is the kind of person that is likely to buy from you?

Is it a harassed small business owner, a manager in a large firm or another consultant that wants to be more efficient in how they deliver their services?

The headline you use will decide whether the right person reads your copy because they are planning to buy or whether someone skims it because it happens to be in front of them.

I think I’d probably go with the advice of someone like the late Gary Halbert and write down 20 or so headlines.

The headline, after all, is a one sentence pitch that should hold the essence of your message.

With this process so far, you’ve got a first draft, preferably one you’d be ashamed to show anybody, and a bunch of headlines.

Then it’s time for more attempts at writing copy.

Writing in chunks helps.

The perfect message is never going to be written in one sitting – tapping directly into divine inspiration.

Instead, it’s a process of writing and rewriting.

And assembling.

I read somewhere about writing being like construction, like assembly, and that makes a lot of sense.

We need to be able to add and rearrange and delete and move things around because that’s how we get our thoughts in order.

We may have a number of ideas and scramble to get them all down.

But then we need to look at each idea, compare it with the next one and ask which comes first.

Should you introduce your company first or write about what you do or muse about the problems you know your prospects face?

There is no right answer, but the process of writing and moving and thinking will get you closer to something you are happy to send off.

I think when it comes down to it getting people to pay attention to your message is less about the message itself and more about how hard you try and make it easy for your reader to get.

And that takes work. Hard work.

As William Zinsser, who wrote the classic book On Writing Well says A clear sentence is no accident.

And it should be hard work for you – because the harder you work the less you reader has to – and that’s going to help them like you.

Maybe they’ll then even like you enough to consider buying from you.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Do You Have This Essential Marketing System In Place?

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Wednesday, 6.11am

Sheffield, U.K.

Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends. – Walt Disney

It takes time to see things clearly.

I don’t know about you but when you hear someone explain a concept it’s all words and ideas and concepts.

You don’t get it, really get it, viscerally and in your being, until you try doing what those words say and fail a few times.

I suppose that is the case with any profession but it’s even more true with marketing.

Because marketing is the art of having a conversation with someone and, as we all know, talking to someone you don’t know is not the easiest thing in the world.

It all depends on context.

A direct approach has the highest chance of failure.

As the famous McGraw Hill ad of the grumpy man in a chair shows beautifully.

What works better is being in the same place at the same time, serendipitously.

But serendipity is fickle and you may have to spend time trying to structure opportunities to meet instead.

But there’s something better that you should try and get working as a process in your business.

For a while now, I’ve been looking at the stuff that Jay Abraham puts out.

Abraham, one of the doyens of direct marketing, rubs shoulders with people like Tony Robbins and has some useful things to say.

He’s big on referral marketing – getting business through other people who know people.

And you see this being used by many of the people that are doing well in the digital economy today.

Take Tim Ferris, for example, the host of one of the most popular business podcasts on the Internet today.

His podcast starts with around six minutes of advertising built entirely around referring his audience to products and services he trusts and uses.

Abraham has a five step approach that you could use when approaching people who are, like Ferris, influencers that know your prospects.

The influencers you want to talk to may be existing customers, associates, or even competitors.

The point is that they have access to the kind of prospects who can benefit from what you have to offer.

The benefits need to be real and clear and tangible.

There is a mindset shift that Abraham needs from you – one where you go from being in love with your product to being in love with your customer.

Sounds cheesy.

But I suppose the point is that you need to look at things from the point of view of that customer and what they need.

So then you need to construct a risk-free offer. One that has no strings or obligations attached. A safety net that will make sure that new customer is not going to have a bad experience.

But then, coming back to the influencer, you really want to create an incentive that is customised for them.

So they can tell their contacts and audience that they’ve got a special deal or offer just for them.

The whole point of having a referral system in place is that you’re trying to make it easier for people to cross the chasm that stands in the way of them becoming your customer.

Everything you do in marketing is trying to bridge that chasm.

A referral, on the other hand, makes the gap smaller and easier for a prospect to step across.

So, if you don’t already have a working referral system in place make that one of your aims for the year ahead.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Navigate Towards A Common Understanding And Alliance

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Tuesday, 6.02am

Sheffield, U.K.

Good government is no substitute for self-government. – Mahatma Gandhi

It’s the time of year for planning and deciding what you’re going to do with life and work next year.

What should you do if you want to change things? Change something or everything about your way of life?

Well, if we start with what most people would like to have, it’s work with purpose, autonomy when it comes to how they work and mastery of what they do, a framework described by Daniel Pink.

Peter Drucker, the management thinker, wrote about self-governance in organisations.

He imagined a world where each worker takes on the job of management – takes on managerial responsibility.

And, in doing so, you take responsibility for what you and your colleagues do, for what you contribute to the “performance and results” of the organisation and for the “social tasks of the work community”.

Drucker points out that the world of work as it is now, with managers and workers is relatively recent.

And, we’re moving to a situation where freelancing and gig working is more common.

So, what can you do to position yourself for these changing times?

The starting point is to write something down.

What you are trying to do in most cases is figure out an approach that is going to work for you and someone else.

It’s not quite a negotiation because it’s quite possible that neither of you know what the end result is.

It’s more about alignment.

Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, wrote in his book The Alliance about the difficulties organisations have in recruiting and keeping talent.

He says that the old work model is broken. There is no more lifetime employment, no more seeing employees as family.

You also can’t run a business where everyone is free to do whatever they want.

The solution, according to Hoffman, is to forge alliances between employers and employees.

An alliance is an understanding that the two of you are coming together for a specific purpose – to achieve something together.

Morningstar, a tomato products company, has no hierarchy or job titles. Each person agrees how they will contribute with the others that they need to work with.

The thing that is common in both Hoffman’s and Morningstar’s situations is a piece of writing that sets out how things will work.

Hoffman calls this a Statement of Alliance while Morningstar calls it a Colleague Letter of Understanding.

So, how can you go about thinking through one of these?

The place to start is with what the leaders of the organisation want to achieve.

Maybe they’re focused on growth, perhaps on culture, perhaps on both.

But they’re only going to sign up to things that they can see will add value. And value usually means something that adds to profits this year. Maybe next year, if they can see it makes sense.

The only things you should put in front of them, then, are the things you can do to help them with those jobs.

Then, it’s time for the plan.

Which pretty much comes down to some variant of objectives, activities and deliverables with a little bit of honesty and plain talking built in.

Maybe that structure is worth exploring another day.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

December Update On Cryptocurrency Trading Performance

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Monday, 5.46am

Sheffield, U.K.

The market can remain irrational much longer than you can remain solvent – A. Gary Shilling

December tends to be the time when we look back at the year and see how things have gone.

And one of the things that has not gone the way people thought it would is the whole crypto-currency space.

I first wrote about blockchain in March 2017 – the year Bitcoin exploded in value. By the end of that year, it was trading at $16,000 and, at the start of 2018, we were asking whether traditional investments were dead and it was time for alternatives to take over.

Which reminds me of what happened in 2008 to oil prices. They shot up, rocketing through $100 a barrel, heading towards $200 a barrel.

Goldman Sachs, a firm that you would think knew what it was doing, mused about the possibility of oil at $200 a barrel.

My flirtation with crypto lasted all of three months. At the start of this year I bought Ethereum in January at $725 and sold at $650 in March, a loss of 10.3%.

I explained why in that post – setting out how my trading system worked.

Before I put any money into the market I created a trading system based on Point and Figure charts.

This method helps to find the signal in market noise and, importantly, gives you a way to know when to pull out of your trade.

In essence, when I bought, I set a stop loss figure – a value below which I would close out my position.

That line was at 650 – the red line in the chart – and when I went through it, it was time to sell.

I also needed a way to look at whether I should enter the market again.

I’d only do that when it was clear that the market had turned – which would happen when prices went through the bearish resistance line, a roof of numbers that the price would have to push through.

It hasn’t done that this year – the price has come close but not close enough.

And, as the year has drawn on, the price has continued to fall.

Ethereum is at around $85, Bitcoin at $3,200.

Bitcoin has dropped by 80% this year. If I had stayed in Ethereum, my losses would have been over 88% rather than 10%.

So, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m glad I got out when I did.

But what’s clear is that at the time no one had any idea what was going to happen.

And that’s one of the things that we need to get our heads around.

There are an infinite number of possible futures – and we’re never going to be able to tell which one is going to happen.

That makes decision making hard because you don’t know whether you’re taking a gamble or not.

If you buy something because you expect its price to rise then you’re speculating.

Whether it’s houses, stocks or currencies, we’re buying hopes and dreams.

And that’s dangerous.

Crypto is a pure sentiment play – it’s worth what someone else is willing to pay for it.

Period.

And right now, fear is in charge.

There is no reason why the market cannot go down further.

It’s been a year of devastation, after all.

But, things can change – things go in cycles.

Less than a year after Goldman Sachs did its piece about oil the price fell to under $30 a barrel.

There is a point where enough people think the price is low and come into buy – starting that process of supporting and pushing prices higher.

Maybe next year – maybe in a couple of years. All we can do is watch and wait, and be ready to act.

At these times we would do well to remember the Scout motto Be Prepared.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Do You Need To Do To Get Buyers To Trust You Enough To Buy?

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Sunday, 8.48pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue. — Andrew Davis

There’s been something missing from the last few books I’ve been reading and trying to use in day to day situations.

It started with an increasing tension between strategy and tactics.

Strategy is a having an idea of where you want to end up.

Tactics are about having approaches that will get you there.

So far, so good.

The problem is that it isn’t clear what comes first.

For example, do strategic studies describe what you should do in the future or do they describe what has happened in the past.

And do you hear of tactics that were successful because the people and companies that used them prospered – but don’t know about the people who used the same tactics and failed?

From one point of view strategy and tactics are stories – stories that help us think about the situations we are in and perhaps help us come up with ideas and approaches we can test.

Is there anything a little more durable? Something that we can use in a more robust way?

How about economics?

The problem with economics the way it is taught in schools is that it has lots of maths and complicated words.

When it comes down to it, however, the best definition I read was by Steven Landsburg who writes in his book The Armchair Economist Most of economics can be summarized in four words: “People respond to incentives.” The rest is commentary.

So that takes us to tactics and strategies that we need to use to get ahead in this modern world.

Most people would agree that digital marketing is an essential part of what anyone needs to do now to survive in business.

High streets are being decimated – we use stores as places to browse while we check prices on Amazon or Ebay while taking pictures of products to remind ourselves of what we might like.

The effort that goes into curating products, selling shelf space and staffing those stores is something we are no longer willing to pay for.

When many of us starting making a shift to online marketing we need to develop content.

Content is the stuff that sells for us and the way in which we create and use content is going to make the difference between succeeding and failing.

Why is that?

Economics has a simple answer.

The biggest problem that exists in the real world between buyers and sellers has to do with the amount of information each has about the product.

Old world economics assumed that information was perfect – everyone knew everything and so the price was all that mattered to match supply and demand.

But then why is it that you hesitate to buy a used car?

It’s the lemon problem.

You could be about to buy a lemon. The salesperson knows it’s a lemon. You don’t.

So, what can a salesperson do to help you out?

Well, what they used to do was try and pressure you into buying.

I had that recently with a car purchase. They did all the things – started off saying everything was in my budget then coming out with a price twice as much.

Trying to get me to agree that I would make a decision that very day.

Trying to be my friend.

But you can’t really be pressured in the same way online – which is why so many of us prefer to be there.

So… the skills we need to develop are really the ones that help us figure out what kind of content is going to help sell our product.

What’s the economist’s answer?

Information.

We need to use information to show what we have – to describe it and show it being used and help customers see it for themselves.

We’re all very sensitive to hyperbole.

When a film’s blurb tells you that something is a fantastically told story you’re ready not to believe them. If it was really that good the reviews would tell you that.

That’s an example of not having enough information. Too much information is also a bad thing.

Including every detail that matters to you might well turn people off.

The optimal amount of information shows people what you have and tells them what they would ask if they were in front of you.

A friend of mine points out that selling on Ebay is common sense. Make descriptions clear, use terms that people would use when searching, show the thing from lots of angles – all these things help reduce people’s fears that they are about to buy a lemon.

We are, still, in the very early days of the Intenet.

Everything seems to be about glitz and glamour and look and feel but under it all the only measure of success you need to have is what kind of sales you’re making.

And if you’re not making enough sales it’s probably because you haven’t convinced enough people that what you have isn’t a lemon.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What’s In A Name?

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Saturday, 7.39am

Sheffield, U.K.

Pen names are masks that allow us to unmask ourselves. – Terri Guillemets

Doing stuff is easy.

If you’re like most people the work comes naturally.

You can draw or write or file paperwork with the best of them.

So, let’s say you’re looking for a new job, starting a business or creating a new product line – what’s the first thing you should do?

Some people start with the function – the features of what they have to offer.

With you, that might be your qualifications, experience and achievements.

With a product, it might be what it does, the technology it uses and the team behind it.

I normally stumble around in that sort of space for a while trying to work out what it is that I’m trying to say.

Until I worked with a professor who took a very different approach.

She listened to my pitch for a while then leaned forward and said “Okay, so what do we call this?”

I wasn’t sure yet.

So, we sat and talked about possible names, things that this product could be and as we did that, the concept became more real and concrete and tangible.

Names have the power to do that.

In a sense, naming something makes it real.

It’s no longer a hazy idea but a fully formed concept held in words.

Which then leads you to thinking about how to choose a name that works.

Much advice is generic and obvious.

Choose names that people can say, words that are easy to read, unique, memorable, with feeling, energy and the right kind of sound.

Some advice is extensive and almost overwhelming.

In this blog post Nick Kolenda, the author of Methods of Persuasion details how to construct names for whatever you want to do.

It’s going to take a few reads before it sinks in.

Many founders start with ideas for names and the first thing they do is see if the domain names are available.

Both Dropbox and Uber started without owning the dot com domains for their names.

During their funding rounds they bought the names for what seems like a lot – around $300,000 and $1m or so each.

The equivalent value now would be hundreds of millions of dollars.

I suppose to start with there are a few things to work through.

Is your business very specific – like Kate’s Carpet Cleaners or an industry group like General Motors?

Does your brand evoke a promise like McKinsey or make you feel like you own something exceptional like Apple?

The thing that Nick’s article makes clear is that names have shape and sound and colour and feeling and size and gender and more.

Selecting a name may be less about inspiration and more about discarding ones that don’t work.

But there’s one more thing about names that may be helpful to us.

By naming something we give it an identity that starts to separate it from us.

It’s like having kids.

At first, they’re attached to you – a part of you, without a name.

Choosing that name for them is so important when they come out because we’re worried about how they will be treated.

Will their name help them or will they be teased for it?

Also, when we name them we recognise that they are separate from us, independent human beings.

And I suppose that’s what a name does with our creations as well.

Whether its a business, a product or simply a new process, naming it creates a separation from us and we can look at it more objectively.

Many founders can’t get over that feeling of personal attachment to their product and so can’t listen to advice that suggests their baby is not perfectly formed.

Maybe naming the thing we have made is the way we need to let go and let it become the best it can be.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Design Habits To Change Your Life

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Friday, 6.02am

Sheffield, U.K.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle

How should you spend your time?

When at work, should you only work?

Should you start at the first thing on your list and keep going until you’re done?

Charles Duhigg’s book The Power Of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change uses lots of examples to illustrate a simple model.

We do things, he says, in a loop.

First, some kind of event sets you off.

He calls this a cue.

For example, your phone buzzing with a notification is a cue.

A cue can also feel like a trap. For example, if you’re hungry and you go to the supermarket seeing the chocolate aisle is like falling over a tripwire.

The cue triggers the start of a routine – actions you take one after another.

If the routine ends up giving you a pleasant rush, giving you a high, then the next time you encounter the cue that started it all you’ll start the same routine.

And that’s Duhigg’s habit loop.

When you get your head around this you start seeing examples everywhere.

If, when I drive back from work, I stop to fill the car with fuel the cue or trap is going into the shop to pay and seeing lots of chocolate.

The first trap is that buying some chocolate seems cheap when compared to the cost of fuel.

For example, if you’ve put 60 pounds in the tank what’s an extra pound for a bar?

Now, you might say just use your willpower and resist buying that chocolate.

But, when you’re tired or hungry late in the day, your willpower is exhausted and you can’t trust yourself.

Now, the trap is sprung. You fill up, pick up some chocolate and get a sugar rush.

And the next time you fill up it’s more than likely that you’ll do it again.

So, how do you escape from this habit?

In this example, what I do is avoid the trap in the first place.

I try not to fill up in the evenings when I’m tired and hungry but in the mornings when I’ve just had breakfast and my willpower reserves are full.

Avoidance or abstinence is a good rule for this kind of trap.

If you haven’t got it you can’t have it.

The next thing you can do is address the routine.

If you keep the cue the same and the reward the same but adjust what you do in the middle you can create good habits or break bad ones.

Take a simple act like planning what you’re going to do tomorrow at the end of today.

You could use the five minutes before closing time to jot down the top things you want to get done or keep a pad somewhere you know you’ll see it before turning in for the night.

The trick is finding what you can do that will give you a reward you know you like.

For example, you probably feel good after you’ve done some exercise.

If you go for a run first thing in the morning before you do anything else or change into your gym clothes at the same time each evening you can use a timing cue to kick start a routine.

You just need to experiment and figure out what works for you. Keep trying out things and you’ll find a look you can stick with and form a habit.

The last thing you can play with is the reward itself.

Normally, you’ll try and do something that gives you a pleasant feeling.

Some approaches, however, try and use negative feelings.

Some hypnosis approaches try and associate a cue with revulsion to stop habits like overeating or smoking.

At a more extreme level you might wear a device that gives you a mild shock when you see the cue.

Someone was trying to raise money to build that kind of device on Kickstarter and the is apparently quite effective.

If you get a shock when you reach for chocolate your brain learns very quickly to avoid and get away from that situation.

Maybe that’s a little extreme but the point is that there isn’t really that much we are trying to get right.

Health is probably top of the list, complemented by eating right. Doing meaningful work and spending our time with people we care about.

It’s so easy to get into bad habits, even simple ones like spending too much time watching TV or getting irritable with others.

Changing a habit, on the other hand, can be hard.

Duhigg’s model gives us an approach that might make it easier.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh