At the start of 2019 I set myself the ambitious target of reading 100 business books in the year. Now we are 78% of the way through the year, and I am 60% through my list. So really, who am I to be offering reading tips?
But the fact remains that you don't consume 60 books in less than 10 months without picking up some useful learnings. Here, then, are a few reflections on what I've discovered so far, and some practical thoughts on how to supercharge your own extraordinary business book reading.
'It sometimes feels like I get to see every business book published.'
As managing editor and business book reviewer for the Financial Times, not to mention the coordinator of the annual FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year award, Andrew Hill reads probably more business books than anyone else on the planet. It's worth a listen to this just for his personal recommendations.
But he's also a writer, and so his reflections on the value of books in the 21st century are doubly valuable, since he's reflecting on them both professionally and personally, and as both a creator and a consumer.
Fascinating and thoughtful insights into the world of top business books from one of its most influential figures.
'But that's really vulnerable. I don't really want people to read that.'
'Well, that's your story. And if you really want to give this your best shot, you've got to go deep.'
When financier, businesswoman and philanthropist Nancy Youssef decided to entitle the book about the lessons she's learned in her life Fear. Money. Purpose. she didn't realise just how appropriate those words would be for the act of writing the book itself.
In this conversation she reveals how she took up the challenge, invested in the process, and transformed her original play-it-safe manuscript into a powerful personal story that wowed her publisher and transformed her own life.
'We build the road and the road builds us.'
Sometimes, writing a business book can be a profound experience of self-discovery. Karen Skidmore describes True Profit Business: How to play your bigger game without burning out, as her 'becoming' book, and what she discovered along the way has transformed her own business.
But how can an author extend that gift of deep engagement and transformation to readers most of whom, let's face it, have a stack of unread business books on their bedside table already? Karen's answer was to create a launch book club, inviting readers to engage with her and with each other over a period of six weeks and holding them accountable for taking action on what they read.
Genius, no? Find out more here.
Writing a book is rocket-fuel for your profile, of course. But what happens five years later, when your thinking and your business have moved on and your book just won't stop selling? That's where Marianne Cantwell, author of Be A Free Range Human: Escape the 9-5, Create a Life You Love and Still Pay the Bills, found herself.
Find out how she came to write a new edition and what she discovered on the way - the authors on this podcast make the mistakes so you don't have to. And along the way enjoy Marianne's thoughts on being free range, finding your own way, working with editors, and the vital importance of the Best Friend Test. Top-quality listening.
There's a lot of hot air expended on the topic of leadership. It can seem as though 'leadership' is a complex, arcane concept far removed from the reality of most of our lives. Here's the antidote: Chris Hirst's No Bullsh*t Leadership: Why the World Needs More Everyday Leaders and Why That Leader Is You.
In this conversation we talk about the power of language to hide or reveal the truth, the importance of writing generally as a business skill, and writing a book specifically as a thinking tool, and the importance of pushing through.
If you're writing, you're a writer. If you're leading, you're a leader. Here's how to do both a little better.
If you need some encouragement to write in your own voice, this could be just what you need. Norm Laviolette could have called his book 'Developing a Creative Mindset': instead, he stayed true to his roots and wrote 'The Art of Making Sh!t Up'.
In this conversation we discuss finding your voice, taking control of your life, and seeing what comes up. And also softball coaching, because improv, creativity and business success are all based on noticing unexpected connections and having the courage to act on them.
The last few episodes of The Extraordinary Business Book club have included some extraordinary conversations about business and books, and one thing that's become clear is that you need to be fuelled by passion to write a business book that makes a difference. Discover how these award-winning writers tapped into their deepest values and motivations, and how you can too:
'Today, if you always do what you've always done, even if you do it faster, you're going to get left way behind... it's not knowledge that's power and it's not even the use of knowledge that's power: it's the creation of new knowledge that actually leads to something different.'
As children we are naturally, unselfconsciously creative, but by the time we start work most of us have put ourselves into a box and find it almost impossible to think outside it. Chris Griffiths, founder of OpenGenius, is on a mission to help us rediscover our innovation mojo.
The Creative Thinking Handbook is part of that mission, setting out a process ('innovation isn't an event, it's a process and any process needs structure'). But in this conversation Chris reveals the creative process behind the writing of that book - we discuss the interplay of writing and visualisation, the mechanics of collaboration, and the role of technology, from paper and post-its to mind-mapping software.
A brilliantly practical and thoughtful discussion about thinking, writing and creating something new and worthwhile.
'We wanted to create a monster global sisterhood of amazing women who have each other's backs.'
Old Boys' Networks have been the invisible scaffolding on which high-flying men have build their careers for centuries. Debbie Wossock and Anna Jones - high-flyers themselves as both executives and entrepreneurs - decided it was time that women had an equivalent space and support network. The result was AllBright, a women's support and success network, and the first women-only private members' club in London.
But to reach as many women as possible with their empowering message they did the only sensible thing: they wrote a book. In this conversation they reveal how their writing collaboration reflected their core values - mutual respect, optimism, humour, and gin.
Jonathan MacDonald is extraordinary in many ways: a victim of bullying as a child who grew up to practise 'radical forgiveness', the youngest ever Chairman of the British Music Industries Association, the current British heavyweight jiu-jitsu champion.... Oh yes, and an advisor, award-winning, best-selling author and keynote speaker. How? Find out here.
We talk about diversity, change, structuring and writing a book, metaphor and coin-flipping - to name just a few - and he makes an incredibly generous offer to Extraordinary Business Book Club listeners which you'd be a fool to pass up. Get the kettle on and get ready for some top quality brainfood.
'The discovery process is everything. It's the whole project.'
Andrea Clarke describes the three months she spent writing her book as being in 'a pure content vortex... I felt like I was on a natural high.' Discover why, and maybe catch some of her energy and enthusiasm to reignite your own writing mojo, in this fascinating conversation.
As well as talking about the skills that make humans 'future fit' for work, we also touch on the power of audio and the need to 'get over yourself' if you don't like the sound of your voice, the importance of having a 3-dimensional network, and why it's sometimes better NOT to ask for feedback.
'We've got more ways to communicate with one another than in any time in human history, and yet we've completely forgotten how to communicate with one another, or at least how to communicate in a meaningful way.'
Charlie Corbett is starting a revolution. He wants to end corporate-speak and the lazy thinking behind it. Instead, he calls us to think hard and speak plainly as communicators, and challenge meaningless jargon and obfuscation as listeners.
The same goes for writing a book, and he has great advice on how to get over yourself and get started. Brilliant, bracing listening.
'If you ask people do they have a plan for the week, do they know where they need to be, do they know the clients that they'll be meeting, they've prepared for that... Then you say, "What are you going to have for lunch?" And they go, "What?"'
Most of us know exactly what we should be eating, few of us are actually eating it. Too often we fuel our working day with a quick-fix mix of carbs and caffeine, without realising the price we're paying in fatigue, poor decision-making and low productivity.
When Productivity Ninja Graham Allcott starting working with wellbeing expert Colette Heneghan, he was astonished at the impact on his energy and output. Together they're written the book for everyone who wants to give themselves an unfair advantage at work. In this episode we talk about things-on-toast, finding the gap, writing with a co-author, and beating the blank page.
The young Tom Cheesewright found his purpose in life when his mother bought him a copy of the 1979 Usborne Book of the Future. Now he's an Applied Futurist, focusing not on teleportation or interstellar travel but on identifying what is going to take an organisation out at the knees in five years' time.
He discovered that the best way to do that was to create a narrative of the future: 'We've got to be able to tell stories when we're trying to compel change.' (Which is why his book High Frequency Change: Why We Feel Like Change Happens Faster Now and What to Do About It is so readable.)
He also discovered that writing a book isn't like writing a paper, it requires a different approach to structure, and he shares how he overcame that challenge. Pure gold.
You might not think of yourself as 'a creative', but if you're an entrepreneur or a business book author that's exactly what you are, insists award-winning jeweller Harriet Kelsall: you're creating something that didn't exist before you imagined it. And as she discovered the hard way, that means finding your own way to do what you do:
"What I need to do is what I do, not what everyone else does. That's the thing that's going to work."
The need to find your own way becomes even more acute when, like Harriet, you face a challenge like dyslexia. This is a deep dive into practical creativity as brilliant and as packed with gems as Harriet's own bespoke jewellery.
What if you had some help writing your book: a collaborator to transcribe your ideas, do the grunt work of researching huge amounts of material, bounce ideas off, give editorial feedback and even provide their own contributions in the form of a dialogue? And what if that collaborator was available without pay 24/7, had no ego or hangups, and demanded no intellectual property rights? Sounds too good to be true, right?
Meet Aimé, or to give her her full name, AI + Me. When Chris Duffey decided to write a book on AI, he quickly realised that it made sense to develop an AI co-author to help him write a better book, more quickly.
And that's the premise of Superhuman Innovation: with AI support, humans can be and do so much more. A fascinating conversation about humans, machine, and the nature of writing with one of the world's most prominent creative technologists.
A few of the stand-out moments from the last few Extraordinary Business Book Club episodes - this week we're asking.... why? Why write a book, when it's so damn hard?
'Improv is always, "Let's just start something now. We don't know where it's going to go, but we'll start now. Whatever tools, whatever cast we have." That's what writing should be as well.'
Neil Mullarkey, founder of the Comedy Store Players and long-time sketch buddy of Mike Myers, is on a mission to bring the joy, playfulness and co-creativity of improv into organisations around the world.
We talk about his astonishing career, the power of improv in a VUCA world, and how the principles that allow improv performers to create something from nothing apply to facing down the blank page.
Quite simply, this is top-quality listening.
Think you're in a profession that doesn't lend itself to writing a book? Della Hudson trained as a chemist and is now an accountant, but her book The Numbers Business: How to build a successful cloud accountancy practice was a winner at this year's Business Book Awards. And even she, one of the world's clearest thinkers, recommends writing a book as an exercise in clarity and an investment in your intellectual property assets:
'It's a nice way to structure your thoughts. Just to think clearly because you're structuring them for your readers. But you're also structuring all that information to be used in a number of different ways in future.'
'Think about your audience. What stones do they have in their shoes? And what possibilities do they dream of?'
And with this great advice from his editor ringing in his ears, Mark Burns and his co-writer Andy Griffith planned, wrote, rewrote, tested, revised and edited their way to their final manuscript - and investing in their own personal and professional development in the process.
In a fast-changing world, people and organisations that don't learn well don't perform well. Learning really is an imperative across every sector, but how do you convince employees and managers to accept the levels of trust, vulnerability and struggle that involves? You engage their emotions.
'Metaphor and story are really powerful ways in which people can empathise, connect. And when people say, "That's me. That's just my problem," that then gives them a route. You've sold them the art of the possibility.'
Self-development books are big business - but is it just navel-gazing on the hand or esoteric theory on the other?
'At the end of the day people want something that's pragmatic, and they can actually do something with.'
Fiona Murden has been working with the world's most senior leaders for years: in Defining You she makes the profiling tools and techniques usually reserved for the extremes of society - top leaders and Olympians or criminals - available to anyone who wants to understand themselves better so they can make better decisions.
Along the way we talk about winning awards, writing as a woman, the role of running in writing, and the power of partnerships. Unmissable listening.
When we talk about 'the future', we're subconsciously distancing ourselves from some indefinite, hypothetical construct. But in reality, argues Whitney Vosburgh and his co-author Charlie, we are continually co-creating the future in the present, without fully making the connection between the two.
'Instead of being futurists, we need to be now-ists. The future only happens now, and now, and now.'
And that only happens when we build what we know into the way we live, when we go from head, to heart, to hands.
This is also a fascinating insight into how two people can write a book together despite only having met in person twice, and how authors can test the definition of the word 'book' to its limits - from book to mini-book to micro-book... .
Something a bit different this week: I buttonholed some of the top voices in the book industry at last week's IPG Spring Conference and asked them:
What is it that authors need to know but publishers are too polite to tell them?
Their answers might surprise you - and they will definitely help you if you're writing a book, and particularly if you're planning to submit a proposal to a publisher.
This is insider stuff you need to know, together with some big truths you need to hear.
'What is the business case for being unsustainable?'
Professor David Grayson has been involved in social enterprise before it was even a thing, and over the last few decades he has acted as the conscience of business on a range of issues from accessibility and diversity to corporate social responsibility and sustainability.
In All In, he and his co-authors Chris Coulter and Mark Lee examine the practices of those companies leading the way in sustainability and challenge business leaders in every sector and at every scale to commit themselves to going 'all in' to ensure a long-term future.
In this conversation we discuss how three authors in three different time zones can create a shared vision and manage the work of researching and writing such a significant book in what turned out to be a surprisingly short time...