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The Extraordinary Business Book Club

Alison Jones, publisher and book coach, explores business books from both a writer's and a reader's perspective. Interviews with authors, publishers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, tech wizards, social media strategists, PR and marketing experts and others involved in helping businesses tell their story effectively.
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The Extraordinary Business Book Club
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Jul 22, 2019

'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. 

Jul 15, 2019

'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.  

Jul 8, 2019

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. 

Jul 1, 2019

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. 

Jun 24, 2019

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. 

Jun 17, 2019

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?

Here's why.

  • Mark Burns on the stones in the reader's shoe
  • Bec Evans on treating your book as a prototype
  • Fiona Murden on keeping it real in a self-development book
  • David Grayson on building a collaborative vision for a book 
  • Whitney Vosburgh on the big picture and remote collaboration
  • Della Hudson on writing as a thinking tool
  • Neil Mullarkey on using the principles of improv to get started. 
Jun 10, 2019

'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. 

Jun 3, 2019

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.'

May 27, 2019

'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.'

May 20, 2019

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. 

May 13, 2019

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... .

 

May 6, 2019

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. 

Apr 29, 2019

'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...

Apr 22, 2019

'[The principles behind the book were those of] the lean startup: build, measure, learn, which meant running experiments, testing stuff with users and iterating and improving... treating it as a whole series of prototypes.'

In writing her first book - How to Have a Happy Hustle - Bec Evans drew on all her knowledge of innovation strategy as well as her expertise in writing productivity. The result is not only a superb book, but a masterclass in smart book development, testing every element from problem-finding to the table of contents to the cover. 

In this episode she talks us through the process, and reveals how she overcame those two classic writers' blockers, fear and procrastination, along the way. 

Apr 15, 2019

‘Mindfulness is… all about recognising where we're coming from, and who we are, and how we like to think, and where we're going with all that information.’

Dr Audrey Tang is in the business of ‘applied mindfulness’ – how can it help us be better leaders, smarter learners, and happier people? In The Leader’s Guide to Mindfulness, she shows how soft skills give hard results in areas such as problem solving and creativity, and also takes us deeper, to emotional resilience, inspiration and growth.

This is a masterclass in drawing together practical teaching and spiritual depth, weaving in expertise and experience as diverse as teaching aerobics and designing escape rooms.

Apr 8, 2019

A few of the stand-out moments from the last few Extraordinary Business Book Club episodes - there's a celebratory feel as it marks the fifth birthday of Practical Inspiration, and this week we're focused on finding inspiration in the uncomfortable and owning your ideas.

  • Niki Schafer on submerging yourself in things that inspire you
  • Anjali Ramachandran on seeking out ideas outside your comfort zone 
  • Brendan Barns on owning your story and the importance of humour
  • Kate Minchin on the unexpected usefulness of the zombie apocalpyse approach
  • Niklas Jansen on taking your ideas to new platforms
  • Chris Watson on the value of process and people
  • Miya Knights on collaboration and vulnerability 
  • Mike Sergeant on intimacy, trust and the podcast.
Apr 1, 2019

As a journalist, Mike Sergeant's job was to communicate complex issues clearly and quickly. He had to find within huge geopolitical issues the human stories that listeners could connect with. Today he uses that experience to help business leaders communicate more powerfully. 

Mike believes that PR is simply storytelling - human to human. Finding the story and creating the emotional connection, that's what saves us from spin and distrust. 

In this conversation we talk about the difference between simplifying your message and clarifying it, the power of the podcast, and those weirdly productive 3am moments.

Mar 25, 2019

Kate Minchin claims her entire career has been built on a mountain of coffee beans. Which sounds a bit precarious, but you get the idea: getting the best out of people is based on getting to know them, and that means getting out of the office and into conversation.

While there are stacks of business books written for leaders and entrepreneurs, relatively few are aimed at frontline managers (same goes for training, interestingly), and Kate wanted to right this wrong. The result is Always Time for Coffee: A Down-To-Earth Guide for Frontline Managers, Team Leaders and Supervisors, full of real-life wisdom and tactical, practical tips for happier and more productive teams.

She had an interesting personal reason for writing the book too. And I can think I can safely say this is probably the only podcast episode that ever has and ever will include the phrase 'non-zombie-specific stuff'.

Mar 18, 2019

Fresh [sic] from the London Book Fair 2019, where Practical Inspiration Publishing was an exhibitor, this week's episode is a reflection on the big themes of the Fair, and the Quantum conference that preceded it (and of which I was a Chair).

Listen up for the latest on: 

the growth of non-fiction - why we're all trying to make sense of a world gone mad

the audio explosion - how audio books, podcasts and voice-first discovery are shaping the new publishing landscape

independent publishers - why they're increasingly shaping the agenda

bookshops - how they defied expectations to remain relevant in the age of Amazon, and how they're working with publishers like us to bring readers and authors together

discoverability - what it is, why it matters, and some great new tools to help books get found 

And very, very, VERY little on Brexit. Promise. 

Mar 11, 2019

'Our events are a bit like a business book; a business book should give you new ideas, cutting edge content, stuff that you haven't thought about before. But great business books can do it in a way that makes learning fun, that is entertaining to read, that also inspires the reader.'

London Business Forum do events a bit differently. You don't get Tom Peters in boxing gloves at your run-of-the-mill business presentation. In this episode, LBF founder Brendan Barns talk about what makes a great talk, and why laughter is such a powerful tool for engaging attention and communicating ideas.

Spoiler alert: Creating a great talk is not so different to creating a great book.

Mar 4, 2019

Amazon has revolutionised retail, and it's showing no signs of stopping. To understand the Amazon effect, and consider what might be coming next, we need to analyse it through two lenses - retail strategy and technology. Which is why retail analyst Natalie Berg and technology journalist Miya Knights decided to combine their perspectives and co-author their new book Amazon: How the world's most relentless retailer will continue to revolutionise commerce

In this conversation we talk about the Amazon effect itself (always fascinating for a publisher!) and the future of retail, but also what it takes to collaborate on a book, the difficulty of writing about a moving target, and how to fit the writing alongside the day job. 

Feb 25, 2019

'Wouldn't it be helpful if somehow you could anticipate the key skills that would be needed in the future to support people's professional growth?'

And that was the question that eventually led Chris Watson to write his first book: Upskill: 21 Keys to Professional Growth. In this conversation we explore the steps between: the research behind the book, how Chris pulled it all together and found the right writing style, and the marketing tips he's learned along the way. 

Writing a good business book usually starts with asking a good business question: here's the step-by-step guide to everything in between. 

Feb 18, 2019

'Constantly trying to be open to knowing about things that we're not that comfortable with, I think that's important.'

Most of us live inside a bubble of our own making: we read and talk about things that we know, we filter our feeds and our network to the voices that are like ours, whose opinions validate our own. That's dangerous, warns innovator Anjali Ramachandran, and it's also poor business. For all sorts of reasons, we need to seek out and share the new narratives that will shape the future of our interconnected world. 

But can there be a place for books in this work? It's complicated... 

Feb 11, 2019

'We have trailers and teasers about a movie. So why shouldn't there be a teaser or trailer for a book?'

When Niklas Jansen graduated he knew he wanted to start a business, but he didn't know much about running a business. And he also realised that suddenly he didn't have as much time as he'd had as a student for reading. So where better to start than creating a business that involved reading lots of business books and distilling the key ideas? 

And so Blinkist was born, 'bringing the ideas from the best nonfiction to some of the busiest people on the planet'. 

In this conversation we talk about how reading is changing, why sharing ideas is essential for discoverability, and why your offline strategy matters just as much as your online content. 

Feb 4, 2019

Designers look at life differently, and writers can learn a lot from their approach. Niki Schafer's aim as an interior designer is to design happiness into her clients' homes.

And while she was writing her book on 'dwellbeing', she discovered how to capture the joyful state of creative flow kinaesthetically, so that she could bypass 'procrastination and head-scratching' and put herself immediately into the writing zone. 

A conversation for any writer who needs a dose of practical inspiration and a shot of playfulness to get their happy back. Plus the most beautiful shelfies you've ever seen. 

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