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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Jun 29, 2020

"When faced with personal challenges and business challenges, it's going to take a lot of energy to overcome them. So why not use that energy wisely and focus on the things you can influence and forget about the stuff you can't?"

Rob Law, aka Trunki Daddy, has faced more personal and business challenges than most. In this conversation he talks about living with cystic fibrosis (or '65 roses', as children often put it), his extraordinary journey as an entrepreneur, and the power of writing as a way of sense-making personally and professionally. 

Inspiring, challenging, and, as you'd expect from the Trunki Daddy, huge fun. 

Jun 22, 2020

'Writing the book was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life... There's no quick fix. Everybody finds it hard. What differentiates people who have written books from those that haven't is the ones who wrote the books dealt with the fact that it was really hard.'

Gemma Milne has come at hype from all sides in a career spanning advertising, sales, science journalism and investment, so she's well qualified to dissect it and help us understand what's really going on under the attention-grabbing headlines that bombard us every day. 

But that doesn't mean it's easy. 

In this frank and funny conversation she shares her frustration with the writing process and the revelation, on a flight to Austin, Texas, that transformed everything. 

Jun 15, 2020

Tom Cheesewright spends his life gazing into the future to help businesses identify and respond to trends and technology, but his advice for writers is rooted in the here and now. A fascinating conversation taking in principles for business survival in a fast-changing world along with super-practical tips for writing - and editing - effectively. 

Plus a great tip for writers that is much more fun than most! 

Jun 8, 2020

'Ask yourself continually: is this boring me?... Because if you're bored writing it, there is no chance that anybody is going to want to read it.'

Former Enterprise Editor of the Sunday Times, Rachel Bridge cheerfully admits that she has the classic journalistic characteristics: a short attention span and incurable curiosity. Both, it turns out, are useful when it comes to writing readable business books. 

Fast, funny and fearless, this is a masterclass in cutting through the 'showy-off wibble' (technical journalistic term) and delivering the goods. 


Jun 1, 2020

One of the great privileges of hosting this podcast is the way that so many extraordinary business book authors are willing to share the vulnerable stuff - especially the fear and uncertainty around writing - with me, I hope you find it helpful too. 

In this week's episode, I look back over the last few weeks and draw together examples of authors demonstrating 'whole self' writing: bringing their flaws, anxieties, strengths, superpowers, and unique ways of Getting Stuff Done to the work of writing a book. When you bring your whole self to the job, you write the book that only you can write, and the one that will most profoundly change your life. 

In this week's Best Bits episode: 

  • Chris Wilson on transforming the harshest of backgrounds and the bleakest of situations through the power of reading and writing;
  • Bryony Thomas on the unflinching reality of just how hard this writing lark is;
  • Patrick Dunne on turning dyslexia into a non-linear superpower;
  • Elsbeth Johnson on the crisis of confidence for an author without a social media platform; 
  • Julia Hobsbawm on how even professional writers can worry about tackling a book; 
  • Lucinda Carney on the struggle to find your distinctive voice; 
  • Greg Orme on being comfortable with the messiness of writing; 
  • David Mansfield on living by curiosity and collecting stories;
  • Anne Taylor on writing the book you most need yourself. 

It's an exploration of the whole journey of writing, from idea through mess and uncertainty into clarity, and it's a whole-self process. 

May 25, 2020

'I decided not to do research, then write, then polish, but to have a big jigsaw approach, and do each day what I felt like doing. So if I felt like doing a bit of research, I would, if I felt actually I've got some stuff in my mind. I want to get down then I'd write and if I just fancied sort of finishing, polishing, I'd do a bit of that.'

Patrick Dunne fell into writing books by accident. The main reason he agreed to write one in the first place back in 1997 was because he knew his Mum would be so proud. Little did he guess just how proud she'd be over 20 years when he won the Business Book Award in HR & Management with his latest book, Boards

His refreshingly original approach to writing and publishing together with a complete absence of ego make this a real joy of a conversation, full of practical ideas for people who like to do things a little differently.  

May 18, 2020

If you're overthinking things and tying yourself in knots, make a cup of tea and have a listen to this. Lucinda Carney is a woman who Gets Stuff Done, and in this conversation she reveals how she does it.

It's a great example of how creating content - in this case a book and a podcast - can support whatever business you're in: Lucinda is CEO of a tech company, and both How to be a Change Superhero and the HR Uprising podcast provide the context that helps their customers make the system implementation successful. 

A brilliant case study and a shot of pure writing adrenaline, all in one conversation. 

May 11, 2020

Just occasionally, you have a conversation that rocks you to your core. One of those conversations that shows you how little you really know of life, how blind you are to your own privilege, and how feeble your excuses are.

This is one of those conversations. 

Chris Wilson was facing life in prison for homicide, with no hope of remission. After an upbringing marked by deprivation, violence, abuse and discrimination, his only resources were strength of character, force of will, and a love of reading. 

Fortunately, those were enough. 

Chris wrote out a Master Plan - a remarkably ambitious list of achievements he would aim for - and gradually ticked them all off. incredibly, he convinced a judge that he was not only no longer a danger to society, but an asset. And he's gone on to live a remarkably successful life as an artist, businessman and mentor. 

This is a conversation I will never forget, and I suspect you won't either. 

May 4, 2020

'In leadership communication, and indeed in the process of writing a business book, the more and better the quality and time spent on the thinking, the less time and the more effective the actual production of the communication or the book.'

Dr Elsbeth Johnson certainly put the time into creating her Step Up, Step Back model - the years of academic research and practical testing in organisations meant that she was able to write the book itself in just a few months. (The book proposal, on the other hand....) 

In this conversation we discuss the two phases of leading change, the shift from academic writing to writing that works in the workplace, and the tyranny of the platform and why you don't necessarily need one ('other people who were coming out with books... seemed to have about one and a half million followers on Twitter, I've got about three'). 

Apr 27, 2020

'The more I shared my personal experience... the more vulnerability I showed, the more impact it had when I got feedback from other readers.'

It's amazing how often the process of writing a book reflects the principles within it. That was certainly the case for Anne Taylor, who set out to write a book on soft skills for pragmatic, analytical thinkers focusing on practical, analytical tools and discovered that modelling the very soft skills she was writing about - sharing personal stories and focusing on relationships and lived experience - transformed the reader's experience. 

She also discovered that although she'd feared asking for favours, when she dared to reach out to invite people to be involved in the book they were not only generous in their support but honoured to be asked - a great lesson for anyone feeling isolated as they write. 

A generous and insightful conversation about how we communicate and the impact - personal and professional - of a book. 

Apr 20, 2020

The opportunities for celebration aren't what they used to be right now ('I treat myself and visit the kitchen every now and then..'), but Greg Orme is still enjoying his 'award-winning author' status after The Human Edge was named Business Book of the Year last month. 

In this conversation he shares not only his thoughts on our human edge over AI (with a special shout-out for my personal favourite, curiosity) but also his writing process, which is reassuringly and helpfully messy. 

Plus there's a lovely insight into the moment when I announced him as the winner - I only wish we'd had a two-way video feed... 

Apr 13, 2020

'Anyone who says writing a book is something you can do in 12 weeks or something is just telling people to write a bad book. '

It took Bryony Thomas four years to write the first edition of Watertight Marketing (although she did also give birth in that time...), but the time and energy she put into nailing the sequencing and expression of her ideas paid off. 

Not only was the first edition a massive success, it became the foundation of a much bigger business. In this conversation we discuss the value of intellectual property as an asset, and also how you approach the task of revising such an iconic book.

When the second edition was nearly complete, Bryony received a devastating diagnosis of pancreatic cancer: she talks frankly about the impact of that in this powerful, profoundly inspiring conversation. 

Apr 6, 2020

David Mansfield has a library of business books at home. Many of them are very good, many include great concepts and strategies. But he kept finding himself asking: 'How do you apply that to Monday morning?'

And so The Monday Revolution was born - a rallying call to rethink your working week and return to 'factory settings'. What really matters? And what's getting in the way of that? 

In this week's conversation he shares his writing journey, with great tips particularly on how to turn the stories that present themselves to us every day into material for a book. 

Mar 30, 2020

'It was actually like falling in love, if I'm honest.'

If you've fallen out of love with writing your book and even with your own ideas, this is just the tonic you need. Julia Hobsbawm lucidly talks through the evolution of The Simplicity Principle, with a behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of the thinking that underpins its six-part structure, and her passion for her topic will reignite your own.  

Published in a pandemic that was unimaginable when it was written, this book passes the ultimate test: its principles retain their power and relevance despite the seismic shift that's taken place in the world. 

Essential listening. 

Mar 23, 2020

A slightly unusual Best Bits episode, which is fitting for these unusual times. In the face of uncertainty and anxiety, we're talking about resilience: what it is, what it looks like in our day-to-day life, and how to build it. 

Very grateful to my guests for their courage, honesty and insights: 

  • Jenny Campbell on the dynamic nature of resilience
  • Celia Gaze on bringing herself back from the brink of bankruptcy by sheer creativity 
  • Ash Ali on finding 'unfair advantages' in the most unpromising situations
  • Lucy Werner on finding focus and purpose in the most difficult circumstances
  • Rob Baker on what resilience looks like day to day
  • Hassan Osman on overcoming excuses
  • Safi Bahcall on the best way to deal with failure and frustration
  • Alison Jones (yes, me) on harnessing fear and making it work for you
Mar 16, 2020

What does it mean to be resilient, and how can we become more resilient more often? That is Jenny Campbell's life work, and her findings at The Research Engine are revelatory. For one thing, your level of resilience isn't a fixed personality trait - it's contextual and dynamic.

And in the process of writing her book The Resilience Dynamic, Jenny had to draw on everything she'd learned about resilience and apply it to her own journey, overcoming rejection, discouragement and complexity along the way.

She shares her lessons here, in an inspiring and honest assessment of what it takes to write a book, together with the tools she developed to help.

Mar 9, 2020

'I'd love to write a book, but I have a full-time job and a family, I just don't have time.' 

If that sounds like you, you need to hear this. Hassan Osman has a demanding full-time job at Cisco and a young family, but he's written eight (EIGHT!!) books so far, including four 'short books for busy managers' and, of course, one called Write Your Book on the Side. He also hosts the Writer on the Side podcast, helping others to do the same. 

If you have excuses, be prepared to shed them now. And pick up some super-practical tips and hacks from this master of productivity. 

Mar 2, 2020

The dictionary defines ‘business’ as ‘work relating to the production, buying, and selling of goods or services.’ So if you’re writing a book that you’re planning to make available for sale, rather than simply writing a manuscript that’s going to stay in your bottom drawer, you’re in business. And thinking of your writing as a business is a really helpful way of thinking about what you’re doing and how you're doing it, and taking yourself and what you’re doing seriously. Because honestly - if you don’t take yourself seriously, who will?

In this week's podcast I share a sneak preview of my upcoming talk at the London Book Fair's Writers' Summit, and I'd welcome your thoughts and ideas on how to develop it! 

Feb 24, 2020

When she decided to quit a good job in the NHS to develop a run-down farm, people thought Celia Gaze was crazy. When business was flagging and her response was to put her father's old bow tie on a llama and share the snap on social media, they knew it. 

Now, with a string of awards and a hugely successful business to her name, those crazy decisions don't seem quite so crazy any more. 

In this fascinating conversation Celia reveals the highs and lows of her extraordinary journey, and why she wrote her book - Why Put a Bow Tie on a Llama? - to encourage others to find the crazy ideas that might just change their life. 

And if you're struggling to get your book written, Celia has some great tips for you! 

Feb 17, 2020

What does it take to write the most-recommended business book of the year? Safi Bahcall, author of Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries, talks about learning to write (and rewrite) a business book that matters, and it's pure gold for anyone who has the same ambition. 

This is straight talking and ruthlessly practical: people don't care about ideas, and people don't care about you, so how do you find a way of communicating your ideas in ways that DO engage them? 

And just as importantly, how can you have fun while you do it? 

Brilliant advice from one of the world's most brilliant brains. 

Feb 10, 2020

Writing a book, like doing pretty much anything that matters, involves a quantity of fear. Many people let it stop them, and instead spend their time and attention on the stuff that keeps them feeling safe. 

But not you, my friend.

In this very personal episode I talk about what I've learned about fear when it comes to writing a book (or indeed, as noted, pretty much anything that matters). I also share some of the insights from others I've found most helpful. 

Warning: may cause discomfort, curiosity, and action. 


Feb 3, 2020

'If we feel there's some of us, our fingerprints in the work that we do, and we're able to make a difference in the work that we do, and it's aligned to what's important to us, we're more likely to be engaged.'

Rob Baker helps companies and individuals with 'job crafting', finding ways of personalizing their work so it 'fits' the individual's strengths and interests more closely. And of course when it came to writing the book about it, he took a route that suited his OWN way of working perfectly: using a Trello board to build a table of contents, share it with others, and gradually refine both his own thinking and the structure of the book as he wrote. He also got clear up front on his 'writing budget' and used his experience as a runner to help manage the days when sitting down and writing was the last thing he wanted to do. 

It's a simple but quite brilliant approach, and it might just be one you can personalize for yourself. 

(Oh, and how do you feel about that 'z' in 'Personalization'? We talk about that too....)

Jan 27, 2020

'We followed the lean startup principles of creating a product... we actually did an MVP version of our book... we kept testing our material... And we thought, this is going well.'

In this week's conversation, entrepreneurs and start-up strategists Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba reveal how they developed their 'unfair advantage' concept into a best-selling book through iterations and stress-testing, engaging an audience and attracting three publishers along the way. 

We also talk about 'business smarts' - how street smarts, book smarts and creativity work together, and how reading widely can help you create more 'dots' to join up so that you can be smarter and more creative in your business, and in your writing. 

A fascinating and frank conversation with two start-up legends, that will help you find and leverage the pants off your own 'unfair' advantage. 

Jan 20, 2020

If you have excuses, be prepared to shed them now... Lucy Werner's book story is quite simply extraordinary. Having entered the 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge last January on a whim, she went on to win it. She was pregnant at the time so knew things might be tricky, but she wasn't prepared for the full enormity of what the following year threw at her. Nobody could have been. 

Despite having every reason not to finish the book, Lucy hit her deadline. And then of course she had to deliver the PR campaign to support it (because you can't credibly publish a book called Hype Yourself without, well, hyping it yourself). And she did that too, with incredible results.

Genius PR tips and an honest, challenging look at what it takes to write and promote a book when the world is conspiring against you. Essential listening.

Jan 13, 2020

Celebrate with me - The Extraordinary Business Book Club is 200 episodes young! So along with the Best Bits of the last few (absolutely brilliant) conversations, there's some reflection on what that means, and why it matters.

The bicentennial best bits are all about curiosity, experimentation, getting feedback, failing and trying again, and feature: 

  • Buster Benson on curiosity as a guide to writing a book;
  • Jono Bacon on the open-source philosophy as a rulebook for writing;
  • Helen Winter with the best feedback/user-testing story EVER; 
  • Richard Hall and Rachel Bell on collaboration as a feedback and accountability tool; 
  • Ginny Carter on the importance of tolerating mess; 
  • Karen Williams on strategic experimentation. 

This show is extraordinary because of the hundreds of extraordinary people like these who've talked so openly and thoughtfully about their business and their book over the last three years. I can't wait to start the next chapter...


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