We often say that something raises more questions than answers as if that's a bad thing - but perhaps it's a more dangerous state of affairs when we have more answers than questions.
Many of the recent conversations in the Club have focused on the power of writing to identify and explore good questions, and the work that needs to be done to communicate the answers.
Gillie Bolton on the power of reflective practice to allow us to range more freely as we explore;
Sarah Rozenthuler on capturing questions in real time;
Dave Coplin on the power of open questions to create unexpected connections;
Pippa Malmgren on exploring big questions with other big brains;
Jonas Altman on involving other brains even when they're not in the room;
Alise Cortez on exploring questions with a wide range of others in public;
Uri Bram on making the answers to questions as easy as possible for readers to access;
and Jasper Sutcliffe on communicating the value of your answers to readers asking the right questions.
'The writing process took about four years and the actual material gathering for the book probably took more like 15 years...'
Sarah Rozenthuler, psychologist, leadership consultant and pioneer of purpose-led leadership, has been working for many years now with individuals, teams, and organizations. In this week's conversation we discuss how purpose plays out at those three levels, and also how writing Powered by Purpose drew not only on her own experience but involved the input of a team of supporters and challengers.
We also discuss how her practice as a reflective practitioner enabled her to capture insights and questions that would otherwise be lost over those years.
"As writers, what we need to do is find an occasion when that usher is off duty and we can get up there and nip behind the curtain."
Gillie Bolton essentially founded the discipline of reflective practice, having discovered for herself that writing allowed her to go behind the curtain that separates so much of our mind's inner workings from the 'stage' that we present to the world.
She tells me more about how her own journey, about why six minutes is the perfect length of time for an initial exploratory writing session, and how her Quaker values infuse her own writing and work.
A joy of a conversation.
‘It is good to speak to the future, the future will listen.’
Those were the words of Ptahhotep, an ancient Egyptian vizier, who lived back in the 25th century BC. He was right - more right than he probably imagined in his wildest dreams: because he wrote those words down (well, OK drew them as hieroglyphs), he is heard so many thousand years later.
But writing as speaking to the future isn't just about writing for posterity. In this episode we explore exploratory writing - the kind of writing you do for future you, rather than a future reader. How can we use writing as a tool and framework to help us think more clearly and more creatively?
This kind of writing - where you are your only reader - is your secret weapon in a world where the future is so uncertain and the pace of change so fast.
'I have a lot of enthusiasm. I bring in so many things and often the reader [is] like, where are we going?'
Jonas Altman finds writing hard. Which is lucky for us, because he's done the work to discover a way through, and he generously shares it all in this conversation.
From identifying the protagonist to finding flow, from working with an editor to a more fluid approach to footnotes, he sets out his writing journey with soul and humour.
"When you're trying to create something, when you're trying to change something, when you're trying to think differently about something, writing for me is the way that you unravel the spaghetti... you end up with some really clear, precise thinking that... moves the thing forward."
As Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft (yes, really) and now as a consultant Dave Coplin sees his role is as a 'pragmatic optimist', helping companies reimagine themselves with the help of technology. The Covid pandemic has accelerated this process, and one of its legacies will be a willingness to break from outdated processes and embrace new possibilities.
He's also pragmatic when it comes to writing, recognising that it's a low-tech but incredibly powerful thinking tool in the digital age. And that, as he says, when you put words together in the right way - on the stage or on the page - they make things possible.
Honest, insightful and very, very funny.
So many people [are] skimming the surface of what they can be and do in the world. And I was too.
So often in life and at work it can feel as if we're surrounded by people who are disengaged and disconnected, half asleep and half alive. Sometimes, if we're honest, we ARE those people.
Dr Alise Cortez has spent years studying engagement - or the lack of it - and has dedicated herself to helping people realise the brutal truth: this is your one precious life, and it's up to you to make something of it.
In this conversation we talk about why 'passion' and 'purpose' have become such problematic words, the importance of enthusiasm and vulnerability, why talking is such a valuable tool for writing, and why writing is an infallible guide to show you what you don't know.
Wake up and be inspired.
'A town isn't a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it's got a bookstore, it knows it's not foolin' a soul.'
- Neil Gaiman, American Gods
For most booklovers, bookshops - especially independent bookshops, that care about their books and their readers, stock just what you didn't know you wanted, and provide recommendations for your Next Big Read - are places of pilgrimage. Yet they're under threat like never before, closed in the face of COVID and battling the might of Amazon, with its staggering inventory, low prices and seductively easy ordering.
Faced with the bleak vision of the end of bookshops on the high street, publisher Andy Hunter and the American Booksellers Association decided to put up a fight. They created bookshop.org, a B-Corp dedicated to matching Amazon's logistical might but with a key difference: their profits would go not into one man's already over-full pockets but be shared with the wider book ecosystem, and especially independent bookstores.
Bookshop.org is now in the UK, and in this conversation I talk to Jasper Sutcliffe (formerly at Foyles) about how it works, why it matters, and how to make the most of it as an author as well as a reader.
'With a book you're not just paying for the pages you read, you're paying for someone to make the rest of the world shut up for a minute while you can concentrate.'
Uri Bram knows a thing or two about the value of content and attention. He curates the internet, after all, as the publisher of The Browser and The Listener ('the absolute dream job').
He's also the author of Thinking Statistically, a self-published surprise bestseller (and noone was more surprised than Uri...)
In this conversation we discuss why statistical literacy matters more than ever, why less is more valuable than more, and why books keep us sane in a world of infinite distraction.
Shut up, world: I'm reading.
'If you are in a position of real power and authority, it's the dialogue with yourself that defines your capacity to run an organization.'
Dr Pippa Malmgren - economist, entrepreneur, innovator and advisor - returns to the podcast on the publication of The Infinite Leader to talk about how leadership is evolving, and about how her own and her writing partner Chris Lewis's approach to writing has evolved too. This is a masterclass in reader-centred writing, in fusing creative, philosophical thinking with practical application, and in ego-free collaboration.
In some ways every week on the Extraordinary Business Book Club we're talking about the results of a book-writing experiment - and many books are themselves the results of fascinating experiments in business and life. In this Best Bits episode we don our white coats and safety glasses and head fearlessly into the laboratory to watch the magic happen in the company of some of our most recent researchers...
Cath Bishop has performed at the highest standard in three very different fields: sport, international negotiation, and business coaching. An Olympic medallist and world champion herself, she has seen first hand the intense highs and lows of competition - how it serves us as humans, and how it doesn't.
We are as a culture obsessed with winning. The word has seeped through our language across sport, politics, business, education... we accept without question that to come first, to beat the competition, is the outcome we celebrate. It's not working out too well for us, even for the winners themselves. In The Long Win, Cath explores a different way of looking at success: how could we reimagine 'winning' to work better for us as people, as a society, and as inhabitants of the planet?
Fascinating insights too into the hard work of shaping such a complex, wide-ranging argument, and tips on keeping your focus as you write.
"We are bombarded every single day by buzzes and dings and notifications... I wanted to help people find some simple ways to reclaim the power of their decisions instead of reacting all the time, to take a breath or to set up some simple rules and systems that they could use to make better decisions for their life, for their business."
Rob Hatch had been training to write a book for nine years without knowing it, as he built up not only a loyal readership for his weekly newsletter (all now poised to buy his book on launch day) but also his own writing practice.
In this conversation we talk about making technology work for us rather than against us, finding your people, seeking out critical feedback and some super-practical tips to help you regain control of your most precious resource of all - your attention.
"Some days it feels like an emotional connection with the people who need to hear it. And those are good article days... it's a great pleasure when people write back saying, Oh, that just hit the mark for me today. That was exactly what I needed to hear. Did you write it just for me? And I'm like, No, I wrote it for me, but I'm glad it helps you."
Zoë Routh has been writing all her life, but she still wrestles with imposter syndrome, titles, and days when it just feels like a chore. Luckily for us, she's learned a lot of really useful stuff about how to deal with all of that, and she shares it generously in this week's conversation, along with some insights on dealing with difficult people and what happens when we get outdoors.
The best business books include powerful stories that get across key points in a memorable, engaging way. What if we could make those stories accessible to more people, more easily? That's the vision that prompted Shuhrat Ashurov to create Storypack, a microlearning app that gives people in business access to a library of stories from business books and also encourages them to add their own.
Shuhrat talks about how he personally recognised the power of story-based learning, the difficulty of getting people on board in the early stages, and the way he and the team have worked with authors to extract the various types of stories in their book from the context of the book so that they can stand alone and reach more people, more easily.
Whatever the future for business books, this is surely a part of it.
'Failure can be quite a deceptive word... misadventures feels like a much more forgiving word that allows you to go off and try stuff.'
Gayle Mann and Lucy-Rose Walker have supported thousands of entrepreneurs in their work with Entrepreneurial Spark and beyond, and if there's one thing they've learned it's that the reality of being an entrepreneur is very different from the version portrayed on social media.
By encouraging entrepreneurs to share their misadventures and how they coped, they hope to end the conspiracy of silence: you're not alone, and you will get through this.
They also learned a huge amount about writing a book and hosting a podcast along the way, which they share with hilarious frankness here!
"Being open to the journey of innovation of your own book is really important..."
Someone told Elvin Turner as he prepared to write his first book to expect two things: first, that he would have a ton of new ideas, and second, that as he forced those ideas onto the page, they would simplify, and simplify, and simplify.
Turns out they were right, and Elvin revelled in the 'IP generator' that his book Be Less Zombie turned out to be.
In this fascinating conversation we talk about zombie companies and the importance of embedding innovation, but also about how that process plays out in writing. And we also muse on just how late a manuscript has to be before it's REALLY late...
Imposter syndrome gets a bad rap, but it can be rocket fuel, says Rita Clifton.
'It's a drive, you know, go with it and use it.... you worry that you're not going to be good enough, and you stretch yourself. That's when you grow most.'
As well as talking about her own extraordinary career, from a working-class family to Cambridge and then on to top roles at Saatchi & Saatchi, Interbrand and more, plus a portfolio of non-executive directorships for businesses and environmental groups, she talks about how writing has become a passion and how she goes about it.
A deeply satisfying conversation, full of inspiration and also practical tips for working and writing better.
Q: What do you get when you throw together a bunch of people all working on different business writing projects into a 2-week virtual retreat?
A: Lots, it turns out.
If you're listening to this podcast you already know how valuable writing is for your business, but that doesn't mean it's easy. In this special episode, eight participants in the most recent Practical Inspiration Virtual Writing Retreat share what they learned over the two weeks. Discover why writing doesn't always look like writing, simple tools to get you unstuck and clarify your thinking, the power of focus and the pull of distraction, and why precommitment works.
'Writing is a way of doing something physically while thinking deeply, it's a container for deep thought in your life. If you think about it that way, it's a really wonderful thing to make time for in your life.'
Anne Janzer's mission is to 'help people spread important ideas by writing'. In this conversation we talk about why that matters and what it looks like in practice. What IS the process of writing? Spoiler alert: it starts long before the actual writing. Inspiring, energising and relentlessly practical.
Yes it's a cliché that writing is a journey, but that's because it's TRUE. In this week's Best Bits episode I look back over the last few conversations in The Extraordinary Business Book Club and highlight the ways in which my guests have been shaped and changed, and moved forwards in their lives, by the experience of writing their books. Do you recognise any of these?
How are events changing in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, and what does that mean for you if you're an author?
Award-winning events producer Sasha Frieze talks about how digital events are evolving, what the hybrid event of the future might look like, and the opportunities and challenges for speakers and authors in this new world.
From how (and when) to pitch for a speaking gig to smart tips for selling your book when you can't sit and sign it at the back of the room, this is every author's survival guide to the new normal of speaking and events.
In a pandemic, we discover that we can do things we’d never imaged we could.
Companies that have told staff for years that they can’t work at home have discovered that in fact they can, Tony Crabbe discovered that he could write a whole book in 16 days, and Hachette discovered that they could publish a book three weeks after it was delivered.
In this week’s conversation Tony reflects on what he (and his family) discovered about working at that intensity, and shares some of the insights from the book about how to live and work more productively and with less stress in these extraordinary times.
We also talk about what really restores us, and how we can navigate our way out of crisis and into a new, better normal.
'Systems transform lives.'
After discovering the power of systems and processes in her career with McDonalds, Marianne Page now spends her time teaching small business owners that life-changing systems and processes aren't just for big companies.
We also talk about the joy of management, the power of the deadline, and the smart way to write a book...
'It's part of building a physical legacy. The work that I do now, working with people all the time, you are aware of the changes that people make in their lives, but I've also been rather envious of this friend of mine who's an architect and he was showing the portfolio of all the buildings that he's been designing; you know, to write a book is, is part of a legacy, not only for your children, but for people over the next 10, 15 years. And of course I'll be adding to that legacy with all the stuff that I want to produce in the future.'
Richard Fox has been helping people make relationships work at work for many years now, but the process of writing his book revealed new insights and connections (as it always does...) and also became an exercise in collaboration that reflected the very principles he was writing about.
A fascinating insight into some of the key issues that underpin our relationships (and therefore our ability to Get Stuff Done) as well as the process of turning deep work done face to face into material for a book.