'You need a higher level of challenge and truth telling if you have set the bar high for yourself and your organization.'
Liam Black has become known as the 'gloves-off mentor' for his no-nonsense, straight-talking way of supporting social entrepreneurs and purpose-driven leaders. When the work you do matters so much to people's lives, it can be hard to see situations objectively, or to keep any kind of work/life balance.
But capturing that voice in a book isn't easy. In this characteristically direct conversation, Liam shares the awfulness of writing - those wet Wednesday afternoons when the words die on the page - and the joy when the magic happens, the vulnerability of putting your book out into the world and the way it creates new connections when it's there.
Probably the most truthful conversation about writing you'll hear all week.
'We've all been missing a trick, because sport has been showing us day in, day out, not just how to improve, perform and achieve, but how to do so on a sustained basis, in a way that ensures that we can consistently deliver results when it matters.'
Catherine Baker qualified as a tennis coach before she qualified as a lawyer, and throughout her career has been fascinated by the interconnectedness of sporting and professional excellence. In her new book Staying the Distance, though, she argues that by drawing lessons for business only from the high performance we see, we're missing out on the reality that underpins that performance: what elite athletes do when noone's watching, the routines and rest that allow them to sustain that performance.
It turns out this is also true for writing...
The Independent Publishers' Guild annual Spring Conference is one of the highlights of the year for the book industry. I seized the opportunity to speak to six movers and shakers in the world of books to put to them the questions that you'd have asked if you'd only had the chance.
'Work fits into this bigger thing that we call life. And if you are more joyful in work, that will spill over and you will be more joyful in life.'
You may not have used the terms 'WorkJoy' and 'WorkGloom' before, but I bet you immediately know what they mean, AND which is your most common daily experience. The good news is that you have much more control over that experience than you might think.
In this week's conversation, Beth Stallwood talks to me about how we can find ways to bring more joy into our working lives, and how those lessons spill over into the work we choose to do for ourselves, such as, say, writing a book. Discover your own power - it was there all along - and also how to build the squad that will support you: the cheerleaders, challengers, comrades, creators, connectors and conjurers who will transform your writing experience into something altogether more joyful.
"People don't just pick up a book once, read it, put it down, and then that's the end of their relationship with that idea.... we can move in a person's life in multiple ways."
Sarah Stein Lubrano describes The School of Life as 'a modern press': books are vitally important, but they're only one part of a wider ecosystem of ideas. There are many lessons here for business book writers, and many ideas too: how might YOU build in experiential strands, and opportunities for your readers to learn and reflect for themselves alongside their reading?
And what does it look like to be actively engaging for good in a content landscape that is so often based around distraction and monetizing the consumer's attention?
A fascinating interrogation of the role of books, and indeed the nature of authorship.
This is a podcast about business and business books. You might think this is unpromising territory for talk of love: but you'd be wrong.
No hearts and flowers here, but real, thoughtful, passionate insights into what it means to be in relationship with those we work alongside, how we express love as part of leadership, and how passion fuels the work we do.
With contributions from Professor Lucy Easthope, Yetunde Hoffman, Dr Deb Mashek and Richard Fox.
'Seeing somebody need you, seeing somebody in pain, is not necessarily traumatizing: not being able to help them is a moral injury that is traumatizing. So I also wanted to challenge ideas of what hurts.'
Most of us run away from disaster. Similarly, we try to avoid painful emotions.
For Professor Lucy Easthope, expert and adviser on emergency planning and disaster recovery, heading towards the most traumatic diaster scenes as others flee in the opposite direction is par for the course, as is leaning into the rawest human emotions of grief, horror and anger.
How do you do this every day and stay not only sane but cheerful? And how do you write about it in a way that readers can bear?
In this truly extraordinary conversation, we explore courage, clarity, how writing helps both ourselves and others, and why books should be available on prescription.
If you only listen to one podcast this week, make it this one.
'We as individuals are systems ourselves, aren't we?... And so when we diagram ourselves using a work model, we often see for the very first time how these elements interrelate.'
You may be familiar with the Business Model Canvas - but have you ever thought about using it for yourself, rather than your business? Dr Tim Clark did, and discovered that this simple but powerful visual tool had astonishing power to help move his own and others' thinking forward.
Words are powerful, but visual thinking can help us see things differently, and in their totality.
In this fascinating conversation we talk about what it's like to adapt someone else's model, the difficult of creating a highly visual book, and the inescapable fact that writing is Really Hard Work.
'When I went into [writing a book], people were telling me, oh, it's going to be so lonely. you're going to lock yourself in a room... nothing could be further from the truth. This was the most collaborative process from day one.'
If you want to do work that matters, the unavoidable truth is that you're going to need to collaborate with others at some point. And that can be the most joyful, creative, energising experience.... but very often it isn't.
What IS it about collaboration that's so damn hard? Turns out that even with the best collaboration tools and project processes, in the end it all comes down to relationships. The good news is that you can learn to collaborate better, and Deb Mashek has spent years researching exactly how to help you do that.
The other good news is that you can bring those collaboration skills to the process of writing your book, and make it not only better but more fun along the way. Find out how....
It's easy to get caught up in the fluff - in work and life. Whether it's focusing on the font family rather than the purpose behind the brand, the endless social media scroll rather than the deep thinking we know we'd rather be doing, or the drive to answer just one more email rather than stopping to rest, we're all guilty of losing sight of the really important stuff.
In this Best Bits episode, I look back over my recent conversations and pick out some insights from these extraordinary thinkers and writers on how we can - and indeed must - focus on what really matters.
With contributions from:
Food for thought, indeed.
'I'd done a lot of reps before I started writing the book, and that helped enormously.'
Ollie Henderson would like to talk to you about work-life balance. Specifically, he'd like you to understand that you will NEVER reach a state of perfect equilibrium, so why beat yourself up about it? Instead, he'd like you to consider the idea of work and life as a flywheel, working together, moving you forward.
In this conversation, he shares some deeply personal insights about what that has meant for him, and also how he pivoted not just his work/life but his approach to writing as a way of exploring ideas and building community. If you're considering starting a newsletter, launching a podcast or writing a book in 2023, this is for you.
'How can you get to more people beyond coaching courses and beyond webinars? Well, you write a book.'
Bec Evans and Chris Smith met in a bookshop and have worked with books, writing and authors ever since. As co-founders of Prolifiko they coach writers to be more productive, and as co-authors of Written: How to Keep Writing and Build a Habit That Lasts they have made their experience and expertise available for anyone who needs it.
But writing about writing is perhaps the most cripplingly tricky kind of writing - and writing with your life partner is a make-or-break relationship strategy. In this week's conversation we unpick the personal and professional strands behind their writing journey, and the importance of Peggy, their labradoodle, in holding it all together.
'Slow journalism for us was just a way of encapsulating that feeling that when you take your time, you can do something more quality.'
In a media landscape dominated by the white-hot, reactive world of social media and rolling news, it can be hard to keep a sense of perspective. That's why a small group of editors decided to do something revolutionary: create a form of journalism that deliberately avoided breaking news, but instead focused on looking back to identify the real significance of events several months after they'd happened, once the dust had settled. Throw in high-quality production values and sophisticated infographics, and you have Delayed Gratification, the flagship publication of the slow journalism movement.
Independent publishing - of books or magazines - is famously financial precarious, and in this conversation we explore the bloody-mindedness and vision that lies behind it and the joy it brings to those brave and foolish enough to take it on, and why the world needs those brave fools so badly.
'If you give your brain a question, it can't help but go looking for answers. That's how we are designed. And when you know that, you suddenly think, well, all my job is, really, is to come up with the good questions, isn't it?'
In a gratifying plot twist, I become the guest on my own podcast as Grace Marshall asks me all the tough questions about my own new book, Exploratory Writing: Everyday magic for life and work.
How can one of our simplest, oldest technologies - the pen on the page - be the solution to our most pressing 21st-century problems? Discover why just 6 minutes of this deceptively simple off-line, off-grid, off-piste practice turns out to be a powerful tool for better thinking, creativity, and wellbeing, and even diversity and inclusion within organizations.
Plus some thoughts on the crippling embarrassment of being a publisher who can't nail the structure for her own book...
'Your story is about you, but it's not for you. Someone, somewhere woke up this morning needing to hear your story to not feel alone.'
For most of us, it's hard for us to see how our personal story fits into our professional life. But Mark Leruste believes that your personal story is the 'emotional glue' that makes sense of everything you do in the world, and people need to hear it.
In this fascinating conversation, we discuss not only how you find and own your story, but how you use it for good in the service of others as a business book writer. He also reveals how he designed his own book, Glow in the Dark, as a Trojan Horse for a much deeper message....
'We are designed for acute episodes of stress, but what we're not designed for is chronic episodes of stress. That's stress after stress after stress, and that's what most people are living with, day in day out.'
Looking back, Sarah Sparks can see that her body was trying to tell her there was a problem. But she didn't listen: she kept on working crazy hours under immense pressure while trying to be the perfect new wife, and eventually her body stepped in to give her a message she couldn't ignore: she collapsed and was hospitalized with burnout.
Since then she's made it her mission to stop other people getting to that place, with her STOP model for combatting chronic stress. As she developed her model she realised the next logical step was to face her fear of writing: the result was an award-winning book.
Ever wondered why people don't immediately shout 'Of course!' and shake you warmly by the hand when you share your new idea with them? It's because we find new ideas hard to take on board, especially when they contradict things we've believed up until now. So how as a writer can you help people get past that initial negative reflex and take your ideas on board?
Marketer Phil Barden experienced this for himself, when he discovered that everything he thought he knew about advertising was wrong. In this week's conversation he shares how what he learned about how decision science transformed his own approach to marketing, and also how you as an author can help your readers take your ideas on board more effectively.
'How do I .. move from being a curator to a creator? That was a big shift for me, and I think I got there in the end.'
People often talk about the value of the finished book - for the author and for the reader. Less talked-about is the value of the process of writing: the connections you make as you research and discuss the ideas, the deepening of your thinking, the shift that you make as an author from consuming and curating other people's opinions to setting out your own.
Joy Burnford has been a 'curator of confidence' for many years, researching how women in particular build and sustain confidence at work, and developing her own in the process. But she realised that this is only one part of the equation: no matter how confident the woman, if the system at work is stacked against her, she cannot make the contribution of which she is capable. And when that happens, everyone loses out.
A fascinating conversation on gender equality in the workplace, but also on how writing a book doesn't just change those who read it, but its author too.
"Of course we want to predict, what's the world going to be like in 5, 10, 15 years? How can I, as a brand, put myself in an advantageous position to thrive in this hypothetical future? But through taking a human-based approach, we're going to ask a different, and I think complementary question: not what's going to change, but what's going to stay constant. And if humans are your primary customers, the most relevant constants are going to be the constants of human nature."
The science of branding is undergoing a revolution as we begin to better understand the neurology of decision-making. Matt Johnson and Tessa Misiaszek interrogate this new world of branding with a ruthless focus on what the implications are for businesses. You might love your brand, but if it doesn't mean anything to your customers, sorry, it's not a brand.
As well as this fascinating insight into the frontiers of marketing, we discuss the creative conflict (and the cocktails) involved in writing a book from two different perspectives, the challenges that presents and the reasons why it's so worthwhile.
We don't live in a perfect world. If you're hoping to write a business book, I bet there's something that's getting in your way. Not enough time, lack of focus, morning sickness, a global pandemic...
We can't get rid of these constraints, but we CAN get smarter about them, and maybe even turn them into superpowers.
Get inspiration from:
'We are not here to be inspiration. Instead [we] invite back those who feel inspired to think about what they're inspired to do as a consequence.'
From the moment her well-intentioned mother spoke wistfully about the possibility of her getting 'a little job' when she was afflicted by chronic rheumatoid arthritis as a teenager, Kate Nash has been challenging the narrative of expectations around disable people in the workplace. She's the founder of professional development hub Purple Space and the inspiration behind the #purplelightup movement that has turned some of the world's most iconic landmarks purple in honour of disability rights.
In this powerful conversation she blends the personal and the political to talk about her own experience, the complexity and diversity of disabled people's lived experience, the commonalities of the barriers they face in the workplace, and what it means to be a good ally for disabled colleagues. She also reveals her approach to writing a book which any writer, disabled or not, can learn a lot from.
'It's important to think about connecting with ourself first [because] whatever kind of interpersonal communication we are involved with, we are always there.'
In her 3D model of communication, Felicity Dwyer starts by inviting us to consider how we communicate with ourselves. It's a profound and often moving process, but if we're going to connect meaningfully with others, it's an essential starting point. In a world that often focuses on superficial tactics to get a message across, this approach invites us to think more deeply, and connect more powerfully.
This connection with self and others also characterised Felicity's approach to writing her book, Crafting Connection, and in this conversation she talks frankly not only about how she developed her own thinking through writing, but also about inviting others into the process, and coping with the gift of feedback...
'Because we are the truth tellers, we say really what's going on. Because we use humour, we get away with saying stuff that other people can't... The art of clowning about, really paying attention, serves me in every place that I go.'
I'm willing to bet you've never met a Corporate Clown Coach before, not unless you've already met Em Stroud. In this fascinating conversation we talk about clowning and its role in work and life, finding fun in writing, and how we rediscover the parts of ourselves that may have been neglected over the years and integrate them into our day-to-day lives for more joy, playfulness and whole-hearted success.
What kind of timescale guides your thinking? Do you focus on how great things will be when you make a killing selling your company decades from now, or do you prefer not to think beyond the end of the day? When it comes to business success, choosing your time horizon really matters.
Jodie Cook completed her first start-up/exit cycle in 10 years, and she recommends it as a way of planning your strategy more purposefully: 10 years is 'long enough to think long term... but also short enough to not waste time.'
She focuses her time equally purposefully at the daily level too, working in 'blocks' to ensure the work gets done effectively and that she protects time to train and to rest - REALLY rest - in her day. And of course she makes time to write, because that's her way of processing everything.
Make time for this.
Interested in social media, podcasting, business books and business? It's hard to think of someone who can speak with more authority on all of those than Bruce Daisley, ex-European head of Twitter, host of the No.1 business podcast Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat, author of The Joy of Work and all-round business guru.
So it was a joy to talk to him about all of this, and particularly his new book, Fortitude, and why it's NOT called Resilience. Along the way we take in TikTok, Elon Musk, the tombstone aesthetic, and why the platform you build for your book is at least as important as the book itself.
Listen, and be ready to take notes.