Writing a business book is a particularly visible form of leadership - how do you find the courage for that? In this week's look back through my most recent Extraordinary Business Book Club conversations, I uncover the principles, tactics and Jedi mind tricks that enabled these authors to find the courage to make their voices heard.
There'll be something here that you can use too, to make yourself a little bit braver and a little bit more likely to succeed.
If there's a recipe for courage, this is it.
'If you can just get over the fear of failure and treat failure as a learning process, then... you're going to go on to do some great stuff.'
From designing the iconic 'Choose Life' t-shirts of the 1980s to launching one of the first lockdown festivals of 2020, Drew Ellis has been living by this mantra for years now.
One result of his experimentation is Like Minds, a global thought leadership and events company, and in this conversation we explore how it happened, why events and books are such a perfect partnership, and the future of audio and particularly Drew's plans for Clubhouse.
And if you're playing small, there's a challenge here for you: be seen. There are so many options that there are no excuses any more.
'In a way you have to be really cocky and bold to say I'm going to write a business book and it's going to be worthwhile and lots of people will want to read it. You have to be overflowing with confidence. And I saw in my interviews with women entrepreneurs that confidence is hard to sustain. Not only do women often knock down their own confidence, they have negative self-talk themselves, but in addition to that, they hear messages all around themselves, telling them this is not suitable for you.'
Susanne Althoff and I explore the parallels between writing while female and launching while female in this fascinating conversation, and I also learn some journalist's tips for getting started, practical ideas for organising your material, and the useful mind-bending trick of tricking yourself into not thinking you're doing what you're doing...
For most of the guests on this show, writing a business book is part of building a personal and professional brand. This week I talk to someone who has no interest in having his name on the book he's written: he just wants to get the concept out there.
When his teenage daughter asked him 'Dad, what's the smallest amount of money you would have to put aside each day to become a millionaire?' he sat down and did the maths with her. And then he did it again, and one more time, because he couldn't believe the answer.
Discover how the $7 Millionaire concept has grown from there, the difference it's making to lives, how a talking frog helps overcome people's fear of finance, and how the author tricked his inner critic into allowing him to get the book written.
'By the way, do you have a strategy for you? Because if you don't, you should.'
That throwaway line in a top-level strategic meeting was a game-changer for Kathryn Bishop. As a high-flying professional and academic, she had an astonishing array of strategic models at her disposal for evaluating options and making decisions. Why not draw on those tools when it came to planning her own life?
Navigating shifting and competing priorities is especially difficult for women, so she decided write the book she couldn't find when she needed it herself: a guide to help women apply powerful strategic thinking to make optimum decisions at key transition points in their own lives.
But how do you marry cerebral boardroom models with the emotional realities of life as we live it? As someone who used bullet points in her love letters, Kathryn knew she had some work to do to achieve a conversational tone, and she found a rich and fascinating way to achieve it.
Steven Van Belleghem sees opportunities to experiment everywhere. When he works with brands like Google, Microsoft, and Disney to help them combine technology and behavioural trends to create outstanding customer experience, but also when he writes. He wrote the first business book to include augmented reality, he writes fiction to explore the possibilities of the future, and his latest book features a specially composed soundtrack.
He's also developed a unique approach to structuring and writing his books, which he generously shares in this conversation, and encourages us all to find the courage and curiosity to experiment for ourselves...
No business can ignore social media influencers these days, they're part of the fabric of our lives both personally and professionally. But what are the opportunities and the pitfalls for the influencers themselves and for the brands that work with them?
Sara McCorquodale set out to answer that question, and along the way discovered the very human stories behind the public faces. She also discovered that the resilience she'd developed as a journalist stood her in good stead through the research, and shares some tips on how to approach that for first-time writers.
Fascinating from both a business and a writing perspective. (How very Extraordinary Business Book Club.)
Having interviewed hundreds of CEOs as a journalist, James Ashton started to notice some patterns. He got curious. In this fast-changing world, where leadership is more challenging than ever, what kinds of leaders have emerged and how do they respond to those challenges?
A fascinating conversation about leadership itself, but also a practical glimpse into how a professional journalist organises and structures ideas to create a powerful book.
"Organizations, not government... hold the key to change in the world, and therefore when we write, we've got to write with the business, the organizational leader in mind."
We talk a lot about engagement, empathy, psychological safety in the workplace. But what we're really talking about, claims Yetunde Hofmann, is love.
Love is a difficult word to use in the context of business. It makes us uncomfortable. But if leaders embrace it as a 'core capability', it has the power to transform our relationships within, between and beyond our organizations.
As well as this profound stuff, we talk about the mechanics of interviewing and the power of leading with questions rather than statements. A powerful, affirming and thoughtful conversation.
As a project manager, Rob Kerr was accustomed to evaluating options and allocating scarce resources for maximum impact. The magic happened, however, when he started taking those tools out of the office and applying them to life:
'We were making better decisions as a family. We were being a bit bolder with our choices... I thought, okay, this is working for us.'
So Rob brought together his framework for bringing project management into real life and united it with his passion for entrepreneurship to create Project Future, a tool to help would-be entrepreneurs evaluate their options and set up a successful business.
Along the way he learned a huge amount about writing, collaboration, illustration, and overcoming his fear of appearing on video...
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.