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.
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... .
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.
'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...
'[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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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'.
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.
'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.
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.
'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.
'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...
'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.
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.
There aren't many opportunities to slip the word 'sesquicentennial' into conversation, so make the most of this one by recommending it, casual-like, to all your friends. A few of my favourite moments from the last few Extraordinary Business Book Club episodes, with the focus today on serendipity. (There's another great word right there...)
Graham Allcott is one of the most productive people I know. Which isn't surprising. His book How to be a Productivity Ninja was a huge success when it was first published five years ago, and has become the cornerstone of his business, Think Productive. There's a new edition of that book on the way, but there's also a bigger conversation around the principles within it.
'It's a conversation that happens regularly, where people say, "Hey, this whole kind of way of approaching productivity and this way of approaching managing yourself, how can this apply to nutrition?" "How can this apply to parenting?" "How can this apply to email?" There are so many different facets that you could apply this to. So the idea is to create a series called 'The Productivity Ninja Guide', and they all have their own title, but they all sit under that series.'
This is a fascinating case study in business, brand and book working in perfect harmony, and contains some fascinating insights too into creativity and focus, productivity (natch), and collaborating with a co-author. Stop messing about on your phone, adopt the Sri Lanka mindset, and listen up.
'We are learning machines. It's the biology of who we are.'
We're used to thinking about disruption as a force that shapes industries, products and services. But have you ever thought about disrupting yourself? Whitney Johnson recommends that you jump to a new learning curve every five years or so, and in her new book, Build an A Team, she shows how to help everyone in your organisation get on board with that. We also talk about why NOT thinking of yourself as a writer is such a huge help when you're writing a business book, and why a book is such an integral part of any strong idea:
'When you have to actually write something down... then you know what you think. When you're just talking about it, you don't actually know what you think.'
In a world facing unprecedented social and ecological challenges, Mac Macartney has a challenge for businesses:
'There is no organisation in this world better designed, resourced or equipped to create change in the world than businesses. They're designed to make stuff happen... We talk a lot about innovation and creativity. Could we really envisage something startling that would... lead us into a truly exciting and vibrant and flourishing future?'
This is the central theme behind The Children's Fire, in which Mac's account of his own extraordinary journey through the heartland of Britain, wild camping without a tent in one of the harshest winters of modern times, is woven into his reflections on leadership, sustainability, and spiritual, social and ecological change.
In this wide-ranging discussion we talk about all these issues, but also more tactical points for business book writers: how to run an extraordinary book launch tour, the secrets of effective public speaking, and how to mine your database to promote your book.
Practical and inspiring, just the way you like it.
What one habit will make the biggest difference to you and your business in 2019?
Billionaire Mark Cuban puts his success down to the fact that he spends 3 hours each day reading.
'I read every book and magazine I could. Heck, $3 for a magazine, $20 for a book. One good idea that led to a customer or solution and it paid for itself many times over.'
Warren Buffett said the same to a class of students at Columbia University:
'Read 500 pages... every day. That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.'
If you do nothing more than commit to reading more business books in 2019, you'll make a massive difference to your bottom line. But both Cuban and Buffett went further than this: they both wrote books as well as reading them. And that's where the real magic happens.
If your 2019 resolutions include writing more effectively for your business, this is the episode for you. Seven brilliantly practical tips from Extraordinary Business Book Club guests to help you establish a successful writing habit and get that book out of your head and into the world.
I've got a feeling that this is going to be a good year: start here.
If you're a working parent, you won't need telling that this isn't really working. You might not, however, be aware that it's not working for pretty much everybody. In her research for The Mother of All Jobs, Christine Armstrong uncovered a conspiracy of silence that means every working mother feels uniquely incompetent when in fact the system is fundamentally broken.
But even if this topic isn't of burning interest to you, Christine's warts-and-all account of how she wrangled her material into book shape and the support systems she created to make the writing possible are invaluable for any writer.
Oxford University Press identified 'post-truth' as its Word of 2016, in the wake of both Trump and Brexit campaigns, and we've all been quietly adjusting to that new reality in politics ever since. But it's not just a political issue: if, as Sean Pillot de Chenecy contends, 'Consumer trust is the basis of all brand values', what does it mean when companies betray that trust? In a world of more transparency than ever before, how can businesses create and maintain trust?
But the problem with writing about such a topical issue is that as soon as you go to press, there's another breaking story just screaming to be included.
'I do remember, literally when it was on the printing press, just begging the printers to allow me to lob in one more quote,' confesses Sean.
But the solution isn't to keep holding back. Listen to Sean's superb advice for anyone writing a book dealing with topical issues.
The days of getting one degree and working your way up the ranks with one employer are long gone, says Alexandra Levit. In the future of work:
'You have to be comfortable branding yourself, selling yourself, and you have to be comfortable with constant reinvention, and change, because nothing is going to stay the same for very long.'
Alexandra has an optimistic vision of the future of work - which is perfect, as this show is powered by optimism - and she shares the key ideas of her latest book Humanity Works in this week's conversation.
She also talks about her approach to writing books, which she sees as 'both an educational mechanism, but also a branding mechanism'. And she shares her tips on breaking down the huge task of writing a book into steps that you can take today. Pure Extraordinary Business Book Club gold.
Why does adversity make some leaders and break others? Dr James Kelley stumbled across the answer - he thought he was going to write a book on corporate wellness, but what emerged from his conversations with over 100 CEOs was a pattern of how effective leaders choosing to redefine a critical moment of adversity as the source of growth and strength.
James's strength is the spoken, not the written, word, so he developed a brilliant methodology to write a chapter a week using a smart mix of writing and speaking, which he sets out in detail in our conversation.