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.
Karen Morley knew there'd be no problem writing about the principles of leading like a coach, and she found it relatively easy to structure her ideas and practice into a methodology. But how to bring that alive for a reader?
The answer of course was to use stories, and Karen developed a brilliant system of writing as reflection woven into day-to-day practice that allowed her to find the stories as they happened and transform them into business book gold. Find out how in this fascinating conversation.
A few of my favourite moments from the last few Extraordinary Business Book Club episodes, and this time we're thinking about grit, which comes through in different ways through all these conversations.
Writing a great book is a good start. But it's only a start. After that comes the marketing, which is every bit as important as the writing.
'If you're not going to be the biggest champion for your book, who is?' asks Pete Williams. The author of several best-selling books and head of Preneur Marketing, Pete knows a thing or two about marketing books, and you might be surprised by his advice.
He also knows that writing a business book can bring unexpected benefits for the business itself, including setting it up to be able to scale. A fascinating conversation packed with practical inspiration.
Elaine Halligan has an extraordinary story. Her journey to becoming one of the world's leading parenting experts began with her own son's difficulties at school and her determination to do whatever it took to allow the amazing potential she saw in him to flourish. But when it came to writing the book so many people had begged her to write, she didn't know where to begin. How do you turn lived experience into a coherent story that will engage and move readers? And how can you make that story meaningful and helpful to them?
My Child Is Different tells how the boy written off by so many schools became the successful, grounded, entrepreneurial young man he is today, and what his parents learned in the process. In this podcast, Elaine explains how she began not by writing, but by talking out the story in partnership with Sam, and how deeply the process affected them both.
'While we're doing one thing, let's just do it as well as we can and make sure we are spending our time, of which we have so little, let's spend it wisely.'
Ben Hunt-Davis knows a bit about focus. As part of the 'Sydney 8', who revolutionised the approach to rowing training and brought home Gold, he learned powerful principles about performance and process that he now brings to the business world in his business - named after his book - Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?
In this conversation, he talks about how that single-minded focus translates into the messy real world, and how writing the book (in collaboration with executive coach Harriet Beveridge) clarified and deepened his message and ultimately transformed his business.
'A 20th-century leader was very analytical, it's all about the drill-down into detail and numbers. But frankly, that did not serve us very well, and that's partly what led to everybody being blindsided by populism. So we say, in the 21st century, you can do analytical, but you have to do parenthetical... you have to be able to not just drill down, but look across. To understand how to connect the dots between silos that were previously independent. To understand, what's the feel. It's not just the math that matters now, it's the mood also.'
When they wrote The Leadership Lab, Dr Pippa Malmgren and her co-author Chris Lewis structured their cutting-edge analysis of 21st-century leadership on a device that's more than 2000 years old. She explains why this navigational tool - the Kythera mechanism - is not only an effective way to communicate complex issues more effectively, but a metaphor for understanding that everything we think we know could be entirely wrong.
This is essential listening for anyone in a position of leadership in the 21st century, and anyone who want to write about it.
"You've got to ask yourself what is more important. Is it selling books, or starting a movement?"
Sam Conniff Allende is in the business of movement-making. A young entrepreneur himself, he’s since inspired a generation of young entrepreneurs and hustlers, and when he decided it was time to write a book he began by writing ‘the worst book on earth’.
Luckily it didn’t end there: find out how he found the metaphor that transformed his message from worthy to world-changing, how he learned the secret of translating the energy of the stage to the page, and how he stayed true to his pirate principles in the marketing as well as the writing of the book.
'Now, I look at work and life and what I know in a different way, it's almost like I'm attuned to looking for opportunities to bring my thinking together and get it out there by way of a book.'
Michelle Sales never thought of herself as a writer. She didn't even particularly enjoy writing her book, The Power of Real Confidence (though she LOVES having written it). Maybe you recognise how it went:
'How I had thought to structure my writing was to block out my Fridays and I would get to Friday morning, and I would do a 9:00 Pilates class. That would finish at 10:00, and I'd do it with a girlfriend, and we'd say, "Oh, we might as well have a coffee." So we'd hang around and have a coffee and a chat. And inevitably it'd be about midday before I'd get home, and then I'd think, "Oh, I have to start writing now." So I'd open it and close it and open it and close it and think, "I'm not really sure I'm into this chapter." Then at about 2:00, I'd think, "Oh, it's Friday afternoon. I think I'm done."'
In this episode she describes how she found a different way to write that worked for her, and also how the process, rather fittingly, challenged and built her own confidence.
'The first draft of the manuscript is just ugly. There are pieces, and parts, and this part doesn't match that part. It looks like a Frankenstein monster. And that's why I call it Frankendraft. It sets that expectation low, that this will be an ugly, ghoulish creation with parts and pieces stuck and bolted on here. And we cut that part out and put it over here. It's not supposed to be the finished draft. We just have to make it come to life.'
The Frankendraft is just one of five stages through which ghostwriter Derek Lewis takes would-be business book authors to get the book in their head out into the world (but it's hands down the stage with the best name).
This is a fascinating glimpse into how a professional writer works with a business expert to create a book that is distinctively their own but better than they could have written themselves, and there's lots here that you can put into practice if you're writing your own business book.
'When you're being creative, all you're trying to do is see the same things differently, and from that, see if you can drive new ideas, solutions and new value.'
Ayse Birsel, multi-award-winning designer, decided to try an experiment. She tried to catch herself being creative and reverse engineer exactly what she was doing, and when she'd identified how this design thinking - Deconstruction:Reconstruction, as she calls it - worked, she tried applying it to the most complex, important project of all: her own life.
In this conversation, we talk about why design thinking is a great model for business book writing, and indeed for life generally, and why 'What if...?' is such a great start for a sentence.
And here's Ayse's business book #shelfie for your inspiration...
This is a very special episode for lots of reasons.
Firstly because it's shorter than usual.
Secondly because much of it was recorded live at one of the most memorable book launches I've ever attended.
Thirdly because Michael Brown, the author of My Job Isn't Working: 10 proven ways to boost your career mojo is not only a Practical Inspiration author but a graduate of the very first This Book Means Business mentorship programme.
And fourthly because something unimaginable happened while the book was in production that changed everything.
Books really do matter, and today's episode is a reminder to keep our attention and focus on what matters and not let our life and our life's work slip by.