Posts Tagged ‘authors’

Thought Readership #17: Rock Your Business by David Fishof

by Liz Alexander on November 19, 2012

I’ll come right out and say it: The ideas that most first-time authors’ have for their books suck. Because they’re derivative, unimaginative, and pedestrian. So it’s hardly surprising that most of these uninspiring books die an early commercial death, relegated to a few purchases during that self-employment staple, the “back of room” sale. Now, that’s just fine and dandy if you simply want to say you’ve published a book. Or you’ve bought into the “book as the new business card” hypothesis.

But what if you want to write a good book? One that truly differentiates you?

Well, you might not like me harping on about David Fishof’s Rock Your Business: What You and Your Company Can Learn From the Business of Rock and Roll (BenBella Books). But it’s for your own good.

Forget the fact that for the past 25 years Fishof has been a music industry mastermind, the man who founded and is the CEO of Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp.

Look beyond his ability to count on the likes of Roger Daltry (The Who), Vince Neil (Mötley Crüe) and former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms to write advance praise for his book.

Stop thinking that if you only occupied the glamorous world of rock ‘n’ roll, rather than consulting to rubber manufacturers, that writing a compelling book would be a slam dunk.

Because while it certainly helps to be able to share the story of how he came up with the idea for Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band to celebrate Pepsi’s twenty-fifth anniversary, that’s not what elevates Fishof book out of the Amazon swamps.

It’s because he incorporates simile, cleverly leveraging the comparisons between rock ‘n’ roll and other forms of business.

For example, Fishof (with co-author & professional writer Michael Levin), does something very cool with the Table of Contents. Each one of the 14 chapters is linked with a song title. Want to know how to barter your way to business (Chapter Six)? Their musical theme is the Bill Withers hit Lean On Me. Keen to stand out in a crowded marketplace (Chapter Eight)? They’ve tied that in to the Eagles’ New Kid in Town. And what’s the perfect anthem for dealing with the competition (Chapter Eleven)? Of course, it has to be the Queen classic We Will Rock You.

Throughout this book Fishof draws parallels between the music entertainment industry and the world of business. In Chapter One he shares how, needing to find a million dollar tour headliner for the previously mentioned Pepsi bash, Fishof’s response to his own question of “Who are some of the greatest musicians of all time?” brought to mind The Beatles. Trouble was, that more loveable member of the Fab Four, Ringo Starr, hadn’t toured since the band’s break up in 1970. But what, thought Fishof, if you took inspiration from the Beatles hit song “With A Little Help From My Friends” and teamed Ringo with classic greats like Nils Lofgren, Dr. John, and Billy Preston? In that flash of inspiration, Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band was born.

And the guidance that Fishof provides for readers in relation that story? How to find a big idea!

Yet it was a fairly lame and considerably overdone idea that one aspiring author presented to me recently during a consulting session. As part of my pre-discussion research on his topic of relationships, I discovered (because you can’t copyright a book title) three competitive books all entitled How to Treat a Woman. And nothing that I read in his treatment led me to believe that this guy was offering material that was much different. Interestingly enough, he did have a cool metaphor he could have leveraged (which I discovered mid-way through our conversation), but there was no sign of it in his proposal or sample chapter. He had absolutely no clue that to successfully market and sell this book he needed a strong, uniquely distinguishable “hook.”

On the back cover of Rock Your Business the reader is asked if they would like:

  • To burst into public awareness like Lady Gaga?
  • To have the long-lived success of the Rolling Stones?
  • To demonstrate the creativity of the Beatles?

To which I would add:

  • To come up with a book idea that truly deserves publication?

Read Fishof’s engrossing book and you just might find the big idea that could rock your reader’s world. Otherwise the chances are they’ll just Go To Sleep (Radiohead, 2003)

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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There are moments in our lives that change everything. One of mine occurred in 1997 as I was taking a coffee break and flipping through a newsletter from the UK’s Guild of Health Writers.

One of the articles mentioned that a boutique publisher was looking for professional writers to author some forthcoming books. One was on a topic I knew nothing about, wasn’t sure I believed in, and sounded like a job for a New Age nut rather than a serious journalist.

But I was unable to shake off the strong sense that this was a book I was destined to write. So I picked up the phone and persuaded the acquisitions editor that, with one book already under my belt and a reputation as a talented and reliable alternative health writer, I was the author they were looking for.

The result? The Book of Crystal Healing was published in 1998, went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide and was quickly followed up with a commission to write The Book of Chakra Healing. Some 13 years later, that book is about to be republished as a Gaia Classic. Because of that one moment, I went on to fulfill a number of childhood dreams, not least becoming a full-time writer and consulting co-author whose 14 books continue to generate royalties.

Frans Johansson would call that early experience a “click moment,” which just happens to be the title of his latest book, subtitled Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World. In it, Johansson clarifies something you may have wondered about (because I have): why is it that some activities require long hours of hard, focused effort in order to achieve success, while in some spheres a total novice can come in and enjoy instant fame and fortune?

According to Johansson, the “10,000 hours rule” that Gladwell cites in Outliers is necessary to succeed in rule-bound domains like chess or tennis, but isn’t required for more fluid arenas. Which is why folks can open a business like The Chocolate Room in Brooklyn, New York, having never “had any deep experience making chocolate.” Or first-time novelist Stephenie Meyer can score best-selling status with her Twilight trilogy.

Likewise, business success today is largely serendipitous, the result of greater complexity and chance encounters. But don’t shrug your shoulders and attribute it all to dumb luck. As Johansson discovered and reveals in The Click Moment, there are many ways to increase the odds of coming face to face with unexpected opportunities. Indeed, publishing a commercially and critically successful book seems like it has a lot to do with what Johansson calls “the purposeful bet.”

For example, scientists who publish many high-quality papers and low-quality papers (and aren’t necessarily smarter or more experienced than their peers) are the ones found most likely to write a groundbreaking paper. In Bird by Bird, nonfiction author and novelist Anne Lamott writes about the benefits of crafting “shitty first drafts.” She’s prolific – and her books sell. So do Stephen King’s, with each early success increasing the odds that readers will like the next book, and the next.

According to Johansson, Stephenie Meyer “broke all the rules…because she didn’t consider them.” But here is where I think many aspiring authors of nonfiction, as well as fledgling novelists, are misled. There are some generally accepted rules of storytelling that you must either learn or intuitively understand in order to write a compelling book. They are absorbed best, I believe, by doing a lot of reading — not least in the genre you wish to inhabit.

Johansson’s The Click Moment is a masterful example of great storytelling in action. In the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink and others, he has the ability to grab the reader’s attention right from page one and never let it wander until the end of the final chapter. I don’t believe you can do that without considerable understanding and effort, not least writing plenty of “shitty first drafts” that never see the light of day (or maybe your blog)!

If one of the opportunities you’re looking to court involves writing a commercially and critically successful book, I strongly suggest you read The Click Moment. Not just for guidelines on how to create more defining moments, to place purposeful bets and harness complex forces, but to see how superior nonfiction is crafted.

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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A while back I was playing “dueling authors” with a guy who claimed to have written 16 books (meaning he won the game!) and said he had two that he wanted to give me as gifts. Initially embarrassed that I couldn’t return the favor, I was stunned to receive a couple of – well, let’s be kind and call them “pamphlets.” This is the same term The New Republic used recently to describe the TED Book Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization, which at least has 77 pages. The ones I was given were closer to 30!

It’s hard to know what constitutes a “book” these days, given that folks like my friend believe anything over a couple of dozen pages fits the description. And I guess it’s wise not to be too snobbish about this issue, since many famous works of fiction have been short and sweet, such as Samuel Johnson’s Rasselus, Prince of Abyssinia (97 pages) or Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (96 pages). In the realm of nonfiction, Deepak Chopra captured The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success in a mere 117 pages. And one of my favorite nonfiction books, Patricia Ryan Madson’s Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up, runs to just 159.

I had cause to think about quantity, not just quality, after completing my latest book #THOUGHT LEADERSHIP tweet: 140 Prompts For Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign with co-author Craig Badings. We ended up with the same page count at Madson’s book (159 pages) for a word count of approximately 7,500 words. Which would take the average person, what – less than an hour to read?

Except that this isn’t a book that’s meant to be read cover to cover in a single sitting. And here’s where the issue of how long a book needs to be needs to take into account how the book is to be used, as well as what content it contains.

What we did with this book was to compile all the questions that aspiring thought leaders should ask themselves before embarking on a thought leadership campaign. Within the seven sections (each containing a short introduction followed by a series of relevant tweet-sized prompts then a couple of pages of examples under the heading ‘Putting Into Practice’), we provoke readers to consider: What it means to be a “thought leader”; What impact they want their campaign to achieve; How to measure its effectiveness; How best to discover their thought leadership point of view…and much more. We then close the book with a short Blueprint to guide readers’ actions and provide additional case studies and examples.

Would this have been a better book if we’d rambled on for page after page giving extensive details about each of these issues? We didn’t think so. In fact, to come up with the right questions to ask in 140 characters or less takes a lot of thought and relentless editing. In this case, less is definitely more – but it’s not necessarily easier!

As former President Woodrow Wilson is reputed to have told a cabinet member who asked him how long he took to prepare a speech: “It depends. If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”

When new writers ask me how long their books should be, my answer is always: As long as it needs to be and no more, which I accept isn’t all that helpful until you actually knuckle down and start to write. (Yet it’s amazing to me how many aspiring authors want to know exactly how many words they’ve got to write, as if this were the sole measure of a good book.)

Having experienced writing #THOUGHT LEADERSHIP tweet, I would add a further caveat: Think about how you want the reader to use your book. Is it to be read by a single individual, cover to cover? Will it be of most value if they dip in and out as the need requires? Or, as in the case of our book, is it meant to provoke conversations among a team of people tasked with implementing a specific initiative? In our case, Craig and I considered the comprehensive yet concise nature of our material – not least the highly focused questions – to be what offers the greatest value for readers, not all the fluff we could have wrapped around them.

What are your thoughts about shorter books? Do you think books are often longer than they need to be? To what extent might this be due to the pressure authors and publishers feel to create books that appear (at least in terms of the quantity of paper they use up) worth their cover price? Please contribute your comments below.

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Thought Readership #14: Toughening Up On Tighter Writing

by Liz Alexander on October 1, 2012

Call me weird, but I often turn to the last few pages of non-fiction books (although never novels!) before making a decision whether or not to read them; what I find is rarely creative.

Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is one exception. He signs off with a handy chapter-by-chapter summary, and even a discussion guide as they do in the Young Adult novels I’ve begun to devour.

Another is Dr. Jason Selks’s Executive Toughness: The Mental Training Program to Increase Your Leadership Performance. His conclusion is smartly crafted and, for any aspiring nonfiction author struggling with how best to scope and structure their book, could provide some much-needed inspiration.

There are several parts to Dr. Selk’s concluding chapter. The first poses two questions that help illustrate the characteristics of great people:

  1. What is one thing you have done well in the last 24 hours? (Because the greats “give themselves credit where credit is due.”)
  2. What is one thing you want to improve tomorrow? (They also “relentlessly pursue improvement.”)

Devising questions to ask your readers is one way to narrow down the scope of your book. In Selk’s case, his theme is mental toughness and how those of us who desire to be remarkable need to embrace accountability (doing what needs to be done), focus (prioritizing what’s important), and optimism (overcoming all obstacles). The two questions mentioned above speak directly to those key points, and presumably helped Selk keep his book tight and well organized.

The second part of Selk’s conclusion really drew me in. He offers a chart listing each of his ten “mental toughness fundamentals,” along with a brief explanation. It is here that the author intrigued me sufficiently to want to sit down and read his book cover to cover. He poses questions in those charts that are obviously answered and expanded upon throughout the book, as well as mentioning stories previously referred to that I wanted to know more about. Selk’s reference to acronyms and other terms piqued my curiosity sufficiently to want to check out the relevant, earlier sections: IAS (Ideal Arousal State); RSF (Relentless Solution Focus); and Gable discipline.

The third part of Selk’s concluding chapter summarizes three issues that neatly cover all obstacles to success: Apathy (lack of passion); Laziness (lack of motivation); and Fear (lack of confidence). This is a handy mental checklist to go through whenever you find yourself procrastinating.

Finally, Selk does what any good presenter would do: he encourages his audience to engage personally with the material. He gives the link to a free download work sheet – a clever way to include his web address and drive traffic to his site – and further intrigued me by pointing out that readers would have an opportunity to compare their takeaways with his.

How might such an approach help you write a better book? If you are a speaker, trainer or presenter you’ve learned the importance of summarizing your material in order to highlight for your audience the most important material to remember. Why not use that technique to formulate the scope and structure of your book? In that way you can avoid the mistake many new authors make, in publishing poorly organized material that frequently wanders off into the weeds.

Take a leaf out of Jason Selk’s book and know what you want to leave your readers with – the core takeaways – before you start to write or speak.

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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In the days before the Internet and photo-sharing sites like Flickr, Photobucket, and SlickPic, you could rarely escape the post-holiday season without someone inviting you to look at their vacation pictures. If you’re anything like me, I’d rather have root canal work than sit through another presentation documenting the minutiae of a friend’s or family’s fortnight in Venice, or wherever. Call me anti-social, but seeing endless pics of said vacationers with “that great couple we met up with from South Africa” would invariably leave me cold — and wondering why it is that human beings believe that others are as interested in their lives as they are.

That thought occurred to me as I read Gary Wimmer’s A Second in Eternity: The true story about a voyage beyond time and space and into the Infinite (The Lithomancy Institute, 2011), a book I would not normally review here but which highlights an issue of relevance to many aspiring authors – including those planning to write business books.

This memoir relates experiences the author had in 1977 that involved some profound psychic realizations. Not that I have an issue with that, given a spiritual encounter of my own (Sevenoaks, Kent, England; 1999; in the bath. Enough said!). But in reading Gary’s book I reflected back on what Trevor Blake  (whose memoir-type book I reviewed for Thought Readership #12) had written in Three Simple Steps (BenBella Books, 2012): that he had focused on the process, not the person. Hence that author used personal stories to provide a narrative framework for the “three simple steps” he has used to achieve monumental business success. In Gary Wimmer’s case the only take-away was a recounting of his spiritual experience, and I couldn’t help but think that you would have to know and like him to be that interested.

As a rule of thumb, when it comes to your book it’s always about the reader. For novelists the challenge is to “entertain me.” For non-fiction authors, it’s typically to “inform or enlighten me.” Which means that even if your book relies heavily on your life story to “show” rather than “tell,” the needs and interest of your desired reader must remain foremost in your mind.

Why do you think Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love was such a huge commercial success if not for the fact that zillions of women could relate to her relationship issues at the beginning of the book and desired, vicariously at least, to journey to contentment as she did? Similarly, people are more likely to read Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety if either they’ve experienced anxiety themselves or know someone they care about who does, and are looking to better understand and share insights about this condition.

Regardless of the genre or scope of your book, ask yourself why you are writing it, from the reader’s perspective not your own, and specifically what’s in it for them — before you begin.

It’s a fact — even in this so-called age of community, crowdsourcing and the like — that most people care less about you than they do about themselves. Which makes marketing and successfully selling copies of your memoir as a relatively unknown person a mighty challenge. And in Gary Wimmer’s case, writing a well-received spiritual memoir is, as this Daily Beast post points out, extra difficult.

I suggested to Gary that instead of simply writing a chronological account he might have highlighted the link between psychic abilities and mental illness so that readers who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as he had, might regard their situation differently. Or he could have illuminated us on the difference between these spiritual experiences and his former drug use, injecting plenty of humor into the telling.

Many people believe that there’s a book within each one of us. I don’t dispute that. What I do question, however, is whether there is a sizeable market for most of them. If you start out by thinking more deeply about whom you want to read your book and why they would do so, you’re part way to achieving the commercial success most of us are seeking when we write.

Otherwise your book is likely to be as welcome as forcing a complete stranger to review your holiday albums!

WIIFM: What’s in it for Me!

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Innovation. Barely a day goes by without some piece of content related to that topic dropping into my e-mailbox. Are you finding that?

And what about the 385 billion links that Google provides for the search term “innovation”? Or the fact that Amazon lists over 52,000 books on the topic (without getting into sub-categories and associated terms such as “creativity”)?

Sounds like innovation has been well and truly covered, doesn’t it? So why would anyone in their right mind write another book about it – aside from the fact that “the ability to innovate” remains a top concern and priority for CEOs?

Well, let’s employ one of the tactics commonly used by innovative individuals. Let’s ask a different question. Imagine that like Scott D. Anthony, author of The Little Black Book of Innovation: How it works; How to do it (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012), you’ve “been focusing exclusively on innovation for more than a decade.” How might you resolve the dilemma of writing on a topic that’s already swollen with content? You would ask yourself: How much of what’s currently available truly serves readers’ needs?

When Anthony reviewed what was already out there he came to the conclusion that, “Academics and leading practitioners have generated a huge amount of insight – but it’s not readily accessible. In addition, there isn’t a lot of practical information about innovation.”

Hence his Little Black Book  — an odd title choice given an association with the likes of Hugh Hefner and Tatler’s annually produced “shallow compilation of the 100 ‘most eligible’ below-thirty-somethings in London.” But I digress!

One of the most valuable services that have emerged in the era of information overload is “content curation.” Consider, for example, that every 60 seconds there are over 1,500 new blog posts available, more than 168 billion emails sent, and goodness knows how many presentations made. And if you’re an executive, entrepreneur, project manager, or consultant and want to know how to boost the innovative capacity of yourself or your team – well, you have over 52,000 books to choose from.

Who on earth has the time (or energy) to wade through all of that material to find which nuggets can actually help you be innovative?

Enter Anthony who (as many delighted Amazon reviewers attest) has distilled all of that otherwise confusing, conflicting, or unintelligible “wisdom” into a single book that is accessible, practical, and immediately implementable. And it’s an approach that can be “stolen” by any of you looking to write a book, whose core expertise lies in a similarly over-written area.

Instead of trying to figure out what you can say that’s new, think instead of how you can curate information that readers can use. Why not produce a “primer” that makes your topic understandable and shows people what they can do with that material to achieve their goals? Anthony does this by including, in Part Two of his book, “The 28-Day Innovation Program” offering four weekly sets of daily questions to ask, one-sentence answers to those questions, as well as how-to action points. There’s plenty of meat in the book too, including my favorite way of sharing information: stories.

How do you craft the kind of book that is truly useful in an over-populated arena where, in Anthony’s case, you’re competing with luminaries including Jim Collins and Clayton Christensen? Start with the end in mind, as the late Dr. Steven Covey outlined. What would you need to do for future reviewers to say, “If you read only one book on X, it has to be this one”?

Here are three suggestions:

  1. Make it simple: Distill what readers need to know – and no more.
  2. Make it practical: Give them a roadmap to follow.
  3. Make it readable: Write in a conversational style (as opposed to how some Amazon reviewers described Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business (HarperBusiness, 2011): “The book reads like a Ph.D. thesis written by a lobotomized 3rd grader” and “This book was as compelling to read as a college quantitative analysis text.”)

What business book have you read recently that offers all three of these must-haves? Share them by commenting below.

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Thought Readership #9: Title Fights

by Liz Alexander on July 2, 2012

It begs the question. If human beings are so smart, how come it took us so long to combine the wheel (invented circa 3500BC) with the suitcase (first believed to have been used by Roman legionnaires traveling the then-known world)? Yet once Bernard Sadow arrived at his “aha” moment in 1970 and began manufacturing luggage that could be pulled along with castors, incremental innovations followed suit. Only to be expected, right?

For example, by 1989 Northwest Airlines pilot Bob Plath had come up with something better than pulling along luggage horizontally on four castors with a strap, as Sadow had proposed. Plath’s Rollaboard® creation was a vertical bag with two wheels and a “telescopic” handle. Compare that today with the even more advanced 360 degree swivel wheeled versions…or the further evolution known as the Climbing UP suitcase, that can be pulled up stairs and inclined surfaces because it exchanges fixed wheels for all-round rubber tracks.

The modern, wheeled suitcase is just one example of how iterative innovation works. Why don’t we see much of that with books that directly contradict an earlier concept?

A rare example is Harvard Business Professor Deepak Malhotra’s book I Moved Your Cheese: For Those Who Refuse to Live as Mice in Someone Else’s Maze (Berrett-Koehler, 2011). Now, you’ve probably just done a double take on the title because, yes, it’s almost identical to Spencer Johnson and Ken Blanchard’s 1998 classic bestseller Who Moved My Cheese? Which was precisely the point.  (Did you know, by the way, that you cannot copyright a book title – which is why you often see so many same or similar ones appearing – such as this example of my own 1999 book?).

The point Malhotra is making is that the way we need to deal with change has, well – changed in the ensuing 13 years since Johnson and Blanchard’s classic was first published. He addressed that head-on by challenging the premise of WMMC and offering up a fresh way to look at how to handle situations where the goalposts (“the cheese”) keep shifting.

How many other classic business titles can you think of that could benefit from a 21st century overhaul? So why don’t more authors do what Malhotra has done? We certainly expect, with respect to everyday products, that original innovations (like Sadow’s roll-along luggage) would soon be superseded by better iterations. So why do we leave it only to the original authors to update their books? Most of the time that rarely happens and is unlikely to lead to any radically different thinking in any event (largely because experts don’t like to be seen to change their minds, at least not in public).

I raise this point because you might be a business expert who wants to write a book, and need an attention-grabbing idea. My challenge to you is this: what “classic” bestseller is there in your space that you could contradict, overhaul, and bring up-to-date? What was written years ago that everyone in your industry continues to reference, when you know there’s a much better way to do things? And do you have the chutzpah, as Malhotra obviously has, to use the (slightly tweaked) original title?

If everyone in your world is still metaphorically lugging along honking big leather suitcases with makeshift castors fixed to the bottom and your business offers clients the equivalent of ones that glide on jet packs – why aren’t you writing a book like that?

As I pointed out earlier, we humans like to think we’re smart, but how many companies do you know where processes remain in place only because “this is the way we’ve always done it.” Similarly, how many business book concepts are still being embraced today, despite there being a better approach that you could share?

Next time you read an industry “standard” and think to yourself: I know a better way than this, why not bring attention to your book by directly challenging the old one? Let’s see more iterative innovation with respect to book ideas! After all, moving “cheese” around was just ripe (if you’ll forgive the pun) for an overhaul. So whose business classic would you like to give 2013/14 “makeover” to, and what would you title it? Email me with your suggestions and I’ll compile them into a future article. Best one will receive an (as yet undetermined) small but highly covetable prize!

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Avoiding The Teenager’s Folly

Back in the days when I was young and foolish I’d be arguing (as I frequently did) with my mother about some relationship or other. Mum was pretty open-minded, but it always seemed to me as if she didn’t really understand what I was going through.

I remember her looking at me on one occasion with an arched eyebrow and saying, “You know, Elizabeth, you’re not the only person in the world who has had this experience. We were all young once!”

I was reminded of that conversation as I read Phil Simon’s Kickstarter-funded book The Age of the Platform: How Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google Have Redefined Business. 

Simon’s thesis is this. We live in The Age of the Platform, a time requiring “a completely different mindset.” One in which companies “must not only exist but they must thrive in a state of constant motion.”

Okay – nothing new there. What else?

Well, Simon says, the “Gang of Four” (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google), “are following an entirely new blueprint and business model.” Basically, I gather, by fostering “symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationships with users, customers, partners, vendors, developers, and the community at large.”

But wasn’t that what chocolate manufacturer, Cadbury, did back in the 19th century? And the Ford Motor Company in the early part of the 20th century?

Cadbury founded a model village for its employees, so were both business and community oriented. Its collaborative efforts were particularly appreciated during both World Wars when the company not only paternalistically looked after the male employees who fought on the front during WWI but converted part of the Bourneville factory to produce parts for fighter planes during WWII.

And while Simon credits today’s supposed “Platform Age” with engendering a business and consumer focus, I couldn’t help remembering that Henry Ford paid his employees enough money so they could become consumers, not just producers of his motorcars.

In their day, the assembly line and mass production were groundbreaking technologies. Between 1911 and 1920 the number of cars coming out of the Ford plant increased 1,433 per cent. And the “ecosystem” that Simon attributes to today’s Platform Age was surely evident in one particular Ford innovation: establishing brand-loyal, franchised dealers!

As my mother used to point out, just because “oldies” have lost their edge, doesn’t mean that they weren’t like today’s “youngsters” once.

If the platform is indeed a new business model and not simply another empty buzzword, one could argue it was also around in the days of the Medicis — the 14th century banking dynasty.

Through a series of clever strategic activities, including marriages of convenience, the family significantly increased their social network in a way we now describe as “stickiness.” And innovation? The reason why Frans Johansson named his book on creative breakthroughs The Medici Effect was in honor of the way the family sponsored an ecosystem of scientists, philosophers, and artists, breaking down long-established barriers in order to herald one of the biggest explosions of innovation in history.

Did the Medicis, Cadbury, and Ford do extremely interesting and innovative things in their day, “especially with respect to emerging technologies?” Check!

Did they (once) adapt extremely well and quickly to change? Check!

Did they (once) routinely introduce compelling new offerings? Check!

Did they (once) work with partners in very exciting ways? Check!

Every era has its own form of what Simon calls a platform; this is not a new concept. Which begs the question: is the way that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google do business so very different from yesteryear? Or are some so bedazzled by technology that it blinds them to historical truths?

This is where the “ecosystem” vital to crafting superior books comes in. The problem with self-published books like this one is that the author no longer has to go through the rigorous vetting process required by commercial publishers. One in which an acquisitions editor will query (and probably reject) spurious arguments and superficial thinking.

As an author, being provoked to think deeper and harder about your material either produces a superior product or reveals the unsettling fact that you don’t have much to say that’s new, so would be better off not publishing a book at all.

The best time to do this kind of thinking is early on in the project. Otherwise send your manuscript to honest, discerning readers (not your mother!) for their feedback before you go into print.

Here’s the issue with many of the books that are written in the space of a few months. If it’s that quick and easy, you’re not really thinking! Take a look at what Daniel Kahneman writes in his book Thinking Fast and Slow about the two kinds of thinking: System 1 is effortless, automatic, intuitive – and error-prone. It’s what most people do most of the time.

Which is why authors who wish to be taken seriously need to establish a habit of System 2 thinking, which is reasoned, slow, and takes so much more effort.

A clue to how to develop that can be found in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s wonderful book The Black Swan. In the Acknowledgments section he points out the value of finding detractors to your argument. “One learns most from people one disagrees with,” Taleb says.

An important piece of advice for any author not wanting to appear like a teenager who thinks they’ve discovered something new when they haven’t.

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Mind Mapping Goes Mobile

by Roger Parker on April 20, 2012

Good news for authors and marketers: Mindjet’s MindManager mind mapping software, the indispensable writing tool I frequently referred to in my ActiveGarage Author’s Journey series, is now available for iPhones, iPads, and Android mobile devices.

Mindjet’s MindManager app for the iPad has quickly become an important part of my workflow for all types of writing projects…saving me time and helping me get a head start on my projects before I begin to write, no matter where I am.

Mind mapping on an iPad is a liberating writing tool that far exceeded my expectations

Background

Perhaps like you, I was initially doubtful that mind mapping on an iPad. I was happy with the mind maps I created on my home and office computers, plus my laptop. I was comfortable carrying around yellow legal pads and felt tip markers which I’d use to plan my articles, blog posts, and client marketing materials.

I was used to the ritual of deciphering my handwritten notes and recreating my hand-drawn mind maps on my computers when it was time to get down to work. In addition, I couldn’t see how it would be possible to use the iPad’s virtual keyboard to type extended amounts of text.

I also couldn’t imagine how large maps would fit on the iPad’s relatively small screen.

Planning versus writing

What I was overlooking, of course, was the difference between planning and writing.

Although I recognized that the hard work in most writing projects is planning what you’re going to say, I was overlooking the fact that mind maps don’t have to be large and detailed to provide an efficient guide to writing an article, blog post, or book.

Edit Topic screens

Mindjet’s use of Edit Topic screens also played an important role in my transition from yellow legal pads to MindManager on an iPad for planning my writing projects.

The issue of type size and readability on the iPad (or iPhone) screen is not an issue. This is because, when you select a topic or subtopic by tapping it, MindManager opens a large Edit Topic screen that provides all the space you need to enter topic and subtopic text.

The Edit Screen not only is large enough to make it easy to add subtopic and topic information, you can also add Notes—as much text as you want, if sentences and paragraphs occur to you during the planning stage that you want to immediately jot down—as well as links to URLs.

Using MindManager’s Edit Topic screens also allow you to insert icons indicating category and priority, as well as photographs and graphic images. You can also format topics and subtopics to indicate category and importance.

Workflow

Without a doubt, mind mapping on the iPad is a here-and-now reality, one that has saved me well over 100 hours during the past 3 months—and, probably, a heck of a lot more. I now spend less time planning my articles, blog posts, and books, and, I know from my time logs, that I’m spending less time writing them.

There’s no duplication of effort, no wasted time trying to decipher my handwriting, and I can include as many links to blogs and web pages while planning. Using the Notes feature, I can copy and paste text from online resources into my maps, saving me time later on.

Mind mapping on an iPad has given me more freedom than I’ve previously had. I spend less time tethered to my computers than before. As a result, I’m fresher and more relaxed when I sit down at my computer for an extended writing session. I now spend more time planning time in a Barnes & Noble café, at my favorite window table at the Dover Public Library, or riding the Downeaster toBoston.

And, for better or for worse, more blog posts have been planned in bed or in front of a television than ever before.

Where this is all going

My experiences mind mapping on an iPad has not only energized me, but it’s helped me realize just how basically inefficient desktop and laptop computing can be.

I reluctantly came to iPad ownership, but was amazed at how quickly I’ve adapted to using my fingers to select, zoom, and move around a mind map. I loved the fact that I didn’t have to “read” any “documentation” to get things done.

Most of all, I quickly grew to love the freedom from having to worry to save files and go back and forth between programs to share files between computers and send them as email attachments to clients.

The future, of course, is in the cloud, and I’m quickly getting used to backing-up and files using MindJet Connect or Dropbox which eliminate the need to Zip-compress and e-mail mind map templates with clients and webinar attendees.

The future, of course, is “hands-free” syncing of mind maps between computers. Syncing is a fast-approaching reality. Already, I can end my day reading a book on my Amazon.com Kindle, then pick-up my iPad the next day…and it will open to the page I was reading on my Kindle!

Soon, I’ll be able to begin to plan an article on my iPad, edit it on my main computer, finish it on a client’s computer, and all copies will be seamlessly updated.

Getting started

Currently, Mindjet’s MindManager for the iPad is still available for free for Apple iPhones, iPads, and Android mobile devices. This offers a great opportunity for you to discover the power of mind mapping as a writing tool.

  • If you’re already using mind maps for writing, downloading one of Mindjet’s mobile apps for the iPhone, iPad, or Android device, will add capabilities and convenience and pave the way for enhanced file sharing and syncing.
  • If you’re not yet using mind mapping for writing, the free mobile apps provide an easy way to get started.

Either way, once you get started, I invite you to download my free (no registration) 3-Step Writing Jumpstart Map or 20 Questions to Ask Before You Write a Book mind map templates to explore mind mapping’s contribution to your writing success.

rcp-heming-picRoger C. Parker helps others write books that build brands. He’s written over 30 books, offers do-it-yourself resources at Published & Profitable, and shares writing tips each weekday. His latest book is Title Tweet! 140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Article, Book, and Event Titles
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Thought Readership #5: Telling Tales

by Liz Alexander on April 16, 2012

If you’ve ever attended one of the Dale Carnegie introductory seminars you’ll be familiar with this “trick.”

A facilitator shows participants a list of 20 items – say, a pair of shoes, lampshade, ice cream etc. – and claims that in ten minutes or less they can teach anyone how to recite that list from memory, in the correct order.

And they do. When every participant is let in on the “secret” they discover that the way to instantly recall any number of otherwise disconnected items is to weave them into a story.

We’re all born with the ability to tell stories; it’s how we learn because the brain is an associative device. Storytelling is an essential skill for the novelist, but it’s also a powerful non-fiction tool.

Many writers of case studies could benefit from becoming more familiar with storytelling concepts; so could business book authors. There are three concepts in particular that are very useful in helping make your work more compelling.

ThirdRiver consultants, Ken Jennings and Heather Hyde, exemplify all of them in their business fable The Greater Goal: Connecting Purpose and Performance (Berrett-Koehler, 2012).

First, think of any classic “hero’s journey” movie. To capture the viewer’s attention, something happens fairly quickly that rocks the hero’s ordinary world and sets in motion the character transformation we see at the end. (That’s how you can identify the hero; it’s the person who changes the most.)

For example, in Gladiator, the catalytic event is the murder of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. In Star Wars, it’s finding Princess Leia’s message. In The Descendants, it’s the wife’s coma.

In The Greater Goal, the hero Alex Beckley is in a near-fatal car accident. This major, dramatic event helps to completely change Alex’s world, and it happens quickly – on page eight!

When we first meet Alex he’s a failing company president with a laundry list of personal and professional issues that he doesn’t know how to overcome. Cue essential storytelling concept #2.

In addition to moving the story along with a quick, dramatic wake-up call, every hero benefits from a mentor (think Harry Potter and Dumbledore). In Alex’s case, his mentor comes in the form of wise consultant Quinn McDougall.

Why does The Greater Goal work so well, not just as a business fable? Because it immediately gets right to the point. Alex faces a raft of challenges most of us can relate to: poor performance and low morale stemming from an obsession with results; job insecurity; no sense of work-life balance; the notion that what he’s always done isn’t working, but he doesn’t know how to change.

By page 13 Alex does what every hero must do before transformation can take place, he asks for help. Help in the form of mentor Quinn McDougall allows the authors to show the difference that comes from embracing five key practices for leading differently: Commit to the greater goal; Construct shared goals; Cascade greater goal coaching; Reinforce alignment; and Build on success.

Yes, there’s a happy ending (oops…should have said “spoiler alert” but you expected that didn’t you?), but what is handled especially skillfully in The Greater Goal is something often missing in business books and business writing generally – tension (storytelling concept #3). Like all good stories where you know the hero prevails, we don’t want that to be immediately apparent. Which is why it was wise for Jennings and Hyde to include naysayer Nate in their story.

Even if you’re not planning to write a business fable, any business book will benefit by:

  • Getting quickly to the challenge (i.e., don’t start out with a lot of “backstory”).
  • Ensuring there’s a build up of tension in the narrative.

The author taking the role of mentor (because if you’re playing the hero you’ve missed the point).

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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