What I (Re)Learned from Writing a Book
My book, The New Invisible Hand: Five Revolutions in the Digital Economy, has been out for six weeks, and I’ve been floored with the positive response from colleagues, connections, clients…and even some competitors! It is rewarding to have an Amazon Bestseller and see the topics resonating with so many people.
I want to take a step back and reflect a little on the adventure that brought me from ideation to published book. I’ve realized that there are three things that the process taught me that are not only important for writing a book, but in one’s career and business too.
These aren’t really new ideas, so I’ve relearned, but I am seeing them in a new light.
1. Strategy is Focus
Half of the battle in writing a book (or something as short as this article) is determining what not to say. The world is a fascinating place, and it was tempting to pull on every thread that I came across. Especially when it comes to technological change, there are so many rabbit holes to go down.
Machine learning! Internet of Things! Bitcoin! Artificial intelligence! No, augmented intelligence!
But I decided instead to focus on frameworks and leave the deep technological dives to others. For one, more technical authors would do a better job than I ever could. But more importantly, technologies may come and go, but frameworks persist.
I focused on the revolutions of reintermediation, monetization, transparency, channel, and data in order to see how the Digital Revolution is playing out in different areas of strategy and to show executives how their companies can seize the resulting opportunities.
I wrote a great deal that didn’t make it into the book. I discussed and researched many more topics than I wrote about. A book is a finite thing, and concision is a virtue.
“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” – Michael Porter
Strategy brings focus; focus brings strategy. It’s true in writing, career, and business. Choosing what not to do is just as important as choosing what to do.
2. The Importance of a Network
When I began exploring the themes that I would turn into my book, I wasn’t sure what direction I was going to take. Where could I make a unique contribution? Which topics would readers find interesting?
Thankfully, the answers to both of those questions were contained in the same task: speaking to dozens of experts and practitioners about their work.
By bouncing my emerging ideas off of others, I could hone my own thinking and correct my misperceptions. This process also led to many serendipitous moments that uncovered new directions to pursue. Many interviewees had suggestions for more people to speak to, articles to read, and questions to answer.
Consequently, I also had a baked-in audience. Executives told me what excited them, what caused them to worry, and what they didn’t understand. This enabled me to investigate certain areas and push my thinking in new ways. A great way to create value for someone is for them to tell you what they value!
None of this would have been possible without the friends, colleagues, and connections I’ve made during my relatively short career so far. This project brought me back into the orbit of smart people I hadn’t interacted with in years. That was not only a pleasure personally and intellectually, but also a critical element to crafting the book that emerged.
“Truth springs from argument amongst friends.” – David Hume
If you haven’t connected with someone new this week or checked in with a former colleague, get on it.
3. Always be Learning
Relatedly, having to write about subjects forces you to understand them better. I am certainly not an expert in data systems. I don’t have experience managing a large organization. I haven’t started my own company. But I can ask questions, I can learn, and I can connect the dots.
An author (and a consultant) is a professional learner. Speaking to people about their own areas of expertise increased my understanding of many disparate topics. You cannot be sure you understand something until you have to communicate those learnings to others, and that’s the purpose of a book.
“Education is not the filling of a pot but the lighting of a fire.” – W.B. Yeats
If you aren’t learning in your job, find a better one. And if you haven’t picked up a copy of The New Invisible Hand: Five Revolutions in the Digital Economy yet, there’s no better day than today to keep learning!