You know those business book authors who tell you, ‘Dip in and out, read this book any way you choose’? Andy Cope, founder of Art of Brilliance and author of The Little Book of Emotional Intelligence, is not one of them.
“I specifically set this book out so it starts easy, and then it gets a little bit stodgy in the middle, and then it knocks your socks off at the end… It’s like going to the swimming baths. You get your bathers on, and then you go out, first of all, you step through the chlorinated little bath, where your feet get wet but nothing else happens, so I take you through the chlorinated foot bath of academia first, because it’s not very challenging, and then we go in the shallow end, and we splash around a bit and get a bit wet, until we get our confidence, and then, and only then, are you allowed in the deep end. If I chuck you in at the deep end first, you’ll die. We do get to the deep end in the book, but we start in the shallow foot bath of chlorinated academia.”
And it was at this point that I found myself actually crying with laughter, which is a first for this podcast.
Andy describes himself as “in a very lonely part of a Venn diagram”, as he’s most of the way through the world’s longest PhD but also writes stories for 8 year olds (mine loves them). I promise this interview will make you laugh, but it will also give you some incredible insights about life in general and writing about big ideas in particular.
Andy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/beingbrilliant
Andy’s own website: http://www.artofbrilliance.co.uk/
Alison Jones: Hello, and welcome to the Extraordinary Business Book Club. Today, I’m here with Andy Cope, who’s an author, a trainer, and the founder of Art of Brilliance, which is a training and coaching organization dedicated to making a massive difference to individuals in schools and communities and businesses around the world. He’s the author of Being Brilliant, The Art of Being Brilliant, and then, most recently, and the one I’m looking at now, which is beautiful, The Little Book of Emotional Intelligence. Welcome to the club, Andy.
Andy Cope: Well, thanks for inviting me, Alison, thank you. I’ve just been listening to your back catalog, by the way, and I’m a little bit nervous, because I’m following some of my heroes like Seth Godin and Tony Crabbe and Michael Neill, so be gentle with me.
Alison Jones: Sure. You’re in good company, that is for sure. I think this is the way I can get my stats up, if I say to each person, “It’s mandatory for you to listen to the entire back catalogue before you come on, so that you don’t repeat anything.”
Andy Cope: Good, yes. Right, well, I have done, so yeah, let’s go for it.
Alison Jones: Excellent! So what I loved about The Art of Brilliance generally is that it’s like a whole movement, and then the books come out of that. I’m very big into that. I don’t think books stand alone, so what I’d love to hear from you is how the whole piece came about, and the part that the books play in that.
Andy Cope: Yeah, well, I mean, The Little Book of Emotional Intelligence, I guess the only true bit in that title is that it is a book, because I don’t think it’s little, and it’s not really about emotional intelligence, either, if you get to the end of it. However, what it is, is basically about, most people are a million miles away from feeling as great as they could. For the last eleven years, I’ve been doing a PhD at Loughborough Uni, and I’m still battling my way through it now. I’m trying to get just-
Alison Jones: Can we just go back over that? Eleven years, and you’re still in the PhD?
Andy Cope: Eleven years. It’s just the longest PhD in history, and I’ve been in a subject called positive psychology, which is basically, it’s the science of happiness, and the science of well-being, and the science of feeling good. My job as a researcher for eleven years has been to seek out happy people and follow them around, and then try and find out why they’re so happy.
Alison Jones: So you stalk happy people?
Andy Cope: Well, kind of, yeah. I’ve sifted through their bins, and all that … Well, no, no, I don’t, no. The reason that maybe it’s taken eleven years is because there’s not enough of them out there. I’m struggling to find them. People who are genuinely upbeat and positive to the point whereby you feel it as well, I call it flourishing. It’s beyond happiness. Happiness is good for you individually, so if you’re happy, it’s good for your health, your well-being, creativity, you’re going to live longer and all that kind of stuff. We already know that, but it’s also good for the people around you. I call it flourishing, and flourishing is when your happiness leaks out of you, and other people catch it as well. It is such an amazing thing.
The Little Book of Emotional Intelligence is sort of the fourth book in a series, really, that comes from … It’s like taking the PhD, but taking, out of a hundred thousand words of academic claptrap, there are some really simple principles in there that you learn along the way. That’s really what the movement is about. It’s about how can we present quite complex ideas in a way that are understandable to people like me, who are not part, really, of the academic community.
Alison Jones: It is quite funny though, isn’t it, because as you say, eleven years, and you sort of make a joke and say “not finding the people,” but actually, there’s a massive amount of research and academic theory and weight behind this. In a sense it’s really simple, and you’ve distilled it down into this, and it’s quite little. I think that’s really interesting to me because … I’m not saying that the weighty stuff isn’t important. I think it really is. My background’s in academic and scholarly publishing, but that knack of taking the evidence, and taking … Tony Crabbe and I were talking about this, as you’ll have heard … The complex ideas and kind of distilling them down into something that you can A) understand and B) use. That’s the real skill.
Andy Cope: Yeah. Oh, bless. Well, do you know what? I spent the first ten years of my academic life in proper academia, and what I did was, I didn’t realize for about eight years I was doing it all wrong, so I thought … You join the profession of higher education, you observe all the lecturers, and you think your job is to stand at the front for an hour and pontificate on some big words and confuse a hundred students so they don’t know what you’re on about. Then you think, “That went well, because that’s exactly what my job should be.” Then I had this kind of epiphany, really, that, well, that’s not really what it’s about. I should be making it simple, not difficult. The other thing probably your listeners don’t know is that I also write children’s books. I’ve got a series out there called Spy Dog, published by Puffin, I’m really proud of.
Alison Jones: My son loves those, by the way. Sorry, I should have said that in the introduction.
Andy Cope: Oh, bless. Basically, I’ve nearly got a PhD, but I’ve also got a mental age of about eight, and that puts me in a very lonely part of a Venn diagram. Like, I’m probably the only one who … I can talk the academia if you want me to, but I don’t think anybody really wants me to, because what people want to know is, “Well, how can I feel great when the modern world…” If you go back and listen to Tony Crabbe’s audio, which I think everybody should do, he’s absolutely right. The modern world is coshing us with the busyness stick to the point whereby we’re exhausted, and we’re hurtling through life at a thousand miles an hour. My catchphrase on my workshops is, “Most people are living life fast, but are we living it well?” I think that is a big cage-rattling question.
Alison Jones: Tell me about that moment when you realized that, rather than standing in front of the class, instead of confusing a hundred students, actually what you needed to do was found an organization that got out there and made a difference to people in the world.
Andy Cope: Yeah, well, it’s about translating the academia, isn’t it? I guess … Do you know what, my epiphany, it’s a bit odd. It was in Tesco’s. I was standing at a queue in Tesco, and it was Christmas Eve, a few years ago, and it was in the days before there was self-service checkouts, so there was a “ten items or less” queue, remember those days? I don’t think they have those anymore. It was Christmas Eve, so the queues were all, it was rammed, and I only had ten items, so I went in the “ten items or less.” I was queuing in the talcum powder aisle, you know, I was so far away. Good twenty-minute queue, I stood there, and the guy in front of me had counted the number of items in the basket in the lady in front of him, and she had eleven.
It’s going to sound a bit bizarre, but he sort of challenged her, he said, “Excuse me, love, can you count?” She said, “Of course I can count.” He said, “Well, how many have you got?” She counted her things up, she said, “I’ve got eleven.” He pointed to the sign, about a quarter of a mile away, and he said, “And what does that say?” She said, she put her glasses on, she said, “Ten items or less. I see what you mean, sir. I’m ever so sorry, I’ve accidentally gone one over. Hope you don’t mind, genuine mistake, it’s Christmas, we’re all in a rush.” He said, “Well, we’re all in a rush, love.” He says, “It’s people like you who break the rules who ruin Christmas for people like me.”
Off he went, I don’t want to bore you with the whole story, but off he went on this rant, and now you’ve got, in the middle of Tesco’s on Christmas Eve, a hundred people in the queue all hanging our heads, trying to avoid eye contact. It’s really awkward, it’s horrible, because he’s going off on one, she gets angry back with him. It was at that moment that I realized that I can stand in that queue, being unhappy, stressed, that twenty minutes of my life is ticking away that I can’t do anything about, or I can stand in that queue for twenty minutes feeling inspired.
I actually physically made a change, so instead of standing there hanging my head in shame and avoiding eye contact, I stood back, put my shoulders up right, and said, “Right, okay, here is me, and it’s Christmas Eve.” I looked around at all the food, and I thought, “I’m lucky to live in the Western world, I’ve got a credit card, I can buy anything I want,” and I thoroughly enjoyed that twenty minutes, and I was the only one in the queue who had, because that was the moment, for me, I realized, I can’t do anything about the queue at Tesco’s, but I can, with a little bit of mental dexterity and a little bit of effort, put a bit of effort into being a better version of me.
I know that sounds, it kind of sounds really … Most people have an epiphany in church, but that was my moment that I realized this was a big thing, this choice thing that I had in my head. I describe it as a bit like your eyelashes. Everywhere you look, your eyelashes are there and you never see them, and everywhere you go, the choice to be positive and happy is there, but most people are just not exercising it. I was interested about why that was, so that’s really where it all came from. You were probably expecting some big kind of “wow” answer, but that was it for me, standing at a queue, realizing that-
Alison Jones: Keeping it real in Tescos. That’s brilliant.
Andy Cope: Well, I mean, your listeners are probably a lot more intelligent than me. I’ve only just realized, approaching fifty, that wherever I go, I’m there. Once again, that’s a bit … I’m standing in a queue going, “Oh. It’s me in Tesco,” and I think that I can’t do anything about the rest of the world, but by taking charge of the only thing I can take charge of, your classic personal development, is pointing the finger back at yourself. “What am I going to do? How would the best version of me react in these situations?” That’s really where the Little Book comes from, and the movement, it’s keynotes, it’s all sorts of stuff now.
Alison Jones: I think that’s a brilliant story. I love it. I’m just, I’m grinning from ear to ear here, because I can just imagine that sort of shift inside, and I get it. When I’m at my best, I get that as well, “wherever you are, there you are,” and it comes from the inside out. Not many people who have that epiphany would then go on to found an organization to spread it. It’s interesting, because you’re playing it down, you’re saying, “Oh, you know, everybody’s brighter than me, and they all kind of understand this,” but actually, you must have understood at a really fundamental that most people just don’t get it and need telling this.
Andy Cope: Yes, well, what you alluded right at the start is that it’s a really simple book, and I think that it is the simplest book in the world, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not got really heavy content. If you look behind, if you get to the end of the book, chapters seven and eight in that book, that’s as good as writing as I can ever do, because it takes some stuff like epigenetics, which is, I tell you what, I don’t understand epigenetics, but epigenetics is about what if your genes aren’t fixed? What if they’re not as fixed as we’re led to believe that we think we are, and therefore, what if actually, by being really positive and upbeat, you actually change not just your experience of the world, but you change your neurology? Your brain has neuroplasticity, so you change your brain, and that physically alters the people around you as well as their well-being.
That is a really huge concept, and trying to strip that back down to its basics is a challenge. I’m not suggesting I understand what epigenetics is, necessarily, but it’s at least attempting to state some stuff that I think is bleeding obvious that most people are missing. I mean, the question, really, that launched my PhD about eleven years ago is, the question in my head was, “Could you be happier even if nothing in the world around you changed?” That’s not a trick question, but if you let your listeners rattle that round in their head, “Could you be happier even if nothing in the world around you changed?” My answer in my little Derby head was “yes, actually, I could.” Therefore, that was an admission, for the first time, that actually, the world didn’t need to change. The world is as it is, the world isn’t going to change for me, but with a little bit of, like I say, mental dexterity, I can begin to change me.
Obvious? Yes. Was I doing it? No. I didn’t just want to sort of change me, I wanted to think, “Well, if I can do it, a kind of fairly average intelligent bloke from Derby can do it, than everybody can. They just need to know how.”
Alison Jones: Which came first, the book or the business?
Andy Cope: The business came way before the book. The business came out of the PhD, first of all. On the PhD journey, you go down a lot of academic cul-de-sacs, where you learn some stuff that isn’t going to make it into the thesis, but my God, it blows your mind, it’s much better than what goes into the thesis. I wouldn’t want to give my hundred-thousand-word thesis to anybody, because it’s awful. You have to play all these academic games, and deliberately try and confuse the audience.
My tutor, when I started the PhD, I thought, “Right, I’m going to break the mould, I’m going to write something a hundred thousand words that is really like a roller coaster of a book, crammed full of cracking stories,” and I submitted it, and my tutor just said, “Well, obviously, that’s not what we want.” She says, “If I can understand it first time around, then you’ve not done your job. I need to have to reread paragraphs three times,” and then she says, “If I can’t understand it at all, then we’re on the right lines.” I had to unravel all this simplicity and rewrite it in hieroglyphics, academic hieroglyphics. That isn’t what turns me on. I like the idea that there’s a PhD sitting behind it, but the idea was presented in a way that it makes me almost look simple, as in non-complicated, not as in thick.
Alison Jones: No, I get it, no, simple in a purely good way. I just can’t, I’m shaking my head, I can’t believe … That’s one of the saddest stories that I’ve heard about academia. I really, it just makes me want to despair.
Andy Cope: Well, that’s the world that I’ve been inhabiting for about eleven years, and it makes me want to despair too. My tutor knows it makes me want to despair, and the reason it’s taken eleven years is I’ve realized now, I can’t break the system, I can’t write anything that academia will accept unless it’s written in academic language. I’ve had to play the game, and I’m playing the game, and that’s great, but the other end of the game comes out of this research and some stuff that is awesome. It truly has changed my life, and that needs sharing, so that’s what we try to do, is get it out there. We get it out there in keynotes and stuff, and that’s great, but for a wider audience, an international audience, then there must be some books out there that we could do, so we did.
Alison Jones: Did you start with the schools bit, the community bit, the business bit?
Andy Cope: Yeah, we started with the business, because the business was what kind of immediately sprung to mind, there’s workshops and keynotes, and to be fair, without being too mercenary about it, businesses equate this with excellent customer service, getting people to go the extra mile, getting leaders to be inspired. There’s a little package that I call The Art of Being Brilliant that goes really well. We sell it as a keynote and a workshop, and we sell it for a lot of money to big companies. Then we also, about five years ago, we realized, actually, “Do you know what? Kids, kids are really struggling. The school system is putting them through the exam factory, it’s knocking the happiness out of the staff and out of the kids.” We then started to develop, we sort of take the big fees from the corporates, and then we invest that, and we try and plough it back at much lower fees, and sometimes often free, into workshops for kids. Because if children can learn to be their best selves, the earlier you get it, then the better your life chances. I think, to use their vernacular, it is a no-brainer.
Alison Jones: Yeah, don’t use that in your PhD thesis.
Andy Cope: Yeah, no, no.
Alison Jones: I love that, because it’s … I love it on lots of levels. First because it’s a successful business, and it generates books, which is fantastic, but secondly, because it’s such a lovely example of savvy marketing and positioning, but then using that to actually make a difference in the world. I think that that’s the kind of business I can really get behind, where you’re doing something that’s got a real commercial need, what you’re doing is basically improving companies’ bottom lines, and that’s why they’re prepared to pay for it, but it’s also making a massive positive difference to the individuals. Then you go out, and you can make a difference elsewhere, on the back of that. It’s very exciting.
Andy Cope: Well, we think it is, and I don’t know whether your readers are aware, there’s, I think it was Action for Children, or Children’s Society, one of the children’s charities, last summer, they did a survey of happiness in young people, and there were fifteen countries that took part in this research, and British kids were fourteenth out of fifteen in happiness, so we were bottom of the league, nearly. Without putting the boot in, some of the countries in this survey that were higher than us were Ethiopia and Algeria, so it wasn’t all first-world countries. Hang on, hang on, if Ethiopian kids are happier than British kids, then there is something wrong, fundamentally, with the culture of the country. There’s something going wrong where mediocrity, and bad attitudes, and negativity, and unhappiness are sort of the norm, and that’s where …
The general rule of parenting, we think, is that children won’t do what you say, but they will do what you do, and therefore, they will catch your habits. If you want inspired kids, there’s no shortcut, you’ve got to be inspired first, and it’s that, well, how do we, as adults, stay inspired when the world’s trying to beat the living daylights out of us? That is the challenge for all of us, I think. There’s effort involved in being your best self, and our books are sort of trying to make you smile, make you think, but also really challenge your thinking on what you’re passing on to the people around you. That’s why there’s emotional contagion, Little Book of Emotional Intelligence, your emotions are bigger than you, they’re going to infect. You cannot not have an impact on the people around you emotionally, so raise your game.
Alison Jones: Absolutely. One of the lovely things about it, it’s a very beautiful book, it’s two-colour printing, it’s hardback, it’s a gorgeous print object, which I really, really like, and it’s beautifully illustrated with cartoons which capture the playful, almost … I would say “childish,” I don’t mean a child, I mean “childlike,” childlike…
Andy Cope: No, no, no, good, good. That’s exactly what we want, we want it to be, childlike.
Alison Jones: Childlike. Amy Bradley’s the illustrator, isn’t she? I always think, often (and this, again, is because I come from scholarly and professional publishing), where illustrations serve the text, and normally they’re kind of diagrams, but when you’re working with an illustrator for something like this, where the illustration is engaging attention and illustrating the concepts, and really deeply part of the text, how do you go about working together? Which comes first, the concept, the words, the illustration, or is it munged together?
Andy Cope: Do you know what, Alison, this is why this podcast is so fantastic, because you don’t just get the content from the authors, you go in into the writing process, and it’s very rare that anybody really asks us about that.
Alison Jones: Just doing my job, sir.
Andy Cope: Yeah, well, no, I think it’s really good, because it gives me a chance to kind of reflect myself on where it comes from. If I’m going to write in what I would hope is a creative and a little bit simple and childlike in my style – remember, I write for eight-year-olds as well – then I thought it was really, really important that the book looks fun. We wanted it to be the antidote to the other books out there that are crammed full of diagrams and stuff. I didn’t want any of that, I wanted it to look a little bit, well, “childlike” probably is the perfect word. Amy has this kind of fun style, so we got together with Amy about three or four years ago on various projects, and she’s just got this really fun way of bringing things to life.
How it works is that I will normally write the manuscript, I will then send it to Amy, and she just does her stuff. I don’t sit down and go, “Give me this many illustrations, do this, do that.” She just weaves her magic, and I never have to question it. The best bit, for me, is to get the manuscript back with Amy’s scribblings all over it, and it’s just childlike and fun, and it means that the heavyweight content, and I promise you there is some in there, is disguised.
Alison Jones: There is, yeah. You’ve got the zygotes illustrated, look.
Andy Cope: Well, there you go. Yeah, she’s illustrated a zygote. That’s fantastic. Most of the readers are going, “What’s a zygote?” Well, the thing is, you will have to read it, and then you’ll find out, and you would read stuff that you wouldn’t normally read because it’s disguised.
Alison Jones: Do you know, that’s the clever thing, isn’t it? That’s what good … I think often you see cartoons, and they just don’t work, they’re just trying too hard, but when you get these lovely, simple, and some of them are really small, they just sort of sit there alongside the text, but they kind of smuggle in the ideas underneath them, because they get your guard down.
Andy Cope: Oh, “they smuggle in the ideas,” I’m going to tweet that later. That’s exactly, that’s it. I never really thought of it like that, but it is, isn’t it? I want it to be readable, I want people who probably wouldn’t really normally access this kind of stuff to go away and go, “Do you know what? I really enjoyed that.”
Alison Jones: I think that’s a really good lesson for people. If you’re trying to get across something, think about a way of getting somebody’s guard down, and a cartoon is a good way to do it. If you whacked your hundred thousand words of a thesis in front of someone, they’d scream and run a mile, most people, no offense, but …
Andy Cope: No, I agree, I agree. It was a dreadful thing to have put myself through for eleven years. If I knew it was going to take eleven years, I wouldn’t have started the damn thing.
Alison Jones: Are we nearly there, by they way, or is this going to be-
Andy Cope: No, well, I’m nearly there. Very close, I’m very close, yeah. I’ve got a meeting on Friday.
Alison Jones: That’s all right, then. You’ve got a meeting, that’s brilliant, practically a done thing. One other thing that really interested me about the way that you, and this made me laugh, literally laugh out loud, as you said at the beginning, something about how authors say, you know, “Dip in and out, take what you want,” and you’re like, “None of that. No, you start at the beginning and you read through to the end.” I did like that, because I think actually, secretly, it’s what most authors really want their people to do, but tell me why you felt it important to state that out loud?
Andy Cope: Well, I was just having a little go at one of my self-helper genre authors, David Taylor. He writes fantastic books, but he does say at the start of all his books, “You can dip in, dip out, whatever,” and I’m like, “No, no!” J.K. Rowling on Harry Potter doesn’t say, “Oh, you can read this book in any order, just dip in.” No! She wrote it in that order because she wants you to read it in that order. I specifically have set this book out so it starts easy, and then it gets a little bit stodgy in the middle, and then it knocks your socks off at the end.
I describe it like going to the swimming baths. You get your bathers on, and then you go out, first of all, you step through the chlorinated little bath, where your feet get wet but nothing else happens, so I take you through the chlorinated foot bath of academia first, because it’s not very challenging, and then we go in the shallow end, don’t we, and we splash around a bit and get a bit wet, until we get our confidence, and then, and only then, are you allowed in the deep end. If I chuck you in at the deep end first, you’ll die. We do get to the deep end in the book, but we start in the shallow foot bath of chlorinated academia. That’s a terrible phrase, isn’t it, but you know what I mean.
Alison Jones: That’s a first: it’s the first time I’ve actually cried laughing in an interview.
Andy Cope: Good. I mean, it starts off easy, it gets harder, that’s what I’m trying to say in a probably, not a very good way.
Alison Jones: “The shallow foot bath of academia” is a phrase that will live in my memory, thank you.
Andy Cope: Yeah, yeah, good, but the deal is, as the author, I want you to trust me. Trust me that actually, I’m going to hold your hand through this, and we are going to get to epigenetics at the end, and how you’ve been conned into thinking in certain ways, and if you can change your thinking, it’ll change your life. I can’t tell you that in chapter one. I need to get you there gradually.
Alison Jones: Laughing aside, I think that actually is such an important point, because I remember, years ago, we were looking at delivering up chapters of monographs as sort of separate entities that you could buy, and it just didn’t work, because they weren’t written that way. That chapter depended on the concept that was introduced in the chapter before it, and at the end, it’s taking you on somewhere else, and without the following chapter, it doesn’t make sense. I think it’s a really important point to bear in mind when you’re planning your book, is that there is that structure. It’s also a really important point to bear in mind as a reader, because I dip in and out of books, I do, but there’s something about coming to a book, showing up to a book as a reader, with that sense of commitment, and acknowledgment of the author’s intention, and just sitting and engaging with it, and doing nothing else. That’s quite important, isn’t it?
Andy Cope: Good, well, I’m interested that you picked that bit out, because I was really, you know, I think that’s quite important. For other people, that might be fine, you want to write a book that people can dip in and out of, that’s great, but mine is written in a specific way, in a specific structure, and I just thought that it was worth saying at the beginning, really.
Alison Jones: “If you’re going to read it, this is how you read it. If you’re not onto that, put it down now.”
Andy Cope: No, no, exactly, exactly. I don’t want a bad Amazon review from someone who’s going, “Well, I started on chapter eight and it didn’t make any sense…” Well, it won’t make sense on chapter eight!
Alison Jones: Brilliant. Sorry, back to the questions, what’s the one best piece of advice that you’d give to a first-time business book author? I can’t wait to hear this.
Andy Cope: Oh, advice, advice, advice. I still struggle to see myself as an author, by the way, about thirty books in now, and I still wouldn’t describe myself as an author. Do you know what, can I tell you something that’s just cropped into my head, actually? I once had this … You know, this whole Spy Dog thing for eight-year-olds, and I was at a conference, and I told the audience, “Oh, I write kids’ books,” and this kind of slightly snooty delegate sidled up to me at break time. I was running The Art of Being Brilliant, but I was talking about my kids’ books, and there’s this copy of Spy Dog, this children’s book, on the table.
He picked it up, he looked at it, he read the blurb on the back, and he said, “It’s just a kids’ book, right?” I said, “Yeah, yeah.” He said, “I would imagine that’s quite easy, then. Easier than an adult book.” I could feel my hackles rising, but I thought, “No, no, he’s probably right,” so I said, “Yeah, you might be right.” He said, “I nearly wrote a book once.” I said, “Did you, mate?” I said, “What stopped you?” He said, “I couldn’t think of an idea.” I think coffee came down my nose, I snorted so much. Well, therefore, you didn’t nearly write a book, did you, because I think the idea is probably the most important bit.
Anyway, I think the idea, once you’ve got the idea, my top tip isn’t to have an idea, my top tip would be, in terms of writing, stop polishing the first chapter. As an author, you do the first chapter, don’t you, and then you do the first chapter again, and then you do it again, and then you do it again, until it’s the most magnificent thing ever, and what you lose sight of is you’ve got to have ten chapters that are that standard, so you may as well come back and polish the first one at the end. How many people have I met who’ve got a brilliant first chapter, and then it just falls away a little bit? I think, get your manuscript sorted, but it doesn’t have to be perfect first time, so don’t just write the first chapter, you know what I mean? I don’t know if that makes sense. It makes sense to me.
Alison Jones: It makes absolute sense, and I think it’s to do with fear of … Well, fear generally, but fear of shipping, fear of finishing, because while you’re writing a book, you go in a sort of lovely suspended world where no one can judge you. I speak with feeling here, because this is exactly where I am. “Oh, you know, I’m writing it, I’m writing it,” but nobody has to read it yet.
Andy Cope: Don’t tell me you’ve got a brilliant first chapter, have you? Is it polished?
Alison Jones: Might have.
Andy Cope: Yeah, okay.
Alison Jones: No, actually, what I’ve got is a big saggy mess of lots of stuff, and there’s not enough polishing been going on yet, but it’s coming, it’s coming. I think that’s absolutely right, getting that kind of messy first draft. What did Hemingway call it, every first draft is shit, so just get that out of the way now, and don’t expect it to be perfect. I think that is a real issue, and I have to say, looking at your … It is beautifully concise, and you can tell you write for children, because if you can put something across for a child, then you can put something across to an adult. Actually, writing for children is incredibly hard. I know that from publishing days, and looking at bad children’s books and so on.
Where was I going with this? The point is that you compare your shitty first draft with all the beautiful polished published books that are out there, and you forget all the process of revision, at your end and at the publisher’s end, that go into it. I think people get intimidated.
Andy Cope: Yes, yes, I’m sure they do. Yeah, no, it does get bounced around loads of times. In fact, you end up, as the author, losing the will to live, because you’ve corrected your chapter seventeen, eighteen times. Yeah, get a first draft in. I mean, I’m not saying, don’t ignore the first chapter, I’m saying, just, it can be adequate, but then get the rest of the book written, because it isn’t going to write itself.
Alison Jones: There’s something about the energy and momentum that just dissipates the more often you kind of circle around polishing, isn’t there?
Andy Cope: Yes, that’s right. Yes, don’t lose your momentum. Go for it.
Alison Jones: Brilliant, that’s awesome advice. Thank you. Now, you all know I always ask people to recommend someone else who’d be a really, really good guest for this show, so somebody who’s got something interesting to say about the business of business books. Who do you think I should talk to?
Andy Cope: Well, I’ve already mentioned his name, actually. David Taylor, who is one of my heroes of personal development, really. Does he write business books? He’s kind of more personal development, which is a bit more of what I do. I try and write simply, but only because David’s books have taken simplicity to another level for me. I can remember reading so much stuff, academic stuff, about goal-setting, and the academic ways of wrapping all that up in complex language, and then I read David’s first book, called The Naked Leader, and he says, “Goal setting,” he says, “four things.” He says, “Work out where you are now, work out where you want to be, work out what you’ve got to do, and do it.” Like, oh yeah. I can’t think of a-
Alison Jones: “Could you just explain that more clearly?”
Andy Cope: Yes, exactly. Well, the point is, you can’t, can you? That is it. It doesn’t come any simpler than that, and I think David would just pare it back to another level. If you like simplicity, then he is the master of it. David Taylor, he’s written Naked Leader, Naked Leader Experience, and he’s just got a new book out, I forget the title, but it came out literally a week ago, and it’s good stuff.
Alison Jones: You’re going to absolutely hate me now, but there’s another first that’s just happened, which is that I’m already speaking to David Taylor. I’m going to be speaking to-
Andy Cope: Oh my gosh.
Alison Jones: I know. He was recommended by Penny Pullan, I think, and I’ve got an interview scheduled in with him for the seventh of November, which is wonderful, obviously. You haven’t got a Plan B up your sleeve, have you?
Andy Cope: Well, I also like Paul McGee. Have you met Paul? Mr Sumo? SUMO stands for “shut up and move on.”
Alison Jones: Oh, yes, he rings a bell with me. Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, that was a great idea.
Andy Cope: I like Paul’s work as well, because, once again, you tend to recommend things that you think have inspired you over the years, and it’s simple, simple again, and he’s very funny, he’s a very funny man, so I think, in terms of entertaining, but everyone should tune in to David Taylor’s stuff, because I can guarantee it’ll be your best podcast.
Alison Jones: Fantastic, oh, wow, you’ve bigged him up now. I’m really looking forward to that conversation. I don’t know David Taylor personally, so I’m really excited to talk to him, because I really think The Naked Leader’s one of those seminal books that everybody talks about when they have their “best business books.” Yeah, that’ll be a good one. Brilliant. Well, if people want to find out more about you, Andy, and more about The Art of Being Brilliant, where do they go?
Andy Cope: We’re at www.artofbrilliance.co.uk, or I think my Twitter is @beingbrilliant.
Alison Jones: Fantastic. Thank you so much. I can’t remember enjoying an interview more.
Andy Cope: Oh, bless. Well, thanks for making my day, Alison, and have a good one.
Alison Jones: Fantastic, thank you. Goodbye.
Andy Cope: Bye-bye.