Episode 211 – The Simplicity Principle with Julia Hobsbawm

Julia Hobsbawm‘It was actually like falling in love, if I’m honest.’

If you’ve fallen out of love with writing your book and even with your own ideas, this is just the tonic you need. Julia Hobsbawm lucidly talks through the evolution of The Simplicity Principle, with a behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of the thinking that underpins its six-part structure, and her passion for her topic will reignite your own.

Published in a pandemic that was unimaginable when it was written, this book passes the ultimate test: its principles retain their power and relevance despite the seismic shift that’s taken place in the world.

Essential listening.


LINKS:

Editorial Intelligence: https://www.editorialintelligence.com/

Julia’s site: http://juliahobsbawm.com/

Julia on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/itsjuliahobsbawm/

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

The 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge sign-up link: https://alisonjones.leadpages.co/proposal-challenge/

Practical Inspiration Virtual Writing Retreat sign-up link: https://alisonjones.lpages.co/virtual-writing-retreat/

Business Book Awards winners: https://www.businessbookawards.co.uk/winners2020/

Alison Jones
I’m delighted to be here today with Julia Hobsbawm, OBE, who is an acclaimed entrepreneur and author who put the concept of social health – connected behaviour as a form of well being and productivity – onto the map. She’s addressed global audiences on the subject from major corporations in the UK, US, Europe and Asia, to institutions from the OECD, to talking directly to the World Health Organization about changing their definition of health to accommodate social health. She’s a columnist for strategy in Business Magazine, editor-at-large for Arianna Huffington as well being part of Thrive Global, and a contributor to the British Academy’s Future of the Corporation project. In 2017 19, Julia sat on the board of the European workforce Institute and wrote the report the Amplified Human at Work, I got that wrong, the Applied Human at Work, the world of the worker in the digital era for them, which the World Economic Forum extracted in 2019. And her new book, which we’re focusing on today, is The Simplicity Principle: Six steps towards clarity in a complex world. Welcome to the show, Julia.

Julia Hobsbawm
Hello, delighted to be with you.

Alison Jones
It’s really good to have you here. And we were just talking, before we came on… we are speaking in extraordinary times. So it’s just for context. It’s the 19th of March 2020 as we’re recording this. There’s only really one topic of conversation. So we’re going to be talking about timeless topics. But that concept of social health, I think we, let’s talk about that first, before we kick off on the book because it has so much significance and resonance, I think, at the current time, don’t you?

Julia Hobsbawm
Yes. And I think that social health is something I began to talk about and think about, when my last book called Fully Connected was published, which was really trying to get to the bottom of why is it that the technology-saturated error was not raising productivity and was not in fact contributing to well-being, so global stress levels were epidemic, obviously, up to and before the current pandemic, of Covid. But the question that I had about social health was that definition tucked away within the original 1948 World Health Organization definition that health is, and I quote, ‘The presence of physical, mental and social well being, not merely the absence of injury and disease’, was that concept of social well being understood now at the time, pre pandemic, I very much felt it wasn’t and I very much felt that we had illiteracy around physical and mental health, and that we didn’t around the way we connect. And I felt and still feel to some degree because we will return to normality, some people listening to this podcast may have already returned to normality by the time they hear it, I still feel that we have tipped the balance of dependency on technology in our working lives and our private lives too much the wrong way. And for me social health hinges on person-to-person relationships. So even if those are assisted by technology, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are usurped. And if you look at the complex, complicated landscape that the world of work in particular, began to spiral out of control with in regards of tech, multiple platforms, multiple networks, upgrading and upskilling constantly to keep up with the technology, stagnant productivity, spiraling stress, I think that there is an argument that social health has got to be understood and talked about differently, but as I say the context is moving all the time. And I’m pleased to say that the book about simplicity in a complex age is not dating in this crisis. I’m pleased about that. And I can talk to you a little bit if you’d like about what the ideas behind that are. But that’s a slightly long answer to social health, but I think it puts in context where I’m coming from.

Alison Jones
Yes, absolutely. I think there’s going to be another book perhaps at the end of this, because looking at how people are connecting differently and more immediately, there’s an awful lot of positives start to come out of a situation like this, the people looking out for their local community more, which is just just fascinating to see. And also the way that technology is assisting, that you say rather than us focusing on the technology, we’re actually focusing on the connection or that’s what I’m seeing locally, at least.

Julia Hobsbawm
Yes. And I certainly think that in the same way that this 20 2020 pandemic is definitely not as dire as the as the 1918 pandemic because of medical advances in technology, for example, the genome sequence having been done in two weeks, and all sorts of antivirals and antidotes and vaccines becoming available in a way that was unthinkable a century ago, I do also think that the technological advances are significant. For instance, people are able to video conference, they are able to work remotely, they are able to use the internet, they are able to use social networks, they are able to use smartphones, and all of this does help people in a world which, at the time that we’re recording, it is locking down in a world in which business as we knew it has stopped in its tracks and has really gone back centuries, overnight. No more office life, no more conference life, no more face to face meetings, and the proxy being zoom meetings, but actually, my sense is that we’re using communications technology in the best way, which is to communicate not to waste time. A friend of mine who works at the United Nations, and is based in Africa, said to me, it’s fascinating that we realize how useless so many of our workshops and conference calls have been up until now.

Alison Jones
That is fascinating, isn’t it? And let’s draw to the book for a second because clearly when you conceived this book as you were writing it, right until it was pretty much published, it wasn’t this world, you were writing in a very different world but you’re right that it is strangely applicable and appropriate now. So let’s just go right back to the beginning. What was the itch, that irritation that that gives birth to the idea of a book about simplicity?

Julia Hobsbawm
So I’m an entrepreneur, I’m self employed. And I love the nuts and bolts of business. I’ve run small consultancies all my working life. But I’ve also worked in the corporate world. And I’ve had, and have a number of very large corporate clients. And I’ve always been fascinated by management, management more than leadership, by the way, we can perhaps talk about the L word, but I’ve always been interested in strategy, operational logistics, governance, and I’ve always been struck by what a mess it is. I’ve always been struck by how dysfunctional the world of work has been. I’m really interested in social philosophy. I’m really interested in observing trends. And these are the trends I’ve looked at throughout my 30 year career. When I wrote my last book, Fully Connected, it was about the dysfunction of over-reliance on technology. And it did seem to spark interest because I really began a two-year speaking and interview tour that didn’t really stop from hardback publication through to the paperback publication, as people got more and more interested in this idea of what I had called social health, connected behavior in a digital world. And so then I thought, What next? And I realized that one of the things that was at the center of this dysfunction – and what I mean by dysfunction is people working incredibly hard, being always on and yet not enjoying their work and disastrous things happening. For instance, the Grenfell tower fire which was famous around the world, obviously, those of us in the UK know it extremely well. I actually had a young student scholar that we were mentoring in my business. She perished in Grenfell. Grenfell, when you look at it, was an entirely dysfunctional accident waiting to happen. You know, the communication between the suppliers and manufacturers, but also between the council that was responsible for the public housing block, the residents in that block, you know, nothing moved in terms of prevention. And therefore this disaster happened and, you know, so many people lost their lives. And so I thought, what is the heart of this problem? And I thought, the heart of the problem is complexity. And I wanted to revisit what we know about complexity and what we know about simplicity, and I became convinced that without simplistic and – without overlooking and overruling the very essence of complexity which is human and and natural – we need to find and articulate a balance between the two states. And so that’s when this idea of the simplicity principle came about. So for instance, we absolutely know that going back two and a half thousand years to Ancient Greece and Aristotle, the concept of flourishing, and living a life based on an alignment, simply between the mind and the soul and the body, was popular. We know that the concept of simplicity does work when it’s applied, but it has been forgotten in the working world. We know that the natural world does have a lot of pattern and predictability. And shape, and routine. And so I wanted to look at that. And that’s when I began to say, I’m going to create a blueprint for having a simplicity principle in your life in your working life. I’m going to base it on nature. I’m going to base it on the design principle from the 1950s that’s called the KISS principle: Keep it simple. It was originally keep it simple, stupid, but I had a wonderful mentor, the late great writer and activist Maya Angelou. And she used to say to me, Why be complicated, keep it simple, sweetie.

So I’ve developed this principle, because I think we need a blueprint and a pattern that is based on what we understand we want and also on the neuroscience that the brain cannot actually take too much complexity, even though the brain itself is wildly complex, it’s probably the most complicated structure we know of. The cognitive function of human brains as in people cutting about their world, their lives doing work, is in fact really quite limited to about seven items or less. And then you look at the context of this limitless, always-on rivers of information, multi-platform projects, and you realize that there could be, I believe there is a very clear correlation between the overload and access and complexity of a technology speed, scale-based world and the human who’s trying to operate in it. So the simplicity principle says, What if we accept the limits, what if we embrace them? That simplicity maybe that will make us in fact, more aligned, more engaged, more productive, and of course improve our well being. And that’s my thesis, is that we can do more better by keeping it simple. And by shying away from complexity, and accepting a complex structure, which is not to repudiate the enormous values of complexity. For instance, this Corona virus crisis is going to be a case study for centuries in managing global logistics of medical care and transport and infrastructure. That’s complex. I don’t want to say it should be simple, but the principles to getting action, the principles to public health messages, the principles to treatment, when you look at them, they all follow what I’ve called the simplicity principle.

Alison Jones
And what’s fascinating is you’ve taken a very strong simple structure, the hexagon, basically. And that model of the bees in particular, as you say you’re drawing from nature. And as you’re speaking, I’m seeing how that applies across because you’ve got one very simple cellular structure that builds into something incredibly complex. And, you know, hosting a huge number of people who’ve got different roles. So just tell us a little bit about how the hexagon idea of the principle, the six-sidedness, plays out in the book.

Julia Hobsbawm
Yes, well, I wanted a management system because as I say, I’ve been in business for 30 years. I’m a consultant and a strategist by nature, but I’m also mindful that we need shape and structure. So I had my simplicity principle, this idea, this thesis that we knew to keep it simple, and I wanted both a visual and a numerical system that I felt was valid, and that I could back up. And so I began to read around the science and the neuroscience. I mean, everybody in, in your audience will have got, I imagine at least one business book that’s got a number in it from the seven habits of highly successful people, you know, to sigma, sigma six or so on. I didn’t want to be a gimmick, but I wanted something that was within this cognitive limit of seven. And I began to read up on the number six in particular. And the number six it turns out is is very prevalent in a lot of science and nature and culture. But the thing that got me about number six is that it’s mathematically perfect. It’s the first so-called perfect number. This was discovered by the geometrist Euclid, again back in ancient Greece, and the reason why that matters is it’s a very symmetrical number, and it’s a number which its divisors, ie the number one, two and three fit into it. So all systems that work need to have a structure. Obviously, that’s what makes them systems. And so the number six appealed to me, I wanted a shape and I’d already rejected circles, even though a lot of my work is around the science of networks. A lot of what I’m known for is networking. I was the world’s first Professor if you can believe it, of networking at London’s Cass Business School. And I was really advocating that we apply what we know about the science of networks, which we can talk about, and obviously the shape that one most associates with with networks in popular culture is circles, you know, social circles. But the problem I have with that is that circles are limitless. circles are constantly, you know, endless. And I want limits and boundaries because of this cognitive limit and because of the requirement to have something practical so I didn’t want circle. So then I looked at the six-sided hexagon, having already been sold on the number six, I thought well does the six-sided hexagon as a shape work, then I became incredibly excited because first of all, we know that we respond to visual cues. So it’s very important to have an image that one can work with and that one can model and, you know, when anything from PowerPoints to graphics, and so on, but, but more importantly, the hexagon is a shape that doesn’t in fact, represent networks. It represents the node based connections that it has sides and edges. That’s what networks actually have they, they aren’t so much overlapping circles. And you see this actually most clearly in the spread of disease – I wrote in my last book about the Ebola outbreak of 2014-15. That, you know, the contact tracing that we are now sadly, much more familiar with and literate about is about the network science of one person and how many nodes they connect with. So the hexagon felt good from that point of view. But in Nature and Science, this compelled me, it is pretty much the most resilient shape. It is space efficient and resilient. So for instance, the carbon atom, which is one of the main building blocks of all life, forms itself into hexagonal structures, such as graphite, which is the most strong material to have been discovered in recent years. And the the most famous and the most useful hexagon in the whole of nature is the honeycomb, is the hive of bees. And so that was my, that was, you know, sharing my workings with you about how did I get to a number and a shape. And then the final piece for me when I began to commit because as a business writer, you really want to feel solid in your assumptions. And at the same time, I’m just giving opinion. You know, I’m not an academic researcher, even though I’m now visiting professor in social health, again at the Cass business school, but I’m an opinionated researcher is what I am, and I share my findings and my instincts and my experiences. And by the way, I’m very big on using experiences as well as expertise in the book. So, the final piece of the jigsaw for me having chosen the number six, having chosen the hexagon was the honeybee. Why? Well, the honeybee is one of the most important species on the planet for the whole of humanity because of its pollination. It was actually declared by the Earthwatch Institute in 2019 as the most important species on the planet. But the honeybee has a lot of similarities with humans. It’s a super organism. It has a form of sentience. It has communication systems, it has hierarchies, it really has societies. There’s evidence to show that it has something of a democracy as well. And it lives and works in the same place. And really, thanks to the smartphone in the digital era, so do we. But it also is highly, highly productive. It can also be brutal. By the way, a friend of mine is a writer called Laline Paull who wrote a tremendously significant novel called The Bees, which Margaret Atwood loved, and I can see why because really The Bees is a bit like The Handmaid’s Tale with honey. So I’m not trying to sort of say gosh, bees are sort of warm and cuddly. They are fascinating but they like humans can destroy each other and and do but the bee society, which is highly resilient, highly adaptable, which uses the hexagon shaped hive in which to store and live and lay and nurture just felt resonant for me. But I’m going to be honest with you and say, this book of mine and these ideas can be taken almost like recipes, you don’t have to buy into the whole shebang for some people. The idea of a structured shape, a numerical system is going to be really useful. And they’re applying it to modeling and they’re, you know, doing all of that. But for others, it’s at a concept level, it just is designed to connect people much more calmly, to what matters. What prioritizes. And if you like, I can explain the six overriding themes that I cover in the book that I believe are important.

Alison Jones
Yes, if you could just, if you could list those, that’d be brilliant, because I think people will be wondering, they can go to the book for the detail, but what I’d love to ask you after that is how having landed on that structure, it then shaped the way you wrote the book.

Julia Hobsbawm
Okay. Well, the first thing I should say, by the way, is that the book is available as an audio download, which I insisted on recording myself because my last book was recorded by a wonderful actress who had been in Poldark and a very famous BBC drama and she was fabulous. But I got to say it felt weird to listen to somebody else’s voice. And I write in, in quite a direct and and personal way I do thread autobiography into my into my work, you know, this is probably because I feel terribly old. One of my kids once said to me, Mum, in your day were there cars, or just horses? So, you know, the truth is I feel I’ve got decades literally of experience and so it would be mad not to not to weave that into into my work. And once I’d settled on this idea that the follow up to the book about connectivity in general, that I wanted an antidote to the complexity and the chaos, and that antidote was going to be to write about simplicity and one side and figured out that for me, the simplicity principle absolutely did hinge on the number six and the shape of the six sided hexagon, then I needed to structure the book accordingly. And, obviously, I had to lay out the arguments at the beginning, which I do, I have to have some practical advice throughout the book so that at the end of every chapter, I’ve got what I call a six fix so that there are some some takeaways, but then I wanted to have six key themes, because I believe that these six, which I then delve into, so really, I’m providing multiples of 6, 36 in total, different sort of breakdowns.

And I really wanted to be able to stand by these six concepts, theoretically as well as in practice, so that if you are a reader and you want to turn your life from the complex to the simple, whether you’re a leader managing teams, whether you’re a freelancer, or whatever, and by the way, we can come on to talk about the enforced simplicity of the uniquely complex situation of the global pandemic, if you like, but just on the six, they are divided really into two halves, two half hexagons, if you like, but the first is clarity. If you aren’t clear, then really, you can’t make anything you do simple so I work through all sorts of facets, the six facets of clarity. And those include, for instance, decision making, and avoiding decision fatigue.

The second is individuality. And why I put that in, is because firstly, I think we need to recognize neurodiversity. We need to recognize all sorts of different ways in which individuals come together and contribute to organizations into society. But also, I believe that the corporate world, even though it does embrace well-being more, is still brand lead and doesn’t let people really be who they are. It gives people job titles, it gives people roles. And so I do think it is important that we keep things simple by being clear. Who am I? How do I like to work? What do I believe? Am I getting it right in this job? And there is something I advocate in the chapter on individuality which I call the three C’s, calling it out, compassion and compromise. You have to have standards individually. And so for me, the first two clarity and individuality are very important.

The third is reset, not rest, but reset. We know, thanks to people like Arianna Huffington, just how important sleep is. And so I didn’t want to retread too much on sleep. But I think the value in an always-on world, especially in a time of crisis, when everybody is of course, constantly scrolling and connecting and looking up and, and sharing, it’s important to remember we are not computers, we should not be left running all the time. We need to give ourselves permission to reset Now I know there’s a whole movement around play. And I have got one of my six elements in this chapter, looking at fun, but really reset is an attitude and a practice. One of the things about hinging the simplicity principle on nature is we definitely need to put our smartphones and our devices away and go out into nature. Tons of research shows that the parasympathetic nervous system calms down in nature. I’m doing this interview from my living room, which has got lots of houseplants in it, we absolutely know that just visually looking at greenery calms the system down. So reset is the third element, but there’s lots in that chapter including the value of napping. So clarity, individuality and reset, and then the second three chapters are the core ingredients of social health actually, what I call the KNOT. So with physical health, we know… and indeed mental health, that it really hinges on, obviously, the absence of disease and injury, but on nutrition, exercise and sleep, that you can’t have a physically healthy body that can fight infection if you don’t have those ingredients, that’s a sort of global standard. And I wanted to create a global standard that was also a trio of factors for social health, and I call it the KNOT, which stands for knowledge, networks, and time. And the three chapters dealing with that very simply are that with knowledge, because there’s so much of it. We’re right in the middle of the fake news crisis. You’ve got to trust knowledge, so it’s quite a detailed chapter, the chapter on knowledge. There’s a section on what I call known unknowns, that famous Donald Rumsfeld phrase that was laughed at at the time that but I actually believe is highly germane and relevant, not in not least to the coronavirus pandemic, which is, you know, the, the prospect of a pandemic was known, but it somehow got lost. And so one of the things I urge people to do is connect to what you know, but you’ve not quite surfaced as a risk as an issue as something you know, but you’re not acting on. So knowledge and, and the whole architecture and structure of the way we use and share news and views is is very, very pressing for organizations and I don’t believe we’ve got that right at all networks.

This is kind of in a way my baby, I’m fascinated by human networks. I’m fascinated by the idea that the technology era has created databases, when really I think it’s all about people basis. It’s all about relationships. It’s all about small scale, the anthropological maximum, so-called Dunbar number of 150. People don’t understand how small and intimate we really operate best at, you know, the TEAL management theory talks about small working groups. But equally, conferences have got hundreds of thousands of people sometimes across the world dialing in and connecting, so networks have to be diverse and they actually have to be small to work. And finally, time: I think that we know that time is finite, we know that we often don’t control timelines, deadlines. This is a little bit suspended at the moment as we record because of the coronavirus crisis. But by the time people listen to this, who knows where we will be. So I’m going to talk about time in a so-called normal context, which is, quite often, when you run a business or work for an organization, you are not in control of your time. And so my mantra, my keep it simple mantra, is really treat your treat your diary, your calendar, like your body, respect the time you spend, and be very mindful of how you spend it. So those are the six: clarity, individuality, reset, knowledge, networks and time. And it’s all wrapped up in this context of six.

And I’m hopeful, the response has been very good so far, but it allows itself to be applied. For instance, during the coronavirus crisis, I’ve been giving lots and lots of interviews about social distancing, and how we are social and have social health in this time of crisis, how we treat our time how we look at our networks, how we address our knowledge flows, how we take the opportunity of effectively global mass quarantine, to reset, what can we learn about that? After the crisis? How do we express our individuality, how the nations come together, when we’ve done nothing but promote nationalism and individuality amongst nations when we now need to be collective, and clarity, speed decision making. So that’s why I’m hoping that my book is relevant and not regarded as a sort of Oh, well, that’s a lovely management theory, but haven’t we all got better things to worry about?

Alison Jones
I want to talk to you about the writing as well, Julia. So we’ve talked a lot about the concepts behind the way that that structure then informs how you present the book and how people can take it in. Because of course, when we have a structure to hang things on, it’s easy for us to make sense of them or to relate them to each other. Tell me a little bit about how you write. What what’s your process? What do you enjoy, what doesn’t work for you? What do you find hard?

Julia Hobsbawm
Well, thank you for asking that question. I think the hardest thing was to begin to think of myself as a writer, because I’m a businesswoman, but I’m a connector. I started in PR. So for years, I promoted other people’s voices. And it it really was only about 10 years ago, when I was 45, that I began to think I might have a voice myself and it was quite complicated to do. I didn’t know I could write in the sense that I always wrote copy and I write quickly, and actually because I’m slightly atypical in that I don’t have a university education and I’m self educated. I think I’ve learned to synthesize ideas quite quickly, I’ve read a lot avidly, but I do read cover to cover, but I’m also I love being surrounded by 10 books and skimming and mixing and matching. And so my challenge was, well, can I write more than an 800-word article? I’d written articles for years and years and years and and as I say, I’ve written copy. But once I became gripped by the idea of the politics and philosophy of modern connection, which is basically what I’m writing about, and social health, it was actually like falling in love. If I’m honest, I just was drawn to it. I would dream about it.

And obviously the reader has got to be the judge, but from my own perspective, even though I’m writing for business and business interested, general readers, I’m writing I hope creatively. I’m writing influenced by the novels and poems that I read, as well as the business books, although, obviously some of the best business books are just wonderfully lyrical as well. But so I think the hardest thing was to become a writer, then of course, having structure. And oddly, I think I had structure and discipline before but writing the simplicity principle about the number six and the shape of six and doing things in 60s and doing things in blocks and support. It really helped me my own medicine helped me.

Alison Jones
I can’t agree with that strongly enough, actually, I think that when you have a strong compelling structure, it as I say, it’s a huge advantage for the reader because it helps them organize and process and relate concepts together. But it’s a gift as a writer as well, isn’t it, because it just keeps you honest. Keeps you balanced and gives you an overview of the of the map of the territory while you’re down on the ground when you’re in any one it of it.

Julia Hobsbawm
Yes. And because I used to work in book publishing I felt almost morally that the book I delivered needed to match the proposal that my agent had put in with me. I felt that I wanted to keep on the tracks with that. I knew that they couldn’t make me and I knew that if I really ended up off on a tangent, that would be okay. But it didn’t appeal to me. And so that was a good discipline as well, which is, okay. You’ve written this proposal. You submitted it, the book’s been bought. Now keep on track with that. So that was my tramlines.

Alison Jones
How interesting. I’ve often thought that all publishers should have to do a stint as an author and vice versa. I think it just makes things so much easier.

Julia Hobsbawm
Yes, absolutely. No, absolutely.

Alison Jones
I always ask my guests, Julia, for their best tip. So there will be many people listening to this who are a long way behind you on the road, maybe just grappling with how they’re going to structure their book, for example: what advice would you give them as they face that mountain of structuring and getting the clarity on their book and writing and getting published?

Julia Hobsbawm
I’ve only got one piece of advice, which is: do you really have something to say? I do not recommend writing a book, which is almost the hardest work you’ll ever do – if you’re a woman, I think having a baby is harder, but other than that, I can’t think of anything harder that I’ve ever done than write a book. And I don’t know what the equivalent is for a man but I will leave those listeners in think of the hardest thing you’ve ever done and triple it. And that’s what it’s like writing a book. There’s absolutely no point, trying to dash off something. You’ve got to feel it. You’ve got to I feel, and I hope this comes across. I feel very passionate about this. I want the people who work who live and work. We’re all living lives. I call the blend itself. I want us to feel engaged, productive, creative. And that communication channels between us and colleagues and bosses and workforce is good and thriving and and I want to communicate that if you are feeling kind of, you know, oh, maybe I could write a book about x, it is going to be very hard to sustain the pain and the agony and the work required so so that’s my only piece of advice. It’s like the joke: How many psychoanalysts does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the lightbulb has to really want to change. You got to really want to write a business book, otherwise, just please don’t.

Alison Jones
That’s great advice. And lots of leaders will thank you for that as well. And that personally, I think having a teenager is harder than having a baby but you know, we could have we could argue that’s awesome.

Julia Hobsbawm
Oh, good point. Good point. We can discuss that anon…

Alison Jones
And I always ask people as well to recommend a business book. And I can genuinely wholeheartedly recommend The Simplicity Principle. Clearly everybody should read that. But is there a book that’s had a particular impact on you that you’d like to share with us?

Julia Hobsbawm
Well, I was thinking about this question. And I, I almost want to give you six, but I will keep the discipline. I think for me, it’s The Switch, by the brothers Chip and Dan Heath, The Switch: How small change makes big change happen. I really love that book. I can remember reading it poolside at a villa in France, about eight or nine years ago. And it’s about getting stuff done. Okay, I’m going to cheat and say my other favorite book, of course, is getting things done by David Allen, which is, of course, the absolute Bible of productivity. But The Switch is really interesting because… I’ll just give you one example from it. It talks about the idea that you… it’s actually really the known-unknown theory. In one case, it’s really about understanding what actually moves the needle. And it cites a case study of somebody going to work for an NGO, in in a far flung corner of the world, I think, possibly Vietnam or Cambodia, dealing with a crisis that couldn’t be solved in a in a village region where children were getting very, very sick and dying. And the parents weren’t. And they couldn’t understand why. Tons of money had been spent on reports. The new guy comes in and thinks, well, I could commission more reports. But, you know, how is that going to really make a meaningful difference by the time my term is up in a year’s time? And so he asked a simple question: Are there any bright spots? Are there any children who are not falling ill and dying? Not, ‘Let’s look at the numbers and the scale and the problem of the ones who are.’ And the bright spot, which I think is a wonderful, simple concept was there. And it turned out that when they followed the bright spots, they found a tiny number of children who had fallen ill in a minor way, like they had a cold. And they accompanied the parents to the reverse side, and were then fed what the parents ate, which was high-protein shrimp, and the rest of the children were not getting that nutrition. And they were falling victim to viruses and bugs that weren’t available through diet. And I love that story. I love that concept. I love that application that those of us in in life can draw inspiration from complex situations and apply simple universal measures. Which is to say something I repeat in the book was sent to me many years ago. What does success look like? And success is often not looking at the big picture, the complex system, picture, the scaled picture. It’s looking at the simple truth. What is going on? And what little small simple steps can we take? That’s my that’s my inspiration. That’s what’s behind the simplicity principle.

Alison Jones
Yes, that’s a great recommendation. And I love the way… they’re right as well. They very much exemplify what you talked about, about the, the simple phrases are the ones that stick in our brain. So the ones that make a difference to us.

Julia Hobsbawm
Indeed.

Alison Jones
And I could talk to you all day, Julia, there’s so much we have… I would love to talk to you about Editorial Intelligence as well and more about the network stuff. But we’re going to have to end it there. We’re way over time, but I don’t care. It’s been wonderful. And if people want to find out more about you, more about Editorial Intelligence, which is something we haven’t talked about, where should they go?

Julia Hobsbawm
Well, thank you for having me. It’s been a lovely discussion. editorialintelligence.com is the content and connection networks business that I run. I’m on Julia hobsbawm.com. A lot of my papers and writing and YouTube videos are all easily findable. And and I’m on Instagram @ItsJulia Hobsbawm. And as I say I’ve recorded the audio book as well as written the book book. So take your pick.

Alison Jones
And there’s a lovely series of short videos on YouTube as well that I’ll link to in the show notes at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com. Thank you so much for your time today. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you.

Julia Hobsbawm
Thank you for having me.

One Comment

  1. This was great. Thanks for sharing

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