“How do I discover my change making contribution, and how do I do that in a way so that I don’t fry myself in the process?”
The balance between stepping up to make an impact in the world and stepping back where necessary to protect our own wellbeing and energy can seem an impossible one to find. And that’s why Katy Murray argues that change-making is first of all an inner process: recognising and overcoming the various barriers that hold us back, and identifying the most effective way to use our energy to maximise our impact.
She also shares the process she used to plan and write her book, which involves decorator’s paper, getting outside, and listening to wailing women…
EDIT: here’s the book she recommends: The Mixed-Race Experience: Reflections and Revelations on Multicultural Identity by Natalie Evans and Naomi Evans, out 7 July.
Katy’s site: https://www.katycatalyst.com/
Katy on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/katycatalyst/
Alison on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bookstothesky_/
Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky
The 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge September 2022: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=proposal-challenge-sep-2022
WriteBrained: A 28-day exploratory writing adventure: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=writebrainedcourse
The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/
The Extraordinary Business Book Club bookshop: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/extraordinarybusinessbooks
Alison Jones: I’m here today with Katy Murray, who is a leadership development coach, diversity and inclusion consultant, facilitator and speaker. She’s coached thousands of leaders over 25 years and hosted workshops and conferences in 35 countries across the world. She is the Director of Catalyst Collective equipping organizations to co-create more equitable and actively anti-racist workplaces.
And she was recently named one of the UK’s top 50 D&I leaders by Hive Learning. And her new book, which if you are watching this you will see just behind her, do the thing, Katy, there you go, her new book is called Change Makers: A women’s guide to stepping up without burning out at work. So first of all, welcome, it’s wonderful to see you.
Katy Murray: You too. Thanks for having me. Good to be here.
Alison Jones: Really lovely to have you here and this is one of those books where I was kind of in on the genesis thing.
Katy Murray: You absolutely were. You absolutely were.
Alison Jones: It’s so good to see it. So just, yes, give us a little bit of a kind of potted history of the journey of the book.
Katy Murray: Sure. So I remember doing your Proposal Book Challenge. I think it was right at the beginning when we didn’t really know what the pandemic even was, but I think it was April. yes that’s right. And I…
Alison Jones: No, you’re right. April.
Katy Murray: I remember being in the garden, it was really hot, and we were just outside on lockdown in that really strange early few weeks where everybody was a little bit uncertain about what was to come.
And I remember spending those two weeks with you and loving the structure of every day, put together part of the proposal and at the end of two weeks having the proposal together. And so that was awesome. And then, loving that I managed to get all these ideas kind of wrestled into some sort of structure and order, and then sort of parked it for a while, looked into, you know, what do I do next with that?
And then lots of other things were going on as you know, in the world at that time and got kind of sucked into that other stuff. So it was a year later when I was approached by my publisher – do I have any ideas. And I was able to say, I do, I do.
Alison Jones: Funny you should say that
Katy Murray: And that then became the start point of a conversation with them, which was again just great that I had that bubbled away, but also coded in some form that meant that another person could look at it and get into the ideas and we could work it up together.
So it went from there and then I had, I think I had about a five month deadline to write the book. So that felt pretty quick. And then it was a year from sort of commissioning through to publication. I thought that once it was submitted there would be nothing to do really in the next few months. But of course, as you know, that was also busy.
So I feel like the year was really full with the book and full since with the book, because then you do all of the promotion and the marketing. So yes, it’s been a big part of my life for the last couple of years.
Alison Jones: It’s funny. It’s like when you, and, who’ll resonate with this, when you were pregnant and all you can think about is the birth and then the birth is over and you think right, job done now.
Katy Murray: Yes. Yes. That’s it. That’s all I need to do. It’s like, oh, actually now…
Alison Jones: Now there’s the whole… yes. Exactly.
So I want to come back to the process particularly the shaping of the ideas and the proposal challenge, but also just what you discovered during the course of the writing and publishing and so on, it’s really fascinating for people.
But before we do that, I want to take a step back and, tell us, what prompted the book, in a sense? And what are you hoping to achieve with it?
Katy Murray: Yes, so I’ve coached many leaders over many years and I’ve noticed the levels of burnout for people that are highly ambitious, highly purpose driven. We know now there’s loads of data about the impacts of the pandemic on levels of burnout and overwhelm. And it’s really high, perhaps unsurprisingly.
And so I wanted to write a book that brought that resilience and wellbeing piece right into the center for leaders. And then I also wanted to speak to the sense I was noticing with my coaching clients of… there’s all this social change happening in the world, there’s such a sense of we want things to be different around us and we’re kind of unhappy and unsettled by so much of what’s going on around us. What can I actually do about it?
And I’m hearing that from my clients, say, what is it that I can do to make a contribution, whether that’s in terms of racial justice or climate change or any of the big issues that can feel really, really big, but how do I actually, in my own small way make a difference?
So I wanted to bring that resilience and wellbeing piece together with that sense of: how do I discover my change making contribution and how do I do that in a way so that I don’t fry myself in the process?
That was the driver behind it, to speak to my client’s needs around that.
Alison Jones: And that is really interesting because the thing that really struck me about it and that struck me the proposal as well was that embodying of change. So you’re looking at change at the personal level and also at that kind of global level and Change Makers, I think is a very useful term for that because it’s sort of ambiguous. Isn’t it?
What kind of change are we talking about here?
Katy Murray: So I’m really interested in that inner work of change. So I’m centering women’s experience and women’s voices in the book. That’s another piece where everyone, all genders, all expressions are welcome to read it, but it is centering women’s experiences. And we know from all the data around what holds us back, what actually creates barriers and biases in the workplace or in the world as we navigate the world around us.
So I’m really curious about how we do that in a work of… what is it that I need to overcome in terms of my own thinking, my own feeling, my own stepping up? What does that really look like for me internally?
But also that outer work of: what am I navigating in the world? Because a lot of this is actually about the system and systems around me. It’s actually not that I’m broken and I need to be fixed, it’s that I’m navigating a world that wasn’t necessarily designed for my thriving. So that inner and outer work, I’m really curious about that work of change as they come together. And then that curiosity, I think people can have, which is, this is what I feel angry about, or this is what I feel curious about, or this is what I love to do.
How can I do that and not burn out, but also how can I do that and make a difference? So it’s where those different pieces meet together.
Alison Jones: And it’s a fascinating intersection, and there’s a sort of feminist element of that, and there’s also just sort of the equality, diversity and inclusion piece in that. And there’s the purpose piece, you know, these are big themes. How did you pull them together into a structure which meant that you could actually write a book to deliver a coherent narrative on them?
Katy Murray: Yes. And I guess back to your earlier question on what was the writing process like. I wrestled with that in terms of how do those things interconnect? And then once I could see how they interconnected, the structure kind of fell out of that in terms of what the different chapter headings might be or what those different component parts might be.
And I wanted it to read, if you like, from chapter one through to chapter eight in a kind of logical flow, but I also wanted it to read in a sort of ‘dip in and out’ kind of way. So people could come into the places that they were either was a sort of particular pain point or challenge, or were just particularly drawn to.
So I’m loving now hearing from readers about what is actually resonating. And I’m also really fascinated by how people read books because I’m a dip in and out definitely, I flick through and then I dip in and out. Whereas I’m hearing from lots of readers. No, no, no. I start on page one and I work all the way through.
So I’m glad that when I structured the book, I did think about people might dip in, but also people, most people, probably not like me, will want to be really logical in the flow of how that’s structured. And so I wanted to design it so it was like a toolkit, a manual, lots of spaces for reflection. There are loads of reflective questions.
I feel like I proposed some answers and some ideas, but mostly I’m stirring people’s thinking, readers’ thinking, and there’s space along the way to reflect and record your reflection. So that really builds through the book. And then if you just want to dip into: what do I do with my jealousy? How do I connect with my desires? All the different things that might resonate. What do I do when I’m procrastinating? Might be particular things that jump out and there’s the exercises, and what I call power practices against each of those areas people can delve into.
So you can take the big picture, but you can also take the component parts I wanted to it to be both. Perhaps that was a bit ambitious, but that was my desire with it.
Alison Jones: It’s such a great point generally about thinking not only about you as the writer and what it is you want to say, but about the reader and how they’re going to access that. And the different, not just reading types, but learning types, the reflectors, the activists, you know, you’ve got your power practices and you’ve got those provocations.
Katy Murray: Yes.
Alison Jones: It’s really interesting.
I am going to just rewind a second though, because you said, and then you sort of moved on briskly, you said when I could see how it all fit together: can you remember how that happened? Did you literally draw it? Was it a kind of ‘in the shower’ moment? What happened when you went: oh, that’s how it fits?
Katy Murray: Yes, I’m really glad you picked up that flippancy there because I think it’s not necessarily a kind of eureka moment I think, although it can be. So part of it kind of came to me in that I’m doing a walk and then the ideas sort of click.
And then for me I’m really visual so I have a massive, as a facilitator, I’m always, you know, flip charts and post-it notes and coloured pens and all those things. So I have decorators’ lining paper, which rolls out like a huge flip chart page. And that’s where I map ideas and then move them around and block them together. So I was able to literally, sort of physically, see it and see what those building blocks could be.
And then that really helped with the, well, what’s going to be in and what’s going to be out? What could be some bonuses, what could be some blog posts? You know, if they’re not going to be in the book, what else could these things be? That they’re still valid and connected, but they’re not necessarily going to be in the main document, in the main work.
So that sort of literal visualization of it all on the ground, literally it was me like on the ground with different bits of stationery for a couple days. Yes, and there are reels on my Instagram. I coded all of that, I wanted to show people the behind the scenes.
So I’d sort of done lots and lots of filming and had a little mini post of like, this is what I’m doing today to build and I had this idea of building the book. I was really building it from the ground up. And thinking about the contributors, there are interviews throughout the book with other change makers and their perspectives.
So I was thinking about, well, who’s going to be where and where do the interviews go? That was all sort of blocks, building blocks that I could see visually on the ground. And then that helps me with the writing of it.
Alison Jones: Brilliant. And it’s funny: we say writing, but actually writing is so many different things, isn’t it? And often writing is drawing, or going for a walk or, you know, all those things that actually move the thinking forward.
Katy Murray: Mm, yes. I love that. What is it that helps us move the thinking forwards? And sometimes I, again I was remembering the fact that it… it’s really sunny this week when we’re recording this. And I was remembering this time last year of sitting outside and actually being away from my desk where I do the rest of my work.
And I remembered in preparation for this conversation that I didn’t write any of the book sitting here at my desk where I do the rest of my work. I just didn’t ever write it here, I always found another physical space in our home or outside of our home. So it was outside a lot when the sun was good and I live in the Lake District in the Northwest of England.
So you just take the good days when you have them. And so when the days are not so good, you find other places to write, but I was doing a lot of writing outside and that space to think, that fresh air, looking out at nature, just those other aspects I think helped me to, frankly to focus perhaps to be less distracted.
If I was at my desk, the work stuff also present there that would perhaps have been more of a distraction. So yes, those things really helped to have other spaces coded as writing spaces.
Alison Jones: Yes, I absolutely hear you. I find it very, very hard to write at my work desk because this is where I answer emails, have calls with people.
Katy Murray: You’re in all those other modes, aren’t you, in that geographical position?
Alison Jones: And so much is to be done, that you should be doing when you’re in that space. And yes, I have to just get out, get into a cafe, into a library, leave the family, temporarily.
Yes, and also a big plus one for the roll of paper as well. I use one from Ikea. Hadn’t thought about decorators paper, bet that’s bigger actually. I might go and investigate that, but it just, even the biggest flip chart paper ends too soon, doesn’t it? This just, you can just…
Katy Murray: I love the idea that can just connect all of the ideas and have it all in one place. Actually, there was something for me about: there’s so much that needs to fit into my head, and I felt like my, I could feel my bandwidth stretching, but also sort of like really hitting the buffers and hitting its capacity.
So having, and I find one document although it did all have to be in one document, I found that quite unwieldy as it was growing. So again, having it on one enormous piece of paper just helped me to be able to see it literally in one place.
Alison Jones: It’s like a map of the book, isn’t it, you just stand back and look.
Yes, it’s so interesting, that sense of overwhelm and the sense of: you spend your, most of your time when you’re writing, kind of close in, zoomed into a particular area, thinking about the next word to make the particular point, but then being able to just step back and see the whole thing again, that’s a really important discipline and it also shifts the energy doesn’t it, which I think is really helpful.
Katy Murray: It does, and then I pick up on your word overwhelm and I remember days where, particularly at the beginning actually, where I didn’t think I would hit my word limit, I thought I would struggle. I knew I would do it, but I thought I would perhaps struggle to hit the word limit. So I was really focused on getting words out and getting words down.
And then about two thirds in, I was like, oh, I’m definitely going to go over the word limit. And so then the gear completely changed at that point. But just to loop back to that overwhelm piece, early on I was aware that if I thought, although I had mapped it all out, I could see the big picture, but if I thought too much about that, I would just not start or not do the small minutia that just needed to get done that day. And I would be just limited really by knowing how big the task was.
So that massive learning for me with such a big creative project, which I hadn’t ever done before, was how to just take a little piece at a time. I started to think of it as like, what’s the problem that I’m going to solve today? Okay, I’m going to solve the problem of, I’m just going to write a bit of chapter one and see how that goes, and tomorrow I’m going to solve the problem of, I’ll just write a little bit of chapter two and I just had to give myself really small, little bite size pieces.
And then once the words were all down and then it was a case of, oh, I actually need to have less words. The problem became different to solve that day. I was like, okay, let me now edit this down or reduce this, or cut bits or, and giving myself almost like little ways to end up with the big piece done.
I feel like that’s, for me, that was the only way I could manage the bigness of it, as well as needing to just do the granular work of each word by word.
Alison Jones: Yes exactly. And I know this is a mantra in the bootcamp, isn’t it, there’s only one way to eat an elephant.
Katy Murray: Right. And having that structure is helpful because you’re sort of filling, once you’ve got the structure in place. Although I also did end up doing a little bit of rearranging in the edit. It is a case of sort of filling in the gaps, which again helped me see it as smaller little tasks to do, rather than this kind of one enormous, enormous piece.
Alison Jones: And then, so we’ve talked a lot about the writing and it’s really fascinating just to hear that kind of the emotional, and also the practical tactical stuff that you were doing to manage that. What surprised you about the publishing process? I mean, you sort of said earlier that you handed it over and you thought, right job done, but no.
Katy Murray: Yes, well, two pieces I’d like to share. One is that realization, again, quite early on in the discussions with the publisher, where they essentially commissioned me to write it for them and that shift of, oh, it’s not really now my thing that I’m writing for me. It’s their commercial proposition, I’m writing it. And I’m kind of part of the team to deliver this product and that from a kind of business perspective, understanding their business perspective really helped me also to kind of know my role in that. But I do remember that day of that shift of, oh, it’s not really just my baby and I can do whatever I like and I know people take lots of different roots to publishing, but for me, that particular route was, yes, there’s other people involved and they will have a say and they will decide a lot of things.
And I just got to that stage of saying, yes, that’s fine, I’m okay with that. I’m going to let go of some of the decisions and some of the control, because I believe in what we’re going to create together and we trust each other to create something that we’re all happy with.
So that was quite an early realization, which I feel helped me just kind of let go of some of that, perhaps some of the control stuff. And then once it was submitted, I think I said to you before we started recording that I just thought there would be a gap. There’d be a lull, and I frankly would crack on with the rest of my life until it was published.
But I realized, oh, there are still quite a few things that I need to be on. And again, my head was in all the detail to get the edit done, and then it’s like, I can let go of the detail. But actually there was still quite a lot of detail needed in terms of proofreading and endorsements and particular pieces with the interviews and all, again, all the different facets that you need to build it into that final creation.
And I didn’t know that that was going to come. So that was like, oh, here I am again, back in the detail of chapter seven, yes.
Alison Jones: And then there’s all the ancillary stuff, like the cover design and the page design. It’s quite fun, isn’t it, though.
Katy Murray: I enjoyed that. And you can probably tell what my favourite colour is. So I literally was, it was all done virtually. I was like as long as it’s turquoise, I’m happy. because I love teal, it’s my favourite colour. I was like, as long as it’s turquoise, I’m good. And I tried not to be too diva-ish about the design piece but I did, I did enjoy it and it was fun. It was fun to have those discussions. Yes.
Alison Jones: That’s brilliant and it’s a gorgeous colour.
Now I always ask my guests, as you know, what’s your best tip for a first-time business book author. And I do feel, I feel a little bit greedy, I’m going to be honest with you, because you’ve given a huge number of tips now, but you know, what would be the one single thing that you’d say, if you listen to nothing else today, take this away.
Katy Murray: Yes, because I’ve talked about structure already, that definitely helped me and having the deadline, which was imposed through the publishing process, but I know there’s no way I would’ve delivered it unless I had that very, very hard deadline. That definitely helped me.
And I think I would just add to that piece, I’ve perhaps already shared around finding a space, finding a creative space that feels like a place that’s conducive for you to write. So whatever the conditions are for you to feel like you can write. So if that’s playing music, I created some playlists for myself which helped me along the way, I now share them with my clients, like here’s the Change Makers playlist which was…
Alison Jones: No, we need details. What’s on the Change Makers playlist?
Katy Murray: Oh, so lots of Kate Bush, lots of kind of wailing women actually, really helped me in the process of writing. So getting back to some of my roots around Björk and Sinead O’Connor and some of those artists who I kind of grew up with, but something about their kind of soul based, beautiful voices really helped me at the time. It sounds very indulgent, but I enjoyed that.
And then on the playlist now is more of that kind of more empowering, upbeat dance stuff as well, which I enjoy too. So that music really helps me shift my state. So if I was ever feeling like, oh, it’s a bit of a slog, that music would really help me.
So I’d say my tip is like, what are the conditions that will help you? Snacks really help, great snacks, lots of hydration, music.
Alison Jones: That’s brilliant. I love the way that the playlist progressed from wailing women to something more empowered, that was marvellous.
And I always ask people as well as you know, to recommend a book. So it doesn’t have to be a business book, but what book, apart from Change Makers obviously, do you think that anybody listening should have a read of?
Katy Murray: Yes, so I’m really passionate about the equality conversation. I’m really looking forward to Naomi Evans, writing with her sister, Natalie Evans and their book is forthcoming. I’m not sure it’s published yet. So look out for it. I think it’s called The Mixed Race Experience. So for me as a white woman, I’m excited to read that.
And Naomi’s one of the featured interviews and I absolutely love the work she’s doing with everyday racism. So yes, excited for that one coming out.
Alison Jones: I will keep an eye out for it. Sounds brilliant. Do you know when it’s coming out? You don’t okay. That’s fine. I will do the research and I will tell people in the outro when it’s coming, that’s absolutely brilliant.
And if people want to find out more about you, Katy, more about Change Makers, where should they go?
Katy Murray: My site is katycatalyst.com. katycatalyst on Instagram, Katy Murray on LinkedIn and love to connect with anyone and love to hear what’s resonating from the book. It’s really fun to hear what’s landing.
Alison Jones: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much. And thank you for being so generous and open about the process as well. It’s just always fascinating to hear how different people go about it.
I have to say I couldn’t listen to music with words as I write, just one of those things, I could listen to ambient musical, or classical music or something, but anything with words I’m lost.
I start writing down the the lyrics.
Katy Murray: Maybe it’s the wailing that helped because there, maybe it was more wailing than words, that could have been what was going there.
Alison Jones: Maybe. Yes, maybe I need to outsource the wailing, I probably do my own when I’m writing and that’s probably not healthy. Great to talk to you, Katy, thank you so much for your time
Katy Murray: Thank you so much.