Episode 55 – Writing as Thought Leadership with Mark Levy

Mark LevyOne of the most common pieces of advice for business book authors – and one that I often repeat myself – is to focus on the reader. What problem do they have, what is it that they’re seeking, what language will resonate with them?

That’s important, but it’s not the whole story. As Henry Ford famously said, if he’d asked people what they wanted they’d have said faster horses.

In this week’s episode writer and positioning expert Mark Levy reveals how to balance what the readers want with what you as the author want to achieve and what you are uniquely positioned to create.

He describes how you can capture your unique meaning and fascination pile, your own mix of insights from the various experience and areas of expertise you’ve developed over the years, from which you can write something genuinely original that will establish you as a thought leader. And how it works to develop your own thinking too: ‘You need to use the writing itself as a discovery process.’

Inspiring, illuminating and incredibly practical advice for writers who want to make a difference in the world.

Levy Innovation: http://www.levyinnovation.com/

The Fascination Factor: http://changethis.com/manifesto/show/72.05.FascinationFactor

Mark on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LevyInnovation

Alison Jones:  Hello and welcome to the Extraordinary Business Book Club. Today I’m with here with Mark Levy who’s the founder of Levy Innovations LLC, a positioning firm that helps consultants and other thought leaders to increase their fees by up to 2000%. We might have to talk about that later Mark. His clients include a former department head in the White House, CEOs in major organisations, a former head of the Strategy Unit at the Harvard Business School, a member of Major League Baseball and TED and TEDx speakers. Quite a broad church there.

Mark was Chief Marketing Officer at an Inc. 5000 experiential branding organisation with clients such as Gap, Samsung, Time Warner and Harvard and Stanford Universities. He’s written for the New York Times and he’s written or co-created five books including Accidental Genius, Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight and Content, which I think has been translated into 11 languages Mark, is that right?

Mark Levy:     It has. Thank you Alison for bringing that up. It makes me sound more important. I appreciate it.

Alison Jones:  Well it is pretty important. It’s pretty impressive. He’s also created the O’Reilly Video Course, Influencing People Honestly, which teaches leaders how to persuade ethically and openly. And I love this about Mark – I didn’t know before – in addition to all this position consultancy stuff Mark also creates magic tricks and shows. How cool is that? His work has been performed in Carnegie Hall, Las Vegas and on all the major TV networks. Welcome to the show Mark.

Mark Levy:     Thank you so much Alison for having me.

Alison Jones:  We should have about a two-hour call here because I can’t think how we’re going to cover all of this. The reason you’re on today is because Robbie Kellman Baxter, when I asked her, “Who should I speak to to talk about business books? Who’s got something interesting to say,” she didn’t even hesitate for a second. She said, “Mark Levy,” because you were the guy that she rang up when she was stuck and you got her out of a hole. Tell us about that.

Mark Levy:     Yeah, well I mean Robbie is brilliant so I’m honoured that she would say that. Sometimes actually when people are trying to write books the more brilliant they are the more difficult it is for them to write. Have you encountered that?

Alison Jones:  I certainly so have. Yes, that would be me. Not that I’m particularly brilliant but you cripple yourself with self-consciousness don’t you? I know Robbie, she really wanted this book to be good.

Mark Levy:     Right. Because they have so many things to say and because their friends are also smart, their friends are also bright, that they want to say something that kind of justifies their position in life. Make sense?

Alison Jones:  Absolutely. I remember Robbie saying she was terrified of somebody reading that and going, “Huh, it’s not as a good as I would expect it would be from Robbie.”

Mark Levy:     Right, right. Exactly. I think that one of the very first things that I have to do is to settle people down and to get them to understand what the expectations are of them in the world. That they don’t have to be brilliant every minute of the day. Right?

Alison Jones:  Yeah, no absolutely. Go on.

Mark Levy:     Have you encountered this in your own writing because you just talked about your own writing?

Alison Jones:  Absolutely. I mean when you’re a publisher you work with people, helping them write their books, which of course is a really specific skill set. I’m a very, very good publisher. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m brilliant at authoring my own books. There’s a massive self-consciousness around it because you know that everybody is going to be judging your book.

Mark Levy:     That’s right. That’s right. The way I go about approaching these things is very different. Rather than having people work from a chronological way like a logical way for their book, I actually do something more that poets and novelists do. It’s more putting out stories. Having them write down stories and pieces of philosophy. That kind of stuff that they’re really excited about. Independent of the book.

It’s more like taking your topic and writing down what’s the best advice you have on that topic. Writing down the worst advice you have on that topic. Writing down the stories that come to mind about the topic. Sometimes we just think in abstract ideas, you know what I mean, and it comes out like Tolstoy called head spun and Tolstoy meant head spun in a very disgusted way. It was like, “Ugh, head spun,” like he’d spit. It’s kind of like, “Yeah, yeah, that’s not from real life. That’s just happening in your head.”

What it is I try to do is to get people to kind of get off the type of thinking that’s keeping them stuck. It’s usually just this straightforward linear way of doing things. Instead I’ll say things like, “Oh, okay, just tell me about your subject. Tell me what’s obvious about it.” Like, “You don’t have to … Don’t go anywhere big and important,” because the secret Alison is that when we try to go for big important ideas, we often stink at doing that.

Alison Jones:  You freeze up don’t you. The pressure is just too great. You immediately freeze up.

Mark Levy:     That’s right. That’s right. Because we don’t have to come up with big ideas over and over and over again in our lives. We’re kind of untrained at how to do that and so to force yourself in a pressure situation to have to do that and to do it repeatedly is a recipe for disaster. The good thing is though that you’ve lived a long time and you’re life is a filter and you’ve gone through life and this filter has collected all kinds of experiences and stories and facts and ideas and some of those things have escaped your filter.

Other pieces of material have stayed in your filter. Perhaps for reasons you don’t even know why but they’re just there. It’s stuff you can’t forget. Some of it may be major and some of it may be minor but it’s there. That’s where I like people to begin with. It’s kind of, “Let’s first take an accounting of the things you can’t forget.” Your fascinations. The places where you find tremendous meaning in life and you’re fascinated. Like, important or not.

Let’s understand the pieces of philosophy, the stories, the scenes, all that kind of stuff and now once we have that stuff out of our head, and you’ve written that stuff down, once you have that stuff out it’s kind of looking now at your audience and saying, “Okay, who is my audience? Who are they? What do they like about the world? How are they different from the rest of the population? What is it I’m trying to accomplish with them?”

“Now, based on that, what am I seeing in my meaning and fascination pile? What’s the most important thing here or what are some of the most important things here? Do I see patterns among any of those things? Can I put a couple of those things together that hadn’t been put together before and now where is that leading us to?” That’s why my clients, I tell them, “You need to write a book. If you want to be a thought leader, just looking to your audience is bad because if you look to your audience first, they’re only going to tell you what’s already been out there.”

If you look to your audience for what it is they know, they’re not an expert in your field so they’re just going to have you repeat what they’ve already considered safe. What they’ve pre-chewed for you. You’re not going to be any thought leader by doing that. Also, if you look to the audience too quickly, the audience has their own goals for their own lives, as they should.

You as a business person, you have goals for your life and for your business and your growth as a human being so you need to first look to meaning and fascination and to your own goals first to say, “Now what’s a book that will help me express the best of who I am but also give the audience something that they can’t forget, something really cool for them.” Is this making sense? Am I just blathering away or is this making sense?

Alison Jones:  No, it makes absolute … I like that triangulation where you start with, I like the ‘meaning in fascination’ phrase. That’s what’s fascinating. What’s catching in your filter. You almost don’t need to know why. The point is it’s there and it’s probably there for a good reason. Then bringing it back to, actually, what do the people … Because you’re really, it’s absolutely right just if you start there, if you write about what fascinates you, then it’s quite a self-indulgent piece of work that isn’t going to resonate with the people you want it for. You have to be really clear about who it is for. I love the idea about triangulating those two things and starting off with the fascination.

Mark Levy:     Well, right, you start there. Because you’re the one who is bringing meaning into the world. You’re the thought leader. You get to decide what your book is. No one’s asking you for your book. They’re not asking you for your book. Even if you’re publishing with a publisher, you had to go to the publisher probably. You’re the one who’s generating this thing. You get to say what’s in there. That’s all it is I’m saying.

Sometimes I find that people, they’re working with a dangerous audience as a writing hero of mine, Peter Elbow said, “That they need … If the audience is ambiguous or you think that they’re too dangerous or judgemental it’s going to affect what it is you produce so you first have to start with yourself.”

Again, that’s very easy to say but the way I have people do things is I have them look at their meaning and fascination in ways that they hadn’t looked at it before. I’ll give you another example. One of my clients wrote a proposal and the publisher happily accepted the proposal but I found that when the client came to me, he was scared that he could not write that book. This is very common.

People come to me all the time because they’ve created a proposal that they sent to the publisher and it won the day because the idea was good but then when they sat down to actually write it, they said a bunch of stuff in the proposal that they hadn’t really thought through. They were so focused on persuading the publisher that they didn’t really think about the book as a reality for them. Now, you know what I mean?

Alison Jones:  Yes, “Oh, now I have to write it? Really?”

Mark Levy:     Right. Right. It’s like “Oh my god, all I did was read three or four proposals online and kind of copy that format.” I don’t mean they plagiarised. I mean there’s a certain proposal format. They just copied that format but they were looking to that format. They weren’t looking to themselves. Now when they actually have to write the book, they say, “Oh my god, I’m like an alien in my own book. I don’t know this territory that I’m standing in. What did I mean when I said these were my competitive titles? My book’s nothing like that!” You know what I mean?

What it is I have to do is I say, “Look, the publisher signed you to produce a book on that idea. The main idea. You have to do that.” Also, a lot of the ideas in your proposal you know what the publisher really expects. They expect those ideas so you need to keep those. But they don’t necessarily expect the identical format that you promised or so. They want an outstanding book on your dominant idea. Whatever you have to do to make that happen, that’s what you do. Don’t feel chained to some false format that you promised. Do some thinking on it and then go to your publisher and say, “Here’s idea X. I’m going to write this book on idea X. Here’s a sample.”

Show them, bring them to a new and better place in the book. It’s really, again the proposal is a lot based on… it’s artificial to people so I tend to tell them, there’s two pieces of advice I give writers and I try to give them exercises that bring these ideas to fruition. One is a quote from the American poet Robert Frost, and Robert Frost said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” That’s a real design parameter to me. If you just sit there and you write a book that is so boring for you to write, you’re trying to write this proposal format that you did or you’re trying to write down exactly what it is you do, you’re going to be so bored and that boredom’s going to come through to the reader. You need to use the writing itself as a discovery process. That’s why in my book, Accidental Genius, my book on writing, the opening, the frontispiece says something like, “Writing produces thought so when you don’t know what to write, start writing.”

Alison Jones:  That could not be more … Isn’t that wonderful. William Zinsser said, “Writing, learning, and thinking. It’s all the same process.”

Mark Levy:     Right. Exactly. It’s when you approach writing in a certain way it becomes a discovery process. Not when you’re trying to impress other people but when you’re writing to learn. You need to do some of that writing to learn as you’re writing this book.

Alison Jones:  I’m nodding furiously here because I always say, I quite often say to people, “There’s all these great reasons to write a book and you would have thought of many of them but one you probably haven’t thought of is probably the one that’s actually going to be the most significant, which is it will help your thinking incredibly and it will allow you to be much more clear, much more articulate about your ideas to take your ideas to the next level.”

Mark Levy:     That’s right. That’s the main reason to write a book. You want it as a biz dev tool of course but you’re going to know more about your subject and interesting things about your subject that’s going to find its way into your work then you would ever have learned any other way. It’s going to be an amazing experience.

The second quote, if I may, that I base all my exercises and things around, the American novelist, mystery writer, Elmore Leonard, who died a couple of years ago. He wrote novels like Glitz and Mr. Majestic and Get Shorty. They made a lot of his stuff into movies. Someone once asked him, “How do you write such page turning novels where people are really excited to read them?” Elmore Leonard said, “I leave out the parts that people skip.”

Alison Jones:  That’s brilliant.

Mark Levy:     Again, that sounds funny and it is funny but I take that as an absolute design parameter because I’ve written for TV and things of that nature and I know, if there’s a word that doesn’t belong there, you have to take it out. If there’s a sentence that people are going to skip, you have to take it out. If there’s a story that doesn’t work, if you can’t fix it, you have to take it out. If there’s a chapter that you now see was unnecessary, you have to take it out. The key is, you may need to write those things first. You probably won’t know that they’re unnecessary until you write them. I’m very fast and loose with my writing.

I have people, it’s almost like we’re playing games in the writing. Here’s a perfect example. One of my clients had this proposal. It was accepted. He sat down and he called me and he said, “Mark, I cannot write this book and I’m petrified because I have a contract about it. It just doesn’t make any, even the stuff I was writing about in the proposal, even I don’t understand what it was I was saying now when I look at it.” All I did was calm him down and I said, “Okay, lets take one idea from the proposal. Just pick an idea from the proposal.”

He picked one. I said, “Okay, let’s as a game, divide that idea up into four. It’s not really into four. We’re just playing a game. There’s no such thing as taking an idea and dividing it up into four but what would those pieces be?” He said, “A, B, C, D,” whatever they were. He said, “Okay, A, B, C, D.” I said, “Okay, great. Pick one of those pieces.” He said, “Okay, piece C.” I said, “Okay, divide that up into four.” He divided that up into four. He said, “Okay, pick one of those pieces.” I said, “Tell me about that piece.” He started to tell me about that piece and I just started taking notes about it, about what he was saying.

Then I said, “Okay, pick another one of those little tiny micro pieces.” He said, “Okay, this one.” I said, “Okay, tell me about that one.” He just started to talk about it. Anyway, long story short, at the end of it, I sent him my notes and almost verbatim the stuff he said to me appeared in the book, which sold very well. Was translated into other languages. That kind of thing. It’s because we know so much about what it is we’re writing about but we freeze up. We get scared.

You just need to come at what it is you’re doing in a different way and often you have to be tricked in coming at it in a different way because coming at it at a different way through volition, because you’re going to struggle back to the ways of thinking, like the ruts in your thinking. Where people have already praised you for those things. You’re going to head back in those directions. Kind of my job is to get people to be surprised about their own work. Does that make sense?

Alison Jones:  That makes absolute sense. It’s a real coaching standard isn’t it? Chunking things down. Asking people questions. Getting them to come at it at a different way. Also, dealing with the fear because it isn’t just about, “Oh my goodness, I’ve got to write this book,” there some fear that sets in when you sit down to write a book isn’t there?

Mark Levy:     Oh, yeah. Totally. Totally. For instance, I also talk about fear. I’m a positioning coach. By the way, I’m looking at my bookshelf. I have so many books on my bookshelf. I’m trying to remember where I got that technique of dividing things into four from. He’s a Canadian consultant who consults to museums and I can’t find his name. Anyway, if I find it I’ll tell your audience.

Alison Jones:  If you find it let me know and we’ll put it up on the show notes because that’s the kind of thing we can stick in there. Cool.

Mark Levy:     Yeah, brilliant guy. For instance, people come to me to position them around what I call their big sexy idea for their business. We have to come up with it. Here’s how stuff invariably happens, they come to me and they say, “Mark, I’m all over the place. I’ve done stuff in this industry. I’ve done stuff in that industry. I’ve done marketing.” They start to say all these different kind of things and their apologetic to me about it. They say, “I’m a disaster. I’m all over the place. Look at all these different things.”

I say, “Wow, stop.” I said, “Do you know in another time you would have been considered a Renaissance thinker. You would have been considered… Maslow would have considered you a fully actualized human being.” The liberal arts education, at least in America, was created so that students would go to school and not just know about one subject but would know about all kinds of different subjects so they could make decisions in a wide range of areas and be good citizens. Do not apologise for being a fully actualized Renaissance person who the educational system was made to produce at it’s highest level. That’s who you are.

Alison Jones:  That’s so true isn’t it? We’re so deep into our niches these days.

Mark Levy:     That’s it. The reason why you’re so good at your work is you can draw upon so many different things in order to think through things and get interesting things done. I said, “Coming up with your differentiated idea, that’s something that was created in the 19th century to sell soap. It was used to sell products. ‘This soap is ninety-nine and forty-four one hundred percent pure. This soap has a blue streak through it. This soap can float in water. This soap is twenty mule team strong,’ and so on. It was made to sell soap and that kind of things. It wasn’t made to sell human beings.

But because there are eight billion personal brands in the world now, it’s our best way so far we have of differentiating people but not this main idea that your business needs to be about. It’s just, it’s to get your foot in the door. That’s the promise that people want to see you make happen. Then how you get them there, you need to draw upon all these other things in who you are in order to get that thing done because that’s how you do it. That’s your secret.

Don’t think you need to eliminate all kinds of things into your life. Don’t think because you’ve accomplished so much in so many arenas you’re wrong. That’s the same kind of thing when people approach books. It’s like, we don’t approach the book from the stand point of you’re flawed or anything like that. You write the book. You write the book that you can write, essentially.

Sometimes people approach writing a book and they have this perfect image of what the book should be in their mind and it’s really just based on daydreams or on other people’s beliefs and whether this is the perfect book or not, this is the one that you have to go write. From your vantage point. It’s probably going to be great. As long as you accept it’s from your vantage point and it’s not from some Platonic ‘theory of forms’ vantage point that exists only in the heavens. That doesn’t really exist somewhere.

Alison Jones:  I love the idea about bringing together everything from your past because actually that’s what makes you unique as well. Creativity is generally about bringing two disparate things together and creating something new out of the fusion. It’s a huge competitive advantage having a broad range of experience isn’t it?

Mark Levy:     That’s right. Because you take ideas from one venue and you use them in another venue and people… in that new venue, they’re brand new. That’s where paradigm shifts come from. You don’t usually invent a paradigm shift. It’s taking the way business is done or the way the world is seen from, let’s say the world of mathematics and applying it in the world of marketing. You cross-pollinate. Because we all have blinders about the world and our subjects or so but we all don’t have the same blinders. If you take a model that’s working somewhere else and you put it into a new field, yeah, that other model has its own blinders but they probably don’t coincide with the blinders in your field.

You’re suddenly going to see brand new things in your field and you write about those things. You credit it. You say, “Here’s where it comes from and here’s what it is I’m seeing from it.”

Alison Jones:  I love that. Tell me about … You know you’ve talked about putting everything together. Your fascination, your meaning. How do you pull all that together into a book though?

Mark Levy:     How do you pull it into a book? Let’s see, you take all your meaning and your fascination and you put it down on paper. You put it into your computer. Then you look at what it is you’re most excited about in life and then you now look at your audience and say, “Where do they most need help? What could they be most excited about?” You find a place from column A and column B where they coincide and you say, “Here’s the thing that I can help them with based on what’s honest for me that would truly, truly help them.”

Now you take a lot of the fascinations and those kinds of things that you’ve written about and I use them as tent poles in the book and if people don’t know the idea of tent poles, it’s from the world of entertainment. It’s from circus. There’s four tent poles that hold up the tent. Yeah, yeah. Books and shows and things, they all have tent poles. There’s main ideas that these are the things holding everything up. You say, “Okay, here’s the book I want to write and now what are the main ideas or stories or things from all this stuff I’ve laid out there. Now let me put it down. How do those things support my umbrella thought? The big idea at the top. Now what do I need to write to fill in in between those tent poles and those fascinations.”

A key to this Alison, what it is I’m saying, remember the old Elmore Leonard quote, “I leave out the parts people would skip.” Since you’re making a book that’s predominately based on the stuff that you will find so meaningful in life, since that’s what it is you’re basing it on, now people can open up your book when it’s finished anywhere and it’s based on your best material.

That’s where I really like to come at things from. You know, we’ve read so many books where the author comes up with an idea that you’re excited about and you read the first 20 pages and they’re awesome and suddenly on page 21 you go, “Oh my god, this is not interesting.” Page 22, now they’re getting off topic. Page 23, now I know they’re just trying to fulfil a contract.

Alison Jones:  “This was a really good blog post. It is not a book.”

Mark Levy:     Right. Right. Exactly. If we weren’t on the air I’d be cursing a lot now saying this stuff. I curse a fair amount.

Alison Jones:  I appreciate that, thank you.

Mark Levy:     This stuff is blank. Up to page 20 it’s an A plus book. From page 21 on it’s like now I’m looking a some creativity exercise that the authors did just to fulfil a contract. It’s not based on any kind of organic meaning to who they are or to the subject due to my life. They’re just trying to pad a book. To me, it’s like, “You don’t know where people are going to open a book.” A man who I really idolised, he’s really great, he’s the publisher in California of a business book publisher called Berrett-Koehler. His name’s Steve Piersanti.

Steve Piersanti, his company published my book Accidental Genius. Steve Piersanti said, “You need to write a fractal book.” What he meant by fractal book is you know what a fractal is, mathematics. He said, “Your book, the big idea of the book needs to appear throughout the entire book.” Almost literally on every page. Because you don’t know where people are going to get to your book from. They’re probably only going read the title and the jacket copy and the first chapter and they’ll open it up in a couple of different spots and that’s the reality of what many people do to read.

They actually want other people to tell them about what your book is about. They’ll buy your book because it’s like an emblem of who they think they are or they want to be but they’re likely not going to read your book. Believe me, this is a sweeping generalisation. I don’t mean it for all cases but that’s largely, they pop in and pop out of books. Your big idea needs to be everywhere so that people understand your big idea. In the same way, I’m also saying from an interest and fascination point, your best material needs to be everywhere because you don’t know where they’re going to enter your book.

If they open three quarters of the way in just to look at your book there better be something good there. Otherwise, they’re going to close your book and they’re going to make a judgement based on page 162 without knowing anything else about it. They’re going to say, “Well, this book, it’s terrible. It’s awful.”

Alison Jones:  That’s so true. I always find authors are terrified about repeating themselves. I’m like, “No, no, really, you have to repeat yourself. People don’t aren’t going to get it the first time around. Trust me. They may not even see that page.”

Mark Levy:     That’s right. They need to repeat themselves. They just often need to do it in slightly different ways that build upon the idea or develop the idea. Not just a straight repetition necessarily. You’re absolutely right. You said, “How do I go about writing a book based on meaning and fascinations?” It’s that because now that you know all this cool stuff it can appear throughout the whole book and you can use it to develop new learning, which also then appears throughout the whole book. You can tell people, “Open it wherever you want. You’re going to learn something.”

Alison Jones:  People do. There’s no point assuming everybody starts at the beginning of it. You’re absolutely right. People sample and they go in and they dip in. They look at the chapter heading that seems to have the most relevance to their situation, don’t they, and they try to pick it up from that, “What have you got to say to me here right now?”

Mark Levy:     That’s right. Right. Yeah, it’s not like in the old days where people sit with the first sentence. You know, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and then go through the 400 odd pages.

Alison Jones:  This is non-fiction. It works very very differently and business books work differently again I think. It’s very interesting. I remember chatting to Andrew Rhomberg who runs Jellybooks. They do analytics for business books. Of course one thing you can do with an eBook is see whether somebody reads it or not. They were absolutely horrified at the completion rates. But the satisfaction rates were really high. You don’t have to sit down and read a whole book to be really really pleased with it. You just need to get what you want to get out of it.

Mark Levy:     Right. You know, you, if you consider yourself like a true writer, it can be debilitating to think that way. Like your art form. You can look at it as your art form being debased. But it’s more… if you look at these as business development tools, you can be more accepting. I don’t think companies care that much, giant companies, whether people read every page on their blog. Including the disclaimer. Not blog, on their whole websites. It’s more like, the customer likes what it is they see and they make the purchase and it’s cool.

Alison Jones:  It’s got to work. That’s the thing. You can’t be too much of a precious flower about it. It’s got to work.

Mark Levy:     That’s one of the problems when people sit down to write a book, to go back to near the very beginning. I find that sometimes when they sit down, they try to view themselves … They want to “commit an act of literature.” They say, yes this is a book, it’s for the ages, it’s super important and what not and I say, “No, no. You just have to be the person who you are on the page.”

As a matter of fact, often when I’m coaching people on writing, I will often say to them without explanation and they understand it instantly. I’ll look at their writing with them. We’ll be on Google Docs and we’ll be reading their writing together and I’ll say something like, “Okay, bad Alison wrote this part. Evil Alison wrote this part. This is multi-syllabic Latinate, this is awful. But good Alison wrote this part because it’s about specifics.”

Good and bad or evil and good. It’s kind of like people who are trying to commit an act of literature, usually you become bad from doing that. When you’re just trying to say something honest, when you’re just trying to talk truths that matter to you and to the other, and to the reader, then you’re almost always saying something good.

Alison Jones:  Oh, I love that. Thank you. Mark, I kind of feel bad asking you this because I feel like the whole session has been basically brilliant advice to the writer. If I had to hold a gun to your head and said, “What’s your one best tip for a first time business book author,” what would you say?

Mark Levy:     Yeah, it’s basically that last thing I just said about being honest to the reality of who you are and what it is you think about a subject and how you actually work with people. A fast story, one of my clients, who just had a book come out last week, I remember a year ago working with him. He’s a leadership consultant and he sent me a blog. We went over a blog post he had written because he wanted me to see his writing style. There was one line where he said, “All great leaders before they make a decision, they think to themselves X,” I don’t remember what it was, “Before they make a decision.”

I said, “You know what? This strikes me as being dishonest. This strikes me as you’re lying. Not that you’re lying like you’re some evil liar but from a writing perspective you’re being fast and loose here with your ideas or so. I know a lot of great leaders and I can guarantee you, or almost guarantee you that none of them always think that idea before they make the decision.”

“The problem is,” I said to him, “You’re this brilliant thinker and people trust you so they’re going to read that line, that instruction and they’re going to say, “Wow, I could never do that. I must not be a good leader,” or they’re going to say, “I’m going to try to do that,” and they won’t be able to do it and now they’ll be disempowered and it’s because they trusted you and you gave them advice that you didn’t even think about. That sounded good but it’s not really how things happen.

Anyway, long story short, this guy is so brilliant, the next day he sent me, he emailed me four blog posts. He said, “Mark, I had written these four blog posts before we started work together.” By the way, this was not a joke, what I’m about to say. He meant this in a very serious way. He said, “These are four blog posts I wrote before we started work together. I think I’ve edited out all the lies. Could you read them over and make sure I didn’t miss any?”

Alison Jones:  Wow.

Mark Levy:     That’s to me the very… don’t try to be better than you are. Who you are is plenty good. Just tell the reality of the situations and what you’re thinking is the story of your thinking. In print, and how you got the conclusions and how you work with people. Just be honest. That’s enough. It’s enough.

Alison Jones:  That’s brilliant. And you’re right. Especially when they use those big generalisations, always, and this always happens, and every time. Yeah, that’s always a red flag isn’t it? Tell me what really happens. Tell me how it is for you. Oh, that’s fantastic. I feel very braced. I feel very inspired. Thank you Mark.

Mark Levy:     Oh, thank you.

Alison Jones:  Now you know, because I know you listen to the podcast, you know that I always ask people who else they think I should invite onto the show. Somebody with something interesting to say about the business of business books. Who would you recommend?

Mark Levy:     Well, a couple of days ago two of my clients, they work together on one book and it just was released two days ago and at least as of right now as I’m speaking, or yesterday, it was already number one on Amazon in the U.S. at least on business coaching. It was number one business coaching. It’s called Crunch Time. The book is called Crunch Time and it was written by Rick Peterson and Judd Hoekstra.

Here’s what the book is about. Quick story, Rick Peterson, he was a member of Major League Baseball in America. He’s a very very famous pitching coach. He coaches the pitchers, he coached the pitchers for the New York Mets, for the famous Oakland A’s team that Micheal Lewis wrote the book Moneyball about. Rick Peterson was the pitching coach.

Alison Jones:  The cultural references are a wasted on me… I’m so sorry.

Mark Levy:     Anyway, really quick, what a pitching coach’s job is, part of their job is the pitcher is standing on the mound, holding the ball.

Alison Jones:  I’ve got that. Yeah.

Mark Levy:     Yeah. Sometimes the pitcher is scared. Sometimes the pitcher is in fear or they’re super worried. They’re not doing something right. Maybe it’s mental or maybe it’s mechanical but there’s fifty thousand people staring at them in the stadium and another eight million people watching at home. Now the pitching coach has to call time out and the pitching coach walks out to the mound and in under 30 seconds they have to get this person who’s freaking out on the mound back to be their best self in under 30 seconds.

That’s what a pitching coach, and a good one is uniquely able to do. That’s what Crunch Time by Rick and Judd is about. By the way, Judd is also a main sales person for the Ken Blanchard Companies. You know One Minute Manager and all those kinds of things. Judd knows a lot, a lot about business, and Rick knows a lot about how to right people in insanely pressured situations really really fast.

They’ve written a book that talks a bit about baseball but it’s predominately for business people on how to reframe, on how to get themselves right very quickly, in enormous situations. That book just came out and they’d be great to speak to.

Alison Jones:  They sound absolutely fascinating. I shall get in touch with them. I shall tell them that you sent me. Thank you for that recommendation. Mark, if people want to find out more about you where do they go?

Mark Levy:     Yeah, my website is levyinnovation.com. That’s L-E-V-Y innovation with no s at the end dot com. My email’s there, all my contact information is there. You can read blog posts by me. You can get free eBooks from me. Things like List Making is a Tool of Thought Leadership where I teach you how to look at your situation or your material from 10 or 15 or 20 really unusual angles, new ideas right away just for making simple lists.

There’s another item for free on my website called the Fascination Factor. It also has a similar technique of… it’s like what we talked about, it’s a different way of looking for your fascinations and using them to create the book that you really want to create. A bunch of free stuff on the site and you can contact me from the site.

Alison Jones:  Awesome. I shall put all those links up on the show notes so if anybody wants to see all the detail go there but just for a minute to say thank you so much Mark. What an absolutely brilliant show today. Thank you for that generous and really inspiring information. Thank you.

Mark Levy:     Alison, thank you for having me and thank you for everyone listening. I appreciate it.


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  1. Pingback: Publishing and Positioning: What thought leadership means for authors - BookMachine

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