- By Donald Mitchell
- Published 06/18/2008
Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and above all accurately so they will be guided by its light. -Joseph Pulitzer All of our communication eggs for the 400 Year Project (demonstrating the feasibility and encouraging people to make improvements 20 times faster from 2015 through 2035) were not in the Web site basket: We also planned to create a series of books and articles that would begin sharing helpful information about our project. One such source of material already existed, and it’s always a good idea to repackage material in new ways that will appeal to different people. Since 1992, I had been analyzing the behaviors of CEOs whose companies grew their stock prices the fastest during the prior three years through an annual series of articles. This research was the first (to my knowledge) tracking study of CEO best practices, and I had high hopes for what it would reveal. My idea was to locate practices that other company leaders could use to grow 20 times faster than usual. The study did indeed become a potent source of information. Carol Coles and I used the insights we gained to write about the importance of continuing business model innovation in a later book. While the CEO tracking study continued, Carol Coles and I asked Robert Metz to assist us in creating a book that would outline a process that almost anyone could use to accomplish 20 times as much in a given area with the same time, effort, and resources. We correctly saw this book as the first major output of the 400 Year Project. While most people try to write business books to boost their consulting and coaching businesses, our intention was to boost interest in and activity for finding new solutions through the 400 Year Project. The good news was that we already had such a process that could be adapted for the purpose: the universal problem-solving process that Peter Drucker had noticed that we always used. He had correctly perceived that we had moved past our clients in creating innovative practices.
The key to our effectiveness was a master process that could quickly resolve most problems with superior solutions that no one had ever employed before. In early 1995, Peter began insisting that we take this process and turn it into a universal resource. Otherwise, he was concerned that a to
ol of immense practical value would be lost, potentially for centuries. We were flattered by Peter’s high opinion of our work’s potential. The bad news was that Carol and I had no experience with turning processes we used into books. We turned to Robert Metz to help us. Robert had written a number of investment-related books and had authored one best seller. Robert had helped new authors before and felt confident he could shepherd us through the process. Having heard a lot about interfering agents and intractable publishers, we asked Robert to advise us on how to get an agent and a publisher. His advice was to simply write the book and then look for a publisher. In this way, we were likely to be able to write a book that contained the content we intended rather than the direction that a publisher wanted us to take. Beginning around 1997, we started the conceptual development of that book. We needed to lay out a format that people would enjoy using for learning. Early on, we decided to fill the book with as many examples as possible and to make the information accessible to those with many different learning styles. That approach was quite a challenge because most people have read or experienced relatively little in the way of advanced practices. We had to take the most solid information available and reduce it to tasty bites that contained the essence of the lesson without cloying our readers’ appetites for more. In one-on-one conversations about the project, it was obvious that people loved specifics and were confused or bored by general principles. But we needed to express general principles, or people wouldn’t know what to do next. What model could we use to get around this problem? The story of Scheherazade came to mind. She married a king who had executed a string of brides after each wedding night. To stay alive, every night she told her husband a new story that ended in a cliffhanger. She continued to tell the stories for 1001 nights, gave the king three sons, and so avoided execution. Could we similarly string together a large number of fascinating stories, stories so rewarding that readers would race forward to find the next one? Well, it was worth a try. Robert, Carol, and I were all accomplished storytellers and had large repertoires of stories we had accumulated from our reading and contacts. We could draw on those resources and see what we could do.
Have you been working on your stories to illustrate what you want others to learn? You’ll need as many as you can when you are ready to use books to help attract attention.