March 1, 2015

SPARKS: Moments of Creation Vol.11

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much 
-Helen Keller

Welcome to the March edition of SPARKS, where we explore how ideas become dreams and dreams become reality. We have a double treat for this issue!

This month's guests have each been featured here before individually to share their stories (and you can read them here and here.) but I've invited them back together because together, they've created a third compelling adventure.

Something that holds particular interest for me is how much better we all become when we collaborate. It's as though combining ideas creates new inspiration that didn't exist singularly and elevates everything we do. I believe that "co" anything means a better everything and our featured guests today accomplished an amazing feat of collaboration. To share that let me re-introduce


Imagine meeting someone on a social media site,and over time building a close friendship. Then imagine that although you live in different parts of the country, you decide to co-author a book. Well these two men didn't just imagine it, they've done it! Add to this that the book is outstanding and has been a huge success and there was no end to the questions I had about the process. Painfully, I've limited those questions to just a few, so let's dive in and hear from them about how they did it.

How do two guys, living in different places, who've never even met face to face, decide to co-author a book?

TED: That’s a great question – yes, this constantly surprises the people we speak to, but to us, collaborating long distance is just how it’s done. With all the cheap or even free technology available out there, it surprises me that so many companies still have offices, and still require some of their workforce to show up at them. That’s so last century isn’t it? So… Industrial Age?

The way it happened is that I had a book outline and a publisher’s contract, and I wasn’t writing it! I finally realized I needed a co-author, so I asked Mark who he might recommend. Mark said, “You know, I’d like to do it myself!” He knew all about the book’s theme – all the ways that social has so radically transformed how we lead our businesses – and he had plenty of insight on this topic as well. You see, we were both coming at this same topic from different perspectives: him from the career space and the intern world, and me working with the C-suite and business owners.

We had met face to face many times working together on Switch and Shift but it was all virtual, by Skype and hangouts. That isn’t as good as actually being in the same room – what a difference it made when we finally “met,” almost a year into researching and writing together! But consider this: He was in Tahoe, and then Seattle. I live in Naples, Florida. If we’d let geography limit the talent pool of prospective co-authors, that talent wouldn’t have been the two very best people for this book. (I’m not saying for any book, of course! Just for our book). 

MARK: Great answer! I’ll just add this: the distance between us was never, ever a consideration. We were both veterans of working virtually. We were both used to collaborating digitally. We both knew the material. We just jumped in! And then, as Ted says, when we finally met face-to-face, it just solidified the work and the mission.

How did it work logistically? How did you decide who would write what? etc.

MARK: The simplest way to put it is we each focused on our area of expertise in writing up the first draft, then relied on each other to make that draft better and better. We had an outline, of course, for the entire book and for each chapter. And then one of us would start writing.

The best part? By the time we  were done with the research, collaboration – and even testing each other’s logic – the chapters were seamless. It is quite difficult to tell, in most cases, who wrote the first draft on any given chapter!

TED: We outlined the chapters we’d need and what order we’d put them in ahead of time – you don’t just wing a non-fiction book, especially something with the scope of "a whole new age of business." That would quickly have become a mess.

Having said that, we moved stuff a lot as the work progressed. For instance, I thought Section 2 was too confrontational to do more than hide with an apology at the back of the book. Mark read my first draft of Chapter 7, The Death of Large, and I’m delighted to say he thought that section should go at the very front. He convinced me, but then our publisher strongly disagreed with us. So this whole section, three chapters, wandered around the manuscript looking for a home, almost like a tug of war.

In general, though, you got it right: one of us would start a chapter, just to get it started. In Section 2, that was me; with Chapter 4, The Evolution of Social Recruiting, that is Mark’s area of expertise, so he led. But that was just to get a given chapter started. By now, and I say this with no measure of hyperbole, I’ll read over a page and I won’t be able to identify who wrote most sentences. We’ve tweaked them so many times, and our numerous editors did as well, that A World Gone Social truly is a product of collaboration.

What challenges did you face? How did you work them out?

The biggest challenge was, we were trying to run two companies! Unless you’re Stephen King, a book advance isn’t going to be big enough to feed your family for a few years while you do research and write. We had to make time in between all the other important things already on our plates – not least of which is family. We both have young kids, and we hope for at least a modicum of face time with them, looming deadline or not.

Another problem with a topic like social, is that it’s a moving target. We put plenty of things in the book that were happening while we wrote. We also had to remove some things that had grown old by the time we finished. Fortunately for us this is a book of trends and principles, rather than here-today-irrelevant-tomorrow tactical advice, so it could have been much, much worse!

MARK: I think we can both admit that another challenge was that we “think” differently. Granted, we eventually come to the same conclusion about 99 percent of the time, but because Ted is very creative and I basically come with an engineer’s approach to writing, it sometimes took us a while to get on the same page (since this is a book, literally!)

Ultimately, our different styles complimented each other well. We challenged each other; we even butted heads occasionally. But in the end, there is no doubt: the finished book is something neither one of us could have done on our own – at least not within the established deadlines and while maintaining our business and family responsibilities.

How often were you in contact during the process? Looking back, would you recommend more or less communication?

MARK: Looking back, it seems we never had a firm process for communication; no set schedule – and no undue pressure (pressure, yes! Undue pressure… no!).

We pushed each other to get the drafts and edits done, of course. But that could come in any number of ways: email, phone, IM, Skype, and whatever else worked best at that moment. Text was also a nice bridge between Florida and the west coast; I'd often start my day with a text from Ted saying, “Get any sleep?”

TED: We emailed back and forth throughout the day, pretty much every day (especially in the crunch time of the last 3 months). We spoke on Skype or hangouts often, at least a couple of times a week. And of course if anything couldn’t wait, we just called each other. If we pick up, we’re available. If not, we’ll call back. The communication wasn’t that tricky for us. More or less? I recommend you communicate exactly as much as need be to create a manuscript you can be proud of. You can’t limit that kind of thing and still pull it off; you also need to respect each other as professionals with other commitments.

What did you learn about yourselves? Each other?

TED: One thing I realized about myself – and I’m surprised it took me till 47 to learn it – is that I really thrive under pressure. I actually enjoyed the process more and more the closer we got to our publisher’s drop-dead date. Then, when we passed it and were really under the gun? Man was that fun! Poor Mark did not prosper under those same conditions. He’s a perfectionist and a professional, and beat himself up a lot; I deeply admire where he was coming from.

One thing that we learned about each other, quite well, was how different we are. I’m highly creative and he’s incredibly organized. Working together on this project, we had both a right and a left hemisphere on steroids. That was an incredible boon!

MARK: Well, I re-learned the importance of pace, certainly. And that it is incredibly hard – for me, anyway – to sprint through a marathon. Ted would wake up already to go, three hours ahead of me, mind you, and be all “Okay, how many words do we need to write today… let’s do this!!” And I would be grumpy enough to say, “Down, boy… we haven’t even looked at yesterday’s work yet!” Ted’s enthusiasm would often win the day, and we’d get back to work.

And there were also times where I’d insist on following a process; on completing one task, section or chapter… getting it just right… before moving on. And I’d push back, and push a little more. One time, I got a one-sentence email from Ted: “Oh my God! You are relentless!

Your book A World Gone Social has been very successful. Is that a surprise? Why or why not.

MARK: The book, knock on wood, has seen some success… perhaps more than we could have imagined at one time. We did, however, have an inkling that we may be on to something… as our editors, publishers and colleagues read snippets, they showed genuine enthusiasm for the message. And then when the book came out amazing people – professionals and writers we admired so much – began saying incredibly nice things. So surprised? Yes… but pleasantly!

What surprises me even more: to this day, six months after the unofficial launch, the book is routinely in the Top 100 of many non-fiction categories on Amazon. How does that happen?

TED: It is certainly a source of pleasure. Anyone hopes their book is going to be well received, of course. We knew we’d established strong readership bases and social networks over the years. But would this book resonate, even stand out? We could only hope. And, to be honest, until we’re on The Daily Show, I know I for one won’t be feeling that special.

Would you ever try co-authoring again? Why or why not?

TED: I keep swearing I’ll never write another book! But I jinxed myself by saying that, and now I’m doomed. This book would not be what it is without the two of us developing ideas together, pushing back when needed, the whole thing. I’ll think long and hard before writing a book solo again.

MARK: Not only would I… I am! And I’m pitching another book to our publisher, this time a solo effort back in the career space. I’ll let you know which I like better!

What would you do differently if there was a next time?

MARK: I’d start writing earlier! Way before the deadline!

But here’s the thing about that… and Ted mentioned it earlier: Many of the anecdotes and real-world scenarios didn’t exist when we first started writing the book. The stories became more real, and gained greater impact, as the work progressed. Time, it turns out, was our best friend.

TED: Easy: I’d write a fluffy motivational book! I’d take a week to do it, add a lot of pictures, and be done with it.

What advice do you have to offer someone who may be considering co-authoring?

TED: Do it. Just pick your coauthor carefully. If they aren’t a good writer, you’re sunk. If they don’t hold you in high regard (and vice-versa), your project will be a miserable experience. And if they don’t play well with others? Well, you can’t just take turns on the chapters, or even the sections, because it’ll read like two very different books. In two words? Pick wisely.

MARK: Just don’t pick wisely. Deliberately pick someone different than you. No one wants to read a book where everyone has the same perspective. The lack of challenge shows. The lack of diversity becomes apparent. Choose a co-author who is not afraid to be a little stubborn, but still has the emotional intelligence to say, “Okay, you’re right… let’s look at that again… we can do better.”

What has been the most rewarding part of this experience?

MARK: The response from the social and leadership communities has been amazing. And I personally LOVE it when I see a quote from the book or one of our phrases like “OPEN” and “More Social, Less Media” floating through Twitter or Facebook.

The best part, though, is speaking in front of a live audience and watching the light bulbs go on. Those “ah-ha” moments when it becomes clear that a leader – from the youngest to the most experienced – realizes they must change… they must forget nearly everything they’ve learned about leading and become a Social Age Leader… that makes it all worth while.

TED: The feedback from readers like you, Anita – intelligent people who found value in this book we created. We wrote A World Gone Social to serve as the user’s guide to a whole new age of business. If people flip through it and don’t change anything in how they lead and think and plan, then we’ve wasted our time. It seems, from what our readers have shared, that this is not the case. That is the only reward that matters.

Thank you both so much for sharing your journey with us! I wish you both much continued success in your individual endeavors and also with your collaborative effort A World Gone Social. It's a great book that needs a spot on the shelf of every CEO who wants to stay relevant in the new social age.

I hope their story SPARKS you to dust off your own dream and realize that there are no obstacles that can't be overcome through cooperation and passion.

Mark Babbitt


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