I’ve Been Thinking…(#13)

Here are some opening words…

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

-James Baldwin

“Why you?”

This is one of the questions readers ask themselves before buying an author’s book.

“Why are you the person to listen to as an authority on this topic?”

Publishers and editors bring a similar lens when they make decisions about signing book projects.

We bring all sorts of biases to that question and we are fooling ourselves if race isn’t one of them.

While black authors are dominating the major bestseller lists right now, there are no black authors on the business book bestseller list this week. Or last week. Not the Top 15. Not in the Top 50. The last book I could find by a black business book author was back in the first week of May. Before that, it was a week in March.

Try this exercise: go to your bookshelves and find the business titles written by black authors.

What did you come back with? Malcolm Gladwell (maybe), and… My guess is that most people will come back empty handed. For me, I had two business books by black authors. That’s crazy and sad.

So, I started a real search for business books by black authors. I checked list after list. The same books came up. I bought all of them. There might be a total of twenty books sitting on the table in my office. Twenty books. That’s it.

A third of the books were biographies and memoirs that aren’t really business books. The next third were self-help titles with authors writing books framed around their experiences. The final third were straight up business books.

So, the sum total of what I could find was seven business books written by black authors. Like I said, that’s crazy and sad.

To successfully publish a business book, you need a combination of expertise and popularity. For the first part, authors need to do the work, think about the work and start to tell people how the work can done better. The works needs to have scale. Do the work at a big organization or for big organizations. Or create big, remarkable things that get noticed.

And then you need an audience. People need to see your work. Write for a newspaper. Host a podcast. Make documentaries. Become a Youtuber. Publish, publish, publish. Give speeches. Host events. Do interviews. Show people your work.

That truth leaves us with a problem.

We might use the fact there are only four black CEOs in Fortune 500 as a proxy for the difficulty that black people have in gaining the business expertise and market awareness needed to publish a successful business book.

This creates a credibility problem for readers. This creates a credibility problem for editors and publishers. This starts to explain the lack of business books by black authors.

I knew there were not many black authors in the business category. The 100 Best Business Books of All Time doesn’t have any black authors. And the honest reality is that if I rewrote it today, it still wouldn’t because there are so few titles to draw from.

Not seeing scope of the problem—the almost complete absence of black authors in business books—is the part gnawing at me. The work that the black community is asking everyone to do right now is to just start looking for the bias and the blind spots you have. I am biased. I have worked in business book publishing for sixteen years and I didn’t see it. There is more to say and do on this.

Today, I am going to start with something simple. This week, there is an effort underway called #BlackoutBestSellerList. The point is to create awareness for black authors and put more authors on the list by encouraging people to buy two books this week by black authors.

If you want to support black authors in the business community, here are four great choices:

  • The Power of Broke by Daymond John – You likely know Daymond John from Shark Tank. He writes his books to push you. He also has written three other books including Display of Power, Rise and Grand, and his latest Powershift. If you want a brand name, buy one of Daymond’s books.
  • Starting Finishing by Charlie Gilkey – Charlie is a close friend and I am a fan of Start Finishing. The book covers all the things that get in the way of doing the work you want to do. Start Finishing is works well for the analytics who want a manual for better productivity and a better life.
  • It’s About Damn Time by Arlan Hamilton – Arlan’s book came out six weeks ago. She is the founder of a venture capital fund dedicated to the “underestimated” women, LBGT+, and people of color founding companies. For me, this book is about possibility and how grit and smarts embodies successful entrepreneurship.
  • Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins – Goggins completed the elite training in every branch of the U.S. military and has gone on to become a multiple world-record holder in endurance athletics. This book is for the drivers who work every day to be their best self.

If my work or the books I have published have helped you, my ask is that you buy one of these books this week.

I hope you are well. Please stay safe. More soon. -Todd

Market Update on Business Book Publishing – May 20, 2020

Quick note: If you’d like more updates with trends and case studies from business book publishing, you can subscribe by clicking through to the newsletter sign-up form.

And if you missed it, please check out my post from March 22nd and follow-up post on April 6th on the shift in the business book market.

1. Six Weeks Later…

I wrote my last report on April 6th and at that point, we were starting to settle into a new normal of depressed sales in business and self-help. There had been four weeks with sales down almost 50% and the trend continued into the following week.

But then a funny thing happened—sales increased.
And the same thing happened the following week.
And again the following week.

You can see in the chart below that those increases have been significant and we are starting to return to pre-COVID-19 sales levels in business and self-help.

This is good news for this corner of the world. The return of business books reflects the same resilience that has been seen in the book publishing market throughout the COVID-19 period.

2. The Tale of Two Categories

In my market reports, I have been discussing business and self-help as a singular category. I have a long standing theory that the two categories are starting to look more and more like each other and that the decision a publisher makes to classify a book in one group or the other may not reflect in what part of their life the reader is helped. This last part is very important. What business books look like today, or maybe more accurately what books people read to help in them in business, differs greatly from ten or twenty years ago.

But in digging into the winners and losers in the larger group, I started to notice that books classified as self-help were recovering more strongly than business titles. So, I went back to the full dataset and broke out the books by business and self-help.

Business books lost sales, have started to return, but have not yet fully recovered, down over 20% from early March.

Self-help also lost sales, has recovered, AND selling better now than before COVID-19, up 19%.

Well, that’s interesting 🙂

3. Where is the recovery?

  • Journals – I mentioned that in a prior report that journals for self-reflection were selling well. In looking at these last three weeks of recovery, eleven titles within the twenty books with the biggest gains (in business or self-help) were journaling products like Burn After Writing, 52 Lists for Happiness and 52 Lists for Calm, Create This Book and Create This Book 2, Becoming: A Guided Journal for Discovering Your Voice (and Michelle Obama in the public right now with the new Netflix special and the just announced 2020 prom with MTV), Do One Thing Every Day That Centers You, and Zen As F*ck. If you extend further down the list, nineteen of the top fifty books are journals or workbooks. As a point of reference, I looked back at the self-help bestseller list for the week of February 23rd and there were nine journal titles in the top 50.
  • Best-Selling Self-Help – Books like Girl, Stop Apologizing, The Art of Not Giving A F*ck, and You Are A Badass saw their sales decrease, but they are leading the return with additional growth alongside the overall trend of increased sales in self-help.
  • Brené Brown’s books – All her titles have seen sales growth, but now Dare To Lead, her business leadership title, has seen big increases in these last three weeks.
  • Personal Finance and Investing – Not surprisingly, money is on the reader’s minds. When you look at subcategories for business and self-help, the subjects of investing, money management and personal finance occupy three of the ten top growing subcategories. This is driven by well-known titles like The Intelligent Investor, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and Total Money Makeover.
  • A few in business titles – There are not many business titles that are selling better now than before COVID-19. Besides Dare to Lead, Never Split the Difference, a great book on negotiating, is seeing new growth. Atomic Habits has gained share among the titles in the habits subcategory.

4. Evolving Theories

It’s impossible to aggregate the felt need of thousands of readers and try to explain with one grand unifying theory to explain everything going on in the market, but I am going to offer a few ideas to consider.

After the initial COVID-19 shock, many people are returning to more normal routines. We are leaving immediate forms of media like websites and cable news and returning longer formats like books. Like the trend in journals, books help us reflect on our experiences.

Business books have recovered from lows in April but not fully because there are important channels that are not operating. Retail outlets like Barnes & Noble and airports stores like Hudsons are either closed or suffering from drastically decreased foot traffic. Almost all B&N stores are still closed to in-store purchases. Airlines passengers are down 90% from a year ago this time. And the events channels connected to speaking, coaching and training are way down. The authors I know are pushing hard to create virtual alternatives to in-person events and interactions. Some are connecting books to those events.

5. Shift to Digital?

There is an interesting question around how COVID-19 will affect product mix. Sales data for digital products is hard to come by, but anecdotes from several sources point towards an increased demand for ebooks.

  • Simon & Schuster was specific and said their ebook sales were up 13% in the first quarter.
  • HarperCollins reported that ebooks “returned to growth”.
  • Rakuten, the owner of the Kobo ebook platform, shared that they added 2.2 million new customers worldwide in the first three months of 2020. They attributed that to changes in reader behavior from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Storytel, a ebook and digital audiobook subscription service based in Europe, announced growth of 33.5% in the first quarter.
  • According to K-lytics, the Amazon KDP author fund of $29 million in March is the largest ever with year over year growth of 6.6%.
  • Ebook marketer Bookbub has reported double digit increases in sales of ebooks promoted through their service and consistent across all of their retail partners and region they operate in.
  • In our hometown of Portland, Oregon, we are finding ebook lending at the library much more in-demand and in the last three months, often needing to wait for popular ebooks to become available.

I plan to keep posting updates. You can sign up for my newsletter on trends and case studies from the world of book publishing by clicking on this link.

I’ve Been Thinking (#12)…

…about how long it has been since I wrote one of these.

I started to write this back in February. The mood was starting to turn. People were sick in China and Italy. I got preoccupied by all of it. And then I got sick with all the symptoms of COVID-19 at the end of the month. I just thought it was a strong flu. Even then, I was barely connecting my illness to what was happening. At some point, I hope to get a test for antibodies to see if I did get infected early in the cycle.

Right Now

I have found myself struggling to figure out how to respond to everything going on. I finally relied on what has long worked for me: starting reading. This is not the first crisis that I or country or the world has faced. Many, many people have written about the struggle and the hope that is always there.

I collected a set of those thoughts and writings into an ebook called Right Now. It contains less than twenty pages and you can probably read it in about 15 minutes. There is a wide range of perspectives. I hope you will find something that lands with you. You can find the landing page here.

I also want to thank my friend and long-time collaborator Joy Stauber for helping me put this collection into the world. She does amazing work as a designer. You should check out her work.

Trends in Business Books

Another way I have felt that I have been able to help is looking at the business book market and try to make sense of it.

I was already doing market research for authors and around some future projects, when this all hit. I just shifted my focus to start looking at the macro effects.

It’s been rough. Business and self-help sales are down roughly 40%. Launches are seeing less sales and many publishers are pushing their release dates later in the year.

If you are interested in more detail, check out my update from March 20th and my update from April 6th. I am working on a third update, but I need a little more data to know where things are headed next.

Fun and Games

We are a big board game family and one way we are spending time together at the table. I have been posting photos on Instagram of our choices if you want some inspiration.

I have to say that Wingspan from Stonemeier Games has been getting a lot of play in the last two weeks. The illustrations are beautiful. The gameplay is easy enough to learn but the strategies you can play are numerous. If you really want to nerd out, you can read about the birder and game designer Elizabeth Hargrave in the New York Times.

That’s all for now. Stay safe (I mean it!) and be well. -Todd

Business Book Market – April 6, 2020

The business book market continues to shift.

Quick note: If you’d like more updates with trends and case studies from business book publishing, you can subscribe by clicking through to the newsletter sign-up form.

And if you missed it, please check out my first post from March 22nd on the shift in the business book market.

We now have three weeks of retail sales data from March and can compare February and March sales.

1. Total Market

Overall, the categories of business and self-help are down 33%.

NPDecisionKey has been highlighting business and self-help in the last two weeks as among the most negatively affected categories in book publishing.

And to use a Wall Street method of comparison, the ratio of losers outnumber winners in a ratio of 9 to 1.

2. Categories

The categories is the largest drops in business and self-help are the most popular ones:

  • Leadership
  • Personal Growth
  • Personal Success
  • Motivation and Inspiration
  • Management

The lone mild but notable category of growth is Creativity in the Self-Help category. This group is where you find guided journals like Burn After Writing by Sharon Jones, the various versions of Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith, Create This Book by Elizabeth Moriah. This demand feels like a corollary to the huge increase in sales of children’s coloring and activity books. In the case, they are activity books for teenagers and adults.

3. Losers

If the top-selling categories are being affected, individual titles in those groups are too.

Titles with the biggest drops in units sales include:

  • StrengthFinder 2.0 by Gallup
  • Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
  • Atomic Habits by James Clear
  • Tiny Habits and BJ Fogg
  • Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry
  • Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
  • Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

4. Winners

It is very interesting to see the books people are moving to as we work to understand and deal with the current state of the world. Here are the notables on the list.

  • Shift – The Keller Williams CEO Gary Keller and his co-authors wrote this book in 2009 following the mortgage to help agents adjust to the new market.
  • The Intelligent Investor – The 1949 classic on value investing from Benjamin Graham sells, as people try to navigate the stock market.
  • The Black Swan – Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s 2005 book about huge events you can’t see coming (for the record, Taleb thinks this is a white swan).
  • Remote – the guide from the founders of Basecamp on how they work as a company with employees all over the world.
  • The Obstacle Is The Way – Ryan Holiday’s first book on stoicism with a perfect title for the time.

Speaking of timely tiles…

5. A Lesson on Framing

Mark Manson is a bestselling author with two books in the market.

His 2016 bestseller The Subtle of Art of Not Giving a F*ck has been a huge success with over three million copies sold. This book has been adversely affected at similar levels to other bestsellers listed above, with sales down 30%.

Everything Is F*cked, Manson’s follow-up from 2019, has done well but not reached the levels of his first book. The interesting part is that, in the last month, sales have been up 11%.

Like The Obstacle Is The Way, this most recent book from Manson, is titled in a way that speaks to the particular felt need that people have right now around fear and uncertainty.

The timeless lesson for developing books: be clear and direct when you title a book.

6. So, what’s going on?

I have been thinking a lot about what’s going on in the business book market and if there is a way to adjust to those changes. Here are the biggest factors in my estimation:

  1. The events industry has been shut down completely – Conferences, conventions and training are an important source of direct selling and follow-on sales after an audience seeing an author.
  2. Retail “stores” are almost completely closed – With state mandated closings in most states, physical bookstores are closed all over the country. Barnes & Noble reported that all their stores will be closed in the next few days. Airport stores are open but empty. Libraries, another source of literary interaction, are also shuttered during this time. While many, particularly independents, are adapting and taking online orders to solid demand from customers, our exposure to books is dampened right now and online sales are not replacing all of the prior demand.
  3. We are choosing the more immediate – Books are great at telling stories in the long form, after the fact. The story of this time is being told right now and we are choosing more immediate forms of media to watch it unfold. Business podcast listening is up 10%. CNBC has twice the audience they did at the beginning of the year. Even President Trump’s news briefings are drawing ratings similar to a Monday Night Football game. Books don’t exactly fit the kind of information we are looking for right now.
  4. Cost cuttings – In 2008, as the economy began to tighten during the last crisis, large organizations reduced expenses with what was deemed optional. Books were at the top of the list. That was a tough hit for the market. A combination of purchase orders and corporate credit cards fund a lot of purchases. We are seeing that belt-tightening in market segments most affected by the shutdown, such as retail and aviation, but it doesn’t feel like effect runs across all business segments.

7. What’s good?

Well, books are still selling. In March, the market was 1.9 million copies. The market isn’t going to go to zero.

Books are still launching. The Blueprint by Doug Conant, The Catalyst by Jonah Berger, and Upstream by Dan Heath all launched in March with more than 10,000 copies sold in their first month.

…BUT (and this is a huge point) all of these books launched before March 10th. Launches since then have been very modest. The business book publishers, like all media firms, are pushing publication dates into the fall, which creates another risk with the certain preoccupation we will all have with the presidential elections in the U.S.

One test will be the business book launch of Joy At Work by organizing phenom Marie Kondo and her co-author Scott Sonenshein. It will be released April 7th.

8. Closing

I think it is a tough mix for business books right now. Lack of attention and lack of money are slowing the market.

Books are a long lead time product. If you have written something that can help clients adjust like the Winners above, you are in a good spot right now. Share and promote to create awareness. You likely have new customers for your work.

Get close to your clients and find out what is arising for them right now. Beyond the coronavirus, everyone is finding weaknesses in their businesses. I know several examples of companies that are using this time to get their processes fixed to be ready when we get to the other side. Don’t look for the book they need now; write the book that people need next.

I’ll keep posting updates. You can sign up for my newsletter on trends and case studies from the world of book publishing by click on this link.

Market Update on Business Book Publishing – March 20, 2020

Last edit: March 24, 2020

Information about book publishing is often hard to come by for authors.

To combat that, I wanted to share a few things we at Bard Press are seeing right now.

Quick note: If you’d like more updates with trends and case studies from business book publishing, you can subscribe by clicking through to the newsletter sign-up form.

And be sure to check out my next post from April 6th on the continuing shift in the business book market.

1. Sales are down

We saw a 7.5% sales drop in the business and self-help categories, looking at the top 10,000 titles as tracked by NPDecisionKey. I heard the overall book market is down 10% this week.

The Top 50 was hit harder. Almost every title in the Top 50 for business books sold less this week. The total sales for that group was down 20%

The top of the list got hit the hardest. Two week ago, the #1 title was selling 10K copies a week. This week, the #1 title is selling under 6K copies.

2. Books are still launching

In the overall market, there are books launching with success: Untamed by Glennon Doyle, Get Out of Your Own Way by Dave Hollis, and a strong second week from Carrie Underwood’s Find Your Path.

Publishers, like movie studios, have also been pushing launches later into the year. Many books were scheduled to publish early in the year to avoid the fall presidential elections in the U.S.

Interesting side note: Movie studios are launching movies into early digital release, as movie theaters close around the country. NBC Universal released The Invisible Man along with two other movies and Pixar released Unbound. They are offering the movies at $19.99 rentals.

3. There are some big shifts in categories

We have noticed the Amazon Rank of some of our titles has been increasing (i.e. #5000 vs #1000). We always remember that Amazon Rank is a relative measurement compared to other products on the website.

Well, if you have been looking at the Top 100 Books on Amazon you can get a sense of shift in categories. With schools being closed and families staying home, children’s books dominate the list right now.

Update (March 23rd) : NPDecisionKey reports sales grew 38% for titles in juvenile non-fiction education, reference, and language print books. Leading topics include “math, language arts, puzzles, sticker books, word games, geometry, study aids, and coloring books.”

4. Retail is being hit hard

The outlets selling books are being impacted in different ways.

Amazon announced this week they are prioritizing household goods and medical supplies for the next three weeks, in an effort to help customers get the products they need. They told their suppliers to expect smaller orders and that it likely didn’t not represent actual demand on their website.

Physical stores are being severely impacted with closings taking place all over the country in reaction to government declarations. Stores from The Strand in New York City to Powell’s in my hometown of Portland have shut their doors but are still taking online orders. Barnes & Noble has been closing stores as needed and running others on reduced hours.

Airport bookstores, an important segment for business books, is down. We are seeing sales of our titles down 50%, which roughly matches the decrease in airlines bookings that has been reported in the news.

The combined effect across retail outlets is going to have a negative impact on book sales in the short term.

Open questions…

Some things I am wondering about:

  • Will we see a shift in the kinds of business books being read? Remote by 37Signals (a book about the company’s remote working efforts) and Shift by the folks at Keller Williams (a title about how real estate agents adjust to economic downturns) are both sold out on Amazon.
  • Have digital ebooks and audiobooks sold more copies this month because of availability and quarantining?
  • How much more will sales drop in business books? In the depths of the 2008 crisis, sales were off 50% from normal levels.

I’ll keep posting updates. You can sign up for my newsletter on trends and case studies from the world of book publishing by click on this link.

Clayton Christensen

Dr. Clayton Christensen died on Thursday January 23rd, 2020.

I was sad to hear the news. He was management thinker that changed how companies think about innovation. He created a consulting practice, an investment firm and a think tank to fully explore all of the implications of that ground-breaking research.

The best obituary I read was in the Salt Lake City’s Deseret News.

The best profile is Larissa MacFarquhar’s 2012 piece that ran in The New Yorker.

As an author, Christensen wrote ten books over his lifetime. His most famous was the cornerstone for all of it. If you are not familiar with it, here is my review of The Innovator’s Dilemma from The 100 Best Business Books of All Time:

“Many in book publishing have a romanticized view of the industry’s origin, beginning with Johannes Gutenburg and the movable-type press he invented in 1453. While that treasured form has changed little in the past five and a half centuries, the way the book is sold and distributed has changed dramatically in the last thirty years. Independent bookstores first struggled against the mall chains of Waldenbooks and B. Dalton, then the big-box retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, and now the online superstore, Amazon. And these retail redistributions pale in comparison for the tectonic shifts that lie ahead in the form of print-on-demand and electronic distribution of books. In The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen shows how management practices that typically serve executives will fail in the face of just such disruptive innovation.

Christensen begins by drawing a distinction between two types of innovation. In the first, everything from new products to customer service is designed to meet customers’ demands. In the normal course of business, customers pay the bills, and writing those checks gives them significant influence over an organization’s decision making. New ideas and new opportunities, evaluated on their ability to serve existing customers and earn the necessary margins to support the company, are called sustaining innovations and are always successful ventures for existing (and dominant) firms.

But sometimes, innovation creates a new technology or reveals a new way to organize a firm’s resources. This disruptive innovation does not offer the performance needed in the existing market, and entrant companies are forced to find a new set of customers who value innovation on a different set of metric than those of the traditional market. Existing companies disregard the disruptive innovation because of the lower margins, and the newcomers find a small beachhead outside the existing market, using that market space to develop further. As the performance of disruptive innovation outpaces the sustaining innovations, entrants move into established markets and their lower cost structures forces incumbents further up-market, forfeiting existing profitable markets.

Clayton Christensen provides an array of case studies in The Innovator’s Dilemma, including how the steel industry is still at the mercy of the disruptive innovation of minimills. Using scrap steel over iron ore, minimills require one-tenth the scale and can produce steel at 15 percent lower cost than traditional integrated steel mills. When minimills first emerged in the 1960’s, they were able to produce only low-quality rebar. The integrated mills were happy to cede this low end, price sensitive market. What the incumbents missed was the minimills’ desire to move further into their markets. With a completely different cost structure and technology that was improving faster than existing methods, minimills began producing structural steel and sheet metal. Minimills now account for 50 percent of the steel made in the United States, and here is the amazing part: at no point did an existing steel company using integrated mills construct a minimill to take advantage of the disruptive innovation.

To suggest that the integrated steel mills simply hid their heads in the sand would be too easy. Christensen says most markets that serve as the launch point for disruptive innovation are too small for large organizations to concentrate on. These emerging markets lack clear evidence that they will turn out profitable. When disruptive technologies are being developed, the applications for them are unpredictable, and worse, companies are misled when they attempt to use the same tools from their mature markets. In nearly every case, disruptive innovation, a new set of companies rises to dominate the industry.

For disruptive innovation to flourish, says Christensen, companies need to create the right organizational structure. Companies often start by promoting successful managers to lead new efforts, but without addressing the processes and values of the new group, the leadership will start to make decisions the same way it always has. Disruptive innovation requires an autonomous organization with the appropriate cost structure to address the emerging markets. In the 1970s, the motor controls industry was disrupted by programmable logic controllers (PLCs), and the only company to successfully traverse the disruption was Rockwell Automation. The Milwaukee-based company did so by investing in two smaller companies shortly after the introduction of PLCs and combining them into a separate division, which pitted them against its existing electromechanical division. Rockwell showed that it is possible to establish dominance during a period of disruptive innovation while maintaining market leadership in the traditional product.

While the innovator’s dilemma stems from uncontrollable external pressures, dealing with it is an internal dilemma. Managers lack the information and experience needed to make confident investments in disruptive technology. The tried and true resource allocation process favors current customers and their needs., starving incubatory projects of needed love and attention. And to survive the innovation pipeline, the disruptive technology needs the marketing leader to new clients who appreciate the current capabilities. As performance improves, the customers who showed no interest in the initial idea are exactly the ones who will be clamoring for it.”


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New Year, New Habits

Happy New Year!

I have been thinking and writing about habits over the last two weeks.

I wrote a piece for Medium called 8 Essential Books for Creating New Habits.

There is great advice in all of those books, but the one piece that stuck with me was Charles Duhigg’s description of “keystone habits”.

In this interview with Harvard Business Review, Duhigg describes the effect of keystone habits:

“Some habits seem to have a disproportionate influence. When a keystone habit starts changing, it seems to set off a chain reaction that changes other habits.

And in a lot of people’s lives a keystone habit is exercise. When they start exercising, they start using their credit cards less. They start procrastinating less. They do their dishes earlier. Something about exercise makes other habits more malleable.”

I like this topic of keystone habits because of the asymmetry. What are a small set of things that we can do that can have a big effect on our lives?

In his book The Power of Habit, Duhigg describes some examples from the research:

“Studies have documented that families who habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence. Making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget. It’s not that a family meal or a tidy bed causes better grades or less frivolous spending. But somehow those initial shifts start chain reactions that help other good habits take hold. [p109]”

Duhigg says keystone habits do three things:

1. Keystone habits create small wins.

“Wins are the molecules of results. They’re the proof of progress. Some wins are big, some are small – all wins are motivators.” -John Kotter

In Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg says you should build small wins into your process for creating new habits. Fogg says habits depend on ability (or maybe our perceived ability) to do the new behavior. To start a habit find the smallest thing you could do—complete one pushup, floss a single tooth, read one page. Do the smallest thing for the first couple days and even after you add more to a new habit, always make sure to complete the smallest thing each day. Get the small win.

2. Keynote habits create new structures

In The Power of Habit, Duhigg tells the story of a study run by The National Institute of Health in 2009 that looked at weight loss. The researchers wanted to take a different approach to the problem. Their idea for participants to write down everything they ate. After six months, the results were clear. Those who kept daily food logs lost twice as much weight as everyone else. Food journaling gave everyone the ability to see patterns they were previously invisible. For some, it was the foods they ate. For others, it was when and how often they were snacking. The keystone habit of writing things down created new ways for people to think about their eating.

3. Keystone habits help you make tough decisions

Last year, I took on a project to write a write a 25,000 word book with a client. Writing was not foreign to me, but the scope of the project and the definitive timeline created some new challenges for me. I needed to consistently produce writing each day to meet a deadline.

The best thing I did early on was to track my daily word count. This gave me good visibility to how much work I was producing over time and how it matched up to various project deadlines. Within two weeks, I could see that I needed to make some significant changes, and committed to create a daily habit of writing helped make all of the tough decisions that followed.

I found needed to produce a consistent word count each day, too much daily variability in my word count created even more variability in the following days. And that required moving writing to first thing in the mornings, right after the kids were off the school. All my calls and meetings moved to the afternoons. I wrote until I had the word count. Some mornings that was by 9:30am, other days I was still writing at 3pm. Each of those decisions to change my routine was made easier by my deliberate habit of daily writing.


Now, there is no magic set of keystone habits. Duhigg says a search for them can be tricky.

For me, meditation has been a keynote habit over the last ten years. Similar to my writing habit, I found I needed to make it a routine. I get up an hour earlier than I used to and the first thing I do after I get out of bed is meditate. I have a place in the house, a cushion to sit on and a timer that runs for 30 minutes. As a habit, meditation lets you see each day what your mind is doing and how quickly it shifts between thoughts. Seeing that malleability gives me more flexibility in how I meet all aspects of my life.

It’s interesting that the idea of self-reflection shows up in many of these keynote habits. Dinnertime conversation and spending budgets let us see the effects of our decisions in a different way. Tracking the foods we eat or journaling about the gratitude we feel draws us into introspection about our lives. Actively noticing and deliberately analyzing the daily run of quick, borderline unconscious actions uncovers a set of patterns that can be used to inform and reinforce the new habits we want to create.


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#YEARINREVIEW 2019

In 2010, Seth Godin asked people to make a list of what they shipped. I have been doing this exercise each year since then. You can see my past #YearInReview posts here. I have come to believe that this is an important activity, especially for entrepreneurs to see what they have accomplished.

2019 revolved around three things:

  1. Joining Bard Press and launching The Gift of Struggle by Bobby Herrera in June.
  2. Serving as shuso for six months at Dharma Rain.
  3. Writing a new book in collaboration with a client (more on that soon).

There were many little things that rolled into those three big things, but that was my year. It was always easy to know if I was focused on the right things.

Other notable “shipments” included

  • Help two other authors develop concepts and marketing for their book projects.
  • I sat for three week-long sesshins (meditation retreats) in three months.
  • Wrote my first paid article for a publication.
  • Wrote 15 blog posts, posted three new videos and started a monthly newsletter that has nine issues for the year (you can sign up here).
  • Started a meet-up group for Portland-based business book authors.
  • Took my first trip to New Orleans and attended Keller-Williams’ Family Reunion event.
  • Took trips to Austin, New York City, The San Juans, Phoenix, Detroit, Crater Lake, and Chicago.
  • The kids and I went to PAX West and had a blast!
  • Studied Manzan Dohaku and Menzan Zuiho, two important figures that reformed Soto Zen during the Edo Period in Japan, and wrote a research paper on their impact.

#Booknotes: Range

Range: Why Generalist Triumph in a Specialized World
By David Epstein

Overview:

If you’ve been trying to excel at something and have been burning the midnight oil to hit the 10,000-hour mark, Range might make you reconsider your approach. In domains where patterns repeat and feedback is both rapid and accurate, what author David Epstein calls “kind” learning environments, you can develop useful intuition through deep and narrow practice to solve problems that have clear boundaries and stated goals, much like Tiger Woods does in golf or Garry Kasparov did in chess. Specialists rein in the worlds of medicine and sports.

The trouble is that many of the areas where we work and encounter challenges don’t look like a game of golf or chess. Patterns vary. Feedback is delayed. Successful outcomes can be hard to detect. In these more uncertain, unfamiliar scenarios, what Epstein calls “wicked” learning environments, a deep and narrow approach does not get us the best results.

There are implications for how we teach, how we approach our careers, and who we hire to staff our teams. Just consider this: Nobel laureates are 22 times(!) as likely than their non-Nobel-winning peers to participate in the arts as an amateur actor, dancer, magician, or other type of performer.

As Epstein says, “Facing kind problems, narrow specialization can be remarkably efficient. The problem is that we often expect the hyperspecialist, because of their expertise in a narrow area, to magically be able to extend their skills to wicked problems. The results can be disastrous.”

Notes:

  • Kind Problems and Wicked Problems
    • Gary Klein research into intuition or naturalistic decision making
      • He studied firefighters and first responders
      • Those experts got very good at seeing patterns in their domains
      • Golf and chess are similarly kind domains with clear boundaries to the kinds of problems that need to be solved
    • Kind learning environments
      • Patterns repeat over and over
      • Feedback is extremely accurate and usually very rapid
      • Kind environments support 10,000 hour style learning with engagement in a particular activity with the goal of doing it better.
    • Daniel Kahenman did research into wicked problems
      • His first project was in the assessment of Israeli military officers. His predictions were awful.
      • Wicked domains have unclear rules
        • Patterns vary
        • Feedback is delayed, inaccurate or both.
    • Klein and Kahenman co-authored a paper saying that experience created expertise but it depended on the domain
  • How specialists fail
    • From Greg Duncan, education economist “Increasingly, jobs that pay well require employees to be able to solve unexpected problems, often while working in groups.”
    • Patterns
      • Chess players can memorize a board in a few seconds (they see common set of patterns that they use to make decisions), BUT if you show them pieces in random locations they are lost
      • Same for all of us! Try memorizing random words versus words in sentences
      • Experienced tax accountants do worse than novices at applying new regulations – “cognitive entrenchment”
      • Kepler looked for analogies for what he was seeing with planets – light, smell, heat, soul/power/spirit, magnetism, currents, broom, balance scales,
      • Functional fixedness – the tendency to consider only familiar uses for objects
    • Jayshree Seth when at Clarkson University – stick with in an area she knew she did’t like but already started , even thought she wasn’t that far in. Sunk Cost Fallacy.
    • Broader
      • Nobel laureates are 22 times are more likely to participate in the arts as a amateur actor, dancer, magician or other performer
      • An average adult today would have scored in the 98th percentile on a standard IQ test one hundred years ago.
      • BUT narrower specialization is making it harder for student to apply abstract concepts outside of their area of study (see James Flynn/NZ)
      • “Fermi problems” – back of the envelope problems that estimate big problems. The point is to show how someone thinks rather than an exact solution.
      • “Far Transfer”
      • Dedre Gentner – “our ability to think relationally is the reason we run the planet,” find surface analogies.
        • Adding one analogy improves problem solving by 3x, adding two analogies improves even further
        • Ambiguous Sorting Task – combination of domain (economic bubbles) and deep structure.
        • Laboratory research – Diverse teams with varied backgrounds that presented their unsolved problems to each other
      • Curse of the “inside view” from Tversky and Kahneman
        • The more inside knowledge you have, the worse your estimates end up (VC/construction/entertainment)
      • Einstellung effect – tendency for problem solvers to employ only familiar methods even if better one are available.
      • BCG created an analogies database to help consultants with engagements
      • Outsider Advantage
        • Eli Lilly posted problems for outsiders to try and figure out. The site is now called InnoCentive.
        • Harvard research from Karim Lakhani showed “The further the problem was from the solver’s expertise, the more likely they were to solve it.”
        • “[big things happen] when an outsider who may be far away from the surface of the problem reframes the problem in a way that unlocks the solution.”
      • Napolean needed to preserve food for troops, science failed, foodie Nicolas Appert solved the problem
    • Outsiders make better use of specialist information. They also use laggard information in new ways.
      • Gunpei Yokoi at Nintendo committed to use technology that had already become cheap, even obsolete, in new ways to create their first electronic problems.
    • Eduardo Melero and Neus Palomeras – 32,000 teams at 880 different organizations – high uncertainty domains benefited from individuals that worked with a variety of technologies and more likely to make a splash.
    • Alva Taylor and Fredric Wertham – examined comic book industry, “When seeking innovation in knowledge-based industries, it is best to find one ‘super’ individual. If no individual with the necessary combination of diverse knowledge is available, one should form a ‘fantastic’ team.
    • Forecasting
      • Richard Tetlock – Good Judgment Project
        • General public volunteers outperformed experts by at least 30%
        • His team was so good they shutdown all other teams
        • Teams are 50% more accurate than individuals
    • We Can’t Put Things Down
      • Navy seaman ignore order to remove steel toed shoes when abandoning ship
      • Fighters pilots fail to eject from disabled planes
      • Karl Weick called it “overlearned behavior.”
      • Rather than decisions, keep “hunches held lightly.”
    • There is a difference between the chain of command and chain of communication
      • Himalayan mountain climbers–5,104 groups–found that teams from countries that valued hierarchical culture got more climbers to the cummit, but also had more climbers die along the way.
    • Less Is More
      • A study of young musicians found that exceptional players generally came from kids who started later and had fewer structured lessons
    • Teaching
      • Desirable difficulties – make learning challenging, slower, and more frustrating creates short term frustration and better in the long term
      • Hints short circuit learning
      • Distributed practice – create spacing between learning sessions
      • “For knowledge to be flexible, if should be learned under varied conditions.”
      • “Desirable difficulties like testing and spacing make knowledge stick. It becomes more durable. Desirable difficulties like making connections and interleaving make knowledge flexible, useful for problems that never appear in training. All slow down learning and make performance suffer, in the short term.”
    • Match Quality – degree of fit between the work and who the person is.
      • English and Welch college graduates switched more often than the later choosing Scottish students.
      • People who randomly switched jobs were happier than those who stayed
      • Teachers that switched schools were better at helping students.
      • Herminia Ibarra – “We discover possibilities by doing, by trying new activities, building new networks, finding new role models.” We learn who we are in practice, not in theory. “I learn who I am when I see what I do.”
      • “Outsider artists”, non-formally trained artists; reminds me of “self-published authors”
      • Howard Finster “Trying things is the answer to find your talent.”
      • “Facing kind problems, narrow specialization can be remarkably efficient. The problem is that we often expect the hyperspecialist, because of their expertise in a narrow area, to magically be able to extend their skill to wicked problems. The results can be disastrous.”
      • Oliver Smithie – bring new skills to an old problem or a new problem to old skills

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I’d Like To Thank…

One of the most common questions I get asked is how can authors find the best people to help them get their book published and promoted.

I always tell people go to the bookstore (or their bookshelf) and look for titles that match the one you want to publish.

You can immediately see the publishers who released the books. You can get a good sense of their choices about packaging—whether typography, titling, or trim size. But the best source can be found inside the book.

In the world of book publishing, we also have a wonderful tradition of thanking people for the work they have done on books.

By looking through the Acknowledgments section, you can see everyone who contributed to a book: the agent, the editor, the publisher, the publicist. If someone helped write it, you see who (but sometimes you have to read between the lines). Authors will often thank earlier readers and inspirations for writing in the first place. They always thank family and friends.

From there, you can get your first set of answers to things like:

  • Who might represent a book like mine?
  • Who might buy a proposal for a book like the one I want to write?
  • Who has experience promoting the kind of book I want to write?
  • Are there other experts who might contribute to the overall success of my project?

And remember the Acknowledgments section when you write your book and pay it forward to the next author who needs the same help.


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The Three Business Books You Need To Read From 2019

I know I am making a big promise in the headline, but stay with me on this one. There are several reasons these three books can help narrow down your “I’m behind on my 2019 reading” list.

In this post, I’ll share some good sources I use every year to help with choose what I read, tell you why these books are good selections and give you a few reasons to pick up each one.

The Sources

I mentioned in a post earlier this week that we are in the heart of the “Best of” Season. Everyone is posting their favorite things of the year. I love it. You get to see what is important to people. With these curated lists, you can see if there are themes that arose out of the past year.

In the world of business books, there are a handful of outlets that I watch each year to see what they are recommending when the year closes. Let me share each of them and tell you why you should pay attention.

First, Porchlight Books (the fine folks formerly known as 800-CEO-READ) are in the 13th year of the Business Book Awards. Some of you know that I spent several years working there and starting the Awards program is one of the things I am most proud of. Last week, they announced their longlist with forty books across eight categories. In December, they’ll announce their category winners and at their New York City gala in January, they’ll crown their Business Book of the Year.

Going on even longer has been the Strategy + Business Best Business Books feature, now in its nineteenth year. The publication from PwC and its partners keeps seven categories, selecting three books for each category and choosing one title in each as their TopShelf pick. The category winners are generally curated by industry experts, as seen in their choices of Bethany McLean, James Surowiecki, and Sally Hegesen to serve this year.

Given the headliners, many consider The Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award to be the most prestigious. The judging has a nice Trans-Atlantic feel with the awards ceremony alternating locations between New York City and London. The visibility also comes from the £30,000 in prize money given to the winner. Their format is to start with a 16 title longlist announced in August, the six title shortlist shared in September, and the winner celebrated in December.

Amazon has a comprehensive set of year-end selections. These are picked by a set of editors at the company. They choose 20 books across a range of what they call “business and leadership books”. Their list is always good balancing bestsellers and practical problem solving. Already this year, they named Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac as their business and leadership book of the year.

In the world of small business, I want to mention the list that comes from Leigh Buchanan at Inc. Magazine. She covers business books for the magazine and she often write articles that look ahead to upcoming book seasons, or as she did earlier this month, she wrote an eleven title Must-Read list for entrepreneurs in 2019.

The final list is from Bookpal, a West Coast best book retailer. They have the newest awards program, The Outstanding Works of Literature (OWL) Awards, which they started in 2017. There are five categories from their OWL awards that fit into the world of business books and on their longlist, they nominate five books for each category.

Each of the lists above have different flavors. FT McKinsey is global and conglomerate. Strategy + Business is corporate and smart. Amazon plays it straight to the core of the business book category. Inc. Magazine leans toward small business. And Porchlight digs deep into their indie bookstore roots. Bookpal highlights books across the breadth of categories they sell.

The lists also have things in common. They are created by people who care about the business book category. They are journalists, booksellers, academics and business leaders who all believe they have a stake in helping readers find the best titles.

Intersections: A Meta-Analysis of The Lists

Personally, I always find myself drawn to the spaces between. With the common interests and divergent preferences, I always want to know where the business book lists intersect. A good book is a good book. And if multiple groups see that, there is something worth paying attention to. Looking at the intersections between those lists was particularly interesting this year.

Using the longlist from each group, the six groups recommend a total of 102 books. The majority of those books, 80 titles or 78% of titles, only appear once across the five lists. That represents the wonderful variety in both what these entities believe is a book that will appeal to a business audience and what represented a good book among what was published in 2019.

There were 19 books that appeared twice on those five lists. I am not sure I have pattern or conclusion I can draw from those. Porchlight nominated twice as many (or more) books and they are the common partner in 13 of the 19 titles that were selected twice. When you look at the other half of those pairs, they are evenly spread among the other five lists. The categories of those 13 books are also spread across general business, economics, current events and narratives. I believe this set of books shares the same effect of judges’ preference, as can be seen in the single titles.

This is where it gets interesting.

There were no books that were appeared on three of the lists.

There were no books that were picked by four lists.

And there were no books that were chosen by all six lists.

That leaves us with only three titles that were chosen by five lists. That’s where I want to focus the rest of the attention.

[If you’d like to see all the titles and some of the analysis, I have put all the data in a Google Sheet that you can find by clicking on this link.]

The Three Titles For 2019

Let’s start with the books:

  1. Loonshots: How To Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcali
  2. Nine Lies About Work: A (Freethinking) Leader’s Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
  3. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

As I said, these were chosen by four different arbiters of business books. The last bit of analysis that I’ll share is that each book was chosen by a different combination of those five players. So, there was no voting block of perspective that led to these three titles.

I’ll admit there is randomness and probably pattern bias in trying to focus on these three titles. I am not going to try to justify these picks with any statistics or additional analysis. Let’s just say that the bubbling up of these three books is convenient.

It’s handy that there are only three books with such overwhelming support. Anyone can get these three titles and be through them between now and the end of the year. If that sounds hard, go read my essay on How To Read A [Business] Book.

Another convenience is this small group of books touches on the three things we should always be working to improve. First, we always need to put some focus on ourselves and Range provides an interesting thesis for how we should position ourselves in today’s world. Next, we always need to be working on how we work with others. Nine Lies pushes hard on some commonly held wisdom and turns it on its head. Finally, I don’t know anyone who isn’t touched by change and doesn’t need a way to bring new ideas and approaches into the world. Loonshots addresses that.

After I saw the broad agreement on these three titles, I decided to dig into each of them again. I’ll be posting reviews on each one of them between now and the end of the year. I hope maybe you’ll read along. When I share more about these books, I’d love to hear what you thought of them and how they helped you.

Update (11/26/19): I added the longlist selections from Bookpal’s OWL awards to the year-end lists for this article. They also chose the three common titles are well.


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My Reading List Gets Long This Time of Year

My reading list is never short, but as the year comes to a close, there are so many Best Of The Year lists that get published and I am left wondering how I missed so many good books.

Most lists cover fiction and creative non-fiction in an exhaustive way. I wish more outlets covered practical non-fiction. There is so much to recommend.

Here are a few places to look for your business and self-help needs:

Here is my current list of books to read that covers a pretty wide range of topics

Authors: Getting Better Feedback For Your Book Project

My primary job in the world of publishing is to give feedback to make book better.

That’s lead me to think a lot about how authors get the best feedback for the book they are working on.

I posted an article about this topic on LinkedIn that has a a video and more detail around working with general readers when you are gathering feedback.

Hope you’ll check it out.

#Author Booknotes: Hit Makers

The Book

Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
By Derek Thompson
Penguin Press, 2017

Overview

A staff writer for The Atlantic, Thompson pulls together a slew of fascinating stories and anecdotes to try and explain what makes things popular. The trick with a book like this is there is no singular way that phenomenon reaches critical mass. So, in that way, the overview approach to the material works well, as it does in magazine articles. The downside is that the variety dilutes the utility of a strong throughline or highly actionable advice. If you read it like you are going to move through lots of material and that will find nuggets to inform your worldview, you’ll be satisfied when you’re done.

My Notes

  • We like what we are familiar with.
    • Exposure (or repeated exposure) is one way we get more familiar
    • The impressionist painters we know today all came from a single collection.
    • James Cutting, at Cornelll, found you could change preference just by showing students obscure paintings with a higher frequency.
    • Music publishers in Tin Pan Alley agressively pushed new music to musicians playing in clubs in New York City and gather feedback about what to further promote.
    • Music prediction services like HitPredictor or SoundOut can explain part of the success of some songs, but exposure and airplay also play a huge factor.
  • The familiar needs to be balanced with the new
    • Industrial designer Raymond Loewy called this “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” – MAYA
    • “People like a challenge if they think they can solve it. [Claudia Muth] calls this moment where disfluency yields fluency the aesthetic aha.”
    • Example four chord music, cable news focus on headline topics with endless viewpoints, Spotify’s Discover Weekly feature needed new and known songs
  • The balance can be found in patterns
    • The longest time to create surprise with the fewest number of musical notes is BBBBC-BBBC-BBC-BC-D
    • Rhetorical devices like epistrophe (repetition of words at the end of the sentence), anaphora (repetition at the beginning of the sentence), tricolon (repetition in short triplicate, and my favorite antimetabole (AB;BA – do onto others as they would do onto you)
  • This leads us to another pattern – STORY
    • Joseph Campbell’s ingredients: inspiration, relatability, and suspense
    • “…[T]ake twenty-five things that in any successful genre and you reverse one of them. Reverse too many and you get genre confusion. Invert all the elements, you get parody. But one strategic tweak? Now you’ve got something that is perfectly new.”
  • Popularity is always being shaped by choice, economics and marketing
    • Industrialization is followed by the rise of fashion
    • “Distribution is a strategy to make a good product popular, but it’s not a reliable way to make a bad product seem good.”
    • Researchers Balaz Kovacs and Amanda Sharkey found that winning awards actually produces lower ratings from readers
      • Possible cause – higher expectations for those titles
  • Randomness
    • Duncan Watts studies information cascades
      • Everything starts at zero
      • And 1 in 1000 is still 1 in 1000 and very hard to predict
    • Al Greco calls the entertainment business “a complex. Adaptive, semi-chaotic industry with Bose-Einstein distribution dynamics and Pareto law characteristics with dual-sided uncertainty.”
    • Virality is a myth; broadcasters that share with millions make the difference in hits
      • “Items spread wider and faster when everyone can see what everybody else is doing.”
    • Sometimes it is not really about the product, but that someone “buys” popularity of the product.
    • Even people who produce lots of product can’t predict what will be a hit (i.e. Vincent Forrest on Etsy)
  • “Ideas most reliably spread with the piggyback off an existing network of closely connected and interested people.”
  • “The paradox of scale is that the biggest hits are often designed for a small, well-defined group of people.”
  • “Artists and teams produced their most resonant work after they had already passed a certain threshold of fame and popularity. Perhaps genius thrives in a space shielded ever so slightly from the need to win a popularity contest.
  • Random facts
    • One percent of music artists earn eighty percent of all recorded music revenue.
    • Music companies use Shazam to see where songs are being searched and find small places to launch into bigger markets
    • NBC uses 40-40-20 test for new programs
      • 40% of people say they are aware of the show
      • 40% of that (16% of total) say they want to watch it.
      • And 20% (3.2% of total!) of that say they are passionate about the new show
  • FX’s Nicole Clemens: “I am looking for a 90 hour movie. It is a Trojan horse for a deeper question: Who is the character becoming? What is he or she going to do next?”
  • Kat Kamen, first head of merchandising at Disney: “The art of film is film, but the business of movies is everywhere.”