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April 03, 2018

6 things I learnt whilst writing a business book.

Have you been considering writing a business book?  Maybe you have a unique approach or message in your industry that you would like to share?  If that's the case, I hope the following six observations  are useful to you.

Like many others, my journey to becoming a "writer" has been a long and windy one.  As a kid, I hardly ever read – more socially oriented than academic, I’d always surround myself with people rather than books. The only time I really came close was when I learnt that if I took calligraphy lessons I would be allowed to skip morning assembly. So for quite some time I learnt to scribe and that kept me pretty occupied.

6 things I learnt whilst writing a business book.

In the middle of my technology career, I studied screenwriting for nine years – earning both a BA an MA, but when that finished I was still unproduced. Somewhere lurking inside of me was a writer bursting to get out.

Things have changed. As my book, People First, is soon to be published I thought it would be worth sharing some of the things I learnt along the way.

1. It’s a team effort

Although writing itself is a solitary activity, there were a ton of people that helped get the first and subsequent drafts together. First, I joined the Dent Key Person of Influence ("KPI") accelerator which is, in my opinion, similar to YCombinator but it's aimed for experienced business people. KPI brings business people from various industries together, to learn how to surface and build our unique business ideas into reality. As you join the accelerator you become part of a 7-person accountability group – suddenly, I had a peer group of people who would ensure that I would act upon my dreams. My main one was to write a book.

As part of the accelerator, the excellent team at the publisher (Rethink Press) educated us on how to tackle your first manuscript, create the structure and to tackle the first draft. This is where the accountability really helped – because we could monitor each other’s progress and encourage each other during challenging times. This was especially useful when responsibilities kicked-in.

Beyond the accountability group, educators and publishers there is of course friends, family and co-workers.

2. The first draft is "easy"…

When you are facing a blank document on your laptop, the idea of having to write 30k+ words sounds like an insurmountable task. But with a solid idea and more importantly a structure that you can work towards, it is “easy” to write the first draft – because you (a) you are writing about something you know or care about and (b) you are writing smaller articles that are interlinked upon a common theme. I found writing about business much easier than screenwriting as one is based on real-life experience which is easier than fiction as you don't have to consider the relationships or verisimilitude. 

Initially, I worked on the book full-time, with a view of writing a few thousand words a day. It probably took four weeks to complete, but then the hard work began – writing the subsequent drafts. The effort to change and make the book “work” was, in my experience, far more difficult than getting the initial words down.

3. Relish those challenging and negative early reviews

After the third draft I took the plunge and asked a few trusted people to read it and provide feedback. There was a mixture of responses, and its quite an unfair thing to ask people as the book is still in early stages and therefore won’t be an easy read. What I learnt is that the most critical or challenging feedback was best – because these often propelled the work to new heights. Luckily, my business partner Dave didn’t hold back and let me know exactly what he thought and areas he was bored. Whilst this “harsh” feedback was hard to take at the time, I look back fondly at it now.

4. Get Social

There’s a ton of useful resources out there but the most useful I found was Alison Jones’ Extraordinary Business Book club, a community of like-minded people. In addition is Alison’s excellent weekly Podcast where she interviews business book authors who share so many inspirational ideas and stories. Well worth joining.

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5. Let it take time.

I wrote ten drafts and had two professional editors work on the book. Up to the ninth draft, the book was more a methodology but the feedback I kept getting was that the book wasn’t really “me”, my personality (or voice) didn’t really come out. Which was disappointing, as I had set out to write a business/tech book that was readable and accessible. Somehow I’d managed to create the absolute opposite, a dry tech “manual”.

So whilst I’d written the first draft very quickly, it took months before I was happy with a draft that was presentable to the publisher.

6. You know when you’ve cracked it

Luckily, I was sat on a plane to Arizona and was reading through some additional feedback from my wife (another harsh critic) who suggested I added travel stories. Sitting on a long flight was a perfect time to analyse and plan this change. A few weeks later, after weaving in a number of personal travel experiences to the manuscript I found it much easier to read and also easier to edit. It finally became an enjoyable task to edit the book, after months of pain I found something good about this experience, I knew it was “ready”

The next surprise was when the manuscript was edited and returned to me – it was far more readable than ever and they’d managed to strip away thousands of words.

Would I do it again?

Absolutely. By writing a book based on your business expertise you automatically begin to assess your career and find trends and concerns through this analysis that I don’t think you see from working on the coal-face.

I’d also like to retry the writing process to see if it is the same, or whether I’ve found my voice already and this time round it might be easier. But I doubt it.

Hutton Henry - Hutton’s first experience with M&A was whilst working for Ford when they acquired Jaguar in the UK. Soon after he worked on a major IT global transformation which was the result of HP acquiring Compaq. Both projects highlighted the challenge of integrating systems whilst collaborating with IT staff who are adjusting to major changes ahead of them.

 

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