February 2012

Mike Figliuolo, author of One Piece of Paper

Mike Figliuolo, Author of One Piece of Paper

Mike Figliuolo is the the founder and managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC, a professional services firm specializing in leadership development, and a nationally-recognized speaker and blogger on the topic of leadership.

His book One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2011) can help any leader cut through the crap we’re all guilty of succumbing to when we haven’t fully thought through what we stand for, or about the experiences that have shaped who we are. (Read page 15 of the book to get a flavor of what that sounds like. It’s cringe-worthy!).

For more on the specifics of the book, check out Figliuolo’s many five-star reviews on Amazon (I wrote one of them).

We emailed recently about his experience writing the book:

Dr Liz: What was it that prompted you to include your army experience in the book, rather than just focus on your consulting career?

Mike Figliuolo:

My leadership style has been influenced by the entirety of my personal experience.  From my high school days as a wrestler and soccer player to West Point, to the Army, to McKinsey, to corporate, to running my own business, all of those experiences have informed how I show up as a leader.  I learned things at McKinsey that I would have never learned in the Army (corporate strategy, innovation, etc.) so including experiences from those roles helped illustrate how I’ve grown up as a leader.  Additionally, if the book was 100% military experiences, many readers would have a hard time relating to the content.  By covering leadership in many different industries and roles, the book became more accessible to a broader readership.

Dr Liz: How long did the book take you to write and what was your biggest challenge during that writing period?

The book is based on a course I’ve taught for several years so most of the stories, the framework, and the content already existed in my head.  The act of writing the first draft took two months.  The first round of my edits took about 3 weeks.  Final edits were another few weeks.  All-in, from getting the contract to books on the shelf was 14 months but much of the latter portion of that was promotion preparation, production, marketing, etc.  I think the biggest challenge was not having a stroke when I got the first round of edits back – it was 286 pages of red ink!  Truth be told, though, those edits made my book exponentially better than it would have been without my editor’s input.

Dr Liz: What was the biggest surprise – maybe something you didn’t expect or thought would be different — from the whole publishing experience?

The biggest positive surprise was the quality of the editing that was done.  I like to fancy myself a decent writer but I was blown away with how wonderful the editors were and how much more compelling they made my work.  It’s not just typos and spelling that they fix – they helped tremendously with structure, clarity, and brevity too.  The other surprise was how much of the promotion of the book falls on the author.  It was a lot more than I initially thought it would be.  Arguably, writing the book was the easy part – promoting it is a lot of worthwhile effort.

Dr Liz: Which business book (if any) has had the greatest influence on your thinking, your writing style, or both – and why?

It’s not a business book – it’s The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway.  The one line in it that states “but man is not made for defeat.  A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” has gotten me through more turmoil and difficult times in my life than you can believe.  That notion has deeply affected my thinking and my approach to the world.  To me, defeat is about giving up – it’s something you choose to do.  Destruction is out of your control and imposed upon you by another.  I never, ever, ever, ever give up.

Dr Liz: Why did you think it important to write a book and in what specific ways has it contributed to the ongoing success of your business?

Writing the book is a great way to affect the lives of others.  It has given me a tremendous reach across the professional community.  I love teaching, learning, and leading.  The book enables me to teach a much broader audience than I would otherwise get to interact with.  As far as its contribution to my business, it has clarified my own thinking in many ways and it has brought new clients to my door.  What’s really fun is now teaching the course that the book is based upon after people have read the book.  The conversation in the classroom is exponentially richer than it was before the book existed.  That happens because people are now coming to class having read the book and they’re already deeply immersed in the content before we start the conversation.

Dr Liz: Finally, if you had one piece of advice to offer aspiring thought leaders — what would it be?

Do.  Just shut up and do.  I’m so tired of talking.  People talk incessantly about all the things they want to change or that should be different.  In my experience, true leaders just go and do.  They make stuff happen.  Shut up and do.  You’ll be amazed by what you’re capable of changing in the world around you.

Dr Liz: Love it, Mike — great advice. Thanks for the interview and good luck with the book!

My Thought Readership review of Mike’s book can be found on ActiveGarage.com here.

If you’re interested in how to capture your leadership philosophy on one piece of 8.5 x 11″ paper, Mike teaches a course based on the method outlined in the book (or, to be more accurate, the book is based on the course he’s taught for years – which is arguably why it’s so well conceived).

More details of that course can be found here:http://www.thoughtleadersllc.com/services/leadership-maxims/.

Vinay Iyer on The Customer Experience Edge authorship experience

Vinay Iyer is co-author of The Customer Experience Edge with fellow SAP senior executives Reza Soudager and Dr. Volker G. Hildebrand. Prior to including this book as an example of the power of original research for my Thought Readership series, I interviewed him about the experience of becoming an author.

Dr Liz: I believe you hadn’t originally planned to write a book, that this was a research project you were engaged in that you decided to write up in book form. If that’s correct, how long were you actively engaged in the research and how long did it take you to write the book to final draft?

Vinay Iyer:

Yes, we started to do some research into the Customer Centricity / Experience topic since it was becoming a common theme at the Board and C-levels at companies.  We also came across IBM’s Global CEO study where they found that getting closer to the customer was the top priority for CEOs globally, above everything else.  We commissioned Bloomberg BusinessWeek to do some research for us on this topic by surveying their reader base and also interviewing some companies that had achieved significant transformations by focusing on their customers above everything else.  All this research, over a period of 12 months or so, generated a lot of valuable insights that led to the idea of a book. Once we successfully pitched the idea of the book to our publisher McGraw Hill, the writing of the book and various edits and revisions took another six or so months.  So, overall, it was an 18 month project.

Dr Liz: Why did you decide to go with McGraw Hill as your publisher? Had you considered self-publishing?

 Among many things that could be written on this topic, we discovered that there are not many business books out there that help transform a ‘customer-centricity’ strategy into successful implementation – especially with the successful leverage of technology.  Our research had made it pretty clear that in today’s world, strategic use of the right technologies was going to be critical to the implementation of any successful customer-centricity strategy.  So, there clearly was a white space in the market for such a book.  The audience for such a book is global and this topic is of relevance to every company large or small.  We were told that, as relatively unknown authors, it would be advisable to leverage the distribution power of a big publisher like McGraw Hill (assuming they would be interested in this topic, of course) rather than private publication and then having to try and figure out how to get access to all the distribution channels!

Dr Liz: What are you particularly proud of with respect to how the book was structured and written? What do you think is your book’s best feature?

 One of the big challenges was how to take a rather complex subject like Customer Experience and distill down the key messages in ways that an average business person could comprehend.  As experts on this topic, it would have been very easy for us to dwell on esoteric topics and the complexities involved in attaining the objectives.  Our goal was to reach a broader market and help the average reader grasp this important topic and, more importantly, help the reader gain some practical ideas for what can be done.  This took a lot of soul searching and I am particularly proud of the fact that we broke down the complex topic into 4 simple (but very deep) pillars of excellence.  To deliver on the demands of today’s customer expectations, companies will have to focus on the pillars of Reliability, Relevancy, Responsiveness and Convenience.  If companies can do all of these consistently at reasonable cost, during every customer interaction, with every customer (not just the top 100 or so), they have what it takes to succeed in today’s world!

Dr Liz: What surprised you most about the book publishing experience?

 It was pretty amazing to realize that, despite living in the age of the Internet, Social Media, Smart Phones, Kindles, Nooks, etc., printed books still matter!   I was a skeptic when we started out (my wife had just bought me a Kindle), but, now that I am living the experience of a published, hard-copy book author, I am glad we did it.  I suppose human nature is difficult to completely change and a lot of people still care about a printed book.  Despite having a Kindle, I find myself returning to a printed book every so often because, no matter what they say, the printed book experience is not (yet) substitutable by any modern technological gizmo!

Dr Liz: Roughly how many books have you sold and given away — two separate numbers if possible — since the book was published?

I checked with the publisher who doesn’t want to reveal these numbers publicly. What I can tell you is that in the first eight weeks that the book was available, we have sold several thousand copies through outlets like Barnes & Noble book stores as well as online retailers like Amazon.com.  We are experiencing an interesting trend where approximately 30% of book purchases are eBooks, compared to around 10% industry average for business books overall.

Catch my review of The Customer Experience Edge on Monday, March 5th at ActiveGarage.com.

If you are a business book author or represent someone who is and would like to be considered for review either here or through my Thought Readership series, please email me at info (at) drlizalexander (dot) com with details.


NEW Thought Readership Series on ActiveGarage.com

I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia. ~ Woody Allen 

You may have heard it from one of your teachers or a blogger. Certainly, many authors admit to it being so. Reading makes us better writers.

But here’s a proviso. It helps if you think about what you’re reading, perhaps with a view to how you might have crafted that nonfiction book or novel yourself. And that thinking is helped if you have some idea of what you’re looking for in the first place.

That’s why I leapt at the opportunity to write a regular article series for ActiveGarage.com that we’re calling Thought Readership and which debuts today (Monday, February 6th).

Thought Readership series logo

Every two weeks I’ll post a hybrid “review/how-to” that highlights how one author successfully (or not) exemplified a skill that aspiring business authors might hope to showcase in their own books.

Whether or not you have a desire to write a book one day yourself, my fervent wish is that this series introduces you to some titles that might otherwise have not crossed your radar, and provokes you think more critically about the books you are reading.

As someone who tends to be more humorous in person and when giving talks than when writing, I’m also going to use this series as a practice ground for “lightening up” when it comes to books I think are pretty crappy. Rather than offer you a polemic every third or fourth time – which is how often I plan to analyze the “boo-boos” – I hope to modify my own writing style after reading less-judgmental, witty, and thought provoking articles by folks I admire like Rajesh Setty, Sonia Simone, and the folks at IncBlot.

Oh, and one day in the not-so-distant future I’ll be repurposing this material to create a new e-book, entitled Thought Readership.

So, do check out the introductory article for the new series here. Please comment below or on ActiveGarage to give your perspective on these articles. As Seth Godin points out, it’s just commentary otherwise. I’d prefer it to be a two-way conversation.


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