Sterling Lanier of Vistage: How to “crowd-source” a book in two hours

Think of any of the two-hour meetings you’ve attended at which very little was agreed upon and nothing tangible got done. Now imagine completing a value-creating book in the same time. Sounds impossible? Sterling Lanier can prove otherwise.

While writing #CoachingTweet for the THINKaha book series, Lanier found himself referring constantly to the wisdom he had amassed from colleagues after 10 years as a Vistage CEO Coach and CEO Peer Group Leader.

“It occurred to me that although Vistage does a lot of training for group chairs, there was not a book created by chairs about how to do their work,” explains Lanier. “Then I realized that since the wisdom of chairing CEO groups often resides in individual, experienced-based best practices, a group of chairs—not just one person—should write this book.”

By the time they attended their June 2010 meeting, 24 North California Vistage Chairs had received advance email notice that they’d be writing the definitive book on the ways in which chairs could successfully guide member CEOs to reach their full potential. The participants collectively had over 160 years experience as C-level executives and highly respected coach-practitioners. They were tasked with contributing to four topics, each of which would become a chapter in the book:

  • On Being A Chair
  • Enabling Thoughtful 1-on-1s
  • Leading Meaningful Meetings
  • Nurturing and Growing Your Groups.

Chair Tweets

The participants were randomly divided into groups and positioned at one of four easels that represented the chapter topics. Each group was tasked with writing up their best “bullet point” thoughts for that topic; they rotated to the next easel after 20 minutes. After completing their first pass of insights for all four chapters in 80 minutes, the groups were given a further 10 minutes at each easel to review their colleagues’ thoughts and add anything they felt was missing.

After two hours, the participants had crafted 282 tweet-sized thoughts. Lanier had the further task of collecting all the easel pages and editing the insights into what was to become a 130-page e-book.

“What truly overwhelmed me was seeing the immense amount of knowledge released in two hours,” says Lanier, who admits that if he had tried to write the book single-handedly, it would have taken him months. “More importantly, I could never have captured the depth and breadth of wisdom and the diverse ways of expressing this wisdom that was recording during this process.”

Of course, not every group meeting lends itself perfectly to this kind of activity. To be successful developing a “team-sourced” e-book, it helps to focus on topics that can draw on the group’s practical knowledge, preferably gained from experiences in the field. The process is best suited to wisdom that’s typically passed through informal sharing, including “water cooler” storytelling.

“A perfect example is when a new sales person arrives at their assigned team, having been trained extensively on product knowledge and sales techniques by the organization. When they hook up with a top performing “old hand,” the newbie then discovers how success happens in the real world,” says Lanier. “This type of knowledge needs to be recorded in a “crowd-sourced” book so it isn’t lost when the top performer leaves the organization.”

Lanier offers the following advice to executives wishing to benefit from this kind of project:

  1. Bring in a trained facilitator/writer to run the process.
  2. Take part as a creative participant yourself and have fun.
  3. Have someone take pictures of the process.
  4. Leverage the skills of a professional who can edit the material and create a visually appealing printed or electronic book.

Sure beats the usual, boring, unproductive two-hour meetings most of us are familiar with, wouldn’t you agree?


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