Tag Archives: Built to Last

Bill Kinnon on writing

Bill has a wonderful post on writing.  The entire thing is worth reading but this one got me thinking

In 2004, Nielsen BookScan tracked the sales of 1.2 million books and found that nine hundred and fifty thousand of them sold fewer than ninety-nine copies.

So we are looking at author royalties of a couple hundred bucks and a couple of conference speaking gigs.  In the end is it worth the effort?

Bill’s prescription to the cure is to write better stories and he is dead on correct (although writing stories is harder than it sounds, check out this editorial review from Amazon.com) .  Like a lot of bloggers, I get a lot of books sent to me by almost every major publishing house.  In fact two came today and both of them look horrible.  In fact 99% of the books that I see coming my way, including many by friends are horrible.  They are poorly researched, not fact checked (if you are going to use history or science as an illustration, do your homework people!)  It’s one of the reasons why I no longer talk about theological titles here, so many of them aren’t worth my time to read and when I do read them, I am confronted by the fact that these are three hours I will never get back.  Do I keep wasting time on this or move on?  I generally find something by Michael Lewis or Steven Johnson and move on (which proves Bill’s point).

My suggestion for a lot of writers is not to bother writing a book period.  Forget the conferences, forget the interviews on Christian radio, forget the church basement book signings.  Instead throw your efforts into whatever it is that you are good at.  Chances are your ideas are intrinsically linked to your personality and your context and not as transferable as you would think.   That’s why even if I lost some weight and got a blond wig and a sailboat, I still couldn’t lead like Bill Hybels.  The reason isn’t that I didn’t mention his golf shirts (and let’s be honest, he has some nice golf shirts), it is that I am not Bill Hybels and I live in Saskatoon, not South Barrington.

Secondly, is the time away from doing what you do well or time away from learning something that you don’t do well, worth 1000 book sales and $5,000 in royalties?  Is the mini-book tour worth it?  Is the time spamming your friends worth it? What about moderating message boards on infrequentbooksales.com, and trying to get people to fan you on Facebook worth it? 

Thirdly, is giving the copyright of you idea to your publisher worth it?  Especially in the church I don’t know why we don’t see more writers open sourcing their content.  If you believe your idea came from the Holy Spirit, does turning that over to FOX (though Zondervan) seem to be the best course of action?  If you want to publish at least consider negotiating so your book is published under a Creative Commons license.

I have heard Michael Slaughter of Ginghamsburg talk about writing being the best way to influence people and in some ways he is right but as Bill Kinnon pointed out, is less then 100 copies influencing anyone other than your closest friends?

Would the time be better of spent writing a blog (and then doing what Guy Kawasaki did and put it out as a book), doing an excellent series of videos on YouTube which tell your story (great example of this here or here – what either of these stories be as compelling in book form?), or what about creating a world class webcast like what Spencer Burke did with TheOoze.tv or an excellent podcast?  If you are committed to writing, why not introduce your ideas to communities like TheOoze or Next-Wave

I like Rob Bell’s writing but if I was him and had to choose between writing and Nooma, I would choose Nooma. Also wouldn’t the time be better spent putting it into whatever made you think you should write about it.  I am not being flippant.  I remember the great line in Jim Collins’ book Built to Last where he talks about Lee Iacocca being distracted from running Chrysler because he was too busy being Lee Iacocca.

Finally, I know the church goes on and on about visionary leadership and visionary pastors and everyone including the pastors dog is a visionary (Maggi is visioning a piece of pizza as I type) but there have few game changing ideas that I have read in the last decade.  Most of it is regurgitated stuff and doesn’t need to see the light of day again.  Maybe the best use of our time would be coming up with some new ideas, instead of repackaging some old ones.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Bill Kinnon is writing about the Narcissistic Personality Disorder and church leaders.  Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not simply about taking normal egoism to extremes. NPD is one of fewer than a dozen personality disorders described by the American Psychiatric Association. These differ from the major mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and manic-depression, which are believed to have a biological origin. Personality disorders are seen as a failure of character development.

As Bill points out, it is a disorder that is seen in church leadership.

For the NPD church leader, church is all about numbers and size. The church reflects who they are. And provides them with the lifestyle they believe they deserve. NPD’s are particularly gifted at winning affection by selling you what you want to be sold.

Like Bill I know of a couple of pastors who fit this profile.  One told me once that as long as he as the visionary leader survived, everyone else on his staff was expendable.  His vision and best interest trumped that of the community and the community’s primary job was to support him.

Of course one would like to see the wider church community confront and help bring healing to these leaders (and their communities) but in many ways the system feeds their disorder.  Powerful pastors are often outside their denominations or in some ways, bigger than their denominations.  In many ways they become in a microcosm  AIG’s or Citigroup, they are the ecclesiastical version of too big to fail, or in this case, fall.  Robert Webber once said that what drives the evangelical church was big buildings and powerful pastors and I don’t think he is that far out of line.

If the building is getting big and the pastor has influence, we tend to look the other way.  I heard one person dismiss the ethical failings of their pastor by observing what a great evangelist they were.

Over the last couple of days I have been getting a new computer up to speed.  Lot’s of downloading, updating, rebooting, downloading, updating… While I was sitting there I picked from Good to Great by Jim Collins.  I have always been a fan of Collins.  His views on business are often quoted in the church out of context but in the field which he is writing, I appreciate him a lot.  It’s odd because for all that he is quoted on leadership, people seem to ignore that he is describing the antithesis of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder leader.  His Level 5 leader is devoted to the cause, not to the fame.  He has a great line in one of his books about Lee Iacocca where he said that Lee Iacocca was distracted from running Chrysler by being Lee Iacocca.

He writes

Virtually everything our modern culture believes about the type of leadership required to transform our institutions is wrong. It is also dangerous. There is perhaps no more corrosive trend to the health of our organizations than the rise of the celebrity CEO, the rock-star leader whose deepest ambition is first and foremost self-centric.

He continues with more thoughts on a Level 5 leader

On the one hand… Creates—and is a clear catalyst in creating—superb results. Yet on the other hand… Demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation and never boastful.

On the one hand… Demonstrates an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult. Yet on the other hand… Acts with quiet, calm determination and relies principally on inspired standards—not an inspiring personality—to motivate.

On the one hand… Sets the standard of building an enduring great organization and will settle for nothing less. Yet on the other hand… Channels ambition into the organization and its work, not the self, setting up successors for even greater success in the next generation.

On the one hand… Looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck. Yet on the other hand… Looks out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company—to other people, external factors, and good luck.

I used to think of these leaders as rare birds, almost freaks of nature. But then a funny thing happened after a seminar where I shared the Level 5 finding and bemoaned the lack of Level 5 leaders. After the session, a number of people stopped by to give examples of Level 5 leaders they’d observed or worked with. Then again, at another seminar, the same thing happened. Then again, at a third seminar—and a pattern began to emerge.

It turns out that many people have experienced Level 5 leadership somewhere in their development—a Level 5 sports coach, a Level 5 platoon commander, a Level 5 boss, a Level 5 entrepreneur, a Level 5 CEO. There is a common refrain: “I couldn’t understand or put my finger on what made him so effective, but now I understand: he was a Level 5.” People began to clip articles and send e-mails with examples of people they think of as Level 5 leaders, past or present: Orin Smith of Starbucks Coffee, Joe Torre of the New York Yankees, Kristine McDivitt of Patagonia, John Whitehead of Goldman Sachs, Frances Hesselbein of The Drucker Foundation, Jack Brennan of Vanguard, John Morgridge of Cisco Systems, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and so on. My list of Level 5 leaders began to grow exponentially.

Then it dawned on me: Our problem is not a shortage of Level 5 leaders. They exist all around us. Like the drawing of two faces that transforms itself into a vase, depending on how you look at the picture, Level 5 leadership jumps out at us as soon as we change how we look at the world and alter our assumptions about how it best works.

the_brand_called_you1No, our problem lies in the fact that our culture has fallen in love with the idea of the celebrity CEO. Charismatic egotists who swoop in to save companies grace the covers of major magazines because they are much more interesting to read and write about than people like Darwin Smith and David Maxwell. This fuels the mistaken belief held by many directors that a high-profile, larger-than-life leader is required to make a company great. We keep putting people into positions of power who lack the inclination to become Level 5 leaders, and that is one key reason why so few companies ever make a sustained and verifiable shift from good to great.

Sadly you don’t see a lot of Level Five leaders writing books or speaking at conferences (although there are exceptions).  Tom Peters may disagree with me but they aren’t that interested in the Brand Called You, they are serving out there serving somewhere and trying to make a difference in the world and not worried about themselves or their own career.