I'm happy to announce that I've finished the manuscript for my upcoming book (a real one, not an April Fool's Joke).
The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation
It's taken about a year from saying, “I'm going to write a book based on the My Favorite Mistake podcast” to completing the book writing.
I'm still just teasing the cover design, including the top part of the front cover in that image. The full cover and the story behind it will be revealed soon.
Why did it take a year?
For one, writing is not my full-time job. Maybe it should have been a pandemic project, as many other books were. I decided to start this book when my work travel as a consultant started picking up early last year. So that timing wasn't ideal, but the book is better than if I had written it in late 2021.
The book went through a lot of iteration. I won't say I “made mistakes” by iterating, but I did make many mistakes. A typo is a mistake. Using the term “daycare” when one of my podcast guests prefers the term “child care” is a mistake (but one that was, thankfully, caught when I asked her to review part of the manuscript. If we can't prevent making mistakes, we can catch them early and correct them before going to print.
When creating something new, like a startup or a book, it's a process of innovation. This requires the willingness to take risks and make what Amy Edmondson calls “intelligent mistakes.” We need to expect to make mistakes when doing something new or creating something. We can PDSA – Plan Do Study Adjust. Other mistakes are “simple failures,” as Edmondson puts it, that we can and should work to prevent — such as starting to perform surgery on the wrong side of a patient (a podcast story that's in the book).
When innovating, we can not just expect mistakes, but celebrate them because of the learning and progress (and Chapter 7 of the book is titled “Iterate Your Way to Success.”)
Listen to Mark read the post (subscribe to Lean Blog Audio)
Iterating on the book concept
My initial concept for the book was nothing more than a collection of stories from my guests. There are so many great stories and lessons learned — but I couldn't possibly include them all. I was trying to select some of the most compelling stories. Early draft material drew heavily on the edited transcripts… too much so.
While I wasn't iterating in the marketplace with a “Minimum Viable Book,” I was getting feedback from trusted advisors: my book coach Cathy Fyock and my developmental editor Tom Ehrenfeld. They're both great and I recommend them highly! They encouraged me to explore my own voice and what I had to say on the topic of learning from mistakes.
This might seem to fly the face of the Lean advice of “do it right the first time,” but they encouraged me to “just start writing and you'll figure it out.” But writing a book is not a production process, it's product development and entrepreneurship — and that, by nature, should be iterative.
After writing for a while, I realized I needed to basically start again. I sketched out an outline. Chose podcast stories and reflections that illustrated key points and concepts. I then realized that I had many first hand experiences involving making mistakes and reacting constructively to mistakes made by others. I have knowledge and experience in preventing mistakes. I could incorporate that, without turning the book into a memoir.
KaiNexus CEO and co-founder Greg Jacobson had been a guest and I wanted to share some of his insights. But as I interacted with KaiNexus more, I observed (and participated in) many situations that made clear to me that KaiNexus had a strong and consistent culture of learning from mistakes. So KaiNexus became one of the “main characters” in this non-fiction book — as is Toyota. KaiNexus has consistent stories over a decade as they intentionally cultivate a culture of continuous improvement.
As Greg says, “You can't have a culture of continuous improvement without learning from mistakes.”
One reason the book is better than what I could have written in 2021 is the opportunities I had to more deeply and more formally study Psychological Safety in 2022. I had been a student of the concept, but I was able to take a formal training and certification class, through LeaderFactor, in August of 2022.
By the way, join me and others in their free online book club on The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety by Timothy R. Clark. Tim is going to be a guest on “My Favorite Mistake” and we record next week!
What I learned, and what I've been able to teach and coach a few organizations on, helped deepen my understanding and my ability to incorporate these concepts into the book, as I shared in some blog posts.
The connections are clear and it's causation, not correlation.
When leaders model and reward the right behaviors (including admitting mistakes), that creates the conditions for higher levels of psychological safety to be felt. This means we're able to learn from mistakes — making it safer to admit them (Chapter 5) and reacting to mistakes in more constructive ways (Chapter 6).
This is proven to drive more innovation and greater results.
That's after we try to prevent mistakes (Chapter 4). It all goes hand in hand.
Overproduce and Edit
As I was writing, it became more clear that I was basically trying to write two books in one. One plus one did not equal two in this case. Many of the stories were individual in nature, including people's “favorite mistakes” that involved career decisions that provided great lessons. Some of the book felt like a self-help book and I'm not qualified to write that. Some might question if I'm qualified to write a management book.
But I decided to tighten the focus to be a management book — about organizational culture. Yes, some of it is very intertwined as a leader's individual journey on the path of getting better about learning from mistakes DOES influence their organization.
I wrote a few chapters that I just pulled out — as material to use in other ways. Or maybe I'll be able to collaborate with one of the psychologists who have been guests on my show to write a book about learning about mistakes for individuals.
I had written, at one point, over 65,000 words. But not all of those chapters or stories added value to this book and some just didn't fit with the flow. I didn't delete that material. It's sitting off to the side in another document that I can use in different ways. I wouldn't say that excess writing was “waste.” Writing that helped me think through lessons about learning from mistakes that influenced the book in other ways. As an author, you have to be willing to write… and then chisel away and edit what you've written (getting help from people like Tom).
Nobody ever writes a perfect first draft in their head. That's one lesson learned for others who want to write. If you publish your first draft, even with formal copyediting, it might very well read like a first draft. For example, this blog post is basically a first draft. I don't go back and edit and it tweak the way I would with a formal article or a book (maybe that's a mistake).
Iterate, iterate, iterate –> Publish
I iterated on:
- The book concept — it changed
- The outline — I had a few different outlines as the concept evolved
- The high level flow — some stories got cut and some got moved
- The writing of stories and chapters
Hopefully, I am “iterating my way to success.” Time will tell when the book is released. Did I form a reasonable hypothesis about a book that would be appealing and helpful to readers? And are we executing on that vision — with the assumptions that we hope to be true? Again, time will tell.
We rarely make a decision or take an action that we KNOW to be a mistake. If we knew we were making a mistake, we might call that self-sabotage. A mistake seems like a good decision in the moment, but then the reality of the mistake reveals itself over time – and that could seconds or maybe years.
That said, the iteration can't continue forever. Nothing is ever prefect. In a print-on-demand world, it's possible to iterate (as needed) after a book is released. It's more like iOS software than an iPhone device.
Iterations on the title
There's no single “right” or “best” title for a book. A title should draw the reader (the potential book buyer) in with some intrigue. The title The Mistakes That Make Us is something we agreed on a few months back. I forget the exact timeline. For at least eight months, I was writing “future book project on learning from mistakes.”
I've gotten good feedback on the title — and maybe others are holding back thoughts about not liking the title.
The subtitle is meant to be more explanatory since the title has some intrigue. I love the phrase “how getting things wrong can make it right,” but that phrase in a subtitle isn't really straightforward enough.
I was on a path to “Creating a Culture of Learning and Innovation.” We debated “improvement” vs. “innovation” — that's a spectrum and the book talks about both. There are many entrepreneur stories in the book about innovation, so I think that's a fair and accurate word to use.
My cover designer, Don Coon, gave me a gift one day — “what about cultivate?” I'll share more about this later, but “cultivating” a culture is a great way to think about it. We don't install culture like it's software. It's not a project. We don't create it and move on. We have to nurture it forever — a culture or a garden.
We've gone through at least ten iterations on the cover. I think it's going to be spectacular — unique and fitting the theme and tone of the book.
I'll share all of that in a future blog post when I reveal the full cover more publicly.
The front cover includes part of the endorsement from Daniel Pink:
“At last! A book about errors, flubs, and screwups that pushes beyond platitudes and actually shows how to enlist our mistakes as engines of learning, growth, and progress. Dive into The Mistakes That Make Us and discover the secrets to nurturing a psychologically safe environment that encourages the small experiments that lead to big breakthroughs.”– Daniel H. Pink, #1 New York Times bestselling author of DRIVE, WHEN, and THE POWER OF REGRET
Check out my Lean podcast and My Favorite Mistake episodes with Dan.
What Comes Next?
I'll also write more about this — but my company, Constancy, Inc., is the publisher for this book, as it was for Measures of Success. “Self publishing” is a misnomer because I'm not doing this alone.
Instead of submitting my manuscript to a publisher, I've sent it to a company that I've hired to do:
- Additional copy editing
- Print book layout
- eBook layout (including Kindle)
There are certainly time-to-market advantages by taking this approach. What might take six to nine months through a publisher can probably be done in about two months this way.
I'll share more details about the expected release date as things become more clear, but I think it should be early June.
You can sign up to get more notifications about progress with the book here, or subscribe to the blog or keep an eye out for announcements on this blog.
I'm looking forward to sharing more and I really hope this book will help you and your organization!
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