Bill Jensen is known as “Mr. Simplicity.” For a couple of decades he’s been studying how we work and how we can do things better and more simply and then writing books about what he’s learned. His latest book is Future Strong: How to Work Unleashed, Lead Boldly, and Live Life Your Way.
I knew all that before I interviewed Bill about his book and his writing process. What I didn’t know was that he did some different and exciting things when he wrote Future Strong. So, buckle up, Bill is about to expand your idea of what’s possible.
Write books to refresh your brand
Bill figures you have to have something fairly new out in the marketplace if you want to stay top of mind. So every couple of years he’s researched a slightly new topic under the general umbrella of simplicity and then sat down to write about what he discovered. The writing alone took a year to eighteen months. This time he did a couple of things differently.
Crowdsourcing the research
Bill had always done all his own research. This time he wanted to crowdsource that part of the project.
He reached out to a couple of hundred people. Some were friends. Some were people he connected with on social media. About forty expressed interest and that dropped to around twenty when they got a look at the job description.
Bill prepared the questions and helped with some advice on how to do the interviews. He supplemented the interviews with survey research. All in all about 7000 people across the globe shared their insight and opinions.
Planning the book
Bill reviewed the research in depth and combined it with other published research. He determined the basic outline of the book and what stories and research he would use to support each key point. Then it was time to write.
Writing the book in three months
Bill wrote Future Strong from start to finish in three months, using a technique that reminds me of agile software development. He put together a review panel, which he called his “Writer’s Counsel.” Here’s how Bill describes the process after that.
“Their job was to weigh in and say, ‘I disagree with this.’ ‘I agree with that.’ ‘This isn’t clear.’ Over the three-month period, I shared the entire book with everybody as I was writing it. It was like a continuous feedback loop.
I would write chapter one and get feedback on it. I’d go back and rewrite that chapter before I wrote chapter two. And I’d get feedback on chapter two and I’d go back and rewrite that before I went on. So everything was evolving during those three months, and I got continuous feedback.”
Bill says that to make this process work you have to embrace vulnerability. You have to be willing to put out work that isn’t your best and take the uncomfortable feedback you’re bound to get. He thinks it’s worth it.
“You’re able to get a book that’s ten times better than if you did it by yourself and you get that book ten times faster.”
Bill wrote a post on Medium titled “How I Wrote and Produced a Bestseller Business Book in 3 Months.” You’ll find details of his methods and thinking there as well as a copy of the proposal that sold the book.