Case Study: Nigel Collin, The Game of Inches, and the importance of passion

Game of Inches - Nigel CollinNigel Collin and I first worked together in 2009 on his first major book, Herding Monkeys, and have connected on several projects since. In 2012, we started work together on a second book. After a few months, I did the one thing you wouldn’t expect a writing mentor to ever do: I told him to ditch the book and go travelling on his motorbike. It could have been a great book; it was a great fit for the market; but it wasn’t the right book for him to write. His heart wasn’t in it. As I wrote in The Four Pillars of your book: Passion, this was not the Nige I knew. His business was repositioning itself, in response to the market. “Creativity”, the subject of his first book, can be a nebulous, fluffy, even scary word in business: businesses want great ideas, but often shy away from the idea of using this flabby flappy beastie called Creativity to get them. Accordingly, Nige was rebranding his business as Thinkativity and taking a much more commerce-driven approach. Even in our first chats about it, a few months before we began work, alarm bells were ringing for me. He sounded frustrated, saying things like, “Well, of course it is creativity, but I can’t call it that!” and “You and me could talk about this stuff for hours, but I have to just write about what they want,” and “I’ve just got to write this thing and get it bloody over and done with.”

Writing about what they want, giving your readers the information and tools they need, is definitely important – it’s one of the four pillars of your book – but it’s only one. Nige was sounding increasingly alienated from his readers and from his subject matter. We spent a while working on finding his own authenticity within the book. So this was the subject matter: where was his passion and where were his values within that? He found a few threads, but it wasn’t enough. The book started slipping backwards. The structure started flapping loose as he tinkered and wrestled with it. When we worked together before, he had no problem turning out 4000 words a week. This time round, he was struggling to do 100. Even when we spoke, he didn’t really want to talk about the book:  I heard a lot more about this madcap exciting plan of driving his motorbike all around Australia than I did about the book.

I was very concerned. I lay awake some nights, trying to word the email to say, “Your heart’s not in this: if you ride roughshod over yourself to write this book anyway, I think you will damage a part of yourself.” But how do you say something so loose and “fluffy” in the context of a business book? As his coach, I steered him back on topic, I kept encouraging him to find his own authentic beliefs and interests inside the subject, I adjusted his goals to multiple micro-goals… At this point, most coaches would say, “You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink.” In truth, though, sometimes you need to stop being a coach and be a mentor. As a mentor, you point out that there is no water, however hard someone is trying to drink. Nige wasn’t suddenly a lazy git and he hadn’t suddenly lost the ability to write: the book had just evolved so far outside his own passion that there was nothing left in it for him. There was no water. His expertise, his clear business purpose, and his excellent knowledge of his audience weren’t enough – not without the passion behind it. I stopped being a coach and started being a mentor. I told him to ditch the book.

For this book, he contacted me when he was fresh back from riding that motorbike all around Australia and interviewing all sorts of ingenious business owners and entrepreneurs, for Ingenious Oz. He was bursting with enthusiasm, buzzing and garrulous, we were practically high-fiving each other on Skype. Nige was back! This time, he had everything working for his book: he had the expertise in truckloads, decades of his own plus the fruits of some 80 other experts’; he had his purpose crystal-clear; he knew exactly who his readers were; and, most importantly, this time, he was passionate about it. Well-nigh evangelical. And it shines through every line of his book.

Game of Inches - Nigel Collin
The book

What if disrupting an industry doesn’t have to happen with a big breakout idea but can unfold by making small consistent changes?

The Game of Inches offers a revolutionary and sustainable plan for business success and innovation, one improvement at a time.

Entrepreneur Nigel Collin has tapped the wisdom and insight of more than 80 of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs and leaders to learn the seven key attributes to building a prosperous business every day – four critical actions carried out with three learned behaviors. Candid accounts prepare you for the real world and call to actions to get you going.

Forget overnight success. Game of Inches is a blueprint for using small, consistent improvements to create big and lasting results for your business.

Nigel’s package

Nige and I have worked together a lot, so we played it by ear with ongoing coaching sessions and any editing or other ad-hoc writing as necessary. We began in June 2014 with a batch of twice-weekly coaching sessions to get things kicked into gear and to create an initial white paper about it for a deadline. We followed the first month of the Springboard Programme to establish the book’s foundation and major structure. From there we had weekly or fortnightly coaching sessions, according to his work schedule, with a few months off at the busiest times of his speaking calendar, right through to November 2015. Two-thirds of the way through that, in June 2015, we’d identified that he wanted to go through a traditional publisher, so we put together the proposal and I edited the first three chapters for submission. Submissions to traditional publishers can take time, but they don’t need the completed book, so that meant we could keep working on it while they considered it. In this case, the very first publishers leapt at it within a month! Nige finished writing and redrafting in November 2015 and sent the completed manuscript to Wiley, they edited and proofread the rest of the book, and it’s just been released.

The four pillars of Nigel’s book

Nigel’s business and area of expertise

Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurism. I’ve owned my own business (five of them actually) since I was 20 so I get the challenges and euphoric moments. Because those businesses were in the entertainment and business events space, I know how to ensure ideas are useful and how to draw innovative thinking from individuals.

The role the book plays in Nigel’s business

As a business model, the book is a marketing tool. It will give me a higher profile and establish my credibility further. This was the main reason I sought Wiley as a publisher because I knew that would add kudos and weight to the book.

Nigel’s readers

Mainly small to medium business owners and entrepreneurs. Having said that, though, the book is also aimed at leadership with larger organizations. What’s emerging are individuals who want to progress their career and also those in the personal development space.

How Nigel’s personal & business values align with his book

I don’t think align is the right word because they are my values. By that I mean this book is me, that comes through in each and every page and I’m proud of that. It was important for me to cut through the BS you often get in business books, either by people posturing their expertise or vomiting what they think to be true. I wanted it to be accessible, practical, and down to earth.

What I’m really chuffed about is that rather than having a hypothesis and then going out to find stories and case-studies that suited that hypothesis, the model and idea in the book emerged from having interviewed so many people. I never intended to write this book, so in many ways it found me. I interviewed people, and the ideas and hypothesis found me. That’s important because it means there is no BS or Guru-ism.

Nigel’s experience of writing this book

The easiest and most natural part was interviewing all the people. I’m good at listening, exploring ideas, and being open to someone’s perspective. I also love hearing people’s stories. The steepest learning curve was learning to love the process and discipline of writing. I get distracted easily and tend to procrastinate a bit. On top of that I found myself getting obsessed with hitting word counts. Once I starting loving what I was actually doing, my writing got better, and faster.

Even though the interviews taught me the core of the book, writing the book also taught me a lot. Writing forces you to think about what you know. It highlights what you don’t know and also gets you thinking about how everything relates and ties together so you can articulate it in the best structure.

I chose to go through a traditional publisher for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it made me feel like a real writer. It fed my ego because I never really bought the idea that I could write. Now I am confident to stand on that accolade, and my belief in my ability has gone through the roof. I am happy to tell people I am a writer now without any excuses. Getting a publisher has acted as validation.

Secondly, as a speaker and coach, having a publisher helps you stand out from the crowd. Most speakers and consultants write books nowadays, so their value as a marketing tool has been diminished over the last few years. Having a publisher on the cover pushes you to the top, profile wise, and gets you the distribution you need to be visible to the right people in the right places.

To anyone planning to write a book, I’d say, don’t just jump in thinking it’s a simple process. Get a mentor on your side. I could not have done this without Megan. That’s not a plug, it’s the truth. Sure, I could have written a book, but not something that I could boast about and be proud of. Second, you have to know what your book is about. Not just the content but its purpose, message, and place in the world. Third, planning is everything. It’s all in the structure and in the clarity of the message. And finally, fall in love with the process. This book took two years. If I wasn’t passionate about it and didn’t learn to love the process, it never would have got there.

You can find out more and order a copy of Nigel’s book from Amazon or from the book website, and also find out more about the Ingenious Oz project here.

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