Three years ago, when I was mired in the midst of not-writing my last book, I asked my friend Ann Handley for advice. After all, she wrote a book called Everybody Writes. The problem was that my writer’s block seemed to be proving that I was the exception to her title.
I knew I wanted and needed to turn my Red Thread method into a book, but the words just would. not. come. Since it was going to be my First Big Business Book, I wanted to get Find Your Red Thread right. And by “right,” yes, a part of my brain was striving for “perfect,” which of course isn’t possible…which made writing it impossible—or so it seemed.
Not to mention I had no idea what “right” (or “perfect”) even looked like. There are just so many different styles and approaches to business books and writing.
But Ann said something that unlocked it all for me:
“Write the book that’s easiest to write.”
And as soon as she said that? Boom. I knew what that book was: a step-by-step walkthrough of the message design process I’d developed and honed over the previous four years.
You’d think I’d have learned my lesson.
Fast forward to this year. Book 2 was stalled, and again I found myself going back and forth on what the book should be. Another step-by-step walkthrough of the new Core Case-building process I’ve been developing and testing over the last year? A Gladwellian/Pinkian “big idea” book on building buy-in? Or something else? I couldn’t even get an outline together for my (very patient) publishers.
And then it happened.
Suddenly there was an idea for a book I couldn’t not write. A book that started to write itself in my head in those hypnopompic (FAVORITE WORD) moments between sleep and waking and on walks with my dog, Walnut. A book that I could fully outline—and did!—in less than a day. (For comparison, the outline for Book 2 has been sitting at “not quite there” for over three months.)
But then I had to explain this new idea to those aforementioned publishers. After all, I was asking Book 2 to become Book 3, and have this other book take its place—and fast.
The good news was that the Core Idea—as in its core premise or assertion—wasn’t all that different from what I’d been thinking about for now-Book 3 (which will eventually be on how to build the Core Cases that build buy-in for change).
In this case, I realized there was something even more important to get out into the world first: the conditions that make long-term change more likely. Those I know like the back of my hand. In fact, over the course of my career, I had already distilled those conditions into little reminders for myself and my clients to use whenever we were setting about trying to create cases for change.
Several of them had already appeared in Find Your Red Thread:
You can’t create change, only the conditions for it.
How you see drives what you do.
When two truths fight, only one wins.
Others in my talks and keynotes:
Objections are deflections.
What doesn’t work internally will never work externally.
There’s no such thing as believer’s remorse.
In other words, they—all eighteen-ish of them—were already written! And that made a book on those the easiest to write: a tiny little book about the principles that make big changes last, and the actions to take to implement them. (Want to be the first to know about the book or help with the launch? Sign up here.)
So with my list of principles and related actions ready, it was time to draft the case to my publisher.
First, articulate the Core Idea behind the book.
Here’s where I landed:
The best way to build lasting buy-in for long-term change is to align with the forces that ensure it.
In a single, short sentence, the Core Idea explains what the book is about and why people would care. As a bonus, it also identifies, albeit indirectly, the audience for the book: people who want to build buy-in for lasting change.
As a bonus bonus, having the Core Idea helped me generate some quick working titles and subtitles. What are other snappier ways to say “build lasting buy-in for long-term change”? Hmmm. How about… Permanent Persuasion? Indelible Influence? Either of those could work as a title or an element of the subtitle.
I could also lead with one of the principles, or one of the actions, especially one that summarized the book’s answer. Something like, Give Them Something They Can’t Unhear, maybe. (I’m leaning strongly toward that one…)
Similarly, I could draw subtitle ideas from the same elements, and mix and match them to give my publisher additional options and ideas.
Next, create the case for the Core Idea.
With the Core Idea in hand, I needed to explain why I believe enough in it to write a whole (short! readable!) book about it. But I also want to be able to make that case as succinct and strong as possible.
Thinking about why this book suddenly became so all-consuming for me, I realized there were two things I wanted to address with it:
(1) Most business persuasion and influence advice focuses more on driving instant action, than on driving true change—sustained action. In other words, it’s focused more on how to get people to say yes to something once or “right now!” than on how to get them to keep saying yes to it, on their own, again and again, over time. Knowing how to create movement is important, of course, but true change requires momentum—sustained movement in the same direction—and there just isn’t a lot of user- or reader-friendly information out there on how to do that.
(2) But there’s an even bigger issue: The allies of quick action are often the enemies of sustaining it. Again, the levers work—in the short term—which is why “instant influence” approaches are so popular and so enduring. But they often don’t work after the first time—they’re better for client recruitment than retention, for instance. They also often lead to “buyer’s remorse,” where the person who said yes later regrets doing so. That’s in addition to the fact that when someone knows you’re trying to persuade them, and recognizes the increasingly common tactics you may be using for doing so, they are much less likely to be open to it. So there’s that.
One more thing. For a lot of people, the most common approaches to persuasion and influence come with an “ick factor.” They can feel manipulative to both the persuader and the persuadee, especially if they’re used in ways that violate the principles I’m presenting in this new book. You may not have an issue with manipulating people or with only focusing on short-term results. If you don’t, that’s fine. But I have an issue with it, and I don’t think I’m the only one.
Anyway, to all put of that more succinctly as my Core Case for the book:
Since the allies of action are often the enemies of sustaining it…
And lasting change requires sustained action…
The best way to build lasting buy-in for long-term change is to understand and align with the forces that ensure it.
That’s what this book will do: It will simply and succinctly outline the principles that power permanent persuasion and the non-manipulative methods that make them stick.
Now I not only have a quick way of summarizing the book with the Core Idea, in the Core Case I also have a summary of the concepts and principles that support it. That helps me further identify who the book is for—people who either already agree with those principles or who are willing to learn more—and helps me better understand what I need to explain, support, or defend in the book itself. All things both I and my publisher need.
That still doesn’t necessarily describe the book, though all of these elements help me build that, too.
Next, draft the arc of the idea—your Core Message.
Great business books transform the reader. They take the reader from a place of struggle or stasis to one of confidence and course of action. To use the concepts I’ve already introduced, a great book should take someone from asking an initial, urgent question (“How can I build lasting buy-in for change?”) to implementing your answer (“Align with the forces that sustain it”).
But the question and answer alone aren’t enough. The principles included in the Core Case are stepping stones, but they may not be concrete enough to really understand. That’s where our old friend the Red Thread comes in. That’s where we take the idea and case for the book and frame them as a story people would tell themselves.
In (very!) draft form, it would sound a little something like this:
When you’re a leader trying to make a big change, you want to find the best ways to drive action quickly.
The problem? The very things that can work to make people act often work against making change last.
But there’s hope: the more you align your approach to change with the forces that sustain it, the more likely you’ll get the sustained action your big change needs.
In this book, you’ll learn the 18(?) powerful principles that can make persuasion permanent along with the simple strategies that make them stick—and that turn your case for change into something people can’t unhear.
While the book’s back cover copy would need a little more wordsmithing and explanation, the Core Idea, Core Case, and Core Message—all of which I help you build in the Red Thread Workshop Author Edition—give both me, and the book, a solid start.
Even better? They not only got me an enthusiastic “yes!” from my publisher, they also got me writing. Maybe they’ll help you, too.The best way to build buy-in for long-term change is to align with the forces that ensure it. Click To Tweet
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