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JJ Barnes The Table Read

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed writer Scott Lichtenstein about his career, what motivates him to write, and his new book Strategy Through Personal Values.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I was born and raised in California and have been living in the UK for the past 20 years. I have 2 daughters, a 21 year old living in Berlin and studying in Rotterdam, and a 13 year old living with her mum in south Oxfordshire. I run my own consultancy, am an accredited coach and an Associate Professor at Birmingham City Business School teaching strategy.

When did you first WANT to write a book?

Scott Lichtenstein, author of Strategy Through Personal Values, interview on The Table Read
Scott Lichtenstein

I always thought life was too short to write a book. In 2016, I met a well-established ‘name’ in the field at a conference who told me what I was working on was important and offered to do an edited book on it with me.  I was really excited to be working with him and on the topic. Then sadly he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; although our book proposal was accepted by the publisher, he became too ill to work on it.  He passed away not long afterwards far too young.

A year or two later I was at a conference and came across a publisher who was publishing ‘short-form’ books that looked really cute – I fell in love with the format – and thought it was a format people might actually read.  That ignited my passion again. I contacted a potential co-author who had published with that publisher who also liked the idea and as lead author I submitted a proposal and the rest is history.

When did you take a step to start writing?

It’s a good question.  I finished my doctoral thesis in 2005 had been writing conference papers, journal articles, book chapters and lecturing on elements of it for a long time so in some ways I started writing the book a long time ago.

But to actually write the book, I signed the contract in November 2019, and planned to start writing the book but it felt like such a mountain to climb – a bright light that was too bright to even look at – so I procrastinated. It wasn’t until I went on a writing retreat in 2020 that I took the first step to writing it.  

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

It depends on when you count the first idea: before the proposal was accepted, when the proposal was accepted? From the first idea 3+ years. A little thing called COVID came along just as I was starting to write which prolonged the release.

What made you want to write Strategy Through Personal Values?

Having done workshops with executives, I felt there was/is a real thirst for an alternative to the short-term, bottom-line approach to doing business, and the book provides that. Also, working and researching in the area for over 20 years, it became apparent there was a need to consolidate and synthesize the field, and the publisher agreed there was a market for it.

From a career perspective, I saw it as a basis of an elective/short course so that I could spend more time doing the thing I loved and get me out of the things I don’t. Finally, to forget it in a weird way: by committing it to paper, I’ve detached myself from it that frees me up to move onto the next thing. There is a strange calmness that comes with knowing that if I get run over by a bus tomorrow, it’s out there; I’ve said what I needed to say on that topic which is part of history now.

Writers Work - Get Paid to Write

What were your biggest challenges with writing Strategy Through Personal Values?

Finding the narrative.  I found it really difficult to find the narrative that linked up each chapter. It was time consuming and painful, but necessary.

What was your research process for Strategy Through Personal Values?

Scott Lichtenstein, author of Strategy Through Personal Values, interview on The Table Read

The short answer is, in an iterative fashion.  I had done doctoral and post-doctoral research in the area for 20 years, but the field hadn’t been consolidated or synthesized.  Each chapter was like a stand-alone piece of research: I would gather article and synthesize them for each section.  I even re-analysed my own data for parts of the book. Lecturing was a helpful way of ‘researching’; the interaction refining the narrative. 

How did you plan the structure of Strategy Through Personal Values?

I did an outline of the book as part of the proposal, and also looked at some other pivot/short-form books as a template. But it wasn’t until the process of writing started that the structure of chapters within the book revealed themselves.  I would write the chapters and give them to my co-author to edit, and some chapters took many iterations until the narrative and structure hung together.  I got better at it the more chapters I did.

Having submitted the first draft of the book, the publisher put it out for review by an expert in the field that entailed a major re-write and restructuring of the book.  The final structure was much better and made me wishing I had used it in the first place – hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Strategy Through Personal Values need?

Yes, loads: my co-author did the editing: I would write the chapters and he would take his ‘red pen’ to it.  Someone once said learning English is learning a language other than your own; it’s so true in my case.  There was a lot of editing, and re-drafting, particularly in the earlier chapters; by the end not so much. In the process of writing I was learning how to write which sounds obvious but it wasn’t to me.

When I received the feedback from the first draft of the book I went through the change curve: shock, anger and denial: it required a major restructuring and cutting a lot of material; it was like having to kill my babies.  It wasn’t until speaking with a colleague and fellow author who told me it was a blessing and advised to make an accompanying guidebook out of the cut-out material that made the re-write much easier.        

Don't get caught plagiarizing

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?

Write a proposal to flesh out the ideas and then go on a writing retreat and JFDI-just do it.  My motto throughout my writing career has been ‘don’t compete, collaborate’: I’ve always co-authored; two heads really are better than one.  It may not work for everyone, but it has for me. This was especially true with the book, having a co-author to edit was key.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

My next project is mutualism. A colleague has said I should write a book on it.  I’m currently supervising a PhD student on the topic, and when the time is right, that will be the next one.

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Yes, I’m very proud of the accomplishment and have been overwhelmed by the amount of well-wishers having had the book published; it has definite raised my profile in my network as a consequence.   As a niche subject, I was expecting to sell most of the books as part of a workshop offering but I’ve been amazed to see that without promoting it much there’s already been 300+ downloads of the eBook; that’s been a big surprise. 

The process of writing it –the consolidation and synthesis and finding the narrative –has been hard but totally worth it. In hindsight, I needed to do it as part of my continuous professional development and scholarship. I would encourage anyone who’s thinking of doing it to do it. It’s a hell of a commitment, but well worth doing.  And there’s unintended spin-offs: the focus and re-prioritising work-life by working harder on your craft than you do on the day job has multiple benefits. 

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