Interview with Darren Smithson (The Inform Group) author of What Managers Don’t Know & Workers Can’t Tell Them.
The Inform Group, or TIG to its friends, is the vision of long time consultant Darren Smithson, who, following a long illness, realised that things must change. His first book, What Managers Don’t Know & Workers Can’t Tell Them, is his first challenge to the status quo and provides 200 pages of strategies, concepts and practical steps that any manager, leader or organisation can start to apply immediately to become happier, more effective and more dynamic.
Why are you taking part in the author blog challenge and what do you hope to achieve?
Two primary reasons. First, to provide material for Jo so she can complete her challenge. Secondly, to create more awareness for my book “What Managers Don’t Know & Workers Can’t Tell Them” (WMDK&WCTT), because I sincerely believe that the ideas, tools and strategies that it contains can help us get out of the mess we’re in.
How long have you been writing for?
Seems like most of my life. I always had a great imagination and wordcraft skills- used to always be writing SF & horror stories at school and for personal pleasure. I have had articles and reviews published from the early 90s, a couple of poems, and started two fantasy books “Wizards” and “Kiss of Ages” almost an age ago. However, WMDK&WCTT was born out of the frustration I felt over the way we perpetually think that business means winning at all costs, or that simply promoting someone to manager or director level automatically makes them a manager or director. It doesn’t. And a huge part of the current economic mess is down to appalling bad management, no matter what the politicians try to tell you.
What would you say is the most difficult part of writing a book?
Getting a routine, definitely. Years ago I read an interview with a song writer who said he wrote for the bin. That is, at the same time almost everyday he spent an hour writing, even if most of it went into the waste basket. WMDK&WCTT was completed because I simply stopped doing just about everything else for 2 months. I’m now facing the same challenge with my second book- “The 50 Year Horizon: Science & Technology for Non-believers”. Trying to fit it around day to day demands has proven almost impossible, so I’m taking a month out from next week to just write so I can get it back on track.
What genre do you generally write?
I write fiction and non-fiction. The non-fiction varies from management skills, science, and practical how to guides for people in business, such as presentation skills. The fiction always take the form of science fantasy or horror.
Do you have a favourite author and why?
That’s a tough one. I love Arthur C Clarke and Issac Asimov’s early works, but Jane Eyre, Frankenstein and The Scarlet Letter are in my top 10 books of all time! My favourite book of all time is Frank Herbert’s DUNE, but I think the author who has had most impact on me is Edgar Allan Poe. His intuitive understanding of our deepest night terrors and psychological splinters combined with his masterly wordcraft skills are unparalleled. He also created the world’s first deductive detective story and hero (the Frenchman, C. Auguste Dupin with “The Purloined Letter” and of course “Murders in the Rue Morgue” which combined horror with deductive detection. I defy anyone to read “The Case of the Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Black Cat”, “William Wilson” or the epic poem “The Raven” and not get shivers.
Non-fiction wise, probably Martin Rees and Michio Kaku who are both scientists who write for non-scientists (much like I am trying to do with my new book), although again, my favourite book is my Prof Brian Greene (bet you thought I was going to say Brian Cox didn’t you?). His 400 page book “The Elegant Universe” about the search for a unifying theory of everything (Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are the two most successful scientific theories, in terms of predictions and applications, we have- and yet they don’t work together, so therefore we need something else to provide the missing piece of the equation) is so wonderfully mind-blowing and yet poetically written that I read it in one night on a flight to Los Angeles. It also set me off into becoming a scientist in my own right so I could really explore some of the concepts we were starting to hear about.
What is your book called and how did you choose this title?
What Managers Don’t Know & Workers Can’t Tell Them was chosen as a title for 3 reasons: 1- it’s provocative. 2- it’s catchy. 3- it’s true.
The book is basically an opening argument that says “Look, we’re here again- depression, people losing jobs, businesses, homes, families and so on- and all because the way we conduct business is fundamentally wrong.” This is especially true here in the UK where we still seem to be stuck in the 1980s culture of win by trampling over everyone else. I mean, have you seen The Apprentice!?! At 200 pages though, it is one hell of an argument opener and contains 18 foundational business ways of thinking, followed by the 12 Principles of Success. Each of those 30 ideas or Principles has practical steps to take to implement the thinking, along with examples from real life of the good, the bad and ugly of how I’ve seen businesses develop and conducted over the last 3 decades. It’s designed to change and improve a business both at the structural and individual management level, so if you run a business, are thinking of setting up in business, or are a manager in a business, GO BUY MY BOOK!
Has your book been published and how did you go about this?
It has, in e-format on both Amazon and Smashwords, so as to cover as many formats as possible. Amazon are publishing a paper version of the book (though till under my TIGPRESS imprint) as well, which should be available from the end of June. I just wrote the thing, Jo Harrison at Writer’s Block Admin Services did the rest.
Approximately how long did it take you to finish your book?
Ha ha, it depends on how you measure it. After a year I think I had 4 chapters in the bag. I wrote the rest in 6 weeks from 3rd January 2012. I will be doing a 2nd revision of the book next year in the light of feedback and some new ideas I’ve had since, so I guess you could call it a rolling project.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
Get a routine. I’m still trying to do that which is why my big projects take so long to do! The 50 Year Horizon is now two months late, so I’m going to have to suck it in and just plough on with it at the cost of everything else now. It would have been so much easier if I’d managed to get a routine of “Write for 2 hours every night from 7pm”, it would be finished now. My books after this are going to be the How To guides and they will definitely be done in the “get a routine” way.
And also create a proper environment conducive to writing, including a specific writing area. Make it your space and make sure everyone knows it. I’m lucky in that running my own business meant I could work in my office (which I moved into on the 3rd of January) every night, listening to the likes of Gabby Young or Eloy, with a glass of wine, and no disturbances. But you can still make a space at home if you put your mind to it.
Do you use social media to promote your book, if yes then which social networks do you like the most?
Yes, although to be honest I am only now gearing up to do proper marketing of the book. Primarily I use Twitter and link it to either a page on my website or some more detailed chapter synopses on my company Facebook page. I also have Twitter linked to LinkedIn and Facebook linked to Twitter.
Have you enrolled your book onto Amazon’s KDP Select and how have you found it?
No, because I wanted people to be able to access it directly on their iPADS or Nooks etc as well as the Kindle. However, I may review that if Smashwords sales are poor.
If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?
I’d write it a bit at a time for an hour or two a day. Can’t do that now for the new book but certainly will do so for the How To series.
What books do you like to read in your spare time?
I think I pretty much answered that before. I think for the last few years it has primarily been science books, with the odd business book thrown in. Before that it was almost exclusively science fiction or fantasy. However, because I was able to recently move all my science and business books to my library in the office, I’ve been able to get many of my fiction books out of boxes and back on the shelves where they belong- so will probably find a balance between the two now.
What do you feel is the most important stage of writing a book?
Planning it. That includes designing your writing environment and deciding the exact moment that you are going to write the first words. Stick to that, there’s something powerful about sitting at a keyboard (or typewriter or pen and paper) and writing your first sentence.
How did you go about designing the cover for your book?
I was very lucky in that when I set up my business I had a couple of young business students come work on an internship, one of whom was a graphic designer, so she took a brief from me and came up with this.
I then sampled it with a few people who really liked it and that was that.
Are you writing or considering writing a follow-up to your book?
Yes, as said, there will be a revised edition of WMDK&WCCT next year. In the meantime I am working on “The 50 Year Horizon: Science & Technology for the Non-Believer” for an August or September launch (see http://www.theinformgroup.co.uk/video/the-50-year-horizon-science-technology-for-the-non-believer-lecture for a preview of the content), plus the How To Guides from July. I am also collating my short fantasy and SF stories into a collection called “Dreams of Morgaine” as a warm up exercise to finally get Wizards and Kiss of Ages completed.
Do you have a day job (if so, what do you do?) or do you write full-time?
I run my own business development, learning services and Project Management company called The Inform Group.
Where is your book available to buy?
You can also get previews at my website.