I spent 13 years as a business consultant working in large corporates in Europe and Asia Pacific, as well as small companies across New Zealand. I bring the lessons I learned to the journey of being an author, and it's fantastic to meet people who also come from business.
In today's interview with Charlie Gilkey, we discuss how business strategy relates to aspects of the creative life.
I had a blast so I hope you enjoy the interview as well.
In the intro, I mention the fantastic Learn Scrivener Fast training course, as well as wrangling NookPress and my own writing progress, plus my plans for London Book Fair and Thrillerfest.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Charlie Gilkey is the best-selling author of “The Small Business Lifecycle: A Guide To Taking the Right Steps at the Right Time to Grow Your Small Business.” His business at ProductiveFlourishing.com helps people with productivity and creativity, and Charlie is a champion and catalyst for creative giants.
You can watch the video of the interview here on YouTube, or listen to the audio podcast above, or by subscribing here. You can also read the full transcription below. Highlights of the conversation include:
- Charlie's background as a logistics coordinator in the US Army, as well as studying for a PhD in Philosophy, and now a business strategist running his own company online.
- Logistics is the art and science of getting people and stuff from here to there. How this relates to the business world and how creatives can learn from this experience.
- A philosophical way of looking at the world, and defining who we are, as well as our goals
- Eliminate before you delegate, and tips for outsourcing so you can focus on the important stuff. Plus how you can work out what the important stuff is!
- Aspects of strategy for business
- On creative giants – and you can read the full definition here on Charlie's site
- The maturation of the self-publishing environment, and moving from hobby to business
Charlie Gilkey Interview Transcription
Joanna: Hi, everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com and today I’m here with Charlie Gilkey. Welcome, Charlie!
Charlie: Hey, thanks for having me, Joanna: I’m so excited to be here today.
Joanna: Oh, it’s great to have you on the show. So, just as an introduction, Charlie is the best-selling author of “The Small Business Lifecycle: A Guide To Taking the Right Steps at the Right Time to Grow Your Small Business.” His business at ProductiveFlourishing.com helps people with productivity and creativity, and Charlie is a champion and catalyst for creative giants, which is very exciting!
So, Charlie, tell us a bit more about your background and the journey to where you are now.
Charlie: Well, where I’ve gone, where I am now, has been almost an accident, in the sense that I’m now a business strategist, so people say, “You had it all figured out,” but I totally did not have this figured out. And so, basically how this version of myself started with my professional career online is that I was simultaneously an Army Joint Force Military Logistics Coordinator, which basically, the Air Force had planes, they had different operations going, and the Army had different operations going: I was the guy that planned and made sure that we were talking to each other, coordinating and executing on what we were needed to do. So that was one part of my life. But the other part of my life was me as a graduate student in philosophy, finishing up my Ph.D.
I had this combination of worlds that didn’t seem to mesh very well.
Not only the character side of things – that’s what most people think, like a military officer and a philosopher, that seems weird – but just about the way they approached the world to get things done was dramatically different. Incredibly pragmatic, incredibly strategic, incredibly thoughtful about organizations and team-building, on the military side; versus, unstructured, not really sure where you’re going, very exploratory, and resistant to change, resistant to a lot of that stuff.
And it was interesting for me, because I saw that there was this helpful synthesis between them, that you can take the structure and the strategy and the emphasis on team-building service and mission, and combine it with a thoughtful approach to one’s work and deep level of mastery over one’s profession and so on, merge them, and get a new synthesis that actually made one productive and made one, like, flourishing in their careers and in their life.
So that’s how Productive Flourishing started: it did not start necessarily as a business consultancy. Then as I went along, I’d talk to people like you, and they’d be, “Hey, I’m doing this thing,” and I’d be like, “Oh, where are you going with that?” and they’re like, “Well, I’m not sure how to get it done,” and I’m like, “Well, how about we talk about getting this done?” because I was just a natural sort of planner and strategist.
So that kind of came into, “Hey, will you help me grow my business?” or, “Help me actually figure out how to put more business under this business?” and so that’s what I’ve been doing. I primarily work with creative giants and really help them transition and thrive, do a lot of work on systems and strategy and team-building. So that’s largely what I do and how I got here.
Joanna: It’s so awesome. And I’m going to come back on creative giants, if people are like “Ooh, what’s that?” I’m going to come back to that.
When I was reading about your journey, it’s kind of amazing, because I have a Master’s in Theology and you’re in Philosophy, and I was in large corporates in the mining industry and I was thinking of logistics like the mining industry; it’s all these big trucks and, you know – so we have a very similar background.
How does your practical business experience in something like logistics help with creative work, and can you share any lessons learned with people listening?
Charlie: Yeah, well, that’s a great one, because, you know, logistics is the art and science of getting people and stuff from here to there smoothly, safely and in order, right? That’s really what it is. Now, when it’s a combat logistics, it’s through combat and fire and things like that, but that’s a whole nothing thing. But at its core, it’s getting stuff from here to there. At its core, writing books is getting ideas from here to there.
It’s the same basic methodology. Starting a business is getting value, money, resources, so on, from here to there. And so when you really start looking at it, it’s a flow of stuff from one direction to the other. And, you know the study of logistics is basically the study of friction – meaning stuff gets stuck here and how to get it from unstuck there to over there, right – studying business and business strategy is very similar: its value is kept or concentrated here, how do you get it there, and how do you get it going through a business in ways that make sense.
So that’s all very general. When it comes down to it … you and I may disagree on this one – we’ll see – that will make it interesting.
To be a thriving author, especially if you’re going to be an independent author, it’s really about throughput.
And you have to understand that it’s about throughput, because you don't have the luxury of the large distribution chains, of a distribution – of a traditional publisher. So you can’t have one hit – you can’t plan for that.
But you have to look at it in terms of throughput: I have this idea, what’s the smoothest way to get this idea into an actual structured book – whether it be non-fiction or fiction – to get that structured book into the market; to get that book into the market and to people’s hands. And to get the feedback and the reviews and all the value that’s on this side of the equation, back into the business, back into the funnel, so you can start it all over again. It’s a value flow, just as picking up equipment from one fort and moving it to another fort; picking up equipment there and moving it back, is a value flow in the same way.
So, that’s one example that you can think about: it’s really about throughput, and it’s really about a continual prolific-ness, as opposed to the fits and starts. But there’s a myth we have around creativity that it’s all fits and starts; you have like three days when you write the book, but then you’ll have nine months fallow, and we think that that’s the way creativity happens. Not so much when you actually look at the literature, when you do the studies and cognitive psychology, you do the studies on practical creativity. That’s not how it works for most successful and thriving authors.
Joanna: No, I completely agree with you. That’s basically the way that, certainly in fiction, people are making a living by writing a lot of books. But it’s also like a lot of the business world, we have process flows, we have structures where things have to happen in an order, and I think that authors forget that side of things.
But I also wanted to ask you about the philosophy. Because we live in this kind of crazy, hyper-connected space where we’re rushing around, and like you say, if we want more throughput, then we have to work harder and blah, blah, blah.
So, as a philosopher, how do you take things up a level and look at the world in a kind of bigger picture way?
Charlie: Uh-huh. Well, before I jump to the philosopher thing, I don’t necessarily think that focusing on throughput means you have to do more work; I think it just means you have to be more concentrated and focused about the work that you do, right, and so a lot of the bright and shiny objects that authors love to chase, are something that you have to become more disciplined about. I’ve got four books in flow, right there at different levels of flow: I’m going to work on one of those four books, I’ve got this thing that I need to do.
So it’s not necessarily that you do more: you just do more of the right things.
And that’s where I want to tie in the philosopher bit, and this is reflected through both the Western and the Eastern traditions, that the end of all human actions is flourishing or happiness, right: that’s really why we do what we do. And so, when we think about that from an author’s perspective, or from a professional creative’s perspective, is in what ways are you cultivating happiness or flourishing in yourself, in your community, in your business community, and in the world at large? And is the work that you’re producing doing that, you know?
So, if you’re a fiction writer, you deliver delights, right: it’s entertainment, there might be some social commentary, might be some things like that, but those should solve people’s problems, not on the fiction side, that’s on the non-fiction side. On the non-fiction side, you’re basically looking for aesthetic value; you’re adding aesthetic value to the world, making people happier that way. On the non-fiction side, you’re either solving problems, delivering delights or helping people do what they’re trying to do, all which lead to happiness in a different way.
So that’s what I really look at, when we come down to it, is at the end of the day, we can get caught up in the crunchy bits and the tactics and the techniques but, are the actions that we are doing today leading to personal, community, economic, social and then global happiness in some demonstrable way?
And I get a lot of people saying, “that whole ‘change the world’ thing, that’s great when you’re young, but you get kind of jaded as you get older.” And I say, “Not so much”, right, because that little molecule of water falling over the rock, that doesn’t make much change, but when you have a whole river of molecules falling over a rock, it carves the Grand Canyon, it carves some of the beautiful things that we do.
So every step that we do, in small ways changes the world.
And most of the time, the big changes that we see started with small changes. So that’s what I’ll be looking at, is how are the small changes that you’re looking for really cultivating that sort of global flourishing, and that’s just what I do.
Joanna: Wow, there’s so many places I could go with that, but I want to focus on an occasion when somebody comes to you and they’re like me, right now, I’m right at this point of going, “I really need some help.” I’m not spending enough time, like you say, doing the things that make me happiest.
Do you have any recommendations around finding the ways to remove the things you don’t want to do in your life?
Charlie: Yeah, yeah. So, I’ll say this before I go any further: Eliminate before you delegate.
And I see so many people that say “There’s this thing I don’t want to do, so I’m going to outsource it.” And it’s like, “Does it need to be done in the first place?” Don’t pay for something that’s not adding value. So, there are things that when you look at the value flow in your company, or the value flow in your career, they’re just not adding value. I’ll pick on social media, because I love picking on social media.
If you’re spending hours and hours and hours on, say, LinkedIn, and there’s just no traffic coming back to you, like there’s no engagement, there’s nothing happening on LinkedIn, well, you know, in a perfect world, you might be able to do everything, but in this world, you’re only able to do that much. So, stop doing that.
And I know that there’s all the pundits saying like, “LinkedIn is great, and this is great”: it’s great for somebody, it might not be great for you. So, that’s where you really take a value perspective and say, “You know what? That’s a lot of activity I’m doing that’s not generating value: I’m going to stop that.”
But here’s the thing, Jo, and it cracks me up. The things that a lot of times provide the most value – the LEHE, low effort, high impact – are the things we overlook or don’t want to do more of, right?
And it’s fantastic, I was talking to a client earlier, I was talking to a contact about this last week, and she said, “OK, so I’m trying to sell more of this program. And I’ve been building these online relationships for like 18 months and, you know, I’m trying to figure out these, these joint venture partnerships, and so on and so forth”. So this was one part of the story she told earlier. And then she said like, “Yeah, I had this speaking thing last night, and you know, it just kind of fell in my lap and people, I’m turning them away, but I sold twelve of these programs.” And I said, “OK, so you do this thing that you actually enjoy doing” – she loved doing speaking, right, she loved being there with people – that’s selling the products she’s trying to sell, at the same time that she’s been working 18 months over here, to not have a partnership that’s not doing any selling. I’m like, “Why are you doing it the hard way? Because that’s the hard way, clearly: this is the easy way. What’s wrong with the easy way?”
And so that’s what I would say to really look at, as far as value flow in your business: what are the low effort, high impact things that you can do, and do more of those. Because whether we’re talking about life or business, the name of the game is do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. Right? And I know that’s very simple, but it’s hard when you take a sentence like, “You know what, that’s working, I’m going to do more than that, more of that: that’s not working, I’m not going to do more of that.”
And then, as far as outsourcing goes, and this is really important for creative working and authors as well, there’s what I call core task and satellite task.
Core task vs satellite task.
You actually getting the ideas from your head to some type of screen or audio recording, that’s a core task. No one else can do that. There are a lot of people who can edit that, there are lot of people who can take a narration and transcribe that, and edit that and coax that into something. There are a lot of people that can take that book and market it for you. There are a lot of people that can take your book, format it and put it on Amazon for you, right. There are a lot of people that can do those satellite tasks. But there is only one person that can do the core task.
So I think this is part of the problem, and I’ve experienced this with a lot of indie publishers, is that we’re not really thinking of our business as a business, we’re thinking of it still as a hobby, in the sense that I’m going to do everything I can on my own, to keep costs down. And in business, there’s what’s called numerative management and denominative management, right? Numerator management is what you’re doing to increase the value of your company; to increase the revenues of your companies: how you’re going to grow your top line. Denominator management is how are you going to keep your expenses down?
A lot of times, we’re so focused just on the expense, that we’re not seeing, “You know what? If I actually hired a ghostwriter” – and by ghostwriter, I don’t mean someone who writes for you, but someone who takes your words, like your transcription, and types them up and edits them. If I were to hire that, that would increase my book productivity by two because they’ll take that much less time. Which means I could put out the same quality of book, twice as fast, which means I have twice as many people reading, like, wherever you push your books. That increases your productivity and your numerator in very phenomenal ways.
And to be transparent here, I figured this out last year, because I had a lot of stock around the fact that like, I should do my own writing: I’m a writer, I’m an author. And then I started thinking about it: I was like, “You know, Aristotle, we only have Aristotle’s works because his students actually transcribed his lessons, put them together and correlated them.” When you go back and look at, you know, “Paradise Lost,” John Milton, actually he did not write that: his daughter was the scribe for that. So, I was like, “You know what? It’s good enough for Aristotle and it’s good enough for John Milton, maybe I should give that a try”.
And that’s the only reason my book actually exists, is because I said, “You know, what? I need to get a book out there, I’m a natural talker; I’ll go to the board and I like explaining things,” so I figured out, for me, what I needed to do was create a PowerPoint presentation, and actually talk out, because that allowed me to have the structural arc of a book, a beginning, a beginning, middle and end that told a coherent story. That was the hard part. The easy part was just talking it out, and then giving it to an editor, then giving it to another editor, and then having it come back to me, make some tweaks, giving it to a book formatter. So, that’s how I got that book done.
And that’s how I’m probably going to do every other book in the future, because I recognize that, you know what, in an hour of me talking, I could crank out about 6,000 usable words, right. That’s not all the stuff that ends up coming out, the ums, the chatters, the “Oh, wait, I didn’t mean that”. When you look at especially self-published books, if you’re thinking about independent publishing and the, and the trend towards shorter books, it’s really one of those things where in a couple of days you can get the entirety of your book out, and get some other people working on it, so you can work on other aspects of things.
So, that’s one way you could outsource things: really think about what’s the core task, what are the most effective and simple ways to get that core task done, and how can you hand it over to somebody else that can finish the rest of the product?
Joanna: That’s great, and that transcription model is something I recommend that all the time for non-fiction authors especially. I think it’s a lot more difficult for fiction authors …
Charlie: Yeah, I think it is.
Joanna: People are doing it now, for example Terry Pratchett, who has Alzheimer’s now, does everything by speaking, and he has an assistant who writes it all down, so, it can be done.
Charlie: Yeah, I’ve seen fiction writers do it, and the way they do it is, they’ll tell the broad story, like here’s what’s supposed to happen, and they’ll chart what the characters are doing, and this happens and this happens and this happens, and they get that transcribed, and then they’ll come back and add the layer of aesthetic detail that makes it feel like a well-written novel.
But you start with the basics of story-telling, and, and so many fiction books don’t work, because there’s not a compelling story! We don’t invest in the characters, we don’t do those types of things. And that happens at the story level, not at the technical level. The technical level, you can come back and fill in later on, and it’s a lot easier to do, to describe a scene that you’ve already outlined, “Joanna walks in the house and there’s a cat that’s yelling at her, and she notices that the cat is bloody,” right, and so you’re like, “Oh right, this is going to be a mystery,” right, or something like that. I mean, you can go back in and describe the layers of detail that makes it feel more real, after you’ve gotten it out of your head and decide that you like that story.
So, it works both ways: you just have to be more creative on the fiction side, but, you know what, as a fiction writer, I’m a non-fiction writer mostly, so the creativity is not necessarily in the way the words hit the page so much, as opposed to finding novel ways to explain things to people. I’ll say that I really appreciate fiction writers, and the level of craft and creativity they have to have to actually create a good book worth reading. So thank you for writing those books, because it’s not my thing, but I do enjoy that you do it.
Joanna: I write non-fiction, too, so it’s great to have both.
You mentioned strategy, and so if I come to you and say, “what about my social media, blah, blah, blah,” and then I imagine you would say something like, “Well, what is your overall strategy for the next however long?” So, you know, maybe you could talk a bit about that, you know:
If we lift our heads up and kind of go thinking about more of the long term, what are some of the aspects of strategy for business?
Charlie: So it’s goals, well, above goals, it’s vision, mission, then goals, and then strategy. People forget those, those top three parts right there. Then tactics, right, and then priorities, and then things like that.
So, we kind of come into it most of the time backwards, in the sense of we’re like, “Should I do this or that, or should I, is there a better way to do this?” where the question should be, “Is that worth doing in the first place? How does that fit your goal? How does that get you closer to that?”
So, a lot of times I see, the first place I start is that, well, “Should I do this or that?”, I’ll first say, “What are your goals?” I want to ask about your strategy, right, because I need to talk about those goals. You know, well, “My goal is to sell this book”, right, well, “Sell a lot of books,” is what you hear a lot. “I want to sell a lot of books.” Well, are we talking 2,000, 10,000, 20,000, 200,000, like, what’s really the goal here. Like, “Oh, well I want to be a New York Times best-selling author”. OK, there’s a certain way you go about doing that. Are you really going to invest in the ways to do that, does that fit your life, does that put you in alignment, does that, is that realistic with the time that you have available?
Right, because when you start with the goals, you can really get clear about what it’s going to take to get there, and you can start formulating a strategy from that point. And a lot of people don’t actually sit down and think about it. You know, we creative giants, we can do just about anything, but we can’t do everything, right. And so really, goal-setting and strategy-making is about figuring out those things that you’re not going to do, and focusing on the things that you are going to do. And being very clear, because everything that you do displaces something else that you might have done. So, if you choose the wrong goals, that displaces the right goals that would have been right to you.
And so we would come back and say, “OK, what are you trying to do here?” “Well, I want to write a book, and I want to finish a book this year.” OK, well we got nine months left. Then you start talking about resources. “Well, how quickly do you write? What are your capabilities? How far are you along in the book?” So you start to look at that current assessment of where they are versus where they’re trying to go. And then that’s where your strategy would come in, say, “OK, given those constraints, where you’re trying to go and where you are, here are some courses of action at the broad level that are going to get you there.”
So if you’re thinking about social media, largely, as authors, we think about social media as engagement, and building an audience and platform to sell the book later on. But what we sometimes forget is that sales, selling from social media is terrible. The conversion rates are abysmal. You would need to use social media to build a marketing channel for some other sales channel that you have, either your website or something else like that, right.
So I’ll see that we’re not thinking about the role of social media in the right way. It’s like, “Well, I’m going to get on social media and I’m going to sell more books.” Well, there’s about four steps in between you getting on social media and you selling a book that we really might want to think about here, right!
So that’s largely the way that that would go, “OK, your goal with social media, given this book, given it’s a fiction book, it’s going to go for, you know, women of this age bracket, so that lets us decide which social media channels we’re going to go on. It’s going to be good for people, for having a social media client for Pinterest, but not so much for LinkedIn, right, for different reasons, because we’ve already predetermined from our strategy and what we’re going after, we’ve already predetermined a lot of those decisions that help us on the tactical side.”
And I think that’s the value in that, I’m a strategy digger, obviously, but the value of it is that a strategy is a set of decisions that you’ve already made about how you’re going to do something, right? That set of decisions keeps you from having to decide every day how you’re going to do this stuff, or do this stuff, or do that. There’s so much decision fatigue that happens, not only at the business level, but also at the craft level: “Am I going to take this story this way or that way? Am I going to write about this topic?” and you can just get overwhelmed by decisions and information, whereas a strategy will say, “You know what, this book is for this person, this type of person. This type of person reads this type of stuff.” They’re on these types of platforms. They like to be talked to in these types of ways. They like this type of book.”
All of those decisions are already made for you. So you just follow that script, and you do it with the level of consistency and level of focus such that you align your strategy and your execution in a smart way, as opposed to trying everything, hoping that it works, and not really being able to really invest and commit to one thing, or two or three things, that do, that does actually work. Does that make sense?
Joanna: It does, and just on a very high level, when I was a business consultant, I made a decision about my career. I’ve got on my wall, it’s still here. It says: “I am an author.” So every decision I made, I still had to go to my day job, but it was like going to a Pizza Hut job or whatever: it was just a day job. “I am an author” means everything I do has to be about being an author. And another example with blogging: you know, should I go to South By South West? No, I’m a fiction author, I should go to Thriller Fest in New York instead. If I’m going to go to a convention, it should be with authors, you know, fiction authors.
So, I totally get what you’re saying, it’s, you know, absolutely true.
How do you figure that out on the philosopher /business strategy side?
Charlie: I’m an “and” person, so I’m all of those. I think there’s that categorization, that’s useful for when we’re walking out in the world, “Oh, Joanna’s an author and Charlie is like a philosopher.” It’s useful, because it helps us navigate the world out of its complexity. But the reality is, we’re “and” people, right? You’re an author and a businesswoman and, so on and so on-
Joanna: A speaker.
Charlie: Yeah. So, it makes it more challenging in that sense, because, I think more of this way: what can I do that’s of service to other people that I enjoy, that I can do profitably? Right, and in that nexus is sustaining – that’s not unique to me, that’s Jim Collins, that’s basically the Business Flywheel if you’ve ever read “Good to Great,” it’s saying the same basic things. There’s got to be some service, for me, I’ve got to be actually making a difference in the world, or I won’t have the meaning and purpose that I want. And plus, it’s a waste of time. I mean, there’s so many better things that we can do than- anyway, I’ll not go there!
And then there’s service, there’s joy. What can I do and have fun; what can I do and be happy; what can I wake up in the morning out of like jumping out of bed saying, “Hey, I really enjoy doing this”, right? And the third thing is what can I do profitably? Meaning, I’ve got to put food on the table, there are other things that I want to do.
Money is never intrinsically valuable.
Meaning: money only gets you something else, right. And so, there’s a certain bit to where having more money coming in my business, one, it allows me to get better support, and it allows me to pay for other people to do what they love to do, and I hire the people that love to do exactly what I need them to do in the business. So there’s spreading joy that way, but it also allows me to give bigger gifts to the community, through either charity or I can use my time in a different way. I might decide to say this activity, I don’t need it to be profitable, but it makes me happy and it’s of service, so I’m going to go do it anyways, but that’s only because I have other things that are providing the profit flow.
So, that’s generally want I look at, not so much who I am, but what am I trying to do in the world? And what lights me up, so on and so forth, because I think who we are is flexible, and I think, um, it really comes down to, there’s sometimes stories that we tell about who we are that’s helpful, and then there’s stories we tell about who we are that’s not helpful. And so, I don’t know if that at all answers the question, but I try not to-
Joanna: Yes, sure.
Charlie: Well, because, I mean, in my lifetime, I’ve been an Army military officer, I’ve been, you know, a philosopher, I’ve been a business advisor; I’ll be other things as I go along, so it’s not that I’m this, this is like I’m all of those things, this is the way I’m showing up now.
Joanna: And so, coming back on the creative giants, because you, you had this realization for your, your site, and I read the post all about it.
So, tell us a bit about what is a creative giant because it really resonated with me.
Charlie: So, a creative giant is a renaissance person that they really are committed, they see the world in a way that can be better. They see how the world could be better. But they are the people who actually take action to make it better, right. So there are a lot of dreamers, and creative giants are dreamers, but they’re the dreamers that actually follow it up with action. There’s a third piece about them though, is that they are incredibly talented. So they are the people who are actually capable of changing the world. So there are people who dream, who don’t do. There are people who dream, and do, but aren’t really capable. Creative giants are all three of those.
Normally they’re really talented in their industry: they’re either like smarter than the average bear, or they’ve spent more time in it, or they’ve picked up something, they’ve been doing it longer, but they’re just really talented people that stand out. Now, they’re not always extraverts, so sometimes they’re really, really quiet, right, and you don’t necessarily notice that they’re over there until you start talking to them about their thing, and then you’re like, “Oh, wow, that’s a whole world of information and fun over there that I did not know about.” And so, it’s compassion, that’s the drive to make the world better; talent, which can be capabilities or just affinities; but then there’s that actual conviction and commitment to actually do it, that make up, really, the nexus of a creative giant.
But that’s also what causes a lot of the challenges, because they’re incredibly powerful, but they’re compassionate, so they don’t want to like impose on people with what they’re doing, and so they kind of play smaller, or they don’t want to stand out too much, because the people around them feel less then, or they get put on a pedestal. So there’s all sorts of weird dynamics that happen when you have those three traits put together at the same time.
Joanna: I was reading this line, “they crave simplicity at the same time that they reject it!” Which I thought was great.
Why do we resist terms like giant, or is that just me being British, and Americans are quite happy for it?
Charlie: No, no, no, it’s not you being British. I think some of it is that there’s – well, in the United States, and I’m sure this holds true for British people too – that there’s such a degree of sort of a democratic understanding of, like, we’re all equal, like we’re all equally capable. We’re not, though, I mean, that’s the thing is that we’re not. And it’s hard really for some people to really get to the grips with this: “You know what? I am a phenomenal writer. I always have been, and that’s what I am,” and so other people will say to me, “That’s crap, it’s rubbish,” right, it’s not at the level or standard. But when I do it, it’s great.
And so I think there’s that understanding that you can be, it’s confidence that we don’t really want to claim, because, again, part of the nexus- OK, so I’ll go philosopher real quick: Things like compassion are actually a thick moral trait, right, so it includes other things like humility, and so we, we pack in a lot of things like that. And so it seems to be compassionate that you’ve got to be humble, and to call yourself a giant is not being humble.
So, you can’t call yourself a giant and be compassionate, right, by sort of logical transference. But that’s not true. When you look at, you know, creative giants in the world: Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, right, Martin Luther King, others: they were giants in and of themselves. And you have to understand at a certain point that when you’ve got a mission, and you’ve got the talent, and you really have the conviction to do it, you are going to stand out, there’s nothing that you can do about that.
That’s one of the reasons it makes you a giant. And, one of the reasons we don’t like being giants is because we stand out: the spotlight’s on us, it puts the performance on us, are we going to be able to do it again? Do I want to do this every day? Wait a second, don’t pigeonhole me, I want to do something else, what if I start something and it’s the wrong thing, and then three years later I go and do something different?
Like, all of these things come up, and we don’t realize that we live in what I like to call project world, right. And project world is just the idea that careers and everything are really broken down in three to five year chunks, right? You’ve got a project: write this book, build this platform. And we can’t see out further than that, anyways. We think we can, but we really can’t, right? And so, really what you have to ask is, for this particular project, for this aspect of myself, and you heard me say that earlier: here’s how I’m showing that now, right. Five years from now, I might show up as a politician. Five years from now, I might show up as some other version of myself, because that’s the project that I’m in; that’s the phase of my life that I’m in.
So, in project world, you really have to understand that where you’re going to be in five to ten years, you can’t see. But what you can see is, based upon your values now, based upon the joy and profit, you know, all the same things that I talked about, here’s what it makes sense to do now, and to commit to for this amount of vision. And then, once you reach there, reassess. Constant reassessment. Because something may come along that you never imagined, right. So, you write the book, and you’re just going, “Doobee doo doo,” doing your thing, and you have this hit that takes off. You love it, the audience love it, the market love it, the media love it. That might change your career trajectory incredibly. And if you decided, “No, I’m just doing this thing,” and this happens, and you, you just don’t pursue it, I think that’s a resistance to sort of abundance that the universe will provide.
So, it’s one of those things: we sit around a lot of times – not everybody, right, Joanna is awesome, so she doesn’t do this – but we sit around like wishing for good things to happen, but the true sort of strategy or true, what I like to call strategic mindfulness, is noticing when a small good thing is starting to happen, and leaning more into that, so that it becomes a bigger thing later, rather than waiting on the lottery, basically, to happen before you make your mind up over something.
Because every day, there are these beautiful things that are happening with your readers, with your book, with your career, with the landscape, that if you pay attention to it, and cultivate it a little bit more, turns into big things down the road.
Joanna: I totally agree with you, as in just over five years ago, I didn’t have a website, I didn’t have any books, you know, I didn’t have a podcast, I hadn’t met amazing people like you, and five years ago, did you have Productive Flourishing?
Charlie: I did have it five years ago, but I live in Portland now, and there’s some days I wake up and I’m, yeah, I’m sitting on my front porch when the sun’s actually out, and I’m drinking coffee, and five, six, seven years ago, I could not have imagined the world that I live in today.
It wasn’t even on the radar. I mean, and not even at the detail level: at sort of the sort of wide life, the level of friends that I have, the community, you know, the amazing opportunities, I couldn’t have imagined that it was just sort of a daily falling into that, it was like, “Oh, this is good, this is good,” until, you know-
Some people asked me, like, when I started Productive Flourishing, like, there’s a myth that people have about entrepreneurship that’s like you hated your job, and so you hated your job so you started another thing. It’s like, actually, I didn’t hate my jobs. I went where the flow was: there was more joy, more profit, and more service here, and I kept doing that. And so I got out of academia, I got out of the military, you know, slowly and slowly. And so, you know, if I keep doing that, then I figure things are going to keep working out! So, but yeah, you’re absolutely right: I couldn’t imagine being here, and I, with that same sense in life, like, as much as I’m a strategist, I have to sort of accept that there’s the world that I see, and there’s the world that I influence, and there’s the set, the nexus of possibilities that are in front of us. And that’s as far as I can see.
Outside of that, it’s providence or the universe or whatever you want to call it, like, and you have to understand that. And so that’s the sort of schizophrenia that you have to have as a good adaptive strategist, is, you make a plan, and you know that at a certain point, that plan is not going to reflect reality whatsoever, so you have to make another plan and go forward. But that’s it, I mean, I think that’s the human condition in a nutshell.
Joanna: I get very excited about this. I say it's like the Olympics. You know, the Olympics come up every four years, and it's about the difference between how your life is between Olympics. one year doesn’t make that much difference, but four years, it’s amazing. So I always remind people of that.
But I wanted to ask, just one last question before we finish up: Your book. You talk about the stages of the business life-cycle, and when I was reading it, I feel like the indie author, the self-publishing movement, is moving out – as a whole – is moving out of this aspirational phase, as you call it, to an entry stage where we’re really at the beginning of what’s happening, and we need to grow.
I wonder if you have any thoughts on how your business model would apply to self-publishing, and how we would move into the entry phase, and then onwards so we can do this properly?
Charlie: Yeah. Well, I’m going to say the thing that a lot of authors don’t want me to say on this one.
Joanna: Go for it!
Charlie: When you move from an aspirational stage to the entry stage and then to the growth stage, it’s an evolution away from creating a product to creating a business. And so, if we want to look at it as an industry, it’s creating a business landscape, basically as indie authors. We’re going to have to re-do the distribution channels that the big houses have, so that we can actually sell books in a way that’ll allow us to put food on the table. Which means several things.
We ourselves are going to have to run better businesses. I think we’re going to see an increased trend in companies that basically have three to four people, you’ve got your writer, you’ve got your business manager, you’ve got your marketer, right, you’ve got those little businesses, we’re going to be little mini publishing houses. Which means you have to be able to sell enough books, or enough product, or enough rev- you have to bring in enough revenue to employ those people. So that’s one thing.
But I think it’s also thinking about collectively how are we going to build an ecosystem where independent authors can thrive, so that I’m recommending your books, you’re recommending my books, and we’re doing more than just the self-promotion; we’re doing the promotion not only of our book, but of other people’s books, but of the movement itself, right. Because there’s been no bigger cultural sort of destruction than what we live in, than the time of Gutenberg, really, when it comes down to it. And so, Gutenberg made publishing available for a few. The Internet has made publishing available for, basically, anyone with an Internet access. And just as Gutenberg changed the, the landscape of Europe, this is changing the landscape of the world.
But we have to think about our role in that ecosystem, both as people that are taking some value from the ecosystem, by the time that people buy our books and so on and so forth, but also how we are setting up those relationships. Because we as a collective can put a lot of pressure on, say, Barnes & Nobles and Amazon and things like that, and I’m already seeing from my side, and you work with more authors, but the publishing houses for around 2008 to 2010 or so, you know, advances went down, there’s a destruction that happened in that industry. But now they’ve come around, because so many authors have went to do independent publishing, that now they’re like, “Oh, crap, we’re actually going to have to be better partners to get them in there.” Because authors are showing up and saying, “Really, why should I partner with you?” versus, “I want to publish a book and need you.” There’s a big difference there that happens.
But again, I think it comes down to building not just a thriving business of yourself, but a thriving industry that’s viable for all people, which means we’ve got to let go of a lot of ego. We’ve got to let go of a lot of the idea that I’m winning, as opposed to we’re all winning, and doing this over the course of five, ten, fifteen years, and really building up an industry. And that’s one of the reasons that I love what you’re doing, Joanna, because it’s creating these relationships and these ecosystems that allow us all to rise.
So I think that’s what we have to do as an industry, is focus on our own businesses, but also on the business of creating an ecosystem of thriving businesses.
Joanna: I totally agree. Brilliant! It’s been amazing to talk to you, Charlie. Tell us where your site is, and what people can find there.
Charlie: Alrighty, so you can find me at productiveflourishing.com. You can also find me on Twitter @charliegilkey, but Productive Flourishing is better. What I do is I create a lot of aids and action guides that really help you take action and start – focus on the stuff that matters.
And so, whether it’s worksheets or whether it’s books or whether it’s planners or whether it’s small courses that help people do things like project planning, that’s what we do there. So our big thing at Productive Flourishing, is not necessarily focusing on giving you more information, but giving you more information for action, because a lot of times, you’re, the difference between where you are and where you want to be is smart butt-on-seat time! Not just butt-on-seat time, but smart butt-on-seat time! So that’s what we help people do.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Charlie: that was brilliant.
Charlie: Thanks for having me, Joanna. And let’s do it again!