A hundred-day race
Imagine yourself wanting to write a book and your publisher tells you that you can, but it should be finished by next month. What do you do? It happened to Patrick van der Pijl, the Dutch CEO of international Strategy & Design Bureau Business Models Inc., when he and his team started working on Design a Better Business. They asked for a bit more time and eventually finished the book within a hundred days. On top of that, they literally designed the entire thing, from cover to cover.
Why? and how? might spring to mind when imagining completing a book within a hundred days. Why on earth would you push yourself into writing a book in such a short period of time? And how did they do it?
Patrick is no stranger to writing books, even though he wouldn’t necessarily refer to himself as an author. He previously produced the bestseller Business Model Generation at American publishing company Wiley. Back then, he and his publisher hit it off very well. When the international stage called for Patrick a second time, he went straight back to his old publisher who had, on a sidenote, already asked him if he would like to publish another book sometime.
Are we going to make it?
“There are tons of management books, but we wanted to write one with actual tools, in which users and case studies, and therefore results, would be the focal point. However, before we went to work, I had to have a publishing contract. We got it halfway through December 2015”, Patrick says, “With, in addition, the kind request for the book to be finished by the end of January. January, what the hell? We knew we’d never make it, so we negotiated with our publisher and settled for a deadline at the end of March. In the mean time, we set our own private deadline at one hundred days.”
The team, which consisted of three writers and two designers, went to work immediately. “Full time, otherwise you will not get into that flow, which you need in order to write a lot, fast”, Patrick explains. Of course, many insecurities went through his mind. Can we pull it off? Are we using the right tone of voice? Will we get authorisation for all our case studies?
Kill your darlings
Because they weren’t just writing about design, but actually designing as they went, the team was able to work very creatively. The wall changed into a whiteboard, which gave an overview of all the pages which they had to fill, in usable chunks. “We had a small core-team which was able to think and move rapidly. A more traditional writer would get to work one step at a time, but we didn’t do that. If I had an idea for an awesome case study, I would write out a little bit of it. This would then be sent to to Erik and Maarten, our designers. Sometimes it would fit well, but in some cases it just wasn’t as interesting as I thought”, Patrick says. The choice to keep or cut each case was made not only in response to the feedback they received, but also by the design itself. This made the designers in fact even more important than the authors. The authors, in turn, had to be able to cope with killing their darlings, especially with a massive deadline breathing down their necks.
Fortunately, the team responded well to each other, particularly when writers Lisa Kay Solomon and Justin Lokitz were in the Netherlands. Then they were able to make huge steps forward. “You simply work faster when you’re together. Still, there are times when you want to bash each others’ heads in”, laughs Patrick. “You have to go through the same text again and again, and there are still dozens of contracts which need to be signed for the case studies. We were so happy to have Erik with us, who kept a tight lid on our schedule.” Yes, the deadline was met and Patrick sent his files to Wiley at the very last moment. “They couldn’t edit a single thing. Thankfully it wasn’t even needed. They were very happy with it.”