Colin D Ellis: “You have to be disciplined”

…whilst people may tell you that it’s hard to change workplace culture, with the right knowledge, planning and discipline it can be achieved. Culture change isn’t hard, it’s just never been done properly. As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the […]

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…whilst people may tell you that it’s hard to change workplace culture, with the right knowledge, planning and discipline it can be achieved. Culture change isn’t hard, it’s just never been done properly.

As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Colin D Ellis. Colin is an international award-winning public speaker, facilitator of culture change programs and author of four best-selling books. His most recent, Culture Fix: How to Create a Great Place to Work, is the first ‘how to’ guide for organisations and teams looking to build great workplace culture. He is originally from Liverpool UK and now lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

In a word, frustration! I had never planned to ever work for myself, let alone write a book, however, in my last permanent job I got frustrated as people seemed to be making the same mistakes that they’d made for the last 20 years. Without too much thought I decided to start writing about some of the things that I’d seen, then some of the things I’d done to address them.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I was a permanent employee for 30 years, so finding the most interesting is an interesting challenge! For four years in the late 1990s I was part of a team that toured the UK implementing IT systems to address the Millennium Bug. In a given week I could be in three different cities working in portacabins in car parks, undertaking bomb drills or trying to find my way out of complex corridor systems from buildings over a hundred years old — and that’s before I did any work!

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

Most authors I know have the same problem and that’s knowing where to start. You had an idea, so might write a few blogs, but how do you turn that into a book? It feels so hard to do when you’ve never done it. We didn’t have any money at all so wasn’t in a position to make a minimum book purchase commitment with a publishing house, so we didn’t approach any. Instead we found out how to self-publish. There are many steps involved in getting it from your laptop to a printed copy in your hand but everyone of them are worthwhile. It’s not as hard as you think!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I foolishly made the assumption that everyone was an extrovert like me! That everyone enjoyed talking loudly, laughing a lot and going to the pub. It turns out that’s not the case (although it would be easier for me if it was!) I complained to my boss that the people I was working with were just not interested in teamwork. He told me that they weren’t interested in my version of teamwork and that to be successful I had to develop different communication styles for different people. It remains today one of the best things I’ve learned.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

The book and my public speaking has led to clients engagements in some incredible parts of the world. I’ve delivered culture programs in 13 countries and a couple of months ago got to speak at the inaugural project management conference in Mauritius. There are worse places to work! I never stop refining my programs and every single one is tailored to my clients so that they are relevant in their country, in their context at that time.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

I share case studies at the end of each chapter of the book that serve to demonstrate how other people were able to make change and I found each inspiring myself. From hospital trauma teams in the UK, to marketing companies in the US to IT teams in Singapore, there are great ideas everywhere if we’d only spend time looking for them.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

That whilst people may tell them that it’s hard to change workplace culture, with the right knowledge, planning and discipline it can be achieved. Culture change isn’t hard, it’s just never been done properly.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. You have to be original in your thinking
  2. You have to challenge your assumptions
  3. You have to write with honesty and passion
  4. You have to be disciplined
  5. You have to actively promote your own work

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

To become a published author you have to have original ideas and discipline. As someone who worked in project management for 20 years, planning and discipline were something that I had in spades. I recognised early on that as a father with two young children early mornings were going to be the best time to work on my ideas and weekends and holidays would be the time to turn them into book chapters! I would wake at 5.30am every morning and get one idea completed before breakfast, then make sure I was in bed before 10pm so I could do it all again the next day!

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I haven’t read a book yet — fiction or non-fiction — that I haven’t been able to draw some inspiration from. Obviously, in my line of work I read lots of business books and make lots of notes from them on the things that I agree with and the things that I don’t. The latter tend to spur my creativity.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A simplicity movement. A group of people that share knowledge, thoughts and ideas with a group of like-minded people in a way that’s easy to digest and practical to apply. I’ve started the process at and we’re hoping more people join us!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can follow me on LinkedIn here, Facebook here, Twitter here or Instagram here. I do all of the social medias!

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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