Give some classified space to each of your ideas and thoughts. I have a very versatile mind. I don’t get into any specific author mode. Sometimes ideas will strike me while taking a shower or while driving. Once, a seemingly outrageous idea struck me close to 2 am in the night while trying to sleep. The idea was so pressing that I could not resist getting up from the bed and scribbling it somewhere. Incidentally, that idea flourished into a full-fledged book.
As a part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Raman K Attri.
Dr. Raman K Attri, one of the few performance scientists in the world, is a powerhouse of positivity despite his permanent disability since childhood. He is a global authority on speed in personal and professional performance, helping organizations to reduce employees’ time to proficiency. He is a training thought leader for a Fortune 500 corporation. He manages a Hall of the Fame training organization named one of the top 10 in the world. He is highly passionate about learning. He holds two doctorates in learning, over 100 international educational credentials, and is a prolific author of 20 multi-genre books. Visit his website http://ramankattri.com to learn about his XpertX forum.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I was born in India to a very poor family. I was around six months old when I contracted the poliovirus. That unfortunate event left me with a permanent physical disability. I lost my ability to walk from there on before I could even start walking. After that, amidst the lack of education and other facilities in that place, I had very dim chances of making it, even to a primary school. As a kid, I could not participate in any usual kids’ play or games at that age. The most disturbing feeling was to wear a heavy, iron-clad prosthetic around my leg. It kept my legs in place, of course, but there was a negative side to it too. I could only take baby steps when I tried to walk. That constant feeling of being left behind or being slower than others forced me to search for avenues where I could make my mark, despite my immobility. Reading and learning was my best bet since it literally tied me to a chair and didn’t demand much mobility. So, I immersed myself in reading books in my early years. It was ironic that ultimately, my disadvantage of being immobile turned out to be my advantage. It became the reason for me to focus and read for many hours without getting distracted. That zest to be fast in something propelled me to be passionate about learning new things better and quicker. At that time, I saw it as my differentiator. It helped me get noticed and stay ahead of the healthy kids around my age.
As time passed, I rigorously experimented on various ways to learn faster. I read things ahead of my age back then. I became an engineer at the age of 21 and a scientist at the age of 22. While I served as a technology scientist for about a decade, something kept telling me that I was meant to be in the learning profession. So, I detoured into a different career.
To cut a long story short, currently, I am a senior training leader at a Fortune 500 technology corporation. In addition, I manage a Hall of the Fame training organization, which is also named one of the top 10 in the world.
During this journey, I earned two doctorates in the learning domain and over 100 international educational credentials. In addition, I also got some of the world’s highest certifications in corporate management, business, leadership, consulting, and training.
As I progressed further, I researched finding proven, research-based methods to speed up learning, performance, expertise, skill acquisition, and workforce development. Now, I stand as a global authority on speed in professional learning and workforce performance. Alongside, I wrote 20 multi-genre books that range from training, learning leadership to art and poetry.
As you see, my career revolves around the learning domain, which had fundamentally started with my own passion and love for learning.
I can say that I transformed my inability to walk into role-model expertise. I use that motivation now to guide leaders and professionals on strategies to walk faster in their careers by using various methods and strategies. One of them being, helping them shorten the time to proficiency of the workforce and staying competitive in this accelerated world.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
I was serving as a scientist in a large research lab. Incidentally, they had a technical training center running in collaboration with the Swiss government. Normally, scientists would not be interested in assignments related to the training sector. But after some strange turn of events, it was me who was transferred to that department overnight! While others might have gotten devastated with such an unexpected turn of events, it was a divine gift for me. That was the stepping stone in my career, which not only tagged me with a Swiss brand but also put me on an international landscape. That switch is why I went on to become not only a training scientist but an author of 20 books, and here I am today, talking to you about ‘how to be a great author’!
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?
Ever since high school, I have had this idealized picture in mind that I would be an author someday. In fact, I had written several things like poetry, stories, narratives, etc., during those days, aspiring to become an author. However, it took me over 3 decades to become one in real life.
I faced many obstacles throughout this journey. The biggest one was the lack of guidance, just like anyone else. During my time, no one could teach me how to write and publish a book. So, it was like writing a book is a secret, mysterious process, only known to a few geniuses or experts. On top of that, traditional publishers did not want to consider or pay attention to a lesser-known author like me. There were many famous authors around for them to prefer. So, despite being a scientist and having some creative ideas back then, my authorship stint did not really take off.
I am sure that there is no way around ignorance. If you don’t have guidance, you need to go to the right person. Unfortunately, back then, I had little access to a book writer of any sort in my proximity to leverage upon.
My writing career really took off with internet availability. Self-publishing finally opened up a new, low-barrier path for me. I read several sources, checked several websites, watched author interviews, and figured out my own path to become an author.
What was lacking in my case was a timely network and access to established authors and publishers. Therefore, my advice to aspiring authors would be to build a network of three sets of people. Number one is building a network of peers who are on the same journey as you. Number two would be having a network of authors who are your favorites or someone with whom you can discuss and improve your ideas. A tip is to note down the author’s email when you read a book. Most authors love to read their fan mail, especially when someone gives critical feedback about something they might have ignored. They love to learn from their own writings. So, send a write-up about what you read. You will never know how this relationship would land you in a better spot. You might even get the chance to have the same author as your mentor. I have had over 10 different reviewers for one of my books, following this approach. The third network you need to build is with publishers. It’s tricky, but now platforms like LinkedIn are substantial sources to make connections with such publishers. They will be upfront about what kind of books they like to consider and their criteria to evaluate. You can learn a lot of new things from them.
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 was a scientist for a long while. Scientists, in general, are trained to be extremely detailed. In some cases, our investigation never ends. You can say that there is this large element of perfectionism in us. That tint of perfectionism prevented me from completing my writing projects at the earlier stages. I had this idea that a book should be great, comprehensive, and should answer all the readers’ questions. For over four years, I kept on capturing my ideas, re-arranging them but did not attain the level of perfectionism I wanted in it. I was not satisfied with the amount of details, the sequence of ideas, and I always felt like something was still missing. I think many people suffer from these perfectionist tendencies. That’s a mistake. Though we may feel as if we are on the right track to creating an amazing, respectable book, but in reality, more often, that book never sees the daylight.
Later on, when I moved into product development, it changed my thoughts about my writing projects. The thinking process that I was required to use for product developments helped me greatly, which is fundamentally based on the premise that it is not good to pack everything into one release. By following that approach, I have not only been able to keep the scope of my projects cleaner and leaner, but I have been able to write over 20 books in a short span of time.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am currently working on two projects:
The first one is a book titled ‘GET THERE FASTER.’ This is my signature book on leadership. It is based on one decade of extensive research with best-in-class organizations. The book talks about how organizational leaders can speed up the time to proficiency scale of their employees. In that book, I write about proven strategies, practices, and frameworks to drive time to proficiency by 50% or more. I am looking for a suitable business publisher for the book, given its massive impact on business. The book is almost ready and will come to the market by the end of this year.
The second one is a book titled ‘HOW TO WRITE A BOOK FOR LIFE.’ This is a book that originated from my product development methodology. I realized that even the best of speakers and professionals create just ordinary books as their first due to the low-barrier of entry in self-publishing. As a result, the first book of their writing career lacks the rigor and quality that you might expect from traditional publishers. Thus, valuable wisdom is lost due to the poor quality of the book. A book, in particular, the first one should be of high quality if you expect to take off in your writing career. It should be something that you can proudly show to your spouses, kids, and parents. It takes a whole new level of approach, rigor, and discipline to create that kind of book. I found that people loved my product development methodology during my ‘book writing’ workshops. Therefore, after having written 20 books, I have decided to take this concept and the whole suite of techniques available, to a larger audience, by shaping it as a book!
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
There was this person who attended one of my workshop sessions. This fellow was a Ph.D. holder in a very niche area. For over 3 years, he was struggling to build a book out of his thesis. However, nothing seemed to help him. His idea was to create an all-encompassing, massive, comprehensive book that answered every question the readers might have. When I taught him the technique of slicing and dicing, he could then create his ‘best foot forward’ book within a few months, which was his first book in a series of books that came out based on his thesis. The point here is to understand that it is okay to create a book which is not ‘absolutely’ perfect. We can take baby steps by putting our best foot forward.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
I would like to reply to this question with reference to the second book I am writing about the process of ‘book writing’. The key message I would like to give to readers is that the emphasis on the writing element in the ‘book writing’ process is probably overrated. In reality, behind each successful and world-class book, there is a tremendous amount of developmental work which is typically not shown to the readers. On the lines of product development, roughly 50% of the time is spent on analysis and development, while the actual product (writing) takes about 30% time. The mistake that prevents the best ideas from becoming a book or leading to a low-quality book is that people just start with writing first, without a proper plan. My book will change that notion and would get you started with the developmental process before starting with the actual writing. While it sounds non-intuitive, this is the fundamental thing that leads to a world-class quality book.
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.
After authoring 20 books, I have figured out a few things that universally apply to all kinds of authors and perhaps much needed to be known upfront to become a great author. Remember that great authors do not exist in manuscripts. They exist in the finished products which reach the hands of readers. It is okay if you don’t get great reviews with your first book. But eventually, you learn to identify and correct your mistakes. Nevertheless, you have to focus on creating a tangible, high quality, finished product for the readers. For that I would encourage you to think about your book as a finished product. Imagine you are designing (concepts and ideas), developing (raw material), prototyping (writing), manufacturing (publishing) and distributing (selling or promoting) your product (the book). Now, based on that philosophy, here are five things I think you would need to become a great author:
- Scoping is crucial to avoid becoming overwhelmed When I moved into the product development sector and got engaged in product design cycles, it changed how I used to think about the whole authoring process. When product developers design a product, they don’t pack one single product with all the features. Rather, they take a tiered approach by packing a specific set of features into one product model. Then they differentiate the other models of the same product with a different set of features. On the same line, I began to slice, dice, and scope the ideas and content for the book on a narrow niche. The moment I did so, my incomplete, massive, less-than-perfect manuscript was ready to be converted into several books, each with a specific scope. Therefore, to be a great writer, you need to scope your ideas clearly. The scoping process also includes slicing your ideas down, defining the scope, and then de-scoping it along the way by removing things that don’t seem to fit. The new writers are stuck in a loop because they rarely de-scope their projects. More often, they up-scope the project by adding many chapters and additional aspects into their original ideas. I know it is not easy to let go of the extra content which you have written with so much hard work.
— That’s why I suggest you scope and de-scope your ideas before you even write a single word. Slice your ideas down to a very thin but specific angle. Once you do that, pack the associated content into that book. Curb your tendency of overloading it with other seemingly important ideas. Perhaps you can keep them for another title. The result will be cleaner and less overwhelming projects which are likely to culminate.
- Focus on the development of the book before you start writing. In my experience, the common mistake people make is that they start writing right away without proper planning. Writing a world-class, memorable book requires a different approach. Let’s take an analogy of product development. The world-class products (like the iPhone) that come into your hand undergo a lot of intense processes before the manufacturing. — — The team spends a lot of time developing the concepts, finalizing the features, and testing out the prototypes before they decide to manufacture it. I believe that if a great product can be built using engineering methods, we can also create a creative, brilliant book using the same method. In the same way, I would recommend the authors to spend more time on analysis and spend a little bit more time on developing it.
— In an engineer’s view, writing is like prototyping the product, while publishing is the production or the manufacturing part. Therefore, you should spend a lot of time on the development process before you start writing. At the outset, you should clarify your intent, pick and refine the idea you want to work on. Then, I would recommend scoping down your idea into a sub-idea so that you are more focused on what you are going to create. At this stage, you should be able to visualize what kind of a book you are writing and what the reading experience is like. Then, you move on to create a visual outline while continuously capturing and organizing more of your ideas. You would need to finalize sequencing and organizing the flow of ideas during the developmental process. If you invest your efforts in development, then the actual writing work would not need over 20% of your time. The end product would be a well-thought-out and well-structured book.
- Write in short sprints to stay versatile and productive on multiple projects. It is hard to focus and concentrate for a longer time, especially now, given all the noise and distractions going around us. Therefore, I prefer to work in sprints. In sprints philosophy, you sit down to accomplish a small but specific piece of writing at a time. Ideally, you spend little time on it, not a long haul of hours. The idea of a sprint is not to write a massive volume of words in one sitting. You decide the timing for each sprint, depending upon the nature of your project. For example, you might limit it to 30 minutes a day if writing is a side hustle for you. You might have to spread the 30 minutes sprints throughout the day if writing is your profession and source of income. Then the following day, you come back and start with the next sprint for the same project (or a different project, altogether).
— Going back to a different project altogether might sound counter-intuitive. But if you look closely at any product development company, let’s say a cell phone company, you will find that they do not work on one model at a given point in time. Instead, there is a concurrent development taking place on various models. In the same way, as an author, if you could be working on several manuscripts — some may be just skeletons while some might be at the advanced stages. So, you could come back to work in different manuscripts but in a sprint fashion. That allows you flexible switching among various projects.
- Give some classified space to each of your ideas and thoughts. I have a very versatile mind. I don’t get into any specific author mode. Sometimes ideas will strike me while taking a shower or while driving. Once, a seemingly outrageous idea struck me close to 2 am in the night while trying to sleep. The idea was so pressing that I could not resist getting up from the bed and scribbling it somewhere. Incidentally, that idea flourished into a full-fledged book.
— We should not underestimate the random thoughts and threads passing through our heads any time of the day or night. Now, I keep an app on my phone that allows me to make quick voice notes if my hands are busy doing something else. On other occasions, I would use a stylus to scribble the thought quickly. I also carry a pack of post-it notes with me to quickly capture the thoughts.
These random ideas, thoughts, ‘aha’ moments, and vivid imaginations that splash our minds from time to time are precious and need to be preserved like a treasure.
For that, you have to have a system to capture, record and archive these ideas in the first place. You need a system to capture your ideas using on-the-go journals. You can use different tools like smartphones, tablets, voice recorders, or even a simple notebook, depending upon what is comfortably accessible to you, when an idea strikes you. The key here is not to let any idea escape, even if it is irrelevant or remotely connected to the project you are working at hand.
— In the sprint philosophy, you create imaginary or physical buckets to capture your ideas. If you plan to work on several projects in the near future, you start with as many buckets as possible. Once you capture the ideas into the buckets, you stay versatile.
The next step in the process, which I usually recommend to authors, is to start sequencing, organizing, structuring, grouping, ungrouping, and classifying ideas to give a proper shape to your narrative. This is where you can shuffle the ideas among the buckets in accordance with the scope you would have defined during the development process. That way, you can continue to keep your project slim and focused. Then, you can use tools like mind maps to develop the underlying flow.
— But again, you should not try to write them right away. Instead, you put those ideas onto the manuscript during one of your sprints only.
- Extensive peer review is key to a world-class book. When I started writing one of my nonfiction books, I began making my network with some leaders who had done equivalent work or had written books in that genre or topic before. When my manuscript was ready, I approached them, asking them for their reviews and opinions. Based on their feedback, I ended up splitting my manuscript into three books simply because of the different messages coming out of the same book. It has helped me to pivot the writing.
— It can be a powerful approach to seek inputs from your peers, mentors, coaches, and authors in the same industry. If you could reach out to well-established authors whose work you are referencing heavily, it may make your writing more acceptable by critiques. In one of my projects, I reached out to the researchers whose work was foundational to my book. As a result, I received quick acceptability from book reviewers.
— If possible, you should involve some well-known authorities in your domain to vet your work. You could mention them in acknowledgment or preface, which can add to the credibility of the work.
While this applies across the board, it is more useful to nonfiction authors because we expect nonfiction works to have a longer shelf life. A well-treated subject may find a place in university curriculums, libraries, and as a reference work for generations to come. Therefore, your nonfiction writing might demand a high level of integrity, a sense of responsibility, and accountability from the author. So, you have a moral obligation to be accurate while doing fair justice to your opinions, ensuring that you have painted a rational picture of their work. Even if nonfiction is not research-based, it needs to be informative, factual, and rationale. However, it is hard to avoid overshadowing facts, research, truth, and evidence with overly personal opinions. Thus, peer review is a far more critical step in writing nonfiction books. It becomes necessary considering from the angle that non-fictions condense years of wisdom in a volume, and you would want to make sure it resonates with a more extensive set of people.
I hope these five things can change how you approach the authoring process and help you become a great author. Here is link to a short video summarizing these five learnings. https://youtu.be/DoJbQu23FHw.
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?
First, let me debunk some misconceptions. There are some common misconceptions that the authors have some specific habits of sitting down for work, superb focus or discipline, outstanding concentration, etc. That’s true to some extent. But we have to remember that authors are also average human beings, after all. I agree one needs such traits to a fair degree in any profession, not just in writing. So, the mere presence of traits does not necessarily mean that someone is a great writer. Also, in regards to the writing process, many people argue that you can write a great piece of work only when you have your ‘author mode’ triggered to invite ideas to flow through in their writing.
As an author of multiple books, I think that to be a great writer, what you need is a discipline for one thing — a discipline of capturing, archiving, relating, and accessing the ideas or random thoughts in an organized manner. As an author, that’s the flesh and blood of what we do. If you learn to preserve your ideas in their native form, and if the ideas stay on your radar consistently, you will constantly be thinking about utilizing them somewhere.
However, preserving the ideas natively, in the form they came to you originally, could be hard. That’s where some kind of system like journaling, archiving, or classifying systems would come in handy. I recommend using mind map software like One Note, Samsung Notes or similar tools which do not constrain or press you to write a polished version of your thoughts.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
As an author and researcher, I am supposed to and required to read a wide range of literature, from books to scholarly journal articles. I still have an inclination to read research-based or evidence-based literature. An example of research-based literature would be the writings of Jim Collins. For instance, in the book ‘Good to Great,’ they ground it on a systematic analysis of historical data, understanding patterns, and then figuring out when and what leading organizations make a breakthrough. Such literature has universal value as those are based on tested and rigorous observations which are established or crossed-checked through several lenses. Many of my books on learning and training have been written in the same fashion.
But at the same time, I also look for literature which is human-experience based. I draw my inspiration from books like ‘Dale Carnegie’ which is based on hundreds of real life stories. There is a lot of distilled wisdom which can be drawn from stories like this. Things happening around in our day-to-day life, in our relationships and personal interactions, inspire me. For instance, I have written books on poetry which is driven by inner emotions. I have also written art books containing hand-drawn paintings of faces only. I find expressions on faces tell us the uncontested story of those individuals.
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. 🙂
I believe that learning is the foundation to change our life. However, as I passed through many hardships in my life trying to depend on this single ‘most critical’ skill to change and shape my life, I realized that the concept of learning faster and better is not known much to people. Every one of us needs to learn. We know that. But no one comes forward to teach us how to lean effectively in a short amount of time. I sincerely believe, just like teachers for science, arts, history or math in the school, we should have teachers on learning as well. But unfortunately, we don’t have that yet. Teachers have not stretched out their own learning process to the extent of experimenting on themselves to figure out what works and what does not.
That’s why I founded a research forum called XpertX with a mission to create a place where people can get in-depth guidance to learn the art and science of speed in learning and performance. I bring the world’s best experts, coaches, scientists, and wise visionaries to one platform every year where they could share with the entire world how they cracked the code to learn better and faster. Perhaps, a collection of strategies and methods on ways to learn better and faster, attaining excellence in life, without reinventing the wheels, could be created.
In the long run, I would want to develop it into a learning portal for anyone to come and learn the art and science of learning. This could be a place where they can be taught the techniques to learn better and faster. A place where they can get some tested ways to be better performers at their workplace. A portal where they can receive better self-clarity about themselves, helping them speed up in their path to excellence. My goal in this movement is to help people accelerate not just their expertise but also their excellence. I have this firm belief or philosophy that our race is not external, but it is internal to us. We have this constant zest to surpass ourselves and to raise our bars. I would like to make it a movement that could inspire and enable people to go beyond learning faster or better, beyond being a star performer, and beyond attaining mastery, attaining true excellence at an accelerated rate.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
The readers can join my XpertX initiative at http://ramankattri.com where I post a lot of teachable nuggets on speeding up learning and performance. I can be found on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram with the handle DrRamanKAttri.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!