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Karen Holst & Douglas Ferguson: “Your idea is worth pursuing & you have the tools to make it happen”

I realized writing a book is much like launching a new idea. There are a million paths to get there and none are exactly the same (or perfect) for everyone.There is no “RIGHT way” just “A way” and getting started is half the battle to finish. As part of my interview series on the five […]

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I realized writing a book is much like launching a new idea. There are a million paths to get there and none are exactly the same (or perfect) for everyone.

There is no “RIGHT way” just “A way” and getting started is half the battle to finish.


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 Karen Holst and Douglas Ferguson, co-authors of the new book, Start Within.

Co-authors, Karen Holst and Douglas Ferguson, have spent the last 20 years in the bringing new ideas forward within organizations. They have learned what it takes to launch innovation within a company and has covered the gamut of organizational types from state government agencies and military armed forces to startups and large public corporations.

Reflecting upon these experiences, they noticed that while no one company or organization is like the other, there are common patterns that were almost universal.

Assembled from these observations and insights about innovation and bringing new ideas to life, the Start Within framework provides a way to assess your situation, how it relates to the unique nature of your company, and what tools and actions are appropriate for you to move.


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

KAREN: I like to solve problems. Early in my career, I started out as an entrepreneur, trying to solve the problem college students face in selecting a major field of study and having it lead to a job after graduation. While I loved co-founding a startup, I realized that I enjoyed solving problems within bigger companies — and that I’m quite good at that too.

DOUGLAS: Early in my career as a software engineer, I worked at Coremetrics, and we had developed some really cutting-edge tech. We were so enamored with how awesome our technology was that we failed to see that we were missing a big opportunity to delight the customer. Along came a competitor that had a much better user experience with less sophisticated technology, but it did not matter. The users found it much more pleasant and gravitated toward it. This was a devastating blow, and the company played catchup from that moment on, but I really appreciated that season. From then on, I listened intently to what the customer had to say.

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

KAREN: I had been working in the California Department of Education for a few months, trying to lead educational technology efforts to bring better tech into the classroom. I was attending a conference of edtech luminaries and someone from the White House was sharing success stories from the trenches when a slide appeared on screen, highlighting the project I was spearheading. I was shocked, humbled, and super-charged to continue on the work.

DOUGLAS: I once worked for a startup that made software to keep children safe on mobile devices. I was amazed that children were as sophisticated if not more sophisticated than professional hackers. We had to push out new releases weekly to keep them from breaking out of the software.

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?

KAREN: As a new writer, just beginning to research and write my book, I looked at established authors and thought they knew about some magical process that I needed to learn. But as I started to interview authors to see what worked for them, I realized writing a book is much like launching a new idea. There are a million paths to get there and none are exactly the same (or perfect) for everyone. This realization gave me permission to move forward in what way made sense for me. I learned about how other authors published their books and then I tweaked their plans to make my own way forward. There is no “RIGHT way” just “A way” and getting started is half the battle to finish.

DOUGLAS: Imposture syndrome. I overcame it by writing a blog. I forced myself to write every week. I told myself that I had to write no matter what. It forced me to come up with random things to write about. Then I found that people were interested in some of the things, and that gave me the confidence to keep writing. Often the things that I think people are going to find interesting totally flop and the things that I write when I can’t think of anything else to write, do the best. The two things that inspired me the most were:

  • A video by Ira Glass where he encourages you to keep going, make lots of work, get past that zone where your tastes exceed your abilities. Here is a link to that video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2wLP0izeJE
  • Early on, I heard a great quote, which I now know is a jumbled up version of so many writers, but it was told to me as “Writing is easy, you just sit down at your typewriter and bleed.”

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

KAREN: Writing the book on how to launch new ideas within a company has allowed me to research some of the most innovative companies and share stories of how others do this work. These introductions have opened up new opportunities to help others launch their ideas. I have been asked to join an exciting AI startup as a board member and contribute to innovation workshops with the military special forces.

DOUGLAS: I’m writing a new book called the Non Obvious Guide to Fucking Awesome Meetings, I’m blazing the path for virtual meeting transformations with our clients at Voltage Control, and we are launching a new product called Control Room.

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

KAREN: The key to truly fulfilling work is spending time on what brings you purpose. It’s the kind of work that unlocks the excitement of learning something new, gives you ownership of a project, and allows you to build something you care about.

Pause to think about some of your happiest memories.

As a kid that might have been working like mad on your soccer skills, and then seeing an opening by the goal to kick in the final tie-breaking score in the season’s final game. For me, it was nailing the backflip I’d been practicing all summer off the diving board at my neighborhood pool. With each try, a new lesson was learned. Open my tuck position too soon and I have water blast up my nose. Or push off the diving board at a more horizontal angle and slap my back atop the water. With each mistake, a lesson was learned. And then, dangling my heels over the edge of the diving board for what felt like the millionth time, all of a sudden, I launched and pulled off my first backflip! The hard work and dedication to tweaking my method paid off, the pain a distant memory; I was a proud backflipping 7-year old.

Or as an adult, it might look like the time you worked on a difficult project launch that your boss told you wouldn’t work and after many months of ups and downs, you ended up with record-breaking results.

The path toward happiness, upon reflection, was paved with problems. The challenges and obstacles only made it a bigger reward in the end. Joy often comes from overcoming the problems you face.

DOUGLAS: I love the story about my Dad’s invention and how he saw an opportunity to make a dangerous operation involving cranes safer. So, he went and did it. After a few experiments and some sketches, he was convinced it would work and got the project manager on board.

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

KAREN: That their idea is worth pursuing, and that they have the tools and resources through the book to make it happen.

DOUGLAS: That ANYBODY can do this. I really hope that our book gives people the confidence to go pursue their ideas

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.

KAREN:

  1. Allow the research to shape the book, not the other way around. You may go into writing the book with assumptions but ensure that the research and conversations you are having with others help to shape your thinking. This will ensure your content is covering the right things and that it connects with your readers.
  2. Meet with your readers early, and often. Don’t wait until your book is finished to get feedback from your audience, find test-readers to share the content as you go, to ensure they understand what you are sharing. We did this throughout the process and uncovered new ways to help our readers in trying to launch their own ideas.
  3. Be brave in selling your book, but humble in selling yourself. Some people, like myself, believe the work will speak for itself. Unfortunately, if I wait for people to “find” my work on their own, it may never happen. You have to put it out there and hustle. On the other side of the coin, many people write business books to establish thought leadership. If this is your goal, your readers will see right through it. You must do this work because you want to help your readers, not yourself.
  4. Love your topic. I heard it over and over from other authors, “by the time your book is published, you’ll be so sick of your topic you won’t want to talk about it anymore.” But the thing is, if you love your topic, you will unlock new passion when your book launches. New passion will emerge from hearing from readers about how the book helped them.
  5. Pay it forward. So much about researching, writing, editing, and selling your book is about what you and your book need. Make time to pay it forward. Become a test reader for other authors, promote the books of authors in your genre, say yes to helping others not because they can turn around and help you, but because you will want others to be generous in their time with you as well.

DOUGLAS:

1. Find a good editor & you probably think I’m talking about a copy editor. You need a structural editor. Someone that can help you with the outline, tear it apart, and put it back together, tell you when you don’t make sense or need to simplify, or need to expand.

2. Dictate, Record, Transpose, and then read your thoughts.

3. If you hit a wall, stop and come back the next day.

4. Talk with TONS of people about your project. Watch their expressions. Make a note of things they like/dislike. Also, if you say something that surprises you or that you like the sound of, jot it down and use it as a starting point for a new section of the subheading.

5. Get Test Readers Early. Line them up. Test read people’s books so that they might read yours, and you’ll know what’s it like to test read so that you can sympathize when your test readers.

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?

KAREN: Perseverance. There were days where writing was more challenging. Getting good stories to support the points being made more difficult. Where other things in life would pop up, trying to distract me from my goal. Writing a book is like running a marathon. Some days are harder to train than others. Rain, sleet, or snow, you must lace up your running shoes and just get the miles in. Before you know it, it’s race day and all that hard work paid off.

DOUGLAS: Writing a blog. It’s easy and you can do it a lot! Just sit down and write. Set a schedule and commit.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

KAREN: Variety. I like to change up the types of books I read in an effort to give me new perspectives and insights. Even if I can’t read through a whole book on Machine Learning, I’ll pick that up and read that, followed by a page-turning contemporary fiction novel.

DOUGLAS: I read books, mostly business, design, and leadership books.

You are people 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. 🙂

KAREN: A ‘get started’ movement. That is a platform of stories, inspiration, advice, and guidance to help people in that first phase of making change happen. The work of getting started!

DOUGLAS: I’m already working on it. I believe that Facilitated Leadership is the key to the future of work. As AI gets more sophisticated and automates more things, we’ll need to rely more heavily on our human abilities. Creativity. Facilitated leadership and collaborative co-creation making are the skills of the future. We are building a community and products for current day facilitators and developing the next generation of facilitators.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Website: https://start-within.com/

Link to Buy Book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1734751800

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StartWithinBook/

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

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