You have to take time to let your mind run wild, but you also need to make sure to capture your thoughts, ideas, and key concepts. You can continue to make sense of it all and put it all together later, but ideation is a critical piece of the writing process.
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 Dr. Rob Mathews.
Dr. Rob Mathews is the co-author of Entrepreneurship the Disney Way. Mathews is the Director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise at Ball State University, a serial entrepreneur, and co-founder of Mind2Momentum. Rob’s expertise is in assessment tools, creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, employee engagement, and leadership.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I had been a business owner and faculty member/administrator in higher education for 12 years when I decided to dive head first into a doctoral program. I had never thought of myself as a writer before engaging in that program, but I quickly developed a love for writing in my doctoral studies. I had wonderful professors and mentors who not only coached me, but also encouraged me by making sure I knew that I had writing talent. No one had ever affirmed me like that before, and it completely changed my outlook on writing.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
I’m a meticulous note taker, so I’ve had a Samsung Note phone and hordes of notebooks to feed this obsession for several years. I drive my wife, Julie, and kids nuts because I’m always pulling my phone or a notebook out to take notes while on vacation, in businesses, or in other public places where I find interesting things happening. This has been particularly true of our many visits to Disney Parks and Resorts over the years. I’ve captured countless experiences and interactions with Disney cast members that most people would have just left to memory. I distinctly remember my wife and kids rolling their eyes when I started writing detailed notes about a magical experience our daughter (and really our whole family) had at a character dining restaurant at the Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World in Florida. I used my notes when I was writing the story for the book manuscript several years later. I asked Julie to read my recollection of the story and add her thoughts. When she started questioning me on details, I showed her my notes. It was in that moment that my habit of extreme notetaking suddenly made sense to someone else.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
I can’t really think of a funny mistake, but I can share a tip that made my life easier once I realized what was holding me back. This is a matter of style, but if I just start writing without a solid outline (and sub-outlines) as well as a framework it doesn’t go very well. I like to start with the big picture, and then drill down into the content. If I start with the details, I get overwhelmed and just stare at the screen. For someone who lives in the details, they may need to take the opposite approach. They will likely need to free-write to get the details out, and then go back to place the content into an outline and framework, and then move it around as needed.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m working on a book with one of the most brilliant minds in the fields of creativity, innovation, and problem solving, Min Basadur, as well as a corporate executive, Richard Perez. This book is really exciting to me, because it addresses some of the most poignant challenges and opportunities in organizations today, such as critical thinking, problem solving, team building, leadership, creativity, and innovation, and provides a unified framework and way of addressing those needs.
My colleague, Mike Goldsby, and I recently launched an assessment tool that measures your entrepreneurial leadership style. I’m extremely excited about the possibilities of this tool in changing the landscape of new venture, project, and innovation leadership, as well as entrepreneurship education, coaching, and training. We are also conducting research on the connection between openness to ideation and intentions to behave entrepreneurially.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer?
I think this one is also a matter of style and finding what works for you, so I’d urge aspiring writers to take that into consideration. I am a strategist at heart, so I start with a big idea. I then drill down to a framework, key concepts, and eventually content. I then go back and rearrange. I’m a binge writer, which goes against the advice you’ll get from most academic writers. I tried to follow the predictable advice of dedicating an hour per day to writing, but I’m just not that kind of person. I built an outline for the book, then a chapter, and then parts of each chapter. For each part of a chapter, I let the outline for one of the chapter parts percolate for a few days, and then went on a two-day binge of writing. The results were freeing and exhilarating. Don’t get me wrong — I do write for short periods of time sometimes, but doing it your way on most occasions will work best for you. It will likely take some experimentation to find out what that is.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
I really struggled to write Chapter 5, which discusses the leaders after Walt Disney’s death in 1966 to current day. I mention this because writing is a discovery process, and oftentimes your best work comes from topics that may initially give you some struggles. I love the story of the styles of the various leaders and how each of those leaders greatly impacted the trajectory of the company. We describe each of the leaders using the styles in our Entrepreneurial Leadership Instrument. There are so many lessons in this chapter around how different styles and talents can all lead to success, especially when they are teamed with complementary styles and talents.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the many stories I tell around our family visits to Disney Parks and Resorts. Those were just incredibly fun to write and demonstrate the magic of Disney so well. I say this because we have had so many incredible guest experiences over the years — all without any preferential treatment. I think those provide great illustrations of just how carefully Disney has crafted the guest experience in their parks and resorts. I’ll give the abbreviated version of the story I briefly mentioned above. We were eating dinner at Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian Resort. My daughter, Lindsey (four years old at the time), tugged at the coat of Prince Charming as he briskly walked by for his scripted dance with Cinderella. Despite the music rolling, he stopped, crouched down, and told Lindsey he would be back for a special dance with her. We didn’t really expect him to remember, but after the dance with Cinderella sure enough he came back, grabbed Lindsey by the hand, motioned for some “off-script” music, and guided her to the middle of the restaurant for a one-on-one dance.
Finally, I also really enjoy the story about Chris, the hotel’s airport shuttle bus driver. She took her job seriously and it reminded me that every role is critical, especially if you want to accomplish your mission at a high level.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
So many leaders and managers see innovation as far-reaching and hard to do. They also tend to think of it as only radical creations or transformations, but innovation comes in all shapes and sizes. I’m not going to say it’s easy, but if Disney, a large, bureaucratic organization, can innovate, then anybody can do it. Understanding how they do it is the real key. Disney has a people-centric culture, which is the biggest obstacle to innovation. The other key challenge is managing the volume of ideas and requests. Using Disney’s systems for employee engagement, idea flow, innovation, and managing chaordic tension as inspiration in tandem with our assessment tool, the Entrepreneurial Leadership Instrument (that we use as a framework for the book), you have tangible tools to start to drive creative behavior and ultimately innovative results.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it?
Without question, noise and distractions get in the way the most. We have day jobs to do and family lives, and those carry with them important responsibilities and duties. The challenge with good writing is that it requires a heavy cognitive load. You are constantly juggling what you know, what you are trying to discover, storytelling, your imagination, and what you think your audiences would like to read. Add in publisher deadlines and you have pressure, which works both for and against the strain on your mind. You have to take time to let your mind run wild, but you also need to make sure to capture your thoughts, ideas, and key concepts. You can continue to make sense of it all and put it all together later, but ideation is a critical piece of the writing process.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from?
My world view comes from a strategic and purpose-driven lens, so I am most inspired by writers who are focused on the big picture and finding your “why” in life. Because of this Rick Warren, Laurie Beth Jones, Simon Sinek, Jim Collins, John Maxwell, Malcolm Gladwell, and Seth Godin, among others, have all inspired me.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
I’d like to think I’m a practical person who is able to make stories and examples generally applicable to a variety of settings and the greater population. At first mention, most leaders would think they could never innovate like Disney, but my hope is that we tell the story in a way that others realize they can apply the principles and practices to their organizations to get positive results too.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
My advice on writing and publishing is consistent with my advice for just about every other undertaking in life: just get started. According to Gallup, activation is one of the rarer talents, so most people are not really wired to simply get the ball rolling. Just like the name of our company (Mind2Momentum), we believe everyone is searching for momentum. If you struggle with activation, find someone who doesn’t and have them help you get started. Once you just dive in and start, good things are bound to happen, even if it is just learning what does and does not work for you. Writing is cathartic, so if you give yourself some big thoughts and outlines to start with, you can quickly gain momentum towards the big prize of a finished work, i.e., part of a chapter, chapter, section of a book, book.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Pick your passion.Write about things that interest you. Writing is much easier when you care and you know about a topic. I learned this very early in my doctoral studies. I was struggling with a research topic for a qualitative research class. My professor suggested researching and writing about a subject that I saw as a problem or opportunity area in my immediate world. I researched a topic I was interested in and passionate about, non-tenure faculty members at universities, and ended up writing a 75-page paper! Never in my wildest dreams did I believe I could research and write that long of a paper for oneclass in onesemester, so that paper taught me that passion is great fuel for writing.
2. Get organized. I am not that overly organized and I have a visual memory (my wife hates this about me, and for good reason: clutter!). My co-author, Mike Goldsby, helped me get my research materials organized in a way that I could find topical reference pieces when I needed them. We leveraged my visual memory needs to build a way of managing the resources. Find what works for you and build a system to keep your citation tools readily accessible and organized by topic.
3. Get inspired. Read works from other good authors to whom you can relate. A good friend of mine, Roy West, once told me that we relate to certain authors or even specific chapters of books because of how the authors psychological talents and unique perspectives connect with and speak to our psychological talents and unique perspectives. Think of your favorite authors. Read their books again, but this time pay close attention to their style and what worked for them. Use that to inspire your writing.
4. Get started.It’s worth saying again: just get started! Do something that moves you closer to the goal of writing a book. Write a paragraph. Build an outline. Jot down key concepts, stories, frameworks, and strategies. I remember that first major research paper I wrote in my first doctoral class. I spent a week or two just thinkingabout writing. While there’s nothing wrong with processing, at some point you have to get some work done. Remember, you can (and will) always change things later, but the key is to get some positive momentum. Life is all about momentum!
5. Close the loop one piece at a time.Getting started is half the battle. Start that paragraph, but don’t sit on it for a week. Start that chapter, but don’t go idle for three weeks. Get it done! Again, remember, you can and will make changes, but having a string of solid drafts creates a flow of tangible accomplishments that keeps the momentum intact. I sat on outlines of my chapters of this book for far too long. My rationale was that this would evolve in my head, so why waste work? This was silly thinking that basically just amounted to fears and excuses. Once I started, I realized I had results I could work with, and of course sentences, words, order, and all kinds of other things changed along the path anyway.
You are a person of great 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?
I believe we are in a culture with both a collective and individual identity crisis. What I mean by that is that organizations and especially individuals struggle with who they are, what they’re good at, and ultimately what they can contribute to society. The human mind is such an incredible gift. Each person is so different and has so much to offer in ways that only they can uniquely do. I’d love to help perpetuate the movement where people discover their passions, talents, and gifts, and learn to direct them towards their purpose. Further, I’d love to start a movement where more organizations encouraged this with their employees, particularly as it relates to innovation. If leaders really understood that good innovation envelopes good leadership, it could truly change the world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Our handle for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube is Mind2Momentum. My personal Twitter handle is @rmathews7, and my LinkedIn profile is Dr. Rob Mathews. Our website is www.ELProfile.com.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!
It was my pleasure. Writing is cathartic, so thank you for the opportunity! Having opportunities like this to share best practices and my heart for helping individuals and organizations become their best selves is truly a privilege!