Business writing that stands out

Woody from Toy Story - how Pixar protects new ideas in early stages of creative thinking

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Snapshot : Three different insights from great business writing to apply to your business. Learn how Pixar supports new ideas in their “ugly baby” stage. From behavioural science, how the distinctiveness bias can help your brand and advertising stand out. And from negotiation theory, how to win a ‘fair’ deal in any negotiation.

In Brad Stone’s excellent biography of Jeff Bezos, The Everything Store, he shares an interesting early key insight from Amazon. And that’s that non-fiction books have a much higher abandonment rate than fiction books. Those books were and are too long and often do not keep readers engaged until the end.

And if we were to ask you to check through your Kindle right now and list all the books you’ve still to finish, we’re pretty sure most of those would be non-fiction books. And if you narrow down the category to non-fiction category to business writing, we’re pretty sure the drop-out rate will be high.

So with extra time down to no commuting or travel at the moment, we’ve worked hard to finish some of those unfinished business books from our Kindle. And this week we wanted to share a couple of examples of new things we’ve learned from business books we’ve actually managed to finish.

Creativity Inc – Ed Catmull

We have to confess that we are big fans of Pixar here at Three-brains. And this book written by one of the co-Founders gives an inside view on what makes them such an interesting brand and company. It is part biography of the company and part manifesto for how to drive a creative culture in your business. And it has quite a challenge. How do you creatively tell the story of a brand that’s made it’s mark through creatively telling stories. 

Well, it does this by telling a great story.

There’s a lot of great insightful stories around the creative culture at Pixar. How they work. How the teams and leaders interact with each other. The processes, the environment and just the way they do things. There’s lots of practical tips you could take into any business to improve creativity.

But we’d especially recommend the chapter on “Fear and Failure”.

We love the recognition that creativity is a process to be nurtured and managed. And that part of the process is that great creative work doesn’t appear magically. It’s carefully crafted and polished over time. Great creative results start with rough ideas that only through honest and constructive feedback and testing transform into greatness.

What really stands out in how Pixar manage creativity is the recognition that early stage ideas will be ugly. In fact, they are referred to as ‘ugly babies’ at Pixar.

But whereas in most businesses, the aim is to screen out or kill off ugly ideas, Pixar focusses on nurturing these ugly babies in the early stages. Because they recognise that with the right care and attention, those ugly babies are the future creative superstar ideas.

The brains trust

In the book, they talk about how they have a “Brains trust” at Pixar. A small team of the most expert and experienced people in the business. This team meets to review early stage ideas on a regular basis. Any creator of new ideas puts these forward to this Brains Trust. They get detailed comments, feedback and suggestions. Sounds like an approval committee you’d find in most big businesses, right?

But here’s the thing that’s different.

That Trust team has no actual power in the process to block, veto or cancel an idea. They are only there to help make the idea better. To nurture it though the key early stages. What that does is help take out some of the initial fear of failure that naturally exists when an idea is in a raw, unpolished state.

We see so many creative thinking and marketing innovation ideas get killed off early. Many businesses have approval process that are set up to make creative thinkers jump over multiple hurdles. The process is deemed to ‘work’ because it prevents ‘ugly baby’ ideas making it to launch. And Pixar flips that the other way. It’s getting the best ideas collaboratively that generates great creative ideas in the end. Not killing them off early.

They also have a great framework to approach storytelling, which we cover in more detail in our guide to brand storytelling.

The Choice Factory – Richard Shotton

This book takes 25 learnings from the world of bias and behavioural science and links them into common practices in the world of marketing. What could be quite a complex subject is brought to life in a way that’s easy to read. The book is packed full of practical prompts and thoughts that anyone could build into insights within their market research thinking or into marketing plans and brand activation

These 25 biases are covered in the book with case studies, academic references and anecdotal experiments to suggestions on how marketers and brand owners could use them. It’s hard to pick one out, but appropriately, we wanted to highlight the distinctiveness bias.

The distinctiveness bias

This bias argues that there’s no advantage if you follow what everyone else does when it comes to marketing.

If you follow the norms of your category, consumers will not remember you. Your marketing efforts will be wasted. There’s no point in playing it safe when it comes to your brand identity or advertising.

This bias references a piece of work called the Von Restorff Effect which dates back to 1933. But this effect still stands out as useful principle in marketing today.

When given a list of homogenous items, with one distinctly different, the test showed again and again that respondents are more likely to remember the distinctly different one.

A shopping list with ten items in black ink, and one in green ink. You remember the one in green ink.

A list of 10 items of furniture with the word chipmunk thrown in the middle of the list. You notice the chipmunk exception to the list first. And are more likely to remember it.

When applied to how you evaluate advertising for example, it’s an important consideration why some advertising is more impactful than others. 

Never Split the Difference – Chris Voss

The author of this book used to be lead the negotiation part of the FBI’s hostage rescue team. The book gives a great insight into how to think about the negotiation process. While negotiation is a broader life skill, it has clear implication for the world of business. In how you manage your career. Or navigate a marketing project through a business. Or even close a sale with a customer. 

It’s packed full of useful insights that most people in a negotiation never even consider.  He uses a lot of real-life examples of bank robberies and kidnapping. But also in areas like buying a new car. And he talks through some of the techniques and processes you can use to increase the likelihood of a positive negotiation. 

What is a ‘fair’ deal?

We particularly liked the insight he shared around the way most people are pre-programmed to be “fair” when it comes to making a deal.  “Fair” is a word loaded with subjective meaning. We only want what’s fair. It’s a fair deal. Your offer doesn’t seem fair.

But most people don’t really consider what fair actually means. And how your interpretation of fair and someone else’s interpretation of fair can be very different. 

In particular, we like how he challenged the perception of what “fair” is when it comes to negotiation. How most people think a “fair” negotiation is one of compromise. Where the two parties start at opposite extremes and meet in the middle. He gives some great examples of where this is not actually ‘fair’ at all and can lead to a bad deal. And he shows how no deal can be a better outcome than a bad deal. 

There are plenty of other great tips and tactics you can apply to your next negotiation. And you can recognise if you are up against a good negotiator if they apply the tips and tricks from this book.

A final word on business writing

As a final point, we also wanted to share why these particular business writing insights from these books stood out. After all, there’s thousands of business books out there.

Firstly, for each insight they share, they give practical examples of HOW you can use that insight. This is important.

Some business books fall into the trap of presenting conceptual ideas, but which give no direction on how to apply them. Practicality and implementation is a big thing in business writing. The target audience for business writing wants or needs to learn new skills or technique that give them an edge in the business world. So business writing always needs to have this want or need in mind. The benefit the business writing offers needs to be relevant to that want or need. 

Secondly, they also use storytelling, real-life examples, anecdotes and descriptions to bring conceptual ideas to the life. This both reinforces the core idea as well as making it more memorable. They demonstrate and give evidence for why their claim or assertion worked or didn’t work. This makes their overall claims much more impactful. Because of the evidence they provide and the way the provide it, you believe what is they are telling you. 

And finally, though these three books are all on quite different topics, they make their point or tell their story in a way that we hadn’t seen before. The style of the writing, the tone and use of examples, the openness and honesty about things that didn’t work as well as what did make them each have their own unique personality. Which as Shotton’s distinctiveness bias points out, make them more likely to be remembered. 

Credit : Toy Story doll photo by Melanie THESE on Unsplash

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