We reinvented the business book … 48 hours with the world’s publishers in Munich

November 8, 2016

This year’s Future Book Forum brought together many of the world’s leading publishers in Munich on the 3-4 November in an  incredible two-day event, enabled by Canon.

Reinventing the book.

Over the last three years, the event has co-created a vision of the future for “book” publishing, explored how new technologies and knowledge come together to drive innovation, focused on new insights about how consumers of different generations seek and consume knowledge and media, and developed a new business case to drive future growth. It has become a genuine community of industry leaders ready to shape the future in stretching, but also practical ways. This year, we took another leap forward, to take a real-life book, and reinvent it, together.

Changing the game.

So what drives disruption and reinvention? How do other industries, companies and entrepreneurs, create a better future? We kicked off our 48 hours in Munich with a high-energy insight into the world’s most exciting “Gamechangers” (you can explore 100 case studies here).

We all know the stories of Airbnb transforming the world of accommodation (now with more rooms than the top 5 hotel chains), Uber in transportation (and also off-shoots like UberEats, now the world’s largest food delivery company), and Netflix (maybe we can learn directly from the way in which new business models, big data and personalisation have transformed movies).

Just think of some of the most recent innovations, over the last three months:

  • NuTomony: Singapore’s driverless taxis beat Google and Uber to make autonomous vehicles happen in a niche market
  • Pokemon Go: over a few summer months, augmented reality went mainstream, and now generating significant revenues
  • Surf Air: fly anywhere around their European executive jet network for 2500 Euro per month, unlimited travel business model.
  • Udacity: launched nanodegrees to anyone online – 6 months study, $600 per term, and a job or money back guarantee

These companies are creating the future in their own vision, shaping their industries to their advantage, and to the needs and aspirations of the 21st century. They don’t play on the edges, or tinker with products, they fundamentally rethink the way in which their markets work – starting with customers, considering new business models, channels and pricing, products and services, experiences and relationships. They connect physical and digital worlds (an artificial divide), they harness the power of addictive ideas and intelligent networks (the two biggest drivers), and they have the boldness to make it happen (that means leadership). They change “the why, who, what and how”. They dream, and they deliver.

The power of ideas.

When the world’s largest taxi company owns no cars, the largest media company owns no assets, the largest retailer owns no inventory, then the rules of changed. We live in an ideas world. Everything else follows, skills and resources can be acquired or partnered. Ideas. Big ideas. Ideas have the power to change the world. That’s why Thinkers50 focuses on curating the world’s best ideas for business. They bring together all the latest thinking – from blockchain in technology to holocracy in organisations, the 100 year life to collaborative consumption, and much more. They have created a platform to identity, rank and connect all of the world’s top business gurus. And to share their ideas with business leaders.

Starting point.

For this year’s Future Book Forum, Thinkers50 were asked to create a manuscript. 50,000 words containing 50 letters from the world’s leading thinkers (Dan Pink, Tom Peters, Scott Anthony and many more). This was our starting point. Ultimately, the book will be launched by Thinkers50 (in whatever format that might be) at the European Business Forum to be held in Odense on 9-10 May. 6 months therefore to make whatever we create happen.

The manuscript was delivered … Now, over the next 48 hours, our challenge was to reinvent the book – everything from the title and big idea, to format and style, to the user experience and production process, to the communication and distribution, business model and ongoing activity to bring it to life, and sustained over time. Wow. No small challenge then. And as an echo of all those other “gamechangers”, the challenge was to think 10 times (not 10%) better. Radical!

Fast innovation.

My challenge in designing and facilitating the process was to find a way to compress what I normally do as an innovation process – over 3 workshops, typically over 6 weeks, into a very short time – with 300 people.

My Innolab process is typically about opening up to generate better and bolder ideas – shaping and connecting them into a winning concept – and then closing down on what, how, when.

The three two-day labs, became three 90 min workshops. 10 groups of 30 people, thinking and then sharing together – the world’s leading publishing minds, trying to solve the challenge in a fast, diverse and exciting way. The process brought together the best aspects of design thinking, new business models, user experience, and market acceleration – in the Ideas Lab, Design Studio and Launch Pad.

Part 1: IdeasLab.

Most books start with an author and idea, then seek an audience. We wanted to start from the target audience, their issues and aspirations. Design thinking is all about finding the right problem to solve, by understanding people more deeply, then quickly developing hypotheses and concepts to help stretch and shape their ideas further.

Insights that emerged, applicable to all books, included:

  • “Book” is a bigger concept than a book … content which can be shared in any format and platform, which can also be interactive and evolving over time. It’s therefore more than content too.
  • “Connect, context, content” … Start with the audience, develop a title and solution around their context, and only then create focused and relevant content.
  • Develop a thread beyond a physical book … that starts from where the audience starts, then connect platforms to share initial knowledge, building interaction over time.

Specific choices emerging for the Thinkers50 book were:

  • Audience: “Future shapers” … business leaders, and those who aspire to be, but also other audiences like governments, students, children with a curiosity or focus on the future.
  • Title: “Letters to the future” … letters are a remarkable medium, rarely seen today. And unlike a conventional book, they are short, human, personal, treasurable and potentially interactive.
  • Concept: “The big ideas to know” … concise, important, topical and relevant ideas – for example, as real letters, into a coffee-table book, then smaller formats – stimulating replies and community.

Part 2: Design Studio

Having agreed a clear direction for the concept, we were now more easily able to focus on the user experience. Starting from the different audience motivations, to follow a journey through which the book can be introduced, stimulate, facilitate, support and keep evolving over time. This includes how to combines apps, websites, books of different formats, events, workshops and interactions. Only once the user experience is defined, should we think about the production process, including for example how digital technologies can deliver new business models (like pay per chapter), custom branded (like sponsors), personalised content, global delivery on demand, and the ability to stay updated.

Insights that emerged, applicable to all books, included:

  • Each platform has purpose … each format of content (app, website, book, etc) has a distinct, complementary and supporting purpose, creating a value-adding (amplifying) user journey.
  • Content beyond words … Text is heavy and dry. Think how to use different types of graphics – from cartoons to photos, infographics, lists, Q&A, dialogue, video, podcasts, more.
  • Content to conversation to community … communication is by definition two-way, but books limit this. How to use multi formats to create interaction, a conversation that grows as a movement.

Specific choices emerging for the Thinkers50 book were:

  • Experience: “Letters to read, write and share” … Letters encourage more letters, the thinking grows, like 21st century chain mail. Send individually, collect together, receive more.
  • Journey: “Start physical, stretch digital, be both” … send letters, collect in coffee-table book, weekly calendar, ask author, readers write more, new book with new thinkers, and on.
  • Formats: “High Medium Low” … Coffee table book (plus letters to collect, author video, author line), Pocket book (plus video and online/podcast), Digital platform (app, web, digital letters).

Part 3: Launch Pad.

Most publishers are incredibly poor at marketing their books. It is published and forgotten within weeks (maybe days). Yet books are just the starting point – of a conversation, of a community. They are the idea catalysts to build interaction, define an agenda, mobilise people and interest and actions. This is how people get more value, and where publishers can realise more value, and drive profitable growth. What is the market model (distribution channels, pricing formats and levels, business model, communication activity)? How will the book be activated and sustained (interplay of formats and audiences, relationship building, updating content, adding new, building conversation, a real community, building a brand)?

Insights that emerged, applicable to all books, included:

  • Engage people creatively … more human, more distinctive, more meaningful pre-launch promotional activity, then gradual launch of formats/packages (like movie launches).
  • Modular pricing … Packaging of content “HML” for pricing, with options for micro/custom payments (e.g. chapters) or inclusive (subscription). Freemium to make access simple bottom-up.
  • The growing book … keep refreshing, adding, reinventing the concept so that the book evolves over time, getting richer and better. Becoming a brand beyond a book.

Specific choices emerging for the Thinkers50 book were:

  • Communication: Pre-launch build up through letter (and question) of the month by PR and social media; the “letter in the bottle”, time capsules, author networks with personalised letters. Post-launch with P2P chain letters, “fit for the future” events, global and local
  • Price packaging: HML packages with modular pricing – premium iconic book €150, collect letters, buy per chapter (to total), videos, or indie/corp subscriptions. Also sell co-branded bulk versions to sponsors (banks, tech companies)
  • Sustaining it: Build a global conversation, with an active community (ideas club). Anybody can write a letter, local and personal, discovering new ideas, sharing new insights. Growth platforms re-concepting to magazine, TV channel, and events. And extending the brand “Letters to …”.

Making it happen.

This now becomes the blueprint for the book’s development. Over the next 6 months, we will evolve the concept into a physical book and much more – embracing all the best ideas, a real-time case study of reinventing the book.

Some of the interesting questions right now include do we actually need a publisher. Maybe not in the traditional form. But the challenges of editing, formatting, producing, tech building, promoting, distributing, selling rights and more – and most significantly – who will pay for it, is now to be defined. We have options and ideas for partners and business models, which now need to be decided.

We don’t have all the answers – but do we have an incredible start. We have a blueprint for the future, and to deliver a real concept in a few months, with exciting content and future possibilities. We will continue to work with Canon and the Future Book community to share the ongoing story, and embrace their further input and even participation.

We know that books must go beyond print, and beyond content. They need to be conversations, building a community. They need to have content that matters, and can be personalised. They need to grow over time. Launch is just a beginning.

You will be able to follow the progress at letters.thinkers50.com

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