Monday, 12 September 2011

How SXSW, Dave Stewart, A Volcanic Ash Cloud And Twitter Made My Book Idea Happen

I was sitting in a green room at the Hilton Hotel in Austin, Texas. It was March 2010 and I was at the South By South West festival - a place where people come to both make their ideas famous and also to discover new ones. Alongside the film premieres and the music showcases, two guys from England who no-one had heard of: my friend David Sloly and I were about to unveil our ‘How To Unplan A Business’ idea to a small audience. We were passionate about a striking but simple idea: that anyone looking to start a business should forget a business plan and unplan it instead.
And ‘unplanning’ is exactly how my latest book happened.
A couple of days after our SXSW talk, David and I were in a Starbucks on Austin’s Congress Avenue, with large hangovers. The festival hosts a lot of parties and all that drinking on rooftop bars had taken its toll. We sat there, tongues out, our espressos dwarfed by the huge cups of iced water we were gulping down our throats. Amidst the fog of that morning-after hangover, we thought it would be cool to write a book. Really, it was just a pipe dream. So how was it that David returned to that same Starbucks 12 months later, with a manuscript in his bag for our publishers, a division of Pearson Books? How the heck did that happen: how did our random idea get picked up?
Our journey from that hazy, hangover-induced thought to reality involved a music icon, a volcanic ash cloud, a sprinkling of serendipity, Twitter and of course - no damn plan in sight.
Six weeks after SXSW I was back in London, and for an unrelated project, I was trying to meet polymath, musician and all-round creative dude Dave Stewart. I’d tried to meet up with him for nearly a year, but he was always too busy. Then one morning in May I was walking up Wardour Street in London’s Soho when I thought the bearded guy in shades who just passed me looked familiar. I tweeted that I thought I just saw Dave Stewart. “That was me, stuck here because of volcano” he tweeted back, in reference to the erupting Icelandic volcano whose ash cloud had shut down European airspace. That ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment - for that’s what it was - kickstarted my attempts to meet Dave. And a few emails and ‘phone calls later, we met one Sunday afternoon at The Soho Hotel where we chatted about life as CEO of his own ideas factory, Weapons Of Mass Entertainment.
After our meeting we connected on LinkedIn; and then, in another blink and you’ll miss it moment, I happened to notice on my screen that Dave Stewart had a new contact - a woman named Liz Gooster. That surname ‘Gooster’ made me inquisitive, so I clicked on her. She was editor of Dave’s new book ‘Business Playground’ and I started following her on Twitter.
At this point my friend David and I still hadn’t got our act together developing the book idea. With him in Bristol and me on the other side of the UK, we hadn’t seen each other for a while and had got busy. And then I went on holiday to Cornwall with my family. While I was there, I got an email from Liz Gooster. She’d seen I was following her on Twitter, checked me out and discovered our Unplan Your Business idea. Did we want to write a book? If so she was interested.
Four months after that email, David and I were sitting on a Eurostar train en route to Paris on an inspiration trip to start the book, a writing journey that finished back in that Austin Starbucks.  This time without the hangover. And now we’re about to launch that book - ‘Zoom!’; the book that happened without a plan.
Without Dave Stewart I’d not have connected with our editor Liz; without the ash cloud, I’d never have seen Dave; and without Twitter this story wouldn’t even have got off the ground. Forget strategic planning - if you’re looking to make your idea happen all you actually need is a music icon, a volcanic ash cloud, Twitter and a liberal dose of serendipity. Hangovers optional.

Zoom! The Faster Way To Make Your Business Idea Happen” by Ian Sanders and David Sloly is published by Financial Times Prentice Hall, November 1st

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