Tom Whitwell is a Senior Consultant at Fluxx, a business that helps companies to embrace and tackle change positively. Previously, Tom was Head of Digital at The Times, Deputy Editor of The Face and Editor of Mixmag. We asked him a few questions about Fluxx’s third book, The Plan Sucks, and how having a physical book has helped to create and maintain business relationships.
So, tell us a bit about The Plan Sucks.
The Plan Sucks is a book about how companies can get better at responding to change. Fluxx is an innovation company – we work with big companies to help them develop new products and behave more like startups. We often meet companies who have created huge, expensive plans for change. They’re then very disappointed when those plans fail to deliver the results they were hoping for.
At Fluxx, we take a very different approach. We encourage practical, grass-roots change, which helps companies experiment and build the confidence to try things that are genuinely radical. Along the way, they often develop products that customers really like. That’s quite a lot to explain on a website, so we’ve written three books that explain the approach from different angles. Last year we published Whatever happens, we don’t want people to write to the Daily Mail, which was a playbook for the kind of experiments we run. The Plan Sucks is about the broader, company-wide change that this approach can make possible.
What inspired you to create a physical book in an increasingly digital world?
We’ve found that books are incredibly powerful as a relationship-building tool. Every time we meet a prospective client, we can leave behind a beautiful, fluorescent orange book with a thought-provoking title that sits on their desk to remind them of us. In addition, when we’re working with new clients who have read the books, they become a fantastic short-cut; it saves hours of background explanation in early meetings. We can get to the real work much more quickly.
The books are short and designed to be read, not left on the shelf. We very deliberately format them like a magazine, with short 700-1,200 word articles and lots of pull quotes and sidebars. They are designed so that every page has a few interesting entry points that hopefully pull you into the body copy.
Do you think that in the future companies and brands will produce more long-form thought leadership content to help their marketing, or is it still all about video and social media?
We’ve certainly found it very effective, and I have seen other companies doing similar snackable-but-long-form content. However, it takes a lot of work, and some companies simply write 80,000 reports. We really want people to read the books.
The books are also useful for our digital marketing efforts. For every physical copy of our books we’ve given out, two copies have been downloaded as PDFs from our website. Most of the articles from the books get published on our Medium channel or on Fluxx Studio Notes, which has had over 500,000 views.
Tell us a bit about the process of writing The Plan Sucks. To what extent was it a collaborative effort?
I edited the book (my background is in journalism), but the articles are written by members of the Fluxx team. About 40 people work at Fluxx, and many of the team have years of experience in customer research – so writing interesting, well-researched articles isn’t much of a stretch.
Each year, we talk to the people we work with about the issues that concern them. Then we collect case studies from all the projects we’re working on. Through knitting those two sources together, we can come up with a long list of article ideas that should be relevant for our readers.
The collaboration continues with Jay Prynne, a fantastic book designer, and whitefox, who provide the absolutely essential final proofreading service. But really, the most enjoyable part of the process is the Summer Party, where we launch the book, meet clients and drink cocktails.
Finally, which books have inspired you at Fluxx?
Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup is a bit of a bible for Fluxx — he explains a basic set of tools that we often use in our projects; doing experiments, getting closer to customers, making real progress very quickly. Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder is another book you can rarely find in Fluxx’s little library because it’s always open on someone’s desk.