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Don’t compete; self-pub blowout; beyond AI hallucinations: Newsletter 5 June 2024

Newsletter 47. How not to get sucked into hypercompetition, Bill Gates’ memoir, AI whistleblower protection, plus three people to follow, three books to read, and the world’s largest business author survey.

How to succeed without competing

For decades, I was driven to compete. I had to be the best. I was top of my class, high school and college. I won fellowships in grad school. At work, I wanted to be promoted the fastest, be recognized as the best, be the most influential, create new products, show off.

I was insufferable and lonely, but that’s how the world seemed to be set up, and if that was the playing field, I was going to try to dominate it.

Now I rarely compete at anything. I succeed a different way.

Interacting with anyone — a colleague, a professional acquaintance, a friend of a friend, a prospect for my freelance services — I behave the same way:

  • Listen. Everyone has something to offer. Learning starts with listening.
  • Help. After 40-plus years in business and 17 years working on books, I’ve learned a few things. That means if people have questions — about writing, about publishing, about success as an author — I probably have something useful to share. If you ask, I’ll answer — and I won’t pull any punches, either.
  • Have fun. I crack jokes. I tell stories. It is in my nature; I couldn’t change it if I tried. People generally seem to like it, since it puts them at ease.
  • Be honest. I don’t lie. I don’t change my prices arbitrarily or hide things. I don’t pretend to know things I don’t know. As a result, what you see is what you get. There are very few unpleasant surprises.

I don’t sell. If I can help, I help; if I can’t, I can’t. And I never compare myself to anybody else.

And when there’s an opportunity, I win.


People I’ve worked with come back and don’t even imagine working with anyone else. I made them happier and smarter, why would they look elsewhere?

People I’ve worked with tell other people to work with me. If I’m talking to somebody based on a referral and I put their mind at ease, why would they look elsewhere?

People who’ve read my book (and especially, people who’ve listened to my audiobook) know what they’re getting and who I am. They want me because they feel like they already know and trust me. Why would they look elsewhere?

My competition is not another writer or another editor or another book. My competition is, “I decided not to do more work on this right now.” And that’s fine. Sometimes, as I tell people, that’s best for them. (A funny thing about those people though: if they ever change their minds, they do come back to me. Why would they look elsewhere?)

Not competing has made my life much better. It supports my high rates. It reduces my stress. It brings me the clients who ought to work with me; I can spend my time working to help them, rather than fighting to win them.

The potential clients I don’t get remain trusted contacts, which often pays off in other ways. I have a lot of professional friends, and I love that.

I love sports. I like elections. I enjoy watching people compete.

But our society is now so saturated with competition that we have internalized the idea that it is the only way to succeed.

If you can find a way to win without competing, go for it. It’s very rewarding, and better for your blood pressure.

News for writers and people who think

Bill Gates is writing a memoir of his early days, due to be published next year. Nerds and misfits everywhere will love it. I can’t wait for the movie.

Keila Shaheen’s The Shadow Work Journal is a most unusual phenomenon: self-published, then propelled to massive sales by TikTok influencers (NY Times gift link). Like all rags-to-riches stories, this story will energize a thousand dreams, of which 999 will fail. It looks easy. It never is.

In the Washington Post, Will Oremus explains (gift link) that AI will always give wrong answers, since it is optimized to output what makes grammatical sense based on the material it is trained on. I’m not buying it. After interviewing a bunch of AI experts in the last few months, it’s clear that neural nets and large language models can be tweaked to favor truthful sources over wrong and satirical ones. Expect more wrong facts. But expect them to become a lot less common as the technology rapidly evolves.

As Kate O’Neill points out, AI employees are lobbying for a “right to warn” about risks with the technology. This makes perfect sense. It also flies directly in the face of current corporate and technology practice, in which companies enforce nondisclosure and non-disparagement clauses on current and former employees. AI companies — and all companies — are unlikely to ever back down on this issue, short of some sort of whistleblower protection legislation.

Three people to follow

Navi Radjou நவி ராஜூ, influential author and wizard of frugal innovation.

Ana Mourão , expert on the ever-evolving details of marketing technology, and how to manipulate them to your advantage.

Kevin Roose , New York Times tech columnist and incisive analyst of new tech trends, especially AI.

Three books to read

Responsible AI: Implement an Ethical Approach in Your Organization by Olivia Gambelin (Kogan Page, 2024). Case studies in how to leverage AI without violating fundamental principles.

The Perfect Story: How to Tell Stories That Inform, Influence, and Inspire by Karen Eber (Harper Horizon, 2023). How to craft stories to make your books and speeches unforgettable.

How Does Disney Do That?: How Disney Makes Us Feel And Why It Matters by James Warda (Rivershore, 2024). Learn how Disney engineers experiences that connect with people like no other company on the planet.

Tell us (quickly) about your author experience

Authors: please click here to tell us about your experience.

We’re applying some serious research firepower to the question of what creates success for business authors. I’m talking sponsorship from Amplify Publishing Group, Gotham Ghostwriters, Thought Leadership Leverage, and Gray Wolf Agency. They’re backing me to write the definitive report on business book success, built on actual data from more than 600 authors — the largest business author survey ever.

For that to happen, we need you to spend 20 minutes in our survey, telling us honestly about your experience (by June 21, please).

Each participant will receive:

  • A copy of the report.
  • An invitation to discuss the survey findings in a virtual Q&A with the study research team.

In addition, ten participants will be chosen at random to receive a free copy of Build a Better Business Book, and five respondents will receive a free one-hour strategy consultation with either me or Bill Sherman, COO of Thought Leadership Leverage.

None of that can happen if you don’t participate. So please share your views here.

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