Why “Outside In” was an awesome book project

Looking back over 16 years and 57 book projects, one big favorite is a book I edited: Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine. If you’re a writer or editor, this reflection about that book may get you thinking differently about your own book projects.

What makes a book project awesome

In my view, a book project qualifies as great if it has two qualities:

  1. It’s exciting and enjoyable to work on.
  2. It has a major impact on the world.

I’ve edited fun books that few people read and books with a huge impact and a fraught process. Either alone isn’t fully satisfying. But when a fulfilling process results in a great and influential book, that’s what makes the work worthwhile.

The 2008 book I wrote with Charlene Li, Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies ranks very high on both qualities. It was my first book, and immersing myself in writing book chapters for the first time was intimidating, challenging, and fulfilling. Working with Charlene’s prodigious intellect was intensely satisfying; she was the source of most of the ideas in the book and was highly collaborative.

Since companies were just beginning to embrace social media in a practical way, Groundswell spread our and Forrester’s influence. It sold over 150,000 copies and to this day, people tell me how much of an impression it made on them.

But while you never forget the first book you write, it was a book I edited that had the biggest impact.

Why Outside In was so rewarding

In 2011, Forrester’s practice defining the relatively new discipline of customer experience (CX) was growing. Harley Manning was the leader of the customer experience team, and Kerry Bodine was an incredible creative individual on his team bursting with energy and ideas to help the world understand her vision of this new discipline. We convinced Forrester to allow us to create a book to get that CX vision out into the world, with Harley and Kerry as authors and me as editor.

The three of us collaborated on a book proposal for Outside In that sold for a healthy advance, confirming that we were on track to creating a powerful and influential book.

We designed an intensive writing process in which one author would write a chapter and both I and the other author would edit the result. We used the chapters in Groundswell as a template: opening case study story, major principle, supporting details and statistics, additional case studies, rubrics, and recommendations. We shared a consistent dedication to quality, readability, and usefulness. Kerry in particular brought a finely-tuned perfectionist scrutiny to the final manuscript that polished it to a fine luster.

We launched the book at Forrester events and the authors criss-crossed the country to promote it.

As enjoyable as the editing was, it’s the book’s impact that makes it one of my favorite projects.

Outside In remains the definitive customer experience book in 2024, twelve years after it was published. It’s still selling. And since it was built to be evergreen, most of the advice in it is still relevant. I still see people citing (and sometimes stealing) ideas from it all the time.

It went a long way toward generating a huge customer experience business for Harley Manning’s group at Forrester and a successful independent consultancy for Kerry Bodine.

My projects as author have always been special to me. And I’m ghostwriting an awesome book that could very well have a similar impact right now. But Outside In had it all: great authors, great collaboration, and a lasting impact. I was privileged to be a part of it.

Great projects energize

Whether you’re a writer, an editor, or any other kind of contributor, think carefully about the projects you choose.

If you’re getting paid a lot to do miserable work with miserable people and produce a miserable result, you’ll be depressed every day.

Ask yourself: Is this who I want to work with? Is this process going allow me to contribute in a creative and fulfilling way? Have we designed things for mutual respect and a synergistic result?

And when we’re done, if we succeed, will we inspire a lot of people?

If you can get all of that in one project, embrace it. It will teach you things about yourself even as you make a worthwhile dent in the universe.

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One Comment

  1. We used this as a rosetta stone to get everyone speaking the same language in a customer service transformation at a company I came into with a new leadership team. Great book!