We talked about the world not needing another business manual, but, instead, more business memoirs in the post, “The World Needs More Business Memoirs.” Now we want to talk about the art of writing the business memoir.
So what makes a business memoir different from a personal memoir? The theme. In personal memoirs, a person’s theme is usually one of overcoming personal struggles – addiction, abuse, mental or physical health issues, or the loss of a child or spouse.
Business memoirs may be about the struggle may be overcoming a business challenge, funding, competitors, investors, or a novel idea. Or it could simply be about educating the reader about some process, idea, or challenge. All businesses struggle, and while books about how to create a successful business are great, it’s the inspiration, encouragement, and stories of how successful founders overcame those challenges to succeed that most of us find most helpful. If you want to share a profound message with the world, you’ll do it through sharing your personal experience as much or more than your educational background.
One of the things that TED Global speaker Becky Blanton tells clients is being a TED speaker isn’t about sharing your credentials or expertise. It’s about sharing your story. It’s about having ideas that spread. It’s not about the person as much as it’s about what that person has to say that changes the way people think about a thing. That’s what memoirs do. They capture a theme and express it in the most unique way possible – through one person’s experience. You don’t need to be the best in your field. You simply need to be able to collect the moments and memories that changed or impacted your life, growth, or business.
As a publisher, author and speaker myself, I (Melissa G Wilson) assure you it’s not my success that gets people’s attention. It’s my stories – stories about my own challenges, my client’s challenges, and the things we’ve all done to resolve or rise above them.
The purpose of a memoir is not to share a timeline or history of an event, although it might do that at some point. The purpose of memoirs has traditionally been therapeutic, emotionally and mentally healing. What we’ve found with our authors is that the process of writing a business memoir can be therapeutic, but more importantly, defining. For a business owner, a memoir can be the most powerful form of teaching, coaching, and mentoring.
We all learn best through example, story, metaphor, and the stories of others. A memoir is for the people who have, are, or will be standing in the same place we’re standing or have stood. As Carol Tavris says:
“History is written by the victors, but it’s victims who write the memoirs.” ― Carol Tavris
When Al Kamara was born in a country devastated by Civil War, there was nothing in his life that pointed to success. His tiny village near Monrovia in Liberia is not where multimillionaires and top entrepreneurs were born. Yet, when Al was born, his mother told him that one day he would “Become A Big Man.” That simple yet very powerful statement shaped Al’s destiny, but even more importantly, became the foundation for the seven mindsets that guaranteed he would succeed even though he had almost nothing to his name.
These mindsets helped Al firmly believe that he could achieve anything. As a result, he decided to pursue even his wildest dreams. He sets forth the mindset he developed through memoir. The steps are there, but they’re told through the theme of mindset. After graduating from college, working for some of the top companies in the world, founding his own successful company, and fulfilling his mother’s prophecy, Al has decided to share his secrets through a combination of memoir and practical tips.
The worst news a parent can get greeted Mitzi Montague-Bauer when police officers stood at her door and told her that her son, Journey was dead – having stepped off the top of a parking garage. Her memoir about her family’s journey through her son’s mental health is not just a story. It’s a book that educates other parents about children and mental health. Her teaching isn’t done through a “do this, then do that, and this is how the system works.” It’s told from her memories, her emotions, her struggles, fears, and frustration. It’s powerful because it’s real. And, it’s remembered more than a standard mental health manual. We meet real people with real emotions, events, and challenges.
When Billy Dexter sat on a college campus trying to decide whether or not to quit school he had no idea his struggles would become part of his book, Making Your Net Work. Using a combination of memoir, narrative, and “how-to,” Billy and I created a book that not only uses biography but the power of memoir – the themes he recognized in his rise to the top. Billy Dexter is a partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ Chicago office and America’s regional diversity leader. Prior to joining Heidrick & Struggles, Billy was executive vice president & chief diversity officer of MTV Networks, a Viacom company. As EVP/CDO, Billy partnered with MTV Networks senior leadership to create and develop strategies that further diversity & inclusion throughout the global company and to identify new ways of enhancing existing initiatives across multiple platforms.
Prior to Viacom MTV Networks, Billy was president of Hudson Inclusion Solutions, a business division of Hudson Highland Group (HHG), a diversity consulting practice he founded within Hudson Highland. He also served concurrently as Chief Diversity Officer of HHG and worked closely with human resources to create an inclusive culture.
Earlier, Billy was vice president for diversity recruitment initiatives for Monster Worldwide, the former parent company of HHG. Prior to Monster Worldwide, Billy worked at Deloitte as national director of international & diversity recruitment solutions, and at Motorola as director of global talent acquisition & university relations. He started his corporate career as manager of talent acquisition at United Airlines.
Like Phil Knight, CEO of Nike, it’s easy to see only the successes Dexter and others have achieved. But it’s the memoirs they’ve written that let us know what they’ve truly overcome, and what we can learn from them.
You may have a message the world needs to hear. Find out by contacting us here. Just as the saying goes “smells are free,” well, here at Networlding, conversations are truly . . . free.