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Posted by Geoffrey BellmanBack to Conversations
I don’t remember who first told me that Jossey-Bass had fired Steve Piersanti, but it wasn’t Steve. I immediately called him and got a short version of what had happened. That didn’t make me feel any better, but it did cause me to contact Marv Weisbord and Peter Block to pass on this sad news. Steve had guided me through publishing The Consultant’s Calling, a process that built my respect for his talent and dedication. I couldn’t believe he’d been pushed out the door, moving him to act more quickly on his desire to become a publisher in his own right.
In a short while, I contacted Steve again and asked if he would like to publish a new edition of my first book, The Quest for Staff Leadership. He did and it became one of the first two books BK published: Getting Things Done When You Are Not in Charge. The other was Leadership and the New Science, Meg Wheatley’s runaway best seller. My book did quite well too. And Marvin and Peter published their next books with BK as well. What a great start! I’m proud of having a hand in laying some of the financial footing that got this little company started.
On more than one occasion when beginning a meeting with Steve, he has asked if it would be alright to begin with a prayer. The first time I was surprised; later I expected it. And then I valued it. We are all in need of reflective moments, and they are especially important before stepping into new action. A spiritual overlay on our work reminds us that we are in service to something far larger than the task before us. Amen.
More than once over the years, I’ve received an email or a call saying ‘We think _________ is ready for promotion to this position. What do you think?’ How wonderful to have a small part in those decisions! That kind of action binds me closer to the company and the community that surrounds it. As it’s emerged BK Community is what this endeavor is all about. The company is at the core with its hundreds of links out into the rest of the community embedded in the world around it. And a small action—like being asked about an employee I have worked with—makes the community real.
One time the BK office was all in a stir over some internal problems and there was no one there to resolve them. (I was an occasional, informal consultant to the company at the time.) As staff searched for someone to make responsible, they settled on the wrong person increasing the internal distress. During all of this, Steve is working from home. Yes, he comes in regularly but even more regularly, he is not in. I thought he needed to do something about this and told him so. He, or someone on the editorial side, should be present to resolve issues like this! He was very polite and did not follow my advice. And look at what’s happened since: Steve continues to work from home; the office has moved across the Bay, closer to his home. And I fully expect that all of them will move into his home within the next ten years—thus completing the image of BK as family!
I’ve published three books with Berrett-Koehler and think the first one paid for the other two. In at least one case, it may be because they listen to their authors too much. Pat Anderson (bless her) was head of marketing and we were talking about the best ways of marketing my latest (and eventually least successful) book. She was making a strong pitch to reach out to the then-emerging coaching profession. I was strongly opposed to that strategy and we didn’t develop it. And I was sooooo wrong! Pat: if you are listening, please accept my belated apology! But consider: how many publishers listen that closely to their authors? How many authors feel like they are heard, like they are integral to the process?
I’ve known Kristen since the early 90’s; I’ve watched her grow and contribute as she has watched me become an author. She has a dog named Gunther and a husband, Mike, and two girls, Elsa and Julia. Most years, I see all five of them on their Christmas card. Hundreds of people know the Kristen I am talking about. That’s what happens at BK; they want you to engage. And, the deeper you engage with the community, the more people you will know, the more they will become a part of your life. My conversations with Kristen are sprinkled through with life beyond work; we are friends.
When an aspiring author tries an idea on me, I often test it out on Jeevan. That man is amazing! Usually, I get an answer in less than 24 hours. And he doesn’t just say, ‘This is awful!’ No, he writes a long paragraph about how the market might respond to the subject, the author’s writing style, key questions that should be addressed, how many other books there are out there on the subject and how worthy/unworthy this potential book is. And he does it all in a dimly lit office…It feels like you are interrupting a séance when you walk in. And over there, under the one light (is it a candle?) is one quiet, clever, talented individual. Jeevan has found a place receptive to his unique talents. The same could be said of many of the other long service employees. Somehow, BK attracts a diverse array of contributors and keeps them for years! It must be the BIG BUCKS! No, it isn’t; it’s more important that that—as you are getting a sense of in this book.
Berrett-Koehler encourages authors to develop a community of interest around their writing, and BK models that in the many ways it expands and keeps its own communities connected. Hardly a week goes by that BK is not offering me some new opportunity to participate. There are others I can join on line; there are surveys to complete; there’s a report on latest sales figures or an upcoming meeting; there are workshops I can attend. All of this is designed to keep you engaged, and to keep you deciding how deeply you want to be engaged. The opportunity is always there; it’s yours to pursue or not. And this is no token engagement! You can be on a team or committee or meeting that is deciding some of the future of this company. Frankly, I get overloaded with this stuff. This has to do with where I am in my career as an author and consultant. But isn’t it nice to know that it’s there and I am welcome!