ABI Writes: Members Author Books to Better Themselves and Help Other Business Leaders

October 11, 2019 | ABI writes

Ask almost most anyone who has authored a book, and they’ll tell you: An idea is just the start. To see a book through to completion, it takes determination and perseverance. After all, most books aren’t short-term projects. They typically take years to finalize.

Take Tero International founder Rowena Crosbie and Deborah Rinner, co-authors of “Your Invisible Toolbox,” for example. They came up with the idea for their book, which focuses on millennials and interpersonal skills, around 2009. It took them eight years and more than a few frustrating moments to publish the book and release it to the masses.

Whether the purpose of their books is to inform, inspire or entertain, there are a few ABI members who have authored something of their own. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t roadblocks and challenges along the way, moments many of them took as opportunities to grow and learn themselves.

“Just persist,” Rinner said. “Just keep persisting. These take shape and form over time.”

A survey and a story

Todd McDonald has spent years researching the topic of servant leadership, the term applied to a managing style that centers around employees. He owns two training and consulting companies, ATW Training and Consulting, which helps businesses with leadership, teamwork, customer service and communication skills, and New Horizons Computer Learning Center, a software training business.

Those many years of research left him with a lasting philosophy.

“When it comes down to it, companies need to look at their employees as any customer,” McDonald said. “And like any customer, it starts with identifying the customer’s wants and needs.”

McDonald wanted another outlet to discuss servant leadership, so he conducted an online survey asking a simple question to employees: “In order to be more efficient and more productive, I wish my manager would just ...” and left it to respondents to complete the sentence.

An overwhelming 5,000 responses gave McDonald a problem and, even more important, an idea. First, he had to go through the laborious process of condensing all the responses into a few bullet points. He turned those notes into a presentation, but the managers in attendance at McDonald’s speaking engagements asked a consistent question: Why not do the same thing, but for employers?

McDonald got to work. He created a similar online survey for managers, asking them what they wished employees would do. From that, he created a flip book in 2003 called “I Wish You Would Just ...” One side was geared toward employees, the other toward managers. McDonald partnered with a publisher in Texas and has sold more than 75,000 copies to date.

“The idea is that success is a partnership between the manager and the employee,” he said. “If they met in the middle, they can both be successful.”

McDonald’s second book revolves around time management. Called “Finding 100 Extra Minutes a Day,” the book, published with Tony Jeary in 2004, assesses common ways people can find at least 100 extra minutes every day for work. To make the concept simpler, McDonald and Jeary converted time into dollars and cents.

“The old adage is that time is money,” McDonald said. “You want to make sure you are getting paid for the time you are investing in things. As we break the model down into priorities, avoiding procrastination, improving organizational skills and delegation, we have assessments for people to identify where they can be more disciplined.”

McDonald plans to update his previous two published works for the modern age, focusing on millennials and Generation Z. He also receives inquiries from budding authors who want to create something of their own. His first question to them is always, “Why?”

“In most cases, people are not going to get rich by writing a book. You have to sell a lot of books to make any money on them,” McDonald said. “But I do know there are a lot of authors, including myself, that didn’t do it from the standpoint of making money, but it does create credibility. It allows you to build relationships. What it comes down to is why do you want to write a book?”

A creation of collaboration

Crosbie and Rinner, chief learning officer at Tero, have a background in writing training manuals, which are admittedly unique from books.

“They are extremely boring; nobody reads them,” Crosbie said with a laugh. “They are extremely academic. We knew we were in trouble when we put the first few chapters in front of our team members and had a lot of blank faces looking at us. We went through some learning curves on writing style.”

The eventual product, “Your Invisible Toolbox,” was published 2017 and has been the fuel for a number of spinoffs. Crosbie and Riner host a semi-regular YouTube show that tackles different communication issues with various Central Iowa business leaders. They've also used information in the book for speaking presentations, a card game, an audiobook and more.

The goal is to find as many avenues as possible to share their messages.

“At Tero, we study the process of learning,” Crosbie said. “We study how people consume information. We’re all very individual in our processes, and we fully intended to make sure that this could be as user-friendly as possible.”

The process of writing was difficult at first, especially since neither Crosbie nor Rinner had experience co-writing on a project like this before. During the eight-year writing process, the pair spent many hours at retreats trying to focus on finishing the book.

At first, they used the same laptop and attempted to write together with the same voice. But when that didn’t work, they wrote separately in different rooms, then gathered late in the afternoon to compare notes. That’s when progress really started to take off.

“We really collaborated well at that point, and it took us a while for us to get the form,” Rinner said. “When it finally took shape and when we knew individually we could write, that’s when the engine started to run.”

Crosbie and Rinner laugh when asked if they’ve considered writing a second book — mostly because they’ve fielded the same question many times before. They concede there is plenty of content for a second book, but there’s nothing in the process at the moment.

“We don’t know if a second book goes faster, but we’re still trying to maximize the value of the first one before we start launching into a new one,” Crosbie said. “But maybe stay tuned.”

Simplifying business

Putting many different random thoughts and bits of information down onto many pages is a difficult task. Andrea Belk Olson, who started a career in tech and eventually started her own marketing and communication consulting company, Pragmadik, more than a decade ago, felt that firsthand.

Belk Olson is an avid reader herself, mostly with materials touching on continuous learning. When the idea to write a book first came to her mind in 2010, she had plenty of content and thoughts of value to businesses. She turned to writing.

“I never thought about a book per se, but there was so much content here and this needed to be put together in an organized fashion,” Belk Olson said. “You have all these random thoughts, but when you put that into a book, you make that a tool that people can use as a guiding light as to where they want to grow their organization.” 

Her first book, “No Disruptions,” released in 2016, is manufacturing-centric. Many of Belk Olson’s manufacturing clients hadn’t grabbed hold of the future, which is increasingly focused on technology. The book helped businesses with the basics, like updating software, enterprise resourcing planning systems and more.

The second book, “The Customer Mission,” helps organizations understand the wants and needs of customers. Belk Olson noticed that many companies were looking too inward, rather than outward. They needed to focus on the bigger picture: what their customers’ problems were and how to solve them.

Belk Olson has received wonderful feedback and has used her book subjects in a number of speaking engagements. One of the positive comments she received said it simply: She cut through all the noise.

“The way I wrote it and the way I wanted this to be presented is very candid and practical insights rather than this large, lofty example of Amazon or Walmart,” Belk Olson said. “Amazon and Walmart are who they are. Nobody is in that game. It had to be really practical and things that people can relate to. It was to show them they can get out of this, and they can grow their organization. This is how.”

Sustainable solutions

Adam Hammes considers reading one of the most valuable tools for self-improvement. He frequently used books and other written materials to grow professionally at Kum & Go, where he eventually became the first manager of sustainability within the company.

That’s where he wrote his first book, “Stress Free Sustainability,” and how Hammes learned about the publishing process on a smaller scale.

When he launched the Iowa Sustainability Business Forum, a business group focused on sharing sustainability best practices, about six years ago, Hammes took that knowledge with him. There were plenty of great stories about sustainability that could help businesses around the state.

Hammes took those case studies and condensed them into a book, diving into implementation, management and more. He released “Sustainable Business in Iowa” in January 2018.

“I had to go out and find companies that were a perfect representation of different stages for a particular chapter topic,” he said. “I wanted to write a book that combed over those issues and showed people that there are companies that are doing this successfully. Here’s a story, and you can do the same thing.”

Hours of research were poured into the book, but about halfway through writing, Hammes was bored. Not because of the subject at hand, but because he had already laid the book out in his head. It was just a matter of translating those thoughts onto the page.

“I’ve thought about this a million times, and by the time I start writing it, I’m bored because you’ve already felt like you’ve written it but you don’t have it on paper,” he said. “You have to have the power to push through the late stages and the last half of the book.”

Despite those roadblocks in the process, Hammes said the book has been well received. The topics have been adopted into 10 different business colleges in Iowa, and Hammes has attended book signings and speaking engagements.

The next step for Hammes is writing on a more granular level. He wants to release nine or 10 more books that are about 100 to 120 pages long, homing in on particular sustainable subjects. He’ll also create video content with each to provide a different avenue for delivering the material.

“I continue to go around the state and share with Iowa companies that never thought that Iowa was a successful home of corporate sustainability programs,” he said. “Most people look to the coasts or Europe, and they don’t think of Iowa as having sustainable companies.”


ABI members featured in new leadership book

Reading about great leaders and their advice is one of the best ways to grow as a leader yourself. Perhaps that’s why you’re reading this story in the first place — to glean tips and tricks from ABI leaders throughout the state.

A new book, titled “You Are Destined for Greatness,” from Aaron Putze is a helpful tool for those interested in absorbing valuable information in quick fashion. A number of sports figures, education leaders, government officials and more from a variety of industries are a part of the book, dishing out their approaches and insights to key business decisions. There are also many ABI members featured, including:

  • Miriam Erickson Brown (Anderson Erickson Dairy, Des Moines)

  • Randy Edeker (Hy-Vee, West Des Moines)

  • Gene Meyer (Greater Des Moines Partnership, Des Moines)

  • Bob Myers (Casey’s General Stores, Ankeny)

  • Suku Radia (Bankers Trust, Des Moines)

  • Doug Reichardt (Holmes Murphey, West Des Moines)

  • Kirk Tyler (Atlantic Coca-Cola Bottling Co., Des Moines)

  • Wendy Wintersteen (Iowa State University, Ames)

The book can be found on most book retailer websites.