I’m a little bit of an oddity in my field because my education is in Engineering, not HR. I got a degree from Cornell and began my career as a technical professional at Intel, but I was always a little, ahem, “different.” I was always the one engineer talking about things like group interaction and appropriate levels of authority, instead of data or analysis techniques. I loved working at Intel, but I figured out pretty quickly that what I really wanted to do was help other people be productive, and have some fun and balance between work and life. Within my first 18 months, for example, I had written an e-mail to Tom Peters asking about how to get into his line of work.
After about 10 years at Intel, I had run a worldwide and industry wide technology advancement initiative, helped with the redevelopment of the company’s front line manager training, and run a group developing technology leaders. I’d learned a lot about how to lead groups of people, so I decided to take my career to the next level, and follow my passion. As a result of my great experience, I was well equipped to take an engineer’s approach to the practical issues of people doing work. I’ve now worked independently for about 7 years, and written two books about how to improve the workplace.
What is your most recent book? What is its purpose?
Make Work Great: Super Charge Your Team, Reinvent the Culture, and Gain Influence One Person at a Time explains how anyone, at any level, can take actions that will improve their workplace experience and have a positive influence on the culture around them. Professionals at many level of management, from supervisor to CEO, have told me that it’s a useful guide to role modeling positive behaviors for corporate culture. But management isn’t the only target. The main premise of the book is that anyone at any level in a company can start an improvement, so it works for new or mid-career employees too. Really, anyone who wants to make their work environment more functional can use it, because everything it suggests can be done by any professional, at any level, without soliciting management approval. My idea was to create something that anybody could use, so that nobody had to wait for their manager or leader to make things better.
Most books are written either for executives or employees, but not both. Did you struggle writing for such a broad audience?
Not really, because I only wrote about things that would make sense to anyone in a professional position. For example, one of the key tactics in the book is to learn to talk about your own output – what you are trying to accomplish – in a brief format that makes it easy to verbalize. I’ve used this technique with CEO’s, middle managers, individual contributors, and even individual business owners and one-man-shops. All of them can relate to it, because everyone who is working is trying to accomplish something, and it is universally true that if you get clearer about what you are trying to accomplish, and get better at communicating it to others, it can only help you in reaching your goals.
What inspired you to write this book?
A frequent side effect of my work – helping organizations and their leaders to achieve more output with less stress – is that all kinds of people tell me what they don’t like about their jobs. I don’t mind this – actually, I like the practice of using problems to drive improvements. But there is a difference between identifying needs and idle complaining. When someone tells me that nothing can be improved until someone else does something first, I get concerned. I call this “THEY Syndrome” and usually the “THEY” means management or leadership. For a long time, my standard response was, “Do it anyway! There is no ‘they,’ only you. You can either quit, suffer, or make a change yourself.”
An advisor of mine finally convinced me of the inadequacy of that response. “Your solutions can fix the biggest problems in today’s workplace,” she told me, “but only if people implement them. You can’t just tell people to do it anyway. You have to explain how.” Make Work Great explains how. A close friend once jokingly called my new book “The Ed Muzio Guide to ‘Do It Anyway.’” For some reason McGraw-Hill didn’t want to use that title :).
How do you create the time to write?
My method of writing is straightforward: when I’m working on a book, I work on it for about two hours a day, first thing in the morning, about six days a week. My basis for this ritual is simply that it works for me: I find that I’m pretty productive at research or writing for about two hours, and then I’m better off working on something else. And I find that if I don’t touch it at least five to six times a week, I use too much time picking up the thread of where I was when I last stopped.
I followed this routine for about nine months on Make Work Great. That got me to the first draft manuscript, and then of course there were edits. Finding the time is a challenge, especially since when I’m with clients I tend to travel and spend entire days with them. I guess, in a way, the recession worked in my favor; we were slower in 2009 than in 2008, and that’s what gave me the time to do all of the research and writing.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
The first thing I tell anyone who is considering writing a book is to be sure they have a lot of passion around the subject, because it is a lot of work. It’s a lot of work in the ways you might expect, like doing the research, and the writing, and the editing. It’s also a lot of work in the ways you might not expect, like doing media interviews, or spending several hours discussing and pondering the structure of a single sentence, or changing your mind about the best metaphor for a given idea and then having to rewrite forty instances of the metaphor across several hundred pages of text. No matter how much hard and soft return you expect on your investment of time, ultimately the writing is a labor of love, and if you don’t have that much passion, you’ll either abandon your project mid stream, or your lack of enthusiasm will show in your final product.
My second piece of advice is to try hard to ignore much of the advice people give you. I’ve had people tell me that my personal process for outlining the books in advance is inadequate, or that I should handle my edit cycles with reviewers differently or manage my writing time differently. These people – who, by the way, tend to love my final products – are well-intentioned and have my best interests at heart. It’s just that there’s no one-size-fits-all model for writing. You have to do what works for you, and don’t let the voices of others confuse you.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
Readers can visit the book’s website at www.makeworkgreat.com, and from there access video segments about key ideas in the book, to get a feel for what it’s about. My company website, www.groupharmonics.com also has direct links to my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/edmuzio), my Twitter feed (www.twitter.com/edmuzio), and my Huffington Post RSS Feed.