Neil Usher is a consultant and also the Chief Partnerships Officer for GoSpace. He wrote and published his first book, The Elemental Workplace, in 2018. His second book, Elemental Change, was released in November 2020.
Why did you decide to write and publish The Elemental Workplace?
I’d been blogging for eight years and just knew I needed to write a book. With an assignment coming to an end, I had a window. A few colleagues encouraged me, and that was that. Once I’d decided, it was going to have to be done!
What do you use the book for in your work and professional life?
Initially I had no idea what I would use it for. In the early days, I was really just writing the book for myself, as an alternative to blogging. It was essentially a challenge to myself: “Have I got it in me to write 50,000 words that make sense?” Having never been published before, I had no real idea of what would happen when the book was published.
And what did happen, when you were published?
After publication, I discovered that it was incredibly useful for expanding my network and creating opportunities for consulting assignments.
There’s lots of material on the internet, but it’s very hard to pull together. And it’s not easy to discern which free internet content is useful and authoritative and which isn’t. It’s helpful to have good content distilled into a book. It’s helpful for new starters who are seeking guidance and a basic grounding. And it’s helpful for seasoned professionals who want to be lifted out of the day-to-day and given a structured reminder.
In terms of your professional profile, what role has the book played in enhancing that?
It’s been amazing. I still can’t quite get over seeing my name on the cover of a book. It acts like a much-enhanced calling card. I was approached where otherwise I might not have been approached. When I was consulting, people had heard of me who otherwise would not have heard of me. When those conversations took place, I was able to win business that I might not have been able to win had I not been published. Since I have been an employee, the book still performs a service – it brings people to me and gives me the opportunity to talk about our business. It reaches people that we otherwise might not have reached.
Has the book enabled you to meet interesting people that you have not done so before?
Yes! I’ve met people all over the world and had people saying, “Ah, you’re Neil, I’ve read your book.” My favourite was the CFO I met when I was pitching with my employer, GoSpace AI, and I slid a book across the table. He said, “I’ve already read it and I have some questions.” Sure enough, he opened his notebook and there was a list of careful written questions. It still feels very special.
Did the book project help you to develop your ideas and thinking?
Absolutely. The amount of times that I woke up at 3am and thought, “That’s it! That’s what I have got to do!” I still can’t quite believe a half-page plan became a 50,000-word book. The hardest part was saying, “Okay that’s it, enough, let’s go.”
The process of pulling my thoughts into a clear, accessible structure was fundamental. Before I wrote the book, had someone asked me to explain what I do, I wouldn’t have known where to start. But writing the book developed my thinking. I generated a whole host of ideas that I wouldn’t otherwise have done. Consolidating and selecting content was an important part of the experience. But – in some ways – it’s still a work in progress. I have a whole file of new material ready for a second edition!
What was it like to work with LID?
I had huge encouragement and belief from the LID team, and a strict schedule that we stuck to throughout. Having that dedicated team to keep things moving is imperative. Once we had committed, that was it – we were on the way. The editorial and creative advice was excellent throughout. I ended up with a far better product than I submitted as a draft.
If you had to give two key reasons for a consultant to write a business book, what would that be?
For yourself, developing and structuring your ideas. I’m fanatical about structure. It was the source of much of the torment when writing the book, and my thinking was much improved for it.
For your environment, creating conversations and broadening your network. However immediate web publishing seems to be, a book takes it to another level entirely.