by Alton Gansky
Years ago Discover magazine ran an article about Amory Lovins (as told to Cal Fussman). Haven’t heard of him? Neither had I, but he’s made a name for himself by having innovative ideas about energy, oil, and the like. He’s a physicist, economist, inventor, automobile designer, and several other things to make mortals like me feel like gross underachievers. In the article he discusses ways to deal with the world’s energy problems, but that’s not why I mention him. Although I found his thoughts interesting, I found his way of thinking even more so.
He made a point by describing a man who walks into a hardware store to buy a drill bit. Lovins asks, “What does the man really want?” My knee-jerk response: Um, a drill bit? But no. The man wants a hole. Okay, that seems pretty basic but how many of us think that way? Much of creativity, innovation, and artistic endeavor comes from asking the right question.
Maybe another example.
At the turn of the last century one of the first (maybe the very first) woman business consultants, Mary Parker Follet, was working with a company that made lamp shades. She asked a question that at first stumped them. “What business are you in?” Like me they went for the obvious, “Um, lamp shades?”
“No, you’re in the light control business.” Seems too subtle to make a difference, but then the, well, light went on. “You mean we can make window shades, too?” The ideas began to flow. The failure to ask and properly answer this question almost doomed the railroads that had difficulty seeing that they were in the transportation business, not the railroad business (which meant they missed out on many opportunities).
Now, what business are writers in? Are novelists in the fiction business? Are periodical writers just in the magazine biz? Are editors in the word refining business? What about publishers? Are they just in the book business?
And what about our man in the hardware store? He’s there to buy a bit, not because he likes the design and feel of it, but because he needs he needs to bore a hole in something. What’s your real need; your real desire; your real goal? If everything worked perfectly, what would your writing business look like and how would you measure its success? The man with the drill bit measures his success by the holes that he drills. Those holes are evidence of achievement. What is the writer’s proof of accomplishment?
What business are you in? What is your real goal?
These are questions I ask myself. Life changes us, the industry changes, readers change; therefore we must be flexible. The answer to the question should never be chiseled in stone but allowed to adapt to our ever altering interests, skills, and world.
“What business are you in?” I am in the communication business. I peddle ideas, sell concepts, and market thoughts. Of course, as a Christian, most of what I communicate touches on faith and the way it is lived out.
Am I a novelist? Yes, but I write nonfiction as well. Am I then a writer of books? Sure, but I also write short pieces, blogs, articles, consult, and edit. Okay, then, that makes me a wordsmith. That’s true it does, but I also lecture, give interviews, teach classes. You get the idea.
We need to think wider and deeper. What do we really want to achieve? I asked, “What is your real goal?” Mine is this: I want to make people think. That’s it. Do I want to entertain? Of course, but entertainment isn’t the goal, it’s the means. I want people to say, “Wow,” “Great,” “Gripping,” but most of all I want them to go, “Hmmm.”
I feel most successful when I, through written or spoken words, reach into someone’s mind and tickle it with a new thought.
That’s how I measure success.
Alton Gansky is a full time writer, director of BRMCWC, and founder of Gansky.Communications. He is the award winning author of over 40 books. Prior to turning to full time writing, he was the senior pastor to three Southern Baptist churches. In addition to his writing, he speaks to writers groups and church organizations. www.altongansky.com
To make reservations for the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer's Conference, call 1.800.588.7222.