What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? I say a lot! … actually, I am plagiarizing here… These are lyrics from a reggae band I used to manage back in the day. D-riser. I managed them for about 5 minutes, but in that 5 minutes I did manage to get enough $ for them to release their first album. They were a cool band and I didn’t deserve to manage them. They were far too good.

D-riser sang a lot about Maori rights and disenfranchisement in Aotearoa, otherwise known as New Zealand. Infact, they sang exactly about this issue – the naming of things. Naming is, after all, inherently connected to identity. So why use a European name for a place that was first found and named by Maori? The Europeans knew why, it’s part of the colonialist playbook.

So… zoom forward a few hundred years, and I am asking myself my own questions about identity. Specifically, what is in the name ‘Book Sprint’?

Well, what is a Book Sprint? On a raw level I guess it represents a methodology I created. It took many years of hard work, sleeping on sofas and being literally homeless. Not in the sleep-on-the-streets sense, but in the traveling nomad sense. During this period I was trying to work out how to make this Book Sprint idea work when no one could tell me how and in fact I don’t think there was really anyone that thought it was possible. Make a book in a week? Ridiculous! So, needless to say, there was no revenue from this, as yet, non-thing. I had to prove its value the hard way. So it was, and so it is. It took a long time and now I am very proud of this product of my own stubborness.

Now Book Sprints is a company. It has an amazing team that does amazing work. It has an amazing CEO – Barbara. How we managed to find each other as kindred work spirits I never cease to be thankful for. But that’s also true for all the team. Amazing people.

Book Sprints does amazing work. We produce books in 3-5 days. From nothing. We do it for all comers – activists, academics, corporates, NGOS … the works. We never fail. Never. Astonishing really. If you have never facilitated a Book Sprint, you would not know how hard it is. We face challenges in every event from extremely difficult personalities, to groups that want a book on something they know nothing about. But we facilitate through it every time. 100% success.

So, what’s the connection between a reggae band and Book Sprints… you might well ask. Well, its about the naming of things. Names are important. The name Book Sprints is important, it is the thing that identifies 10 years of working out how to get a group of people from zero to a great book in 3-5 days. It represents 10 years of championing collaboration in the face of enormous skepticism and proving that people working together make better books than those that don’t. Of the power of collaboration and a very special style of facilitation. It represents us. How we are now an expert team doing very specialised work. Book Sprints represents us, our journey and what we have achieved.

So, it is sometimes difficult when I see others, who most often already know about us, use the name Book Sprints to represent themselves. Most often these activities result in failure. It is frustrating. I have talked to people before that have told me they have done a Book Sprint and that it was a failure. Book Sprints suck, its a terrible idea, I will never do it again. Except, I have never met these people before. We did not work with them. They failed because they worked with people that had not had the same journey as us and yet claimed they knew as much as us, were as good at it as us.

We have also had people come talk to us representing themselves as interested in doing a Book Sprint with us. We share a lot of information with them generously. And in some circumstances they have then gone out there and tried to do what we do under the name Book Sprint. In one case they copied our logo, our text on the website, and made a brochure which looks all the world like us, except not us.

The same has also happened with some academics that write about Book Sprints. We have talked to and generously shared a lot of information with them. They then write about Book Sprints as if they invented the idea with no reference to us. That is kinda shameful for an academic.

I’ve even had someone misrepresent themselves as a journalist to interview me, only to discover they were not a journalist. They were just trying to find out as much as possible about how we do what we do. Why bother? I mean, they could have just asked.

It’s been hard to see that. It’s hard to generously share information in good faith when it is then used in bad faith. It sucks.

So, I have come to agree, once again, with D-riser that names are important. The name Book Sprints, as it represents us, is important. It presents us and the work we do. If you talk to us, Book Sprints, you know we can do what we say we can do because we have done it 150 times before without failure. We do not suck. We are extremely proud of what we can do. Book Sprints is us, it is our identity.

So I have decided to trademark the name Book Sprints. I’m not a fan of any sort of Intellectual Property. It also sucks. But trademarks exist, in part, to help people like us maintain a strong identity. I am ok with that.

Our Trademark was approved a few weeks ago

Design for Community

Recently we took the Editoria product, which is relatively mature now, to a newly designed community process. It was an interesting exercise. We had previously been developing explicitly for the requirements of one organsation – UCP. The task was to now take the product to a community and transfer the mandate of ‘ownership’ to multiple organisations and individuals (‘the community’).

I’d done it before, but this case was significantly different. Most recently I had designed processes that successfully turned PubSweet, the core ‘headless CMS’ from a product developed in isolation (essentially by Coko for Coko) to a community-owned product. I designed a strategy to transfer that mandate and engage a series of early adopters – namely eLife and Hindawi – through a series of events. These events were carefully crafted to communicate that we wanted to embark on a disarmingly frank journey of trust and good faith – to expose an offering, warts and all, to those organisations attending to take collective and collaborative ownership of the product and the vision.

From the outside it might look like we were offering a product – PubSweet. But that is not what we were offering. We were offering trust and goodwill.

These offerings can only be made if there is genuine good faith and a willingness to offer to build trust amongst all parties. This must be communicated by being vulnerable and humble.  At the same time, the offering is not without vision – there does need to be a core ‘hook’ that people can rally behind.

So, with PubSweet I designed and facilitated a series of events to do this. The first event was to get the main players onboard, and we are very lucky that Hindawi and eLife were all in, which is a reflection on their own ability to work in good faith and trust.

The following events were curated to cement a culture where collaboration by virtue of trust and good faith was shaped. I designed processes for transparent collaboration, and before long, these processes became part of the culture of the PubSweet community. It works now very beautifully. We can always improve things but we have instantiated a very successful and productive collaborative culture and it is a very healthy community. So much so that it is, to some degree, now self-replicating. When EBI joined the community much later, they were inducted into an existing culture and expectations were clearly articulated by the community in how they acted. That is what a healthy community culture is all about, and to be sure, it doesn’t happen accidentally, it is intentionally designed and purposefully facilitated. When it works (to a degree) it maintains itself (after a while).

So, when it came to Editoria, I needed to come up with a similar strategy. Except that in this case, the stakeholders were not builders. None of those interested in Editoria had developer or designer folks in their team that could commit to contributing to the development of the product. This is entirely unlike the PubSweet community which consists entirely of orgs with their own dev teams.

So, the context was quite different. How then do you hand over the ownership of a product to a community that cannot itself change that product? What is there to own? What is there to collaborate on? Where is the shared interest?

For this reason I curated the Editoria meeting to articulate our desire to transfer the mandate to the community. It was also done with a sense of vulnerability and humility. I designed a flow during the meet to lead up to handing over the ownership of the product to the community, the pivotal moment being a Feature Proposal process which I communicated near the end of event. The Feature Proposal process enabled anyone (org or individual) to propose new features and changes to Editoria. These would then be filtered through a transparent selection process and the selected features would be built. In this way now the community can affect the product. They literally effect its development path. They can change it, they have a shared interest in the development of the product and a reason to collaborate.

In the two weeks following, we had 36 Feature Proposals made by 5 different publishing organisations. That is amazing. These were not insignificant proposals and also there was a lot of discussion within the newly formed community about the relative merits of each, what could be improved, who thumbs-upped the ideas etc…

Again, this process didn’t happen accidentally. It was intentionally designed and purposefully facilitated. It is an example of what I mean by intentionally designing communities. Part strategy, part emotional labor. Always risky but extremely satisfying when it works.

It is also work that never ends.

Whose Knowledge

A good buddy – Anasuya – runs an awesome org called Whose Knowledge. A month or so ago they did a Book Sprint with the Book Sprints team and are now publishing the results:

New Resource! Our Stories, Our Knowledges

This collection of resources is written as a guide to support marginalized communities – including women, people of color, LGBTQI communities, indigenous peoples and others from the global South – in sharing their knowledge online. We hope to inspire the next generation of knowledge-makers to join in this work within their own communities. These resources are also intended to encourage allies who wish to help with this work. Whether you’re a member of a marginalized community, or an ally, these resources are here to assist you in centering knowledge from the margins.