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One Simple Approach to Writing A Book

It’s easy to get caught up in the technique of process, the mystique of the imagined world of writing, the nebulous ether of what it might mean to thrash in the creative space.

Instead, I like this really simple approach by Chris Brogan in Owner’s Mastery Foundation Group #232:

You want to write a book?

  1. Start with the Table of Contents.
  2. When that’s done, ask whether someone would buy the book? Ask what they’ll learn.
  3. Adjust the Table of Contents accordingly.
  4. Repeat a few times.

Cut to the chase. Make the process simple. Jump in.

Also, simple doesn’t mean easy.

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Known in the State of California

I don’t always read warning labels, but when I do they occasionally make me chuckle.

Like this one that was on a Tiki torch:

This product… may contain chemicals KNOWN TO THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA to cause…

I’m not quite sure how that works. Why does California have this special knowledge that is unknown in New Mexico, Kansas and Rhode Island?

And then I wonder… How many times do we practice selective knowledge? Or selective denial? Or when does our territory define what we accept as true? Or when is something declared true by a group around us when it might not be so.

Here’s to having open eyes to see things as they are, and also understanding the lenses through which those around us see.

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A little window

Hilton Magnificent Mile

I was in Chicago. At the hotel, there was a window on the way to the elevator. But instead of showing you outside, it let you see into the restaurant kitchen. You could see what they were making today. And they placed a card in the window inviting you to come enjoy the day’s special dish.

It’s easy to get caught up in what “I” am doing. On what “I” might be able to offer. On “my” perspective.

When I saw the little window, I was convinced this is a practice I need to get better at. Simply let folks into the process. Let them see what’s cookin’. Where they could just be looking at a blank wall, instead give a glimpse of the actual work. It could lead to a completely new set of conversations.

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Ice Cream vs. Gelato

On Monday, I asked my email subscribers for a topic, situation, or scenario that I could dive into for the week. I wanted to try something different. A game of sorts. A challenge to explore something for a week and then post about it by Friday.

A response I received (thanks Heather!) said this:

Ice cream vs gelato.


So I was off to figure out what the differences are.

Starting the dive

I quickly found an article about the differences. It helped get a quick orientation, but I’m not sure how accurate the descriptions are.

Next, an article in Forbes about an unlikely location for the best Gelato in the United States. I was intrigued, though. And quickly decided I would try to interview the Morgan Morano of Morano Gelato.

Blue Bell

I also wanted to try to talk with someone from Blue Bell Ice Cream. So I did. Listen below to the full conversation that I had with Kaysie Noska.

Some interesting things about Blue Bell Ice Cream:

  • If it has bananas, they were hand-peeled
  • Although they don’t have their own cows, they purchase from co-ops.
  • The Brenham location daily uses the milk from 60,000 cows
  • Homemade vanilla is the #1 flavor
  • They’re constantly trying new flavors and taking input from consumers
  • So far, they’ve stayed away from social media

When I checked my freezer, guess what I found?


Morano Gelato

I then spoke with Morgan Morano.

After studying history and anthropology in college, she went into culinary school and eventually she moved to Florence, Italy.

There she stumbled across a Sicilian gelato shop. She was intrigued. This led to being mentored by the chef of that shop, Antonio Cafarelli. She wanted to learn how to make gelato. He wanted to learn how to make American cheesecake. One of their collaborations was a peanut butter gelato.

She found that when it comes to the best gelato:

There’s a craft, an art, a tradition. No one in America was making gelato the true way.

Later, in Hanover, NH she started offering her Gelato at the local farmers market.

The first day people tried it. And then they were sold.

She had come up with her own technique, combining her experience making ice cream as a pastry chef with the tradition that she learned in Florence.


Image courtesy of Morano Gelato

The hardest parts of launching the business were convincing people how good it is (although not really a problem once they tried it!) and securing a bank loan.

Her business quickly grew into its own store location, and is now in the process of expanding to other locations and outlets. Still, she wants to keep the small community ethic as it expands.

Fun Facts about Gelato:

  • Sicilian gelato is primarily water based with some milk
  • It’s lower in butter fat than American Ice cream. This helps you perceive the flavor more (because butter fat coats the tongue).
  • All the flavors are derived from a single base
  • It’s a digestive

Morgan’s Case for Gelato

Although I prefer Gelato, I love American Ice Cream as well.

Gelato is generally healthier than most ice cream: lower butter fat, generally made with fresh, healthier products, no artificial flavorings. No paste or fillers.

 Penny Lick Ice Cream

In talking with Morgan, I was reminded of something that I heard from Seth Godin. He had made reference to someone selling Ice Cream at a local farmers market. I thought it could be a lead. I found out that it was Penny Lick Ice Cream.

Ellen Sledge agreed to an interview. You can check it out here:

Ellen also started at a farmers market, with a single cart and one machine. She’s using only the freshest ingredients. Word quickly spread and the operation grew. Penny Lick is now in 6 farmers markets, a restaurant, and they have been catering ice cream to various events – most recently, weddings.

People think it’s very unique, but it’s very old fashioned. A bicycle wheel push cart selling ice cream – that’s a 150 year old notion.

Custard ice cream well pre-dates what’s in our stores now. I’m just bringing it back.

First Ellen went over some of the differences in making custard ice cream, hard american ice cream, and gelato.

One thing that stood out is the speed at which they run their machines spin the ice cream.

  • Gelato is typically 130 RPM
  • Her custard ice cream is at 115 RPM
  • American hard ice cream is closer to 234 RPM

This difference affects how hard the ice cream becomes. The higher speeds result in more air being whipped into the ice cream and then it also becomes harder.

Ellen’s case for ice cream

I find gelato to be very thin. It’s just not that interesting to me.

The idea of making a custard base, chilling it overnight, and having all of those ingredients form what is custard ice cream – so much more interesting!

(Just don’t read the calories or the calories from fat part on the nutrition label.)

On being in business

We talked about what it was like starting her company in 2013. One thing she learned is that:

Farmers markets are a really great incubator for small businesses.

You can find out quickly if your idea passes the “does it work” test. She found that the farmers market community is very collaborative. Also, it’s never difficult going to work. It’s always a joy.


The hardest parts of starting the business were:

  1. Putting yourself out there, because it’s creative and personal to you.
  2. Constantly pushing yourself to do the next hard step.

This reminded me of the excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man In the Arena” speech:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

I asked Ellen, what gave her the push to actually pursue the business. She spoke of the dreams that pretty much everyone in culinary school has of pursuing their own venture. At one point she realized that she was taking great care in being a mother of three kids, but that she was losing herself in that process. She needed a creative outlet and felt that having that would also make her a better mother. And then she decided to go for it.

Her mantra has become,

If it fails, if I fail at this… I can say I did it. I can say I tried.

The Real Challenge

I think the bigger question isn’t ice cream vs. gelato.

What I’m taking with me is questions like this:

  • How am I approaching my work, my craft? Do I care as much about the quality and approach as I could?
  • Is there someone I could learn from?
  • Am I pushing into the next hard thing that might feel so uncomfortable, but is clearly (or foggily) the next step?

If you have an idea that you’ve been carrying for a while and you haven’t been able to get started, I’d encourage you to listen to the interview with Ellen. But then also try to figure out just what the one next hard step is. And decide if trying in spite of the possibility of failure is worth it. Then go for it!

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Roger’s Cigar Box Guitars

He goes by Rotten Roger.

But don’t let that fool you. After only talking with him for a short while, it’s obvious he’s the kind of guy that is a genuinely nice person.

He gave a quick history of Cigar Box Guitars and showed us the creme of the crop:

This is our Stratocrapper. This is our top-of-the-line model.

They only get mostly cleaned, because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to play the crap out of them.

Yes, that was one of the jokes. ;)

I enjoy learning things from people who are craftsmen. Roger genuinely cares about his craft. And he does well with it. He teaches people how to make them and also sells them at events. I caught him at Cider Days in Springfield, MO.

He sells about 250 of these guitars each year at about $120 each. I didn’t get one this time, but I’m looking forward to getting one if I can catch him another time.

And here’s one of the things that I observed.

Some of the best leaders are that way because they truly care most about the cause – not about pushing their agenda.

He really didn’t try to “sell” a purchase of one of his guitars. What he was doing is:

  • trying to share the great history of the Cigar Box tradition
  • let people experience it by playing themselves (or listening)
  • encourage people to become part of a community & make their own

So now, the challenge: Simply lead. Care the most. Create something out of the scraps you have.

Rotten Roger with one of his Cigar Box Guitars.

Rotten Roger with one of his Cigar Box Guitars.

Me getting to take a turn. The simple tuning on these things would make it a great instrument for a kid to start on.

Me getting to take a turn. The simple tuning would make it a great instrument for a kid to start on.

Here is how you can get directly in touch with Roger.

Here is how you can get directly in touch with Roger.




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All Hard Work


It can be easy to get caught up in daydreams. To be stuck in ideation.

Proverbs 14:23 describes it well.

All hard work brings a profit,
but mere talk leads only to poverty.

An antidote is to put into practice small, daily efforts. Gretchen Rubin describes it well in her chapter of Manage Your Day-to-Day:


  1. Makes starting easier
  2. Keeps ideas fresh
  3. Keeps the pressure off
  4. Sparks creativity
  5. Nurtures frequency
  6. Fosters productivity
  7. Is a realistic approach

So much of the benefit is mental:

Nothing is more satisfying than seeing yourself move steadily toward a big goal. Step by step, you make your way forward. That’s why practices such as daily writing exercises or keeping a daily blog can be so helpful. You see yourself do the work, which shows you that you can do the work. Progress is reassuring and inspiring; panic and then despair set in when you find yourself getting nothing done day after day.

So the question is then, what’s my daily practice going to be? And, how can I structure every project so that I’m at least making small, daily progress?

Do you have a tip, hack or story about daily practices? I’d love to hear! Let me know on twitter or email.


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David Kelley

An interview introduction of David Kelley and what he’s trying to do:

David Kelley believes that everyone is creative, but we have a tendency to hide from that word as we get older. His mission is to help all people recover their problem solving abilities – their creative confidence.

Several years ago he founded a company called IDEO. I’ve known about the existence of IDEO for a while, but didn’t realize that I should be paying closer attention. I only knew that they helped companies make new products.

What I recently found out is that they have a whole framework for how to approach new problems. It’s called design thinking. Or human centered design. And they are very generous in how they share their process.

It has three main parts:

  1. Understand – use intentional empathy to understand the communities and individuals you are designing for. Here’s an example case study about redesigning the lunch experience for San Francisco’s Unified School System “A Cafeteria Designed for Me.”
  2. Ideate – No wrong ideas. Build on them, don’t tear them down. (Hint: They use a lot of post-it notes)
  3. Experiment – Take your best ideas and try to make something. A prototype is way better than just a “Hey, I had this idea….” A prototype allows people explain, discuss, and offer constructive feedback. It can hijack our imagination as we build upon what is already there.

If you really want to dive in to some of the resources, I would study (and maybe even contribute to?) any of the projects on OpenIDEO.

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The Efficacy of Meetings


This is an area where I have to be careful. I love to think about ideas and possibilities. I could dream about things and find a bit of fulfillment in merely imagining what could be accomplished. Yet dreaming about doing is vastly different if action is never taken. So this is me telling myself to not get stuck in the talking loop. Instead, do something.

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Start with a question

start with a question

I came across a post by Kathy Sierra about her approach to presenting. This part stood out to me:

Open with a question they would very much like an answer for.

That’s it. Pose a question. You don’t have to announce you’re going to answer it, just… start. If you’re looking for an opening phrase, try something like, “Imagine you want to…” and then go. Don’t hesitate. And whatever you do, do NOT try to “establish your credibility”. Never try to tell them or sell them on why they should listen to you. If the question is one they want answered, their brain won’t let it go. The rest of the presentation is just a steady reveal of the answer(s).

There’s a lot more great stuff in her post, like focusing on making the audience more awesome, instead of being in a race to be the most awesome presenter. If you want more, check it out here.

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A category of one


I could also call this “leverage,” because that’s what it is.

It beckons the questions:

What are you doing?
Why or how is that any different from anything or anyone else?

I’ve heard both Hugh MacLeod and Seth Godin make the challenge to differentiate. It’s also a challenge to be willing to be great in a way and with an approach no one else is taking.

You can look at it as risky because it might be harder to gain traction. Yet at the same time it could be safer because if you gain any traction at all, you’re set.

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The gatekeepers wear no clothes


This first image represents the hallmark of the way things used to work in most industries just a few years ago.

Some examples:

  1. If you were a musical artist, you would need to be picked by a label.
  2. If you were an author, you would need to be picked by a publisher.
  3. If you had an idea for a new kind of product, you would need to get picked by the bank or large corporation with enough resources to bring it to market.
  4. If you wanted to be an artist, you would need to be picked by the Gallery.

In each of these cases you had to be picked by the “Gatekeeper.” You had to spend your time woo-ing, wow-ing them, and hoping that they liked what you had.


Things have changed.

You no longer have to be “picked.” Sure, if you want to go through a gatekeeper, they’re all still there for the moment. But the dynamic has changed. The smart ones will offer you resources and infrastructure and a great experience. They will know how to be multipliers to the efforts you are already making. But in most industries, their stamp of approval is irrelevant.

What matters is deciding to do it and figuring out how to bring something of value to the table – and likely directly to your audience.


  1. If you want to release an album, no one is stopping you.
  2. If you want to publish your own book, go for it.
  3. If you have an idea for a product, go find customers before it’s even built (and the tools to build things are getting easier and cheaper every month). If they like it, they’ll fund it.
  4. If you want to be an artist, you can do it without a gallery.

You (and I) are on the hook, not just to try to do the thing that we’re wanting to do and hope to get picked, but we’re on the hook to dive into it and swim. We are our own gatekeepers in a way. No one is there to say “Stop!”

Me? I’m trying to make the shift. It’s very different from simply following instructions. I’ll acknowledge it’s hard. It’s vulnerable, scary and it means we don’t get to hide as easily. Maybe that’s why I’m writing this post. To force myself a small nudge toward the arena.

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Starbucks wants you to think of them fondly

Starbucks is pretty smart with how they engage you. I think it all comes down to this: They want to build a habit in your life of buying coffee from them.

1. It starts with good content. Ok, coffee divas, you might not consider it good, but you probably agree that it’s better than the coffee at most restaurants and gas stations.

2. They give you free music and apps. In store you can get the download code cards for free. If you have the app, it will give you notifications that there is a free download ready.

3. They want to turn the gift card that you were given into a reward card.

4. When you buy a bag of Starbucks coffee at the grocery store, they’ll still give you a “star” for your reward program.

5. When your are finished with a bag of Starbucks coffee you can bring the empty bag into the store and exchange it for a coffee. —> This one is a kicker. Even if you bought the Starbucks brand from another place, they are still driving you toward their retail store.

These are just a few small things, but they add up. By giving rewards and coordinating giving away music to you, they are trying to train you to respond favorably when they ping you. Also they keep themselves on your mind steadily. A constant slow drip of changing your habits and impulses. And from what I can tell, this strategy is working.

starbucks_card_2014 starbucks_gold_bag_2014

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The Hard Part of the Hard Part

[This is often the case]
The hardest part (and the part with the most payoff), is the decision to do the hard part.

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Lorde, Josephus and a Missing Ear

Act One

If you occasionally turn on the radio to any of the top 40 pop stations (which is more and more becoming any commercial station that plays music), you might have heard the song “Royals” by Lorde. Here are the pre-chorus lyrics:

But every song’s like gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair

I love how a kid from New Zealand can assault the ridiculousness of this party/entertainment/celebrity culture.

This feeling of truth being made plain was echoed again when I was with a group discussing dreams versus current reality. The reminder was brought up that an American dream primarily tied to material success is not equivalent to a life well lived. It doesn’t register particularly strong on the measure of “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Act Two

I heard N.T. Wright talking about the term “Come, follow me.” He found an manuscript in which Josephus, as a Jewish commander, tells a soldier to “Come, Follow Me.” The context gives weight to a reading like this:

Give up your way of being the kingdom of God and trust me for mine.

Isn’t this what Jesus asks of all of us? To give up our way of trying to use our own manipulation, force, ideals and methods that we think will make our lives and this world better, and then to trust Jesus for His way?

Act Three

Picture Jesus in the garden. The Roman soldiers come to arrest him. Simon Peter in this moment (thinks he) has a clear idea of what the breaking in of the kingdom of God is going to look like. He was a zealot, ready to overthrow the Roman empire by force. In this moment, Peter takes out his sword, ready for assault, and cuts off a soldier’s ear. (Aside: Given the lack of a shoulder injury, how do you cut off someone’s ear unless you are swinging for the neck and the person ducks sideways?) Jesus heals the wounded soldier and goes on to face the violence of execution.

My confession is that this is all hard to swallow. I often try to follow my own way of being the kingdom of God. It can look good and feel right. But then I’m confronted with Him. And then the simple question of whether I will come and follow. On good days, I might answer something like this:

Ok. I’ll give up my way of being the kingdom of God. I’ll trust you for yours.

Too many days I block it out altogether. I’m too busy thinking about where I’m going to find a gold leash for that tiger. And what kind of a Jet plane we can take to get to that island.

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Talk To This Guy

If you’re not comfortable talking into a camera, there’s always this guy.

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Learning Again

I forced myself to learn something new. There is a new platform ( that is designed to help anyone tell stories using multimedia. It has cool integrations with YouTube, photo sharing sites, and you can also directly record narration or upload various files.

I was surprised by the part that was hard. The part that was hard was actually starting. Sitting down and jumping into making something –anything– while using a new technology.

So if you have something that you’ve been putting off just because you *think* it might be hard… just go for it! Maybe it actually is hard, but you won’t know unless you try. And if it is hard, I hope it’s worth it! And in this case it was incredibly user friendly and also worth it.

Here is my first Meograph where I talk about 3 bass lines that I like:

Click here to see it on meograph:

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Quirky Videos

I’m often asked to help people tell a story about a new product that they are launching or an idea they want to spread. I gravitate to using a sort of lo-fi, high tech animation. Lo-fi because the elements are usually pretty basic materials. High tech because new technology makes this kind of approach more accessible than ever.

Below are some samples.


Expeditions: Go, Give, Pray from Joel Wilson on Vimeo.


714 Book Trailer Alternative Version from Joel Wilson on Vimeo.


Chi Alpha Puzzle from Joel Wilson on Vimeo.


A Biblical Theology of the Holy Land from Joel Wilson on Vimeo.


Fuel Fund 2:30 from Joel Wilson on Vimeo.


The 7th Year – HOW from Joel Wilson on Vimeo.


Biblical Global Justice Curriculum from Joel Wilson on Vimeo.


What if…? from Joel Wilson on Vimeo.

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