“Other unanswered questions will come to you” when you write a book that sparks a movement, an interview with authors Sara Connell & Dr. Michael G. Goldsby
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Michael G. Goldsby.
Dr. Goldsby is the co-author of “Entrepreneurship the Disney Way.” Mike is also the Chief Entrepreneurship Officer, Stoops Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship, Professor of Management, and Executive Director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise at Ball State University. He received his B.S. in business economics and public policy from Indiana University, M.S. in economics from Indiana State University, and his Ph.D. in management from Virginia Tech.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I enjoy totally immersing myself in a topic, and then sharing a perspective on it that maybe others have not considered or overlooked. I’m a good translator of ideas to others, and writing is a great vehicle for really trying to share your thoughts about a topic you love.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
On writing a book about Disney, I think it was the moment I decided I wanted to write the book. I was in Anaheim for a conference and my departure flight was delayed until later that night, so I had some extra free time that day. I decided to walk down the street and visit Disneyland. I was 10 years old the last time I was there, so it had been a while since my last visit. About mid-day after walking all over the park, I took a break, sitting on a bench in the central hub in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. In front of the castle, there’s a statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse holding hands. I made a decision at that moment that I wanted to learn more about the person that made everything around me that day possible. And it’s from that experience that I went on a 10-year journey, learning everything I could about Disney, visiting the parks, making friends with leaders in the company, and writing the book. It was a very fulfilling journey.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
I don’t know if it was a mistake or not, but when I was first putting together the ideas for the book I mapped them out on sheets of easel paper taped to my office wall. It looked like one of those bulletin boards you see in detective shows with paper, lines, and pictures trying to connect all the dots. One of my colleagues joked that that wall looked like it was from the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” It probably helped me get my thoughts together, but the outline and approach to the book eventually changed completely from that initial mapping. But I left the map up during the whole time I wrote the book, just in case there was something there I was missing in the writing. It was also a visible reminder every day that I had a book to write. Once the final proof was approved by the publisher, I threw all of that big map in the trash. It was a cathartic and satisfying experience to send the book off and throw that map in the trash on the same day. I was relieved to finish the book, but it wasn’t long before I had one of those Walt Disney moments when you ask yourself, “Okay, I’m glad that’s done. What’s next?”
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
After you write a book on a topic, you have time to relax a bit and look at some sources maybe you missed during the writing process. Recently, I’ve become interested in some new topics about Disney that I don’t think were covered in enough depth in this version of the book. After all, there’s only so many pages you can write and keep the book manageable for the reader. There’s a book on those overlooked topics I want to write, and I’ll start outlining the main ideas in the near future.
I’m also writing more magazine and online columns this year, which I really enjoy. It’s a great way to share what you’re thinking about with your audience. They see a more personal side of you in that type of writing. I also do traditional academic research, and I’ve started studying the ethical and societal issues related to disruptive innovations. We’re in the midst of what many are calling a new economic revolution, and I’m studying what responsibilities and responses companies will consider in this moment of economic history. I’m also doing a study on the lifestyles of entrepreneurs, which is a follow-up to previous work I’ve published. And we’re validating an instrument we developed in our book that looked at the different types of entrepreneurs. We contend entrepreneurs tend to approach business as either artists, scientists, builders, or evangelists. Walt Disney was able to do all four types quite well in establishing his company and legacy.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer?
I believe discipline is the key habit of great writing, and I would break that down into two subcomponents: writing the draft and rewriting as often as possible. I find the first draft to be the hardest part of writing, but once done it’s immensely satisfying to take what’s inside your head and put it to paper. But you can’t stop there. Then, you need to rewrite your work as many times as you have time to do so. I would say I did 10 rounds of serious editing on each chapter. For me, it’s about having respect for the reader. If they’re going to take the time to read my book, I have a responsibility to ensure it’s the best experience I can give them. By the time the final proofs were sent to the publisher, I was exhausted but satisfied with my efforts.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
I think it was when Walt Disney was trying to convince his brother Roy and others in the company to buy into his idea for Disneyland. Even his wife thought it was a crazy idea. After all, most amusement parks in those days were dirty and had a carnival atmosphere. But Walt had something different in mind. He imagined a park that would be clean and inviting to the whole family. To get the idea across to others, he started another company with his own money to design and model what Disneyland would be like. Once Roy saw how serious he was and bankers had something to look at, he was able to get the go ahead to build the park. Walt said money people don’t quite understand what the creative types want to do, so you have to show it to them to get them to buy in. And that’s what he did. But that was only the first step of the adventure. Then he had to create a whole new approach to amusement parks that had never been tried before: the theme park, or a park where the rides and games weren’t the most important thing. Stories and atmosphere were. And from this he had to hire a lot of outside experts from different industries to work with his team to build this new concept. It’s a truly amazing story, and speaks to the way Walt worked and changed the world we live in.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
There are two important lessons in the book: One is that Walt Disney was a poor Midwestern farm kid who went to Hollywood and built an empire. If you think about what Disney is today, it shows the impact that a decision by one person can have on the world. What if Walt hadn’t boarded that train in Kansas City to Hollywood? What would the world be like today? So pursue your opportunities. You never know where they may lead you. And the second lesson is about Walt Disney World. Disney World is the world’s largest private operation in the world. It’s 42 square miles, or about the size of San Francisco. If Disney can keep guests happy and coming back in an operation that large, we should all be able to do so on a smaller scale in our own jobs and organizations. Disney really has perfected the playbook for engaging employees to serve their customers, and also is the best at keeping their company relevant and innovative as the world changes over time.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it?
I was excited about the idea of writing a book about Walt Disney. I wanted to make my own personal statement on what others could learn from his life. When the book proposal was accepted by my publisher, it was time to write it. Just thinking about the immensity of writing and rewriting that goes into a book was a bit overwhelming for a while until I got the first chapter completed. Once you’ve published a book, you have great respect for others who have completed one, regardless of sales or prestige. So many people say they’re going to write a book, but so few actually do. It takes a lot of commitment to deliver a completed book to a publisher.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from Malcolm Gladwell and Carl Sagan. I appreciate how both writers translate complex subjects to not only be understandable but also engaging. It’s clear they’re trying to share what they find fascinating about a subject with you. And that enthusiasm hooks the reader into reading their books. It also helps that they write in such clear prose, which is evidence of a top-notch mind. We feel smarter after reading their books, and perhaps we are. It’s why I buy a Gladwell book immediately after its released, and still read Sagan’s work more than 20 years after his death. Their books are not just informative, they’re an experience. I hope I’m able to write in a similar way with a business audience. When I wrote the book about Disney, I wanted you to experience what Walt did while he pursued his projects.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
I think I’m able to give my readers some new ideas to consider about the topics they’re interested in. I hope my writing gives them some momentum in the day to tackle their goals, dreams, and challenges in their lives.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
I would advise an aspiring writer to write on a topic that fully absorbs them, and then find a theme on it that others might find surprising. Take the reader on your journey as you learn more about the topic as you write it. Your enthusiasm and interest in the subject material will come through to the reader better.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started”?
1. Don’t let your other interests fall by the wayside while you write the book.I got away from some things I really enjoy doing during some of the heavy writing times and I regret that. For instance, I really enjoy working out and I cut way back on that during that time and I shouldn’t have.
2. I wish I had outlined my chapters better with more detail.I worked from basic outlines and then I got immersed in writing the chapters, but the writing would have been easier with a better outline.
3. Even though an outline is important, also know that the story will reveal itself as you write it. You don’t have to have it all figured out before you write. Insights will emerge as you put the words on the paper. I felt by the end of the writing process I had a really good understanding of who Walt Disney really was, or at least much better than when I started writing the book. When I started writing the book, I looked to Walt Disney as an almost mythic hero, but by the end I understood much better the challenges and setbacks he faced in building his company. I became more sympathetic to his story, and I think ultimately that gives the book more lessons that anyone can use as they try to pursue their dreams in their own life. He faced challenges in life like we all do, and yet he still persevered to build an amazing company. Every new idea required thinking in a different way to make it happen and bringing others on board to make it real. He led a very interesting and creative life, and we can all learn a lot from his example. I hope the book captures some of that for the reader.
4. What you think you know about your subject will change after you write about it. I really feel like I understand who Walt Disney was after writing about him. He worked through a lot of challenges in his life and sacrificed a lot for his ideas. I didn’t realize the extent of betrayal, financial stress, and physical and emotional pain he endured while pushing his projects forward. Writing the book made me admire him more given those tests and hardships.
5. Once you write a book on a subject and it’s in print, other unanswered questions will come to you.More than likely you won’t feel completely done with the subject. There are some times in Disney history I now feel like I glossed over in the book that are catching my attention. I’m finding new material on Disney I wasn’t aware of when I wrote the book and that’s going to likely lead to another book in the future. But that’s also part of the fun of writing. It gives a curious person a place to channel their energy.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could start a movement, it would be to help people overcome whatever fears are holding them back from pursuing their opportunities. I think success is often a result of people doing the right thing at the right time in the right place. But many people feel locked into their circumstances. If we could help people get the momentum they need to move to their best place of opportunity, a lot of today’s current problems would be solved. Our country was created and built on people who took those risks, and we need more of that mindset today. If people were more focused on applying themselves on a project they loved instead of worrying about what other people are doing, I think there would be a lot more happier people in the world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Our handle for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube is Mind2Momentum. My personal LinkedIn profile is Michael Goldsby. Our website is www.ELProfile.com.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!