45 authors, 3 editors, 1 host — the journey of co-creating a global book

The pieces:  3 co-editors based in three different timezones, 45 co-authors located all over the globe, more than 600 pages of written material, 3 days, the dream of creating a book that will impact and uplift a field of practice, 1 host.

The result:  A vibrant, connected, innovative and inspired body of material ready to become a best seller called The Visual Facilitation Field Guide and a group of participants fired up about what they learned and where they could take it.

How it worked:  This was the second time I hosted a booksprint.  I fell into the first one, invited by a group of people who wanted to put their talents to work in a different way than simply writing a report to close their two years of researching together.  What I experienced there led me to believe that there is both a strength and little bit of magic to hothousing a collaborative project together.  (here’s my post from that experience)

When I met Jeroen Blijsie at the International Forum of Visual Practitioners (IFVP) we were both participants in a Storyboarding session.  While the others in the group began storyboarding well-known stories like Star Wars and Romeo & Juliet, he and I looked at each other, rolled up our sleeves and got to work on his work.  He told me of his vision to edit a book that would make visual practice mainstream.  We scoped out what that might look like, what questions he might ask himself and who else might get onboard.  And of course, since I’m always intrigued about how good process might cause an even greater result than the one he visualised, I asked him how it might be hosted.  I casually mentioned the booksprint I’d been part of and thought no more about it.

Apparently, he didn’t stop thinking about it, and soon contacted me to let me know not only did he have two committed co-authors, but that they’d also agreed that the idea of a booksprint had grabbed their imagination and they wanted me to host the global container.

So, in the end of January, I found myself back in the Netherlands at the same place I’d hosted the booksprint two years before.  Jeroen and I, the book designer and a changing cast of European based authors met in a faculty house at a business university.  We cooked together, worked together and immersed ourselves in the world of visual practice.  Meanwhile at The Grove in San Francisco, a group of 10 was gathering for co-working and our Singapore-based third editor was preparing himself to act as a virtual host for a group of authors spread from Australia to Japan.

Our intention was to create a connected and cohesive experience for all our authors — whether they could be co-located or not.  We wanted them to feel they were part of a unique collaborative experience that spanned the globe.  We wanted them to feel inspired and supported in our creative journey together.  And while writing can be tough and somewhat lonely, we wanted the experience of us coming together to be fun.  We wanted to make it as easy and straightforward as possible to do the work, get support and feel like a first class contributor.

As I look back now, there were three keys to our success.  First of these was the sense of being connected.  Every day we had a rolling series of cyberspace meetings, with Europe acting as the central host.  In the Netherlands, we sat around the table together and connected with regional authors virtually at 9:00 am.  Then at 10:00, Jeroen and I checked out with the Asian team at the end of their day and found out where they were in their work and what help they needed.  Our authors reviewed articles and made comments while the Asian team went to bed.  At 5:00 pm we checked out together and at 6:00 pm we checked in with the North American team, who were just beginning their day.  And so on.  In this way we were all able to contribute to each other in a timely manner.  One of the most beautiful pieces of harvest from our Day 2 question What are you learning about our field? came when one person said:  “I’m learning we are a circle filled with hearts and smarts!”

The second key was a solid technology platform.  We used Zoom as our base in cyberspace.  Everyone knew when calls would be and some authors joined in multiple timezones.  We even had one Swedish author who popped up in person in Singapore and then went on to Australia.  We used Trello as our project planning notice board.  Everyone could easily see how the different parts were moving through the system and what needed attention.  Each of the chapters was posted in Googledocs so reviewer input could easily be seen and worked with. The Grove’s collegial platform offered a space where authors could meet and post more extensive information.  And our Facebook group kept the spirit alive and rolling.  That sounds like a lot of platforms, but each was fit for purpose and they worked seamlessly together.

The third — and perhaps most important key — was the editorial team.  They demonstrated a responsiveness and professionalism that assured authors they were in good hands and free to be creative.  Writing a book — like any good creative process — is emergent.  You can’t know at the beginning what might show up.  And believe me — plenty did!  I watched Jeroen’s leadership skill rise to the occasion as he created a little video to show authors how to give good reviewer feedback or suggested where there was a synergy between authors in various parts of the world or actively asked for formatting and marketing input from the wider circle.  Part of my work was to host the wider team so he was free to make sure the specifics were working.

It was an honour to be part of this very creative and inspiring project and I’m looking forward to seeing our book “baby” come to life.  And I can see just how adaptable this way of working might be for a wide variety of creative projects.  I share more about my experience in this “behind the scenes” video we shot just at the end of the booksprint.

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