"Getting Naked": A book review
No matter how creative your job is, once money is being exchanged for providing a product or service, you have entered into a commercial business relationship.
This includes the relationship between author and publisher. When I tell people I write novels for a living, there is often the romantic assumption that I spend my time alone, perhaps reclining on a chaise longue, lost in an imaginative world of my characters, answerable to nobody.
Aside, sadly, from the chaise longue bit, they would be largely correct! However, from the moment I write The End and hit ‘send’ to my editor, to the point the book hits the shelves, I am lost not in the world of my characters, but in that of the world of publishing, where everything from the title, to the cover, to the marketing strategy, needs to be negotiated.
I say ‘negotiated’. I wish it felt like a collaboration all the time, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes there’s a lack of transparency; promises are made that can’t then be fulfilled, publication dates are moved, and so on. The balance of power in the author/publisher relationship can sometimes feel one-sided. When mistakes are made which lead to poor sales, accountability isn’t always taken, or comes at the wrong time.
Don’t misunderstand me, I know I am super lucky to do a job that allows me many freedoms, but I’m always keen to learn more about commercial ways of working. This is why I was particularly interested to come across a book called Getting Naked that presented a novel (see what I did there?) way of doing business, to realise there might be a different approach, where all those things I just talked about: honesty, transparency, collaboration and being vulnerable are King.
In this brilliantly original book, author and management consultant guru Patrick Lencioni gives us a business fable to present the case for doing what he dubs ‘naked service’.
When you take on a commercial role, the expectation is very much that you must be super-confident and ‘go-getting’; revenue-driven, even ruthless. There’s a hard-sell approach and a tendency towards what can be ‘got’. Even the language supports this culture. There's talk about ‘winning’ clients, and ‘closing’ deals, rather than opening up relationships.
In Getting Naked, Lencioni argues not just that there’s another way, but that it’s only by following this way, being vulnerable and authentic, asking questions and owning our weaknesses, that we form strong, honest, client relationships. That we foster loyalty, trust and allegiance.
However, he points out that there are three main professional fears that block this ‘naked service’.
1) Fear of losing business
2) Fear of being embarrassed
3) Fear of feeling inferior
‘Getting Naked’ is ultimately a book about becoming aware of these fears and how to master them.
Once upon a time in a business fable
Naturally, as a storyteller and a reader of primarily fiction, the ‘fable’ format hugely appealed. In Getting Naked we meet Jack Bauer, an up and coming consultant at a big consultancy called Kendrick and Black. As head of sales, he often lost out on new business to a smaller consultancy named Lighthouse. When Bauer is put in charge of a merger between his employer and Lighthouse, he begins to learn about naked service.
This isn’t at first a straightforward experience: on meeting Lighthouse staff, he realises that his former competitor’s culture is very different from that at Kendrick and Black.
They charge higher fees
They don’t recruit many junior staff
They’re transparent and ask lots of questions
They spend lots of time with the client without even discussing fees, in other words, they focus on helping not on selling
They tell clients the truth, even when they don’t want to hear it
They are even willing to “take a bullet” for clients, if that remove the burden from customers
They are honest with clients about their shortcomings
Bauer is initially reluctant about these alien tactics - the principles of ‘naked service’, effectively because he’s scared, scared of what? Of losing business, being embarrassed and feeling inferior.
However, once he opens his mind and embraces these principles he has a life-changing experience. He realises that what differentiates Lighthouse is this ‘naked’ way of doing business. This means letting people see who you really are, instead of working hard to cover up mistakes or so-called character defects. It means showing vulnerability and being honest even when it’s difficult. It means being humble and taking the buck occasionally, even if you’re not the guilty party.
Essentially, Bauer learns that when you do give ‘naked’ service, a trusted relationship is formed that can stand the test of time. And as a result, you receive more referrals and are ultimately more successful.
The joy of the fable
Lencioni could have written a bog-standard business textbook about the ‘naked’ service model. By writing a fictitious story however (and as I’ve said, as a novelist, I may be biased!), he lifts up his subject and makes it engaging, fun and entirely relatable. Crucially, by giving it the perfect context, he makes it truly memorable.
This is essential reading for anyone in a client facing role - even perhaps those who work in publishing! ;-)