The Bracken Bower Prize

To say that we entered the Bracken Bower prize on a whim wouldn’t be quite fair. The original details about the contest came from Ken McGuffin, the Media Relations Manager for the Rotman School of Management, who helped us through the process of writing an Op Ed for the Guardian on the continued risks of deepwater drilling. Ken recommended that we look into the prize. We agreed that it seemed interesting, but we started out by putting it on the back burner, where it sat for several months.

But when András was in Seattle after Academy of Management last summer, we decided, after a delicious dinner of miso cod, that “it’d be fun to enter this thing. In the worst case, we’ll get a book proposal out of it.”

Needless to say, our expectations were far exceeded. Last week,  we spoke with the FT’s Andrew Hill, for a piece about the impact of the prize. During that conversation, it was interesting to reflect on some of the strategies that we used to try and make our initial proposal (and then our rewritten proposal, which was sold to Penguin Press and Penguin Canada, among others) the best that it could be. Here’s a short list:

Use Skeptics. While writing is often seen as a solitary endeavor, András and I found our collaboration invaluable. Though it’s challenging and time consuming to write with a coauthor, it was great to have a voice outside of our heads who could quickly weigh in with feedback about what makes sense, what doesn’t, and what arguments got lost in cumbersome prose.

In addition to the day-to-day feedback from each other, we benefited tremendously by bringing in outside editors, whether folks who focused on business writing, friends we recruited as “general educated readers,” and even our L.A.-based screenwriter friend who helped us hone some of our stories. These folks helped us craft our arguments in a coherent way. Without them, our core idea would never have surfaced in a high-quality way.

Rewrite. A lot. For us, there were multiple iterations of rewriting. András and I would often edit each other’s prose, helping move our ideas out from spaghetti sentences to well-formed ideas. Then we’d do it again.

The Power of Deadlines. Having an external deadline was a great motivator. We used the deadline (and each other) as a commitment device, which made us accountable to a schedule.

In short, if you’ve got an idea floating around in your head, the broad theme of the Bracken Bower prize (“the challenges and opportunities of growth”) provides a great excuse to set pen to paper and start writing. Head over to the FT for info about the prize and to register your interest.