Book-talk with Jennifer Rock & Michael Voss, Authors of B.S., Incorporated

Today’s interview is a special one: not only it’s our first double interview, but it’s also the first time we had the chance to talk to book authors.

In 2016, Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss published B.S., Incorporated, a satire that exposes in a hilarious way the American corporate life. The novel’s plot is set at Business Solutions Inc., a corporation on the verge of bankruptcy.

The book is inspired from their 40+ combined years of real-life corporate experiences, which span across various fields and stages of businesses. They worked in journalism, advertising, PR, marketing, corporate communications, from privately held start-ups, to Fortune 50 companies.

Inspired by all those absurd situations that everyday employees encounter, by the mind-numbing meetings and people who behave crazy, they co-wrote B.S., Incorporated.

Jeniffer and Michael live near Minneapolis, where they work as speakers and consultants, while also leading their own communications agency.

Read on to find out what books had an impact on them, or those they’d recommend to young people interested in taking the same career path as they did.

 

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

Jennifer: For non-business, my favorite is To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s the first book I ever read over and over until the cover fell off. It changed how I thought about leadership and courage.

Michael: I enjoy nearly everything Mark Twain ever wrote, but my favorite is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This novel showcases Twain at the top of his game in terms of acerbic wit, sharp societal observations and the use of regional dialects – for which he initially garnered great criticism, before the passage of time enabled critics to understand and acknowledge its authenticity.

 

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

Jennifer: In Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, the executive asks her senior leaders “Who is your first team?” And they each answer incorrectly that it’s the team that reports to him or her. The point is that you need to shift your perspective to understanding your senior leadership peers are your first team. We read that book as a leadership team in a corporation where I worked — and the environment was very competitive between us. When we agreed that our cross-functional leadership team was our first team, we became more cooperative, innovative and productive. And we vastly boosted our results.

Michael: I was the head of internal communications for a Fortune 50 company that had just begun to expand internationally when I read The Future of Freedom by Fareed Zakaria. This gripping historical analysis provided tremendous insight on the geopolitical forces shaping our world, and opened my eyes to the tremendous risks and opportunities that lie ahead for businesses operating on a global scale.

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

Jennifer: I’d be foolish not to say B.S., Incorporated – the novel I coauthored with Mike! We wrote a fictional workplace story using some of our best, ridiculous and most heartfelt stories about our experiences in corporate America. The early interest and critical acclaim of our book gave us the courage to focus on our career dreams and start our own communications agency.

Michael: Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton gave me the gift of self-awareness. Not only in how I come across to other people, but also in terms of my own intrinsic motivations and why I gravitate to – and perform well in – certain types of work. I still refer to the book on occasion and brush up on my top talent themes, nearly 15 years after first reading it. B.S., Incorporated ranks right near the top, as well, for all the reasons Jennifer pointed out.

 

What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

Jennifer: If you are interested in writing and communication, start with reading and understanding the technical aspects of the craft: The Elements of Style. On Writing Well. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Once you’ve mastered the basics, become a voracious reader of fiction, nonfiction, long-form journalism, blogs, speech transcripts — everything you can get your hands on. Professional communications is a vast field; you need to read across forms and genres to hone in on the type of writer or communicator you want to be.

Michael: The Leadership Solution by Jim Shaffer does a terrific job outlining the importance of leadership communication in organizations of all types and sizes, with common-sense steps to help any communicator bring it to life. Why Business People Speak Like Idiots by Brian Fugere and Chelsea Hardaway is a fun, light read with some terrific observations about why business professionals fall into the trap of using jargon and acronyms when trying to communicate.

Links where you can follow Jennifer & Michael or find out more about their projects:

Books mentioned by Jennifer & Michael in this interview:

 

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