End Malaria: Michael Stanier on publishing, impact and the possibility virus
It’s sometimes a stretch to see how buying a product can solve a cause, but with his new book End Malaria: Bold Innovation, Limitless Generosity, and the Opportunity to Save a Life Michael Bungay Stanier is looking to make that link as clear as possible. The book is packed with business advice and advice on meaningful work from a range of thought leaders, and $20 from each book goes to fund mosquito nets for African families through the organization “Malaria No More.” Below Dowser talks with Stanier about his model for book to end malaria and about how a business book can involve the 99%.
Dowser: How did the idea for this book emerge and how has it evolved?
Stanier: About a year-and-a-half ago I published a book called Do More Great Work. My professional philosophy is to help people do more of the truly great stuff and less of all the other stuff. In that book I suggest that people truly select a great work project to care about and focus their energies on. After the book came out it occurred to me that I should have a great work project of my own. I sat down and I had a look at the assets that I had – both intangible and tangible assets – and saw that I had a desire to do more work outside of my work in corporations – which I love – but I wanted to do something outside of it.
Why turn that energy toward a book?
I asked myself, what do I know about? I know how to write a book and get a book out into the world. I know quite a lot of what you’d call business or thought leaders because for five years or so I’ve been doing a podcast series with many of them. I did some research to figure out what was the smallest unit of money that could make a real difference, and I decide it was $10 – the cost of a mosquito net. I decided I’d write a book in which proceeds would go to nets. I struggled to make the concept work for while, but in February of 2011 Seth Godin started a new publishing company that publishes only through Amazon.com, which makes the financial model of how a book gets published much cleaner and easier to translate directly into those proceeds.
I have no personal connection to malaria as an issue – this really was me asking where can I have the most impact? I am drawn to trying to find ways to get lots of people to give a little rather than a few people give a lot – and these nets seemed to access that possibility.
How did you get connected to Malaria No More?
I tried to find the best nonprofit organization to work with that also had financial standards that could work with the way money was transferred, because we need to give $5 out of the $25 cost of the book to Amazon.com. Malaria No More was highly rated, had a very strong social media presence, and had a strong presence in the US, Canada and the UK, which areas where I work.
What compels you about the model of many people giving a little instead of a few giving a lot?
My personal mission is to infect a billion people with the possibility virus. In all of my work I try to help people see how much possibility there is in the world and to pick the best possibility for them. A billion people is a lot of people and I hope ‘the possibility virus’ spreads through me affecting one person and them affecting others. In today’s language, I’m more interested in the 99% rather than the 1% – I don’t particularly have connections to the 1% and there are so many more people to involve in the 99%.
Why a book? Why not another type of campaign in another media, which you’ve also done?
The purpose of the book was not just to spread news about malaria being countered but to raise money about it by creating something that people are willing to trade their money for. People buy books because it connects them to a moment or an idea. If was also that I’d done books before – if you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail, so this looked like a book project to me, and it looked like a book was the easiest bridge to get to what I wanted.
How did you gather the writers in this book?
I hunted them down like dogs! Some of these people I know a little bit from previous work. With many of the people it’s a question of being bold enough to ask them for their help – to have a clear offer about how they will contribute to something bigger. I reached out to people who I could get connected to, who I thought had interesting things to say, had who a platform for influence.
Who do you most want to be reading this book?
The book is positioned as a business book. That’s what Seth publishes and that’s what I do. Truly, though, the information in the book is something that anybody can use if they’re interested in making choices about having a bolder, courageous more meaningful life.
What’s your unique approach to creating links between the business and social justice worlds?
I think corporations are extraordinarily powerful. They’re where a lot of people spend their time and they control a lot of the wealth of the world. In a lot of ways, business is broken – not in terms of being profit-driven, but in terms of the experience people have working for big companies. That experience is often mediocre. At the heart of my business is our tagline about helping people ‘do less good work and more great work.’ That’s my driver. My life is richer by bringing in an ability to contribute and by finding some small ways to help others connect with contributing.
What are you working on next?
I’m primarily working on catching up on my sleep! We’re doing another little push of the book in about three weeks time. Truly I’m trying not to actually rush into what’s the next project. I’m trying to let this one sink in and give myself a bit of slack time to lets see what pops up. Part of the essence of creativity is knowing when to broaden rather than narrow your vision. This time now is to dabble and play and see what percolates.
What practical advice would you offer someone who working with business and social impact?
I’d give three pieces of advice. First, people’s advice is often next to useless. Second, if it’s about trying to raise money get really clear about what the business model is – where’s the money going to come from and what’s the exchange for. Lastly, be bold about getting the most awesome people involved that you can. The way I got awesome people involved was I asked them for their help. The worst thing that can happen is they say no, and I keep asking until I get a no. Being persistent about asking for helping and getting people involved will lead you through.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photo courtesy of Michael Bungay Stanier