5 things that writing a textbook taught me about creating lasting results
What is your legacy work? Would you be happy to build something that will last?
Together with co-authors Trudie Murray and Brian O’Connor, I wrote the Leaving Certificate Economics textbook “Positive Economics”. It was a massive undertaking, but it was totally worth it and it taught me some very useful lessons.
I’ve always thought that I wanted to have a legacy. Something that would exist outside of me, that would be there even when I wasn’t. Something to build for the long term.
I wouldn’t want to feel that my work is just an endless grind – putting out fires all day, and still having nothing to show for it at the end of the year.
In many ways, building my business has been this legacy project: when I started my company, I didn’t want to just create a job for myself, but to build something lasting and sustainable.
Writing a book is another project that creates a legacy and, although it takes a lot of work , it is still encapsulated in a time frame that is manageable. In the case of “Positive Economics”, it took 18 months from proposal to publication – and I’m really happy with how the book turned out.
So, what did I learn? Five lessons that can be applied to many things in life: starting or improving a business, doing great work, sharing what you believe in with impact…
1.You have to have something to believe in,
and you have to want to share it.
In my case, what I wanted to share was my love of economics – and not just that, but I wanted to show young people the enormous impact it has on their lives.
Economics is always changing, always evolving, always shifting. And it impacts you, every day of your life, for the rest of your life. The “dismal science”? I don’t think so! Economics is fascinating.
When I give talks in schools, I might for example ask students “So the government has announced they’re going to increase tax, do you think that’s going to have an impact on you?” Most students instantly reply “No! Why would this impact us?” They don’t even earn an income yet, what would they pay tax on?!
Then I ask – what about the VAT on the bar of chocolate they had after lunch? Suddenly a tax increase doesn’t seem like such a distant concept anymore…
There is no reason to be bored in an economics class. You can apply this to so many things and in so many ways!
The LCD smartboard and broadband in the classroom that we didn’t have when I was in school has come as the result of economic policy. Driving from Cork to Galway used to take four hours when I started college, now it takes a little over two – these are all economic policy results.
2. Always, always make sure you help your readers
(or your customers) reach their objective.
Design your project with the user in mind.
The book is totally and utterly designed for the students and the teacher. We wanted to write the book that would accompany Leaving Cert students throughout the full two years of their course, that they could study both with their teacher in class and at home on their own : a resource that would never let them down.
It was absolutely essential to help students with exam technique: the book includes a lot of memory hooks and other tips to help them remember important information. We added several sidebars and boxes with strategies that will help students get in the frame of mind that they need to be successful in their exam.
The way concepts are introduced also makes for easier studying: in the early chapters, the students get a good grounding in the basics. For example, in the chapter about the factors of production, Brian spent a lot of time building up the case study and double-checking every little detail. As a result, in subsequent chapters students will find it easy to build on that knowledge.
Our secret weapon was that, thanks to Trudie and Brian, we were able to test the book even before it hit the shelves. Both of them taught some material in their own classrooms from the book during the year that it took to do the edits. This was a unique opportunity to see whether the flow felt right, whether the progression of chapters was as it should be. As a result we feel that we have the best possible textbook we could have written, road-tested in the classroom by real students!
I was able to complement this with the very real economic realities that made the theoretical concepts come to life. Also, at HayesCulleton, we had been building eLearning competencies in the months and years before, in order to offer students and teachers a rounded package.
From day one, the objective of the book was to help students achieve their own objective and get the best marks they can in the exam. Indeed, if students know everything that’s in the book and in the eLearning modules, it will stand them in good stead, even with introductory college economics.
3. Make it user-friendly and engaging.
We wanted to write a book that was lively, colourful, vibrant, current – but not so current that it would be outdated by the time it’s published. The book has its own interactive workbook, with in-depth eLearning modules, multiple choice questions, drag and drop, fill in the blanks – you name it, it’s in it! I’m also very proud of the visual metapors illustrated in the cartoons: the book has a picture on every page, but just like every other detail, it is there not just for entertainment, but to enhance learning.
Every teacher who reviewed the book commented on the fact that the resources we used are very focused, very realistic. In a section about the Balance of Payments, I took a real example, using real exchange rates. Everything is relevant and has a purpose: we certainly didn’t have any useless fillers.
4. Lasting, legacy projects take a lot of work. A lot.
That’s because, in order to last, they have to pack a lot of value. In the case of the textbook, it was massive work, over an extended period of time, and the book packs a lot of information.
It was an incredibly massive undertaking, more massive than any of us had realized. Looking back, it was a great experience – now I handle every textbook that I come across with the utmost respect!
5. You need a dream team to build
If we were able to write an excellent textbook, it’s because my coauthors, Trudie Murray and Brian O’Connor, are two absolute stars. It was truly inspiring to work with such dedicated people – together, we pushed and pushed until we had a textbook we were proud of. We nearly drove the publisher mad wanting to make our book “just so”, but in the end we’re extremely happy with the result.
Trudie and Brian are both incredible teachers and are supremely talented in economics. Brian has a love of the classroom that is a wonder to witness and he is a wonderful microeconomist, while Trudie is an experienced, passionate expert in the geographical, political and social side of economics, with an admirable drive and work ethic – she just kept going all the time, researching and researching some more, so that the tables would be as complete as possible.
I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to work with them, and I’m proud to have my name alongside theirs on the cover of Positive Economics.
Are you on the list?