How Bob Rosner Got To Write ‘GRAY MATTERS’

HERE’S an inside look on how the book “Gray Matters: Use Ours, Use Yours” (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2003), the most innovative business book on the market today, got written.

Rosner wrote this book in partnership with Allan Halcrow, a writer, consultant and partner in WorkPositive, a training and consulting firm that focuses on interpersonal skills in the workplace, and John Lavin, an artist based in Seattle, Washington, USA. This book follows Rosner’s two other bestsellers, “Working Wounded” (Warner Books, Inc. 1998) and “The Boss’s Survival Guide” (McGraw-Hill 2001).

A review on this book appeared in this section last April 21, 2004.

People at Work (PaW): How did you and the other authors come up with the idea of Gray Matters?

Rosner: I was in an executive’s office. I picked up a business book in his bookshelf. When I opened it, out flew the receipt from where he purchased the book. He had never opened it after the day he bought it. I realized that most of us don’t have time to read. So, we wanted to create a book that was impossible to put down, that told a compelling story that you would find the time to read.

PaW: Why decide to use comic characters for your book? Are these characters in some ways based on real people you’ve encountered?

Rosner: Comics are the most compelling way to tell a story that I’ve found. There is also a unique ability for comics to pull you into the story. Almost everyone one I’ve talked to who has read Gray Matters always begins by saying, “I worked with Sherman, etc.” All of the characters came out of the personal experiences of the three authors. And a lot of the story line came directly from my e-mail. And even though I live in the US, a huge amount of my e-mail comes from the Philippines, thanks to my column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

PaW: Success of a business covers such a wide range of factors. Why did you focus on specific areas included in your book?

Rosner: I speak to a lot of executives. One of the biggest complaints that I hear on a regular basis is that employees don’t understand how business works. Ironically, when I ask these executives if they take the time to explain their financials, business operations, etc. to the employees, they always say no, they are too busy. So, we wanted to provide the six things every employee needs to know about business in an entertaining format. The six key things are (in descending order): 6. Dealing with change, 5. Walking your talk, 4. Dollars and sense, 3. Politics, 2. Customers and the most important thing to be successful in business, 1. Maintaining Relationships.

PaW: How did you come up with your list of seven deadly workplace sins?

Rosner: I polled audiences for their biggest headaches. After speaking to over 6,000 people, a trend emerged. Their top headaches (again in descending order) were: 5. Fear of losing their job, 4. Office politics, 3. Stress, 2. Motivating the people around you and the top headache, Time management. We took that information to create a profile of today’s worker. We came up with exhausted, angry, ready to surrender, feeling obsolete and incompetent, withdrawing and dysfunctional. Sound familiar?

PaW: How did the three of you write the book, blend your ideas? What helped all of you write it? What hindered all of you in writing it?

Rosner: We thought the book would involve a lot of back and forth between the authors. Remarkably, the book almost wrote itself. I initially made an outline of the business points. Allan Halcrow turned each section into a seven to ten page narrative. And then John Lavin drew the pictures and created the dialogue. There were some revisions, but we quickly found that we were all working off the same page. One interesting fact, John and Allan, my two co-authors have never met. Everything was done through e-mail and phone calls. In fact, John and Allan have a tradition where they begin every phone call by asking what the other person is wearing.

PaW: Do you have a new presentation based on the book? How does it go?

Rosner: Yes, my new talk is called “Repenting the Seven Deadly Workplace Sins.” It’s very interactive. Sometimes I even structure the entire speech as a game show to get the audience involved in understanding the sins and how to overcome them in the people they work with. And most importantly, to even overcome the sins in themselves.

PaW: If readers were to forget everything you wrote in the book except three points, what would these three points be?

Rosner: When we were writing the book, I talked to a friend who did a big study for a large financial services company. They were trying to figure out what mattered to consumers. After spending five million dollars they came up with two words, simplicity and control. To that we added a third word, community. We believe that if you do everything at work to provide people with simplicity, control and community, you’ll be more successful. That said, I still recommend reading the book. There are a lot more things to learn, and great stories and characters.

PaW: What points in particular do you think would be applicable to Filipinos (based on what you observed briefly two years back when you were here)?

Rosner: I was struck by the kindness of every Filipino that I met. I have never felt more welcome anywhere. I also got the sense that the Philippines has a lot of process. Meaning you often have to jump through a lot of hoops to get things accomplished. I believe that Gray Matters can serve as a guide through the personalities and obstacles that we all face at work. My favorite comment about the book came from an e-mail that thanked us for giving the reader insight about how to deal with someone they were having problems at work. When the person got to know the character in the book, they gained insight that they were able to use in real life with their coworker.

PaW: What’s  next after Gray Matters, the book?

Rosner: I’m working on a live web broadcast that will be available in the Philippines via

I’m also working on a new weekly column called Work-Over, where I’ll do workplace makeovers. I’m still busy speaking to corporations and associations. But my most important job right now is being a good father to my six-month old baby girl.

One final comment, I can’t remember a speech that I enjoyed more than the series of talks that I gave in the Philippines two years ago. I am looking forward to returning soon. I’m also very proud to be in the People at Work section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It is the most informative and interesting section on working issues that I’ve seen in any paper in the world.

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer May 5, 2004.

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Founding Editor, People at Work, Business, Phiippine Daily Inquirer

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