A Millertime Line
For some authors it just seems like they write a book per year. With Donald Miller, well, see for yourself.
Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance: Finding God on the Road
Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road
To Own a Dragon: Reflections On Growing Up Without A Father
Jazz Notes: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
Father Fiction: Chapters for a Fatherless Generation
Searching for God Knows What
Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy
Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen
Marketing Made Simple: A Step-by-Step StoryBrand Guide for Any Business
Business Made Simple: 60 Days to Master Leadership, Sales, Marketing, Execution, Management, Personal Productivity and More
Hero on a Mission: A Path to a Meaningful Life
How to Grow Your Small Business: A 6-Step Plan to Help Your Business Take Off
If you’re a Christian between the ages of, say, 30 and 50, you probably have distinct memories of reading or talking about Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. It’s one of those rare books that seemingly everyone either read or knew enough about to discuss anyway. That was 20 years ago. Today if you’re following Miller, you’re probably reading Building a Story Brand or interacting with one of its offshoots, and odds are you’re not an angsty Christian but a small business leader or entrepreneur. Yes, going from a questions-driven memoir to a messaging model seems like quite the pivot. But Miller doesn’t necessarily see it that way: “When I ran out of stories to tell, I wrote a book about using story to clarify your marketing message and that book took off,” he said in a recent exchange. The take off led to a business based around its core idea and that has since expanded into other areas like leadership, product optimization, and marketing. The big strategy? “Truthfully, though, I’ve just chased my curiosity, and the business went where it went,” he said. He said more for Common Good back in March.
Author, entrepreneur, speaker, CEO. Probably more titles, right? How do you describe who you are professionally?
I’d say I’ve made a living taking really complicated things and figuring out how to make them simple to understand. I really like philosophical or financial puzzles, and I’m grateful to be able to make a living trying to solve those puzzles.
At least for Christians of a certain age, your book Blue Like Jazz was everywhere. In a similar way, it seems StoryBrand has resonated with a lot of people. I imagine those are fairly distinct audiences. ] What’s the throughline for you from literary author to entrepreneur to business leader?
The throughline is curiosity. I think many writers chase their success by trying to do the same thing that got them successful. I loved being a Christian memoirist. Writing Blue Like Jazz has brought nothing but goodness to my life. And it was written because I got curious about how my conservative upbringing meshed with a segment of our culture that is trying to leave religion behind. I was curious about whether faith was still relevant. For me, it was. Then, about a decade later, I got curious about whether the elements of story could be used as a messaging filter. I don’t think anybody could have predicted that other people would also be curious about these things, but they were.
What did you learn as a memoirist that helps you as an entrepreneur?
I learned how to tell a story. I learned that to be a successful writer you have to have a strong work ethic. I learned to write. But mostly, I wrote a few books that allowed me to be seen and heard, and now I feel full of gratitude and I get to work from a place of abundance.
I think everybody should write their memoir, whether they publish it or not. Writing your story helps you realize how hard life is, how strong you are to get through it, and how life is somehow also filled with unthinkable grace.
Now, do you read like an author or like a business leader? As in, are you reading Marilynne Robinson or Seth Godin?
I do read. I listen to audiobooks as I drive, mostly, but I hope that counts. I’m a fan of Marilynne Robinson and Seth Godin, so it’s interesting you bring them up. I am not a ferocious reader, but I tend to read books that feed my curiosity. I’m considering writing a book about the tricks manipulative people use, so right now I’m reading a lot of books about manipulators and manipulation. I don’t know if I will ever write the book, but I’m enjoying digging into the topic.
Follow up: What does your reading look like right now?
I have a stack of books on my bedside table that need to be addressed. They are stacking up taller and taller and starting to give me the stink eye. Mostly, though, I read the news. I’m fascinated by foreign policy so I usually spend a little time reading about China, Russia, and how America is navigating through this little strip of history. I also listen to audiobooks, but those are mostly other business books and stuff that will help me grow my company. I’m currently listening to a Brian Tracy book about selling.