Q&A with Emily Brew, co-author of Inspired INC.

By   Hannah Bickerton 8 min read

Earlier in the year we spoke to Co-creator of Inspired Companies and Co-author of Inspired INC. Lisa MacCallum. Now, we hear the other side of the story from Emily Brew!

Emily Brew is the co-author of Inspired INC. As the Principal of Brew Advisors, she is a brand strategist who helps organisations across sectors to deepen connections, fuel movements and instigate innovation to drive change. As Creative Brand Director for the Nike Foundation, Emily led the creative development of the breakthrough concept, the Girl Effect, which has been featured at the World Economic Forum, the Clinton Global Initiative and TED, among many others. She also led the team that created The Clock is Ticking, which won the TED Ads Worth Spreading challenge in 2011.

What made you decide to create your new book Inspired INC.?

It started a long time ago when I met Lisa – almost fifteen years ago now. We were working at the Nike Foundation together on an unusual mission: we were investing in the power of girls –adolescent girls – to fight against international poverty.

Both Lisa and I had been at Nike for many years but when we met at the Foundation, we both found it to be a completely different experience to anything we had been involved with before. Up until that point, we were pretty used to calling the shots. But at the Foundation we found that our success was really dependent on our ability to work with and alongside a whole range of external stakeholders: researchers, practitioners, policy makers, other donors, etc. That, we found, was a really dramatically different way for us to think about and do our work, and to think about delivering big ideas.

After we’d done that work together and we’d both moved on from the Foundation to do other things, we continued the conversation about what we had learned there. We realised that due to the rise in social media every company is now controlled by the power of consumers, clients and customers, employees and traditional corporate outsiders. These are the people who really influence the success of a company.

Our experience at the Foundation made us pause and think: ‘Wait a second, we might have something to offer here.’ It made us truly curious about how other companies were managing this new corporate environment and that curiosity really initiated our work on the subject and, subsequently, the decision to create Inspired INC.

What was your experience of writing the book?

 In all honesty, there were many times that I didn’t think it was going to work. We had one author based in eastern Australia, one author living in the Pacific Northwest of the US and the other sitting in Utah. We managed to complete this project via Google Hangouts – two hours every week, punctuated by times we’d actually get together in person.

I have to say that if you’d told me at the beginning that three people could write a book that way, I’d say you’re crazy. But it did work.

I also had doubts about merging three very different voices into one book. If you met the three of us, you would be amazed at how very different we are and how very different our writing voices and styles are. Lisa has this deep intellectual rigour behind her voice, and she’s got some amazing zingers as well. Nicole has a really hilarious sense of humour and is just really an incredibly good writer. I think I probably fall somewhere in the middle. There are now moments when I look at passages in the book and I literally can’t remember who wrote that passage. For me, that’s one of the things that I feel really satisfied and proud about. We were three colleagues, authors, friends, who came together and created something that none of us would have been able to create on our own. The end product really is one singular voice coming from three.

Was there any element of the writing and publishing process that you struggled with?

At the beginning of the project numerous people told us that it was a bad idea to have three names on the cover of a book. Books aren’t written by three people. We were told that if we wanted the book to be successful, we needed to follow that model. But this prospect just didn’t work for us because it didn’t reflect the partnership that was behind the book and inspired its creation.

We refused to listen, and we don’t regret it – Lisa and I drew from the experiences we gained from working at Nike, and Nicole worked alongside us to really shape the book’s content in a sharp way. We refused to not acknowledge this collaboration on the front of the book, and in doing so we believe we have demonstrated that three people can work together to write a book – who knows, maybe our work will inspire some other collaboratives to put their voices and ideas together and get their own collaborative work out into the world.

What do you think Inspired INC. offers its readers?

We hope that Inspired INC. offers the roadmap that I as a business leader want and need right now. I’m a co-author of the book but I’m also the founder of my own company; I’m trying to build an inspired company every single day and I wish I’d had this book when I started six years ago. Whether somebody is an entrepreneur or a middle manager in a company, whether they are an entry-level employee or a senior leader, whether they are in a small company or a large company, it is vital that they have access to a very practical framework that they can apply to their own situation.

So, by setting out a very simple framework – inspired mission, inspired action, inspired profit – we hope to help business leaders see from the beginning to the end of their business mission. But we also hope Inspired INC. provides actionable and practical strategies through case studies and examples.

The idea of being a purpose-led company is not necessarily new but there are very few roadmaps out there that actually help business leaders figure out how to maintain purpose in a company. It’s difficult to execute without a roadmap, especially when you’re trying to work inside a financial and business environment that’s doing everything that it can to drown the purpose out of your company. Profit is not purpose, but it is possible to be profitable and inspired – just read our book to find out how!

Tell us a little about ‘the new CEOs’

When people ask us, ‘who are the new CEOs?’ my response is, well,  I am, you are, we all are. Anybody who is working for or working with, buying from, watching a company; having opinions about a company, posting opinions about a company, talking about companies – we all have this incredible influence over companies that just hasn’t existed before.

By having this crowd onside and acknowledging the power they hold, you automatically have huge competitive advantage over profit-oriented, uninspired companies. Success is when a consumer, an employee, a client, a customer or an outsider thinks of a specific company and they go ‘yeah, I want that company to win.’

What are your hopes for the book now that it has been published?

Well, I think that we would be the first to say that we don’t have all the answers. Just as there’s no company that’s 100 per cent inspired, there’s no person, thinker or business practitioner out there who’s got all the answers. Our hope is that this is the beginning of an answer; there’s a reason why our email address is [email protected] – because it is the power of our crowd that’s actually going to take this big idea and make it better.

We want people to look at this framework, we want people to test the ideas, we want people to tell us where we got it right and where we got it wrong and make suggestions as to how we can sharpen up our ideas. I’m most excited to hear from our crowd because at the end of the day, that’s what going to make the thinking stronger, that’s what’s going to make my practice as a business leader stronger, and that’s what’s going to ultimately help us transition the whole business sector. So, yeah, crowd: let us know what you think!

Praise for Inspired INC.

Inspired INC. offers a brilliant guide to the new and newly demanding landscape in which companies operate. If Anand Giridharadas’ Winners Take All asks powerful and necessary questions of today’s business leaders, Inspired INC. offers some actionable answers. This is a book many business leaders will have been waiting for, and will benefit from reading.’ Hon. Douglas Alexander | Senior Fellow, Harvard University

‘Business purpose has been the subject of numerous academic dissertations but few have blended the theory with concrete examples and a future-focused narrative. The book by MacCallum and Brew is thought-provoking and inspiring and serves as a handbook for the profit and pitfalls of trying to find a sustainable purpose for business.’ Mark Wilson | Ned Blackrock US

‘Lisa MacCallum and Emily Brew are inspiring twenty-first century corporations, redefining capitalism for the twenty-first century – read this book if you want to be a beacon of twenty-first century business.’ Valerie Keller | CEO and Co-Founder, Imagine 

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.