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Wondering if there’s more than this? You’re ready to climb the second mountain (review)

mountain climbYou went to a good school, graduated into a great job and built yourself a rewarding career.

You’ve earned serious money, status and power.

You’re living the dream and life is good.

But what if it could be exponentially better?

“Most of the time we aim too low,” says David Brooks, New York Times columnist and author of The Second Mountain. “We walk in shoes too small for us. We spend our days shooting for a little burst of approval or some small career victory.

“But there’s a joyful way of being that’s not just a little bit better than the way we are currently living; it’s a quantum leap better. It’s as if we’re all competing to get a little closer to a sunlamp. If we get up and live a different way, we can bathe in real sunshine.”

second mountainBrooks says there are two metaphorical mountains for us to climb.

Most of us are in a mad scramble up the first mountain. We’re decked out in “I’m free to be me” athleisure as we pursue happiness and self-love, build our personal brands, manage our reputations, curate our best lives on social media, keep score and take stock of how we measure up.

“The goals on the first mountain are the normal goals that our culture endorses – to be a success, to be well thought of, to get invited to the right social circles, and to experience personal happiness,” says Brooks. “It’s all the normal stuff: nice home, nice family, nice vacations, good food, good friends, and so on.”

Maybe we’ll reach the peak and love the view. But we may suffer existential dread as we wonder if there’s more than this. Or we could get tossed off the mountain after losing our job, good health or reputation.

Fortunately, there’s a second mountain for us to climb. On this mountain, we trade independence for interdependence and swap happiness for joy. Instead of living our best life, we’re dedicated to making life better for others. Choosing one or more commitments to a vocation, spouse or family, a philosophy or faith, and a community is our price of admission to the second mountain.

“A commitment is making a promise to something without expecting a reward,” says Brooks. “Adult life is about making promises to others, being faithful to those promises. The beautiful life is found in the mutual giving of unconditional gifts. When I meet people leading lives of deep commitment, this fact hits me: joy is real.”

On the first mountain, we have careers. On the second mountain, we dedicate ourselves to vocations.

A career is based on what we’re good at while a vocation is built on what we’ve been obsessively interested in for many years.

“In choosing a vocation, it’s precisely wrong to say that talent should trump interest,” says Brooks. “Interest multiples talent and is in most cases more important than talent.  The crucial terrain to be explored in any vocation search is the terrain of your heart and soul, your long-term motivation. Knowledge is plentiful; motivation is scarce.”

Still searching for your vocation? Say yes to everything. “Say yes to every opportunity that comes along, because you never know what will lead to what,” says Brooks. “Have a bias toward action. Think of yourself as a fish that is hoping to get caught. Go out there among the fishhooks.”

If you’ve been blown off the first mountain or find yourself underwhelmed by the view, Brooks will help you find the fishhooks and the courage to climb your second mountain.

This review first ran in the Feb. 15 edition of The Hamilton Spectator. I serve as communications manager for McMaster’s Faculty of Science, live in Hamilton and have reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Turn your customers into loyal fans (review of Fanocracy)

free-images-for-copywritingIf it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I ignored that adage while registering for a “free” webinar.

When the webinar ended, the spam emails and sales calls started and didn’t stop. I got emails and phone calls from multiple salespeople from the same company.

Irritation replaced my initial appreciation. I took a hard pass when the company invited me to join another webinar, even though the topic was relevant and line-up of speakers was impressive.

It’s too bad because I could’ve been a fan of the company and helped spread the word about their webinars. I may have even bought what they were selling. But now, I’m not a fan.

If you’re giving away content online, lift the gates. Make it truly and completely free. Let us watch your webinars and download your whitepapers, e-books and special reports without first having to turn ourselves into a sales lead.

Fanocracy-HC-3D“Free content with strings attached feels like coercion while great content given away freely attracts loyal fans,” say David Meerman Scott and Reiko Scott, the father-daughter authors of Fanocracy: Turning Fans Into Customers and Customers Into Fans.

“The problem with gating content is many people won’t bother to register for privacy reasons. They don’t want an email or phone call from a salesperson.  Another problem with gated content is there is very little sharing on social media because people don’t want to expose those in their social networks to possible spam.”

Companies that have axed email registrations report that 20 to 50 times more people now download their free content.

“If you want to spread your ideas, free content is the way to go,” say the authors. “We frequently hear from people who say that if you give away your ideas for free via web content, people won’t have a need to buy your products or services. However, many organizations have successfully used this approach.”

If you’re not ready to make this leap of faith, try a hybrid approach. Make a truly free initial offer that contains a secondary follow-up offer that requires registration. Your initial offer will reach more people and generate higher quality leads.

“The hybrid approach generates email addresses from people who have already consumed your initial free content and now want more information about your company and your products and services and are eager to learn more.”

Giving more than you have to is one way to convert customers into avid, loyal and loud fans.

Bringing customers together offline is another fan-building strategy that captures the zeitgeist of our times. The authors say we’re on the cusp of a major cultural shift away from an increasingly polarized, cold, unsocial and algorithm-driven digital world.

“The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of superficial online communications at a time when people are hungry for true human connection. Many people now feel that the promise of online social connection just isn’t for them anymore – the romance is over. We’ve gone too far into manufactured friendship through social media, and something different is coming next. The pendulum is swinging back to genuine, authentic human connection.”

What can your business or organization do to bring like-minded people together in unique places and spaces for special events and activities? If you love what your customers love, they’ll find room in the hearts and wallets to love you too. Book stores have book clubs. Libraries have speakers’ series. Shoe stores have running clubs. Garden centres have classes on how to mix cocktails using herbs. What’s your equivalent?

Hagerty Insurance is one of the company’s showcased in Fanocracy. “Insurance sucks,” admits the CEO. “Nobody wants to buy insurance. It’s not fun.” What is fun for Hagerty’s customers are classic cars. So the company created a free classic car auction tracker app and launched a Hagerty Drivers Club last year. Members get a subscription to the company’s magazine, exclusive discounts, road side service assistance and invites to members-only events.  Hagerty is now the largest classic car insurer, with double-digit compound growth.

“A fanocracy is a culture where fans rule, and that’s what we see emerging in today’s world,” say the authors. “We are moving into an era that prizes people over products. The relationships we build with our customers are more important than the products and services we sell to them.”

I serve as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, live in Hamilton and I’ve reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. I’m a fan of the Washington Capitals, the New England Patriots, Peter Gabriel and Phoebe Bridgers.

Tell an undeniable story to win support for your impossible idea (review of Story 10x).

I had no clue what the consultants were talking about.

Early in my career, I was on a team that was tasked with carrying out a re-engineering project.

Consultants were brought in to crunch numbers, run reports and help get employees onboard for big sweeping changes in who and how work got done.

The consultants were big believers in burning platforms.

Some employees will resist change and stick with the status quo until the bitter end, said the consultants. By burning down the platform, they’ll be forced to jump. The pain of staying in their comfort zone will be greater than the fear of making a change.

Even though the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster wouldn’t happen for another 15 years, this seemed like a horrible analogy and a lousy strategy to pull off a major change.

Burning the platform wound up stoking more anger than fear. Employees saw through the smoke and didn’t jump. In the end, the only ones tossed overboard were the consultants and our project team.

Michael Margolis is not a fan of burning platforms.

Story10x_hardcover-mock-angle3a“As an innovator and change agent, you’re programmed to confront and challenge the status quo,” says Margolis, the author of Story 10X and founder of a strategic messaging firm. “To show people how things are wrong, bad or broken. And what is required to fix it. While you have truth on your side, who likes to be told they are wrong, bad or stupid?

“In fairness, this is just conditioned behavior. We all want to be right, yet, when you learn to tell your story in a manner that goes beyond right / wrong, you can truly move the needle, bend the curve and transform the world.”

If you want us to embrace whatever change you’re selling, make us feel good about going along for the ride. “Feeling good is contagious. You’re more likely to pique curiosity, leaving them intrigued and hungry for more. Yes begets more yes. They’ll see you as an ally around shared interests or needs and they’ll be open to your message rather than closed to it.”

Instead of burning platforms, tell us an undeniable story that’ll inspire us to join you in turning the impossible into the inevitable. “An undeniable story is a strategic narrative that transports your audience into the future – leading them on a journey beyond the world they know to the promised land of possibility. It conveys a new vision, strategy and roadmap so convincingly and compellingly that your audience can’t help but see it, feel it and believe it. They want what you’re selling. Because your idea is a self-evident truth that people can relate to.”

motivation-4330453_1920Margolis says narrative intelligence is as important as cognitive and emotional intelligence. Great leaders are great storytellers. “Business is built on persuasion and persuasion is rooted in story. The very best leaders are well versed in the art and science of story. They make magical things happen with their words.”

The best leaders make their stories personal and show vulnerability. They put their heart at the heart their stories.“If your message is personal to you, you have a much better chance of making it personal to your audience. If you’re emotionally invested in your ideas, your audience will equate that to motivation, resilience and long-term achievement. Let your vulnerabilities be seen and you’re far more likely to engender trust and rapport.”

So if you’re looking to change the world in 2020, Margolis can show you how to share an undeniable story that’ll give us faith in disrupting and innovating our way to a better future.

By day, I’m the communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science. Hamilton is home and I’ve reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The unsustainable costs of cheap & fast fashion (review of Fashionopolis)

sweatshirts-428607_1920Want to save the planet? Start with your closet and skip next week’s Boxing Day sales.

We’re making and buying more clothes than ever before. Between 2000 and 2014, worldwide production doubled to 100 billion items. Twenty per cent of those items go unsold and get buried, shredded or incinerated.

And we’re not holding on for long to the 80 billion clothes that we do buy. On average, we wear clothes just seven times before burying them in our closets, giving them away or tossing them in the trash. Each of us throws out around 36 kilograms worth of clothes annually.

We’re on an epic shopping spree thanks to fast fashion. Our malls and big box stores are continually restocked with trendy and inexpensive clothes made and shipped at lightning speeds from subcontracted sweatshops that run on the cheapest labour in the world’s poorest countries.

fashionopolisThe clothes may be cheap but they come at a steep and unsustainable cost, says Dana Thomas, journalist and author of Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes.

“Every day, billions of people buy clothes with nary a thought – nor even a twinge of remorse – about the consequences of those purchases.”

Fashion is big business. It’s a $2.4 trillion industry that employs one out of every six people around the world. Yet less than two per cent of those workers earn a living wage.

“Since the invention of the mechanical loom nearly two and a half centuries ago fashion has been a dirty, unscrupulous business that has exploited humans and Earth alike to harvest bountiful profits. Slavery, child labor and prison labor have all been integral parts of the supply chain at one time or another – including today.”

Along with exploiting the poorest of the poor, we’re wrecking the planet every time we buy yet another cheap t-shirt, hoodie, dress or pair of jeans.

The World Bank estimates that manufacturing clothes accounts for nearly 20 per cent of all industrial water pollution and 10 per cent of carbon emissions.

One-fifth of all insecticides are used to grow cotton. Manufacturing a single cotton t-shirt requires nearly half a kilogram of fertilizer, 25.3 kilowatts of electricity and 2,700 litres of water.

Synthetic fabrics are no better. Up to 40 per cent of microfibres from these fabrics wind up in rivers, lakes and oceans and worm their way up the food chain. Nearly 90 per cent of 2,000 fresh- and seawater samples tested by the Global Microplastics Initiative contain microfibres.

“We, as consumers, play a pivotal part,” says Thomas. “It’s time to quit the mindless shopping and consider what we are doing, culturally and spiritually. When we ask ourselves ‘what am I going to wear today?’, we should be able to answer knowledgeably and with a dash of pride. We have been casual about our clothes, but we can get dressed with intention. It is time to really care.”

We can show we care by joining the slow fashion revolution. Thomas showcases a growing movement of makers, designers, merchants and manufacturers who are championing localization and regionalism, honoring craftsmanship, respecting tradition, embracing modern technology to make production cleaner and greener and treating workers well.

Yes, we’ll pay more for slow fashion clothes. But it’ll be worth it if you care about the planet and the people who do the work. And really, how many t-shirts, hoodies, dresses and jeans does one person need?

This review ran in the Dec. 21 edition of The Hamilton Spectator. I’ve reviewed business books for the Spectator since 1999. By day, I’m communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science and call Hamilton, Ontario home.

Want us to share your online content? Make it all about us and not you (review)

Take three minutes and watch Kraig Reinhart get offered his dream job in a pretty remarkable recruitment video.

Kraig’s a student in Conestoga College’s Advanced Police Studies program. Kraig and his classmates are being interviewed on camera by the communications manager with the Waterloo Regional Police Service.

Kraig is talking about his dream of working for the service so he can give back to his hometown.  A uniformed officer then walks unannounced into the classroom and presents a job offer to the shocked and speechless student.

Kraig pulls himself together, shakes the officer’s hand, thanks his cheering professors and classmates and then steps out into the hall to call his mom with the news.

This video checks all the boxes when it comes to shareability.

break“Being shareable means that you create content with such high value for the people viewing it that they are compelled to share it with their friends,” say Tim Staples cofounder and CEO of Shareability and author of Break Through the Noise.

“Being shareable is all about making people lean in rather than click off or swipe past.”

You need to create highly shareable content because nobody cares, says Staples.

“Nobody cares about that video you just posted, that photo you Instagrammed last night, and especially not that commercial that your brand just pushed out. Really, nobody cares.

“It’s nothing personal. People are so bombarded by messaging that they tune out nearly all of it. This is the reality of the internet world.”

But we can be made to care and then share. The key is to realize that we’re sharing your content for selfish reasons. “People like and share internet content not for others, but rather to define themselves and for how it makes them look and feel. In short, they do it for self-serving or selfish reasons.

“If you want people to share your content, it has to be about them, not about you.”

According to Staples, there are five emotions that drive a disproportionate number of shares online: happiness, awe, empathy, curiosity and surprise. The Waterloo Regional Police Service video will make you feel happy and leave you with a smile.

Regardless of what emotion drives your video, you must offer value to viewers.  Give us content that we actually want to watch.  Offer value without asking for anything up front. Continue to lead with value until you can identify the people who enthusiastically interact the most with you.  Eventually, those are the people you can ask to part with their hard-earned dollars or join your organization as a freshly minted college grad.

Instead of focusing on what you want to tell us in your next online video, figure out what we’d want to watch and what we’d consider to be valuable.

“If you can determine the answers to these questions, and deliver something of true value, the audience will love you for it. Then, maybe you can ask them for that dollar in their pocket.”

So resist the urge to create yet another unwatchable and unshareable “five reasons why you should work, study or spend money with us” video with obligatory aerial drone shots. And aim higher than a gimmicky lip synch video that may go viral for a day on Tik Tok and then disappear.

Instead, watch the Waterloo Regional Police Service video for inspiration and then read Staples’ book to learn the nine rules that’ll get us caring and sharing your content.

This review was published in the Dec. 7 edition of The Hamilton Spectator. By day, I serve as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science and call Hamilton home. I’ve reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

How to get us to earn our attention, trust and business (review of Think Say Do)

Would you close your store on Black Friday and turn away customers online?

Outdoor retailer REI Co-op launched #OptOutside in 2015 so customers and employers could head outdoors during one of the busiest retail days of the year. Along with closing all 157 stores and giving its 13,000 employees a paid holiday, the company doesn’t process online payments.

This year, the company’s adding a call to action that invites everyone to join one of 11 organized environmental clean-up projects on Black Friday.

More than 15 million people, and more than 700 organizations, have so far joined REI’s anti-shopping movement.

No alt text provided for this image

REI launched #OptOutside with an ad campaign starring their former chief executive officer sitting at a desk on a mountaintop. “We believe a life lived outside is a life worth living. We’d rather be in the mountains than in the aisles,” said Jerry Stritzke.

Ron Tite, author of Think Do Say and founder and CEO of marketing agency Church + State, thinks REI is genius for closing while competitors slash prices, roll out special promotions and spend big bucks on advertising in an all-out war to gin up pre-holiday spending.

think do say“REI shut down on its busiest day of the year and actually grew revenue in the process,” says Tite. “They got consumers to look. They established trust in the brand. The result was incredible momentum and growth, all because everyone from the CEO to the cashier were aligned on what they thought, what they did and what they said.”

Alignment gets you noticed in an increasingly chaotic world where we no longer know where to look or who to trust. The marketplace is flooded with products and services clamoring for our attention and wallets. At the same time, we’re witnessing a massive breach of trust in consumer marketing.

“Great brands, great companies and great leaders are based on what they think, what they do and what they say. When all three of those pillars work together, people look up. Getting them to do that has never been more difficult.”

The first pillar is the most important. What do you think? Believe in something greater, says Tite. “Go beyond the rational. Explore the emotional. Start with purpose.” REI believes that a life outdoors is a life well lived. Closing on Boxing Day aligns with what the company believes. To borrow a line from Bill Bernbach, “a principle is not a principle until it costs you money.”

Once you’ve defined your brand belief, figure out what to do to act on that belief and then how to say it.

“If you believe in something greater and you behave in a way that reinforces that belief, it’s worth talking about. And if you’re going to talk about it you should say it in a way that gets as many people onside as possible. Just state what you believe, say what you do to live it and say it in an authentic and memorable way.”

Misalignment in what you think, say and do can lead to trust-killing integrity gaps. “Do your best to avoid them, but own them when they occur because what you do immediately following an integrity gap will say more about your character than what you did before.”

Deciding what to think, do and say is hard work but the payoff is worth it, says Tite. You’ll earn our attention, trust and your business.

Need more proof? REI’s announcement that it was closing on Black Friday generated 6.7 billion media impressions and 1.2 billion social impressions. Co-op membership has grown 31 per cent since 2014 and the company’s achieved a 20 per cent five-year compound growth rate.

This review ran in the Nov. 23 edition of the Hamilton Spectator. I serve as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, live in Hamilton and have reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. Reviews are archived here.

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How empathy + connection = engagement on your social media accounts (review)

How you behave during next month’s holiday parties should guide what you post to social media in the new year.

You won’t show up at parties looking to put the squeeze on co-workers, friends and neighbours. You won’t pressure them into renting your family cottage on Airbnb, hiring your kids for summer jobs or signing up for HelloFresh meal kits so you can get the referral discount. You won’t demand that party-goers take out their phones and follow your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. You won’t corner anyone in the kitchen for an hour-long humblebrag and the opportunity to bask in your brilliance. And as soon as you get home, you won’t be firing off the first in a never-ending and unrelenting series of daily emails pressuring them into doing business with you.

Instead, you’ll strike up conversations during the parties that are free of a sales pitch. You’ll be genuinely interested in what people have to say and you’ll work hard to be just as interesting and entertaining. You’ll listen more than you talk and when you talk, it will be more about them and less about you.

Please take the exact same approach with your social media accounts for your business or organization.

social media brand“Social media is a cocktail party full of folks and your brand’s success depends on being the one person at the party everyone wants to talk to,” says Claire Diaz-Ortiz, one of Twitter’s first employees and author of Social Media Success for Every Brand.

“A successful social media strategy isn’t about convincing Mark Cuban to retweet you, ‘going viral’, or pushing your product down people’s throats. Instead, the goal of social media for any brand should be to pique existing and potential followers’ interest enough to get them to further engage by moving up something I call the engagement ladder.”

At the top of the ladder is where we make our first purchase and then become loyal customers. Social media should steer us to the lower rungs where we first get to know, like and trust you.

So how do you pique our interest on social media and get us reaching for the first rung on your engagement ladder? Diaz-Ortiz recommends following the 80/20 rule. With 80 per cent of your posts to social media, give us value-added content you’ve created or curated that’s free of hard and soft sells.

Diaz-Ortiz also advises against chasing after new followers. Focus instead on driving up engagement among your existing followers. “What most brands do not understand is that the success of your reach on social media is far less dependent on new follower growth than it is on how engaged your existing followers are with your product or service.”

You drive that engagement by combining empathy with connection. “In a world of perfectly-filtered selfies and instant gratification on every post, it’s easy to think that social media is about you. Newsflash: your brand is not the hero. Your customer is. It is important to make your story about your audience and to always seek ways to increase empathy and connection along the way, rather than constantly post about your own awesomeness (hello cocktail party dude everyone hates).”

To generate the empathy your followers crave, tell great stories where your customers are the hero. Be wildly useful and share content that helps solve their problem. And ask your followers questions and solicit their advice.

By now, every entrepreneur, small business and organization is on social media. Few of us do it well and we’re asking the wrong questions, says Diaz-Ortiz. Fortunately, she knows both the right questions and answers. Her book will make your social media accounts the life of the party.

I’ve reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. By day, I serve as  communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science and call Hamilton, Ontario home. 

 

What’s love got to do with it? Pretty much everything when it comes to employee engagement (review).

I work for a dean who runs a research lab.

She leads a team of high school, undergraduate and grad students who conduct studies that involve people in the community. The dean volunteers to be the first test subject for each and every student. They wire the dean up with electrodes and put her through her paces on a stationary bike.

lab 1It’s a grueling endurance test that would leave most of us gasping and staggering to the showers. Yet the dean offers confidence-boosting feedback during and immediately after the test, letting students know what they did well and how they could do better.

The dean doesn’t need to tell anyone that she’s committed to students and research. Instead, she shows it by voluntarily getting on the bike over and over again.

So how about your leaders?

Do you know what they love?

Do they love your organization, your mission, you and your colleagues and the people you serve?

Or do they love the paycheque, perks and power that come with the job?

Eventually, everyone figures out whether their leader is all about making a difference or making a fortune. And getting dragged along for a leader’s ego trip eventually wears down even the best of us.

If you want an accurate read on employee engagement, look at what the leader does and loves.

“Employees will love what they’re doing only if their leaders love what they are doing and create a culture where love can thrive,” says Steve Farber, president of Extreme Leadership Inc. and author of Love is Just Damn Good Business.

Farber-3D“Leaders have to do what they love in the service of people who love what they do. This nips narcissism in the bud by moving the focus to a shared vision and to the people who can help carry it out. It provides the moral and ethical context to go with the business construct. It’s not serving others out of obligation or self-interest but out of a genuine desire to have a huge positive impact on the quality of their lives.

“And if you do that, what comes back? They reciprocate. They love you in return. That’s how you create an engaged culture that bakes love into the customer experience, creates a lasting bond, and produces a competitive advantage.”

Farber says organizational cultures rooted in love demonstrate mutual care and concern for colleagues’ needs, hopes, dreams and aspirations. Everyone is treated with dignity, respect and kindness.

Love at work includes tough love and the willingness to have difficult yet necessary conversations. It’s about holding people accountable and setting high expectations around excellence.

“Real love doesn’t produce organizations where everyone is happy all the time, where people walk around with big, goofy grins on their faces, where no one ever argues, where everybody does whatever they want whenever they please, where every so often you stop all the action and have a group hug in the breakroom.

“When you love people, you want what’s best for them. You don’t settle for mediocre. You strive for excellence.”

So if you’re a leader, it’s time to ask yourself if you wake up every day striving to do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.  Farber shows why, for your sake and the sake of your organization, you’d better answer with an enthusiastic and unqualified yes.

This review ran in the Oct. 26 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Reviewing business books for the Hamilton Spectator has been my side hustle since 1999. By day, I serve as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science.

Regain control of your time & attention – make yourself indistractable

Imagine if everyone in the City of Hamilton was admitted to hospital and given the wrong medications.

That’s what happens to roughly the same number of patients in American hospitals every year.

Along with harming and killing patients, these preventable medical errors cost an estimated $3.5 billion in extra expenses.

A hospital in San Francisco found a solution. Studies showed that nurses were interrupted and distracted between five to 10 times while dispensing a patient’s meds. So nurses started wearing bright coloured vests to let colleagues know when to stay quiet and steer clear. Four months later, medical errors fell by nearly 50 per cent.

Other hospitals have since added specially marked distraction-free zones or rooms where nurses can stay focused on making sure their patients get the right meds.

Hacking back constant work interruptions is one of the ways to make yourself indistractable. Rediscovering the ability to give tasks and people our undivided attention will be an essential skill in the 21st century.

indistractable“In the future, there will be two kinds of people in the world,” predicts Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable: How To Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. “Those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others and those who proudly call themselves ‘indistractable’. In this day and age, if you are not equipped to manage distraction, your brain will be manipulated by time-wasting diversions.”

If you’re not keen on wearing a do-not-disturb day-glo vest around the office, Eyal suggests putting a sign on your door or desktop to notify colleagues when you need to work without interruption.

To have fewer emails flooding your inbox, send fewer yourself and be slower to respond. Not every email needs an immediate reply. Batch non-urgent emails in a folder that you can work through during a block of time at the end of your week.

“Meetings today are full of people barely paying attention as they send emails to each other about how bored they are,” says Eyal. So don’t hold a meeting if you don’t have an agenda. On your agenda, clearly define the problem you want the group to tackle and attach a one-page digest discussing the problem, your initial thoughts and a straw dog solution. You’ll get to an answer faster and eliminate the distraction of unnecessary meetings.

no phone 2Along with having an agenda, make meetings screen-free. Put away smartphones and give a sheet of paper and a pen to anyone who insists on using their laptop to take notes. Everyone must be present both in body and mind and free of screen distractions.

Use group chats sparingly in very specific situations with a limited number of colleagues. “We wouldn’t choose to participate in a conference call that lasts for a whole day, so the same goes for group chat,” says Eyal.

Turn notifications off on your smartphone and desktop. Eliminate apps you don’t use. Rearrange apps into three categories, with primary tools on your phone’s home screen followed by screens for aspirations (like podcasts and audiobooks) and then time-killing dopamine-hitting slot machines (like Facebook and Twitter).

To become indistractable, Eyal says we need to get a handle on both our internal and external triggers that distract us and learn how to better plan and manage our time with intention. “You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it’s distracting you from.”

Eyal’s four-part indistractable model will help you find your lost attention span and show how to regain and retrain your brain in a world of relentless distractions.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager in McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

How to better understand and get along with your coworkers (review of Surrounded by Idiots)

It’s actually easy being green.

What’s not so easy is having to work and live with us.

At our best, greens are a stabilizing influence on a team. We’re supportive, pleasant, relaxed, respectful and reliable. We’re good listeners, with a genuine ear for human problems. We won’t monopolize meetings for the sake of hearing ourselves talk. We don’t demand much, we’ll never kick up an unnecessary fuss and we’d prefer never to offend you or anyone else.

But we can also come across as stubborn, uncertain, complaint, dependent and awkward. We have a frustrating inability to change our ways and at times can seem indifferent, uninspired and unconcerned. You could look at us in a meeting and legitimately wonder if we still have a pulse. And don’t count on us to commit to, much less ever make, big plans outside of work. The bigger your plans, the more comfortable we’ll make ourselves on the couch.

The fun and fireworks begin when you mix us into a team with the other three behaviour types that make up the DISA (dominance, inducement, submission and analytic) system.

idiots“There are individuals around us who, under less favourable circumstances, we may find challenging to understand,” says Thomas Erikson, author of Surrounded by Idiots. “There are others we don’t understand at all, no matter what the situation is. And the most difficult to interact with are those who aren’t like us, because they obviously behave ‘incorrectly’. So much conflict could be avoided if we just understood why the people around us behave the way they do.”

Reds are bold and brash natural-born leaders. They’re quick to react and take direct action. They can also morph into impatient and unyielding control freaks who repeatedly and aggressively trample on everyone’s toes.

Yellows are creative and optimistic social butterflies with exceptional communication skills. They’ll also suck up all the oxygen in a room if given the chance and can come across as easily distracted, selfish, superficial and overly self-confident.

Rounding out the four personality types are blues who are analytical, serious, diligent and detail-oriented. They can also be slow to react, minimally interested in relationships, tedious, aloof and cold-hearted. A blue will not hesitate to remind you that being 95 per cent right still makes you 100 per cent wrong.

Blues and yellows in particular can quickly get on each other’s nerves while reds and greens are the other challenging and potentially combustible combination.

Yet we can all get along if we first recognize and understand each other’s behavior types and then adjust and adapt accordingly.  The majority of us are a blend of two or three colours while only a few us have just one behavior type.

“If you want to make headway with a large group of greens, you have to take command, get a firm hold on the steering wheel, and, in some cases, simply get into the driver’s seat yourself,” says Erikson. “Asking a group of greens to solve a task is as much use as trying to put a brake on a canoe. They won’t get started unless you put them on the track.”

And all of us should quit abiding by the golden rule. Treating others the way you want to be treated assumes everyone else is exactly like you. But the way a green wants to be treated is fundamentally different from a red, blue or yellow.

Erikson wrote his bestseller to help us better relate to and communicate with the people we work and live with. “Self-awareness, my friend, is the solution,” says Erikson.

His book will reassure you that you’re not actually surrounded by idiots and you’ll find practical solutions for better understanding and appreciating what makes each of us tick at work and home.

This review first ran in the Sept. 28 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.