To build a happy workplace, start with what your team hates (review of Nicholas Webb’s Happy Work)

There’s one question I’ve yet to be asked on an employee survey.

I’ve completed dozens of surveys over the years and helped create a few. I’ve ranked and rated my satisfaction with everything from workplace culture, teamwork, training and communications to work-life balance, the alignment of my work with the organization’s mission and vision, my trust in leadership and confidence in the future. 

But I’ve never been asked what I hate about my job. 

Hate’s a harsh word. Yet it lends itself to specificity.  

For example, employees could (and almost invariably) give low marks to communications. But what does that failing grade actually mean and how should an employer fix it?  

The mystery goes away if employees say they hate 30-minute meetings that should be 30-second emails, muddled word-salad memos written by committee that leave everyone guessing what they’re being asked to do, town halls jammed with PowerPoint decks that test the limits of human endurance and videos of leaders trying to emote for the camera and proving that not going into acting or broadcasting was a smart career move on their part. 

Asking what employees hate about their jobs is essential if you have any hope of creating a happy workplace.  

Here’s why. What employees hate about their jobs cancels out what they love about working for you. You can’t afford to have a zero, or negative, balance. 

Customers know if employees love or hate their jobs and they’ll tell the world with online reviews. If employees are happy, they’re not quitting and you’re not scrambling to recruit and train new hires. And you’ll have a better shot at poaching talented people who can pick and choose where they work next.  

“Given the advantages of a happy workplace, there’s simply no rational reason to tolerate a company culture that’s toxic (at worst) or mediocre and boring (at best),” says Nicholas Webb, CEO of a management consulting firm and author of Happy Work. “Such a workplace will slowly decline, lose profitability and suffer the exit of top employees.” 

Which brings us back to finding out what employees love and hate. It’s safe to say Webb hates traditional surveys. 

 “We have created a ‘survey industrial complex’ of organizations that have built the perfect business model. These busy industrialists develop a survey algorithm, charge an organization to have their employees complete the survey and then report out to the client in a dashboard their employees’ level of job satisfaction.  

“This massive industry is essentially an online vending machine that delivers minimal value at an extremely high cost,” says Webb. “The companies that produce surveys lose this model because it’s profitable, and truthfully most organizational leaders like it because it’s the easiest and fastest way to check the box on employee insights while creating authoritative-looking graphs and charts.” 

Webb instead proposes a three-step process. First, assess whether your organization’s ready to hear the truth, even if it hurts. “If the people in your organization are resistant to new ideas – even ones that will measurably help them and make them happier – then your first task must be to change the culture and perhaps even provide training, so that you can then present them with new information they’ll embrace.” 

Next up is the survey, with a focus on what employees love and hate about their jobs. “Design a survey that embraces a comprehensive and thoughtful assessment of the organization’s challenges, problems, opportunities and needs.” 

And then, with survey results in hand, follow up with employees and carry out what Webb calls happiness hackathons. “These programs are incredibly effective at soliciting authentic and hard-hitting insights from employees.” 

A happy workplace isn’t a happy coincidence. It starts with a serious and sustained commitment from senior leadership to listen, learn and collaborate.  

“If you’re going to ask your employees to spend a significant part of their lives working for your company, then what not make them happy to do so? Cultivating a happy workplace is like putting money in the bank.” 

It’s time to start investing. 

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.   

Don’t just feel our pain – remove it and you’ll earn our loyalty (review of Joe Polish’s What’s In It For Them?)

Joe Polish first learned the meaning of true appreciation in a janitorial supply store in Chandler, Arizona.

Polish was a recovering drug addict and dead broke carpet cleaner living off credit cards in the 1990s. “I started my own carpet-cleaning business with all my savings – $1,500 – because I wanted a better future and I didn’t have any better options,” says Polish. “I quickly learned that carpet cleaning is dirty, hard work.”

A client asked Polish to clean a sofa. The job needed equipment that Polish didn’t have and couldn’t afford to buy.

Polish went to the supply store and asked if he could rent the equipment. The store owner had a better idea. He let Polish borrow the equipment along with the cleaning chemicals.

“If you need something, just let me know and take whatever you need,” the owner told Polish. “Build up your business first and then come pay me back later.”

Polish’s cleaning business took off and he stayed loyal to the store owner. “Even as my business grew and grew, I would still go back to the same store to buy all my supplies – even it meant driving 45 minutes across town.”

Polish built a million-dollar cleaning business and eventually moved into sales and marketing, with cleaning companies as his first clients. Today, he’s the founder of the Genius Network for entrepreneurs, a marketing consultant, a host on three top-ranked marketing and business podcasts, founder of Artists for Addicts and Genius Recovery and even the co-owner of a 40-acre ghost town in Arizona.

The store owner’s generosity also let Polish in on an invaluable secret. 

“The secret to success in life and business is learning how to connect and form relationships with other people – and most people don’t know how to do that,” says Polish in his book What’s In It For Them?

So what’s one of the best way to connect and form strong relationships? Do what the store owner did for Polish.

Ease other people’s pain. Figure out how they’re suffering and how you can help. The store owner knew Polish was struggling to make ends meet and needed a break.

“Suffering is pain,” says Polish. “Suffering can be physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. There’s suffering everywhere and there’s much more than most people realize.”

To get at the root of someone’s suffering, ask three questions – where are you, where do you want to go and how are you going to get there?

According to Polish, we all want to connect with others, feel special, cared about and appreciated and have our problems solved.

Meet our needs in authentic, useful and valuable ways and you’ll earn our appreciation, trust, loyalty, business and friendship.

“Connecting with people is about helping them get what they want and helping them reduce or remove what is causing them suffering.”

The added bonus in helping others? You help yourself in ways that go far beyond monetary rewards, says Polish.

“By connecting with others, you reduce your own suffering, improve your own life, have richer relationships and make the world a better place.

“If you’re a person who cares about others and can solve their problems – someone who understands what’s in it for them – there’s no limit to what you can accomplish or the peace and joy you can find in your own existence.”

The owner of the janitorial supply store did it for Polish and Polish returns the favour by offering dozens of exercises and action steps to help us do the same should someone who’s struggling and suffering come into our businesses or lives in need of a helping hand.

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. This review first ran in the Jan. 13 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The one question to keep asking yourself in 2023 (review of Marshall Goldsmith’s The Earned Life: Lose Regret, Choose Fulfillment)

Skip the usual New Year’s resolutions that you’ll break within weeks and instead spend 2023 asking yourself one question over and over again.

Am I being the person I want to be right now?

Write that question out on an index card.

Put the card in your wallet.

And take it out whenever you need a reminder of how to behave and what to say and do at work, home or out in the community.

“Do this once with an affirmative answer and you’ll discover that you have earned the moment,” says Marshall Goldsmith, executive coach and author of The Earned Life. “Do this habitually and continually and you will create a string of many earned moments, stretching from days into months into years, that add up to an earned life.”

So what’s an earned life?

“We are living an earned life when the choices, risks and effort we make in each moment align with an overarching purpose in our lives, regardless of the eventual outcomes,” says Goldsmith. “In the end, an earned life doesn’t include a trophy ceremony. The reward of living an earned life is being engaged in the process of constantly earning such a life.”

Cover of The Earned Life by Marshall Goldsmith

The alternative is going through our careers and lives on autopilot. We’re focused on action and ambition and completely ignore aspiration. We make a pile of money and get every promotion but sacrifice everything else. Or we have big dreams to make the world a better place but accomplish little or nothing at all. We overestimate risks or rewards and make questionable short-term decisions with lousy long-term consequences. And then we’re surprised, angry and disheartened to find ourselves drowning in the regret of what we could’ve, should’ve and would’ve done differently.

Goldsmith has other suggestions for avoiding this fate and leading an earned life instead. We can go beyond the one question on our index card and start answering a half dozen more  that Goldsmith promises will improve our lives.

At the end of every day, ask if we did our best to set clear goals.

Did we make progress toward achieving our goals?

Did we do our best to find meaning?

Be happy?

Maintain and build positive relationships?

And be fully engaged?

Answer each question on a scale that measures effort but not results. Ten is maximum effort. One is next to no effort. “Segregating effort from results is critical because it forces you to acknowledge that you can’t always control your results (stuff happens) but you have no excuse for not trying,” says Goldsmith.

He also recommends sharing our results each week with a group. “Don’t do this alone. Common sense should tell you that reviewing your plan in the select company of others is vastly superior to reviewing your plan alone. Why would you try to adhere to an ambitious life plan and refuse to share the experience with anyone else, especially if you didn’t have to? What added value does going solo bring to the endeavor? It would be like baking a birthday cake to eat by yourself or giving a speech to an empty room.”  

Choose your group wisely and set some ground rules, says Goldsmith. Recruit a diverse group of five to eight people who are all committed to getting better. “It’s a gathering of successful people with shared goals for the future, not a gripe session for unsuccessful people with problems,” says Goldsmith. “You’re looking for people of any and every stripe who share the same optimism about getting better. They are not victims or martyrs.”

The rules are simple. Show up each week and steer clear of judgement, negativity and cynicism, especially when reporting on how much effort you put in during the past week. Don’t beat yourself up, says Goldsmith.

“Accomplishing something with the help of a chosen community resonates more resoundingly, affects more people and is often an improvement on the solo act because of the contributions of the many. Would you rather be the soloist or sing with a choir behind you?”.

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.

Quit singing messaging karaoke and tell us a great story instead (review of Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes)

Every business tells us they’re customer-centred. Every hospital is patient-centred. Every school, college and university is student-centred.

But to stand out from the competition, you can’t be with them in the choir singing what Ann Handley calls messaging karaoke.

Instead of tossing out the same exhausted words and tired phrases that we all tune out, show us how you’re putting customers, patients and students first. Highlight some of the big and small ways you’re doing this that are unique and unexpected. And recap who or what inspired you to go the extra mile.

“What sets you apart,” says Handley, who’s just revised and updated her bestselling book Everybody Writes. “Don’t tell me what you do. Show me who you are – and then show me why you matter to me.”

You show who you are and why you matter by telling stories.While we ignore messaging karaoke, we pay attention to stories. We’re hardwired for storytelling. Great stories stand out, stay with us and connect with us at a deeper emotional level than a straight up sales pitch. The good news is every business and organization – even yours – has a great story to tell.

To help you find your story, Handley poses 11 questions.

What’s unique about your business or organization?

What’s interesting about how your business or organization was founded?

What’s interesting about the founder(s)?

What problem are you trying to solve for others?

What or who inspired your business or organization?

What are the aha! moments for your business or organization?

How’s your business or organization evolved?

How do you feel about your business or organization, your customers and yourself?

What’s an unobvious way to tell your story? Can you look to analogy instead of example?

What do you consider normal and boring that everyone else would think is cool?

And what’s your vision? How will your company or organization change the world?

“That last question is especially salient because it’s central to your bigger story: How will you change the world…even a little bit? How will you make it better for all of us?”

When telling your story, never make yourself the hero. The hero is always a real customer, patient or student. You’re the solution to your hero’s problem, the answer to their prayers and the resolution to their searches. Build your true story around an ordinary person who’s done something extraordinary with your help.

Also know that how you tell your story is as important as the story you tell. Again, you don’t want to sound like everyone else.

“Your brand’s tone of voice sets you apart,” says Handley, who calls brand voice your personality in words.

“It differentiates you from competition. It signals what you’re like to do business with. It’s key to creating and sustaining customer relationships.

“Brand tone of voice is not a small, throwaway thing. And yet most companies treat it that way. Very few take the time to consider the branding boost that an approachable, relatable, friendly voice can give a company.”

Here’s an easy way to test for brand voice. Strip your logo and name off your website. Would anyone know it’s still you? Or would the words and tone be indistinguishable from your competitors and have all the warmth and personality of copy created by artificial intelligence or a room full of lawyers?

“Storytelling in business isn’t about spinning a yarn or a fairy tale,” says Handley. “It’s about showing how your business (or its products or service) exists in the real world: who you are and what you do for the benefit of others; how you add value to people’s lives, ease their troubles, help shoulder their burdens, and meet their needs.

“Your brand stories give your audience a chance to view your business as what it is: a living, breathing entity run by real people offering real value.”

So please don’t tell us like everyone else that you’re innovative, creative, leading edge, best in class, world class, driven by excellence, committed to quality, a champion of inclusivity and an employer of choice. Show us instead with a great story and a hero’s journey.

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.

The case for getting boys and men into HEAL jobs (review of Richard Reeves’ Of Boys and Men)

Turns out there are two gaps we need to mind.

There’s the earnings gap between women and men. For every $100 earned by men, women earn just $82. The gap’s closing but not fast enough.

There’s also a gap in higher education. That gap gets less attention but is just as troubling. For every 100 bachelor’s degrees awarded to women, only 74 are awarded to men. And the gap’s growing. “The gender gap in college degrees awarded is wider today than it was in the early 1970s but in the opposite direction,” says Of Boys and Men author Richard Reeves.

In all 38 member countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Reeves says there are now more young women than young men with bachelor’s degrees. Forty percent of 18-year-old women in Britain head off to college, compared to 29 per cent of their male peers.

That gap is one of many warning signs of a male malaise, especially for boys and men on the lower rungs on the economic and social ladders. “Things are worse than I thought,” says Reeves, a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. “I knew some of the headlines about boys struggling at school and on campus, men losing ground in the labour market and fathers losing touch with their children. I thought that perhaps some of these were exaggerations. But the closer I looked, the bleaker the picture became.”

How bleak? Deaths of despair from drug overdoses, suicides and alcohol-related illnesses are nearly three times higher among men than women.

Here’s one solution proposed by Reeves to help ease the struggles of boys and men. Just as there’s been a concerted and successful effort to get more girls and women into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs and occupations, we should do the same to encourage more boys and men to train for, and work in, health, education, administration and literacy (HEAL) jobs.

“HEAL sectors are where the jobs are coming from,” says Reeves. “To improve men’s employment prospects, we need to get more of them into these kinds of jobs. By my calculations, for every new STEM job created by 2030, there will be more than three new HEAL jobs.”

To accomplish that, Reeves says we need to build a pipeline in the education system, provide financial incentives and reduce the social stigma faced by men working in fields like nursing and early childhood education.

Reeves says friends and colleagues advised him not to write this book. “In the current political climate, highlighting the problems of boys and men is seen as a perilous undertaking. Progressives refuse to accept that important gender inequalities can run in both directions and quickly label male problems as symptoms of ‘toxic masculinity’. Conservatives appear more sensitive to the struggles of boys and men, but only as a justification for turning back the clock and restoring traditional gender roles.

“The Left tells men ‘be more like your sister.’ The Right says ‘be more like your father.’ Neither invocation is helpful.”

It’s not an either/or proposition. “We can hold two thoughts in our heads at once. We can be passionate about women’s rights and compassionate toward vulnerable boys and men.”

If you’re worried about your underemployed, unemployed, bored, listless and seemingly lost son, boyfriend or husband, Reeves will confirm your fears but also let you know you’re not alone and these are systemic problems that require collective action to solve. “The problem with men is typically framed as a problem of men. It is men who must be fixed, one man or boy at a time. This individualist approach is wrong.”

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.

Buyer beware with online advertising (review of Bob Hoffman’s Adscam)

Best of luck to the rest of us if big name brands like Nike, Adidas and Starbucks are in the dark when it comes to buying online ads.

The companies thought they were advertising on USA Today’s website.

But Gannett Publishing – which owns USA Today – accidentally placed billions of digital ads in its smaller community news sites for nine months.

“Not a single brand noticed that their ads were not where they were supposed to be,” says Bob Hoffman, author of Adscam: How Online Advertising Gave Birth to One of History’s Greatest Frauds, and Became a Threat to Democracy.

“Not a single media buyer noticed that their ads were misplaced. And for nine months we can only assume that these ‘sophisticated’ advertisers were receiving fictious reports about the nature of their programmatic buy.”

But at least the ads ran somewhere.

If you’re buying online ads, you’ve likely been scammed with fake audiences, websites and clicks. Online ad fraud is estimated at $60 billion a year, with crooks siphoning off 20 per cent of online ad budgets. That’s bigger than credit card fraud even though the credit card business is 10 times the size of online advertising. By 2025, it’s expected that online ad fraud will trail only drug trafficking as the largest source of criminal income.

“Ad fraud is one of the largest frauds in the history of the world,” says Hoffman.

Why all the fraud? Adtech is so complicated that no one really knows how it works, says Hoffman. Adtech tracks everywhere we go online. When we visit a website, ad space is instantly auctioned off.  Some websites charge a premium while others take less than penny. With hundreds of thousands of websites, it’s tough to know which site is legit and which is fake and which sites you’d your business to be associated with.

“Instead of reaching Bob Hoffman by running their ad on The New York Times website, where it might cost $1 to reach Bob, advertisers can track Bob to binkinibeachbabes.com, a much lower quality website, where they can run the same ad and it may cost them only a nickel,” says Hoffman.

“The only problem is that bikinibeachbabes.com may not be a real website, and Bob Hoffman may not be a real person.” And those nickles can quickly add up.

So why does no one seem to care?  

Hoffman quotes a former ad executive who says “it’s in nobody’s interest for digital ad numbers to be true as long as they’re good. No one will question the efficacy of the numbers because they love showing the CEO (who understands nothing about marketing) that we gained x number of followers, reached an additional y people and z more people saw our content. Everybody is in on the con. None of the involved parties want anyone to examine the numbers as long as they’re good. It’s pathetic.”

Chase Bank ran the numbers and decided something didn’t add up. The bank was buying ads on more than 400,000 sites every month. The bank cut back to 5,000 sites and saw no difference in performance. “An astounding number of the sites they were buying programmatically were worthless,” says Hoffman.

“On the surface, the value proposition of ad tech – reaching the highest quality eyeballs at the cheapest possible locations – is an appealing proposition. But advertising has probably never experienced a wider gap between promise and reality. This has led to all kinds of expensive and dangerous consequences. “

Hoffman says those consequences include a cesspool of corruption, an ocean of fraud and the degrading and devaluing of legitimate online publishers, news media and journalism.

“And it has played a major role in driving a perilous wedge into our culture,” says Hoffman. “Other than that, it’s great.”

So what’s the solution? Ban tracking, says Hoffman. Stop letting companies spy on us online and don’t let them sell, trade or give away our personal and private information. And if you’re buying online advertising, spend it where you can see it.

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

Chasing wealth without guilt (review of When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden influence of the World’s Most Powerful Consulting Firm)

I had no clue what the consultants were talking about.

And that was a problem given my job. I’d been seconded to a project team. The team was working with the consultants to re-engineer the organization. The consultants were flown in every week and put up in a downtown hotel. Even though they lived out of a suitcase, they were always very well dressed.

Meetings were long and many. Every meeting included a super-sized PowerPoint presentation stuffed with charts, graphs, facts and figures. Sometimes, the names of past clients were accidentally left on the slides.

My job was to turn those PowerPoints into a weekly newsletter and to make sense of what I didn’t fully understand. I was half-way fluent in consultant speak and knew enough (KPIs and FTEs) to get by.

I’d also been deputized as a change agent. I took the role, and myself, a little too seriously as I sold the benefits of change and transition to staff who’d been doing their jobs for longer than I’d been alive. I’m ashamed to admit I may have even reminded coworkers that “one does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” I’m lucky I wasn’t tossed overboard.

Support soured as staff realized the project was less about getting rid of the boring and repetitive parts of their job and more about eliminating jobs altogether or finding someone to do more work for less pay.

This was my first rodeo so I believed the growing resistance was misplaced and futile. Sure, the old guard had institutional knowledge and common sense. But we had spreadsheets and algorithms on our side.

Eventually the consultants were sent packing. The project team disbanded. I can’t remember what, if any, changes stuck or how much money was saved or spent.

But at least no one died. That tragedy fell on the families of Charles Kremke, Jonathan Arrizola and Marcelo Torres. Kremke and Arrizola were electrocuted at U.S. Steel’s plant in Gary, Indiana. Torres was crushed to death on a ride at Disneyland. Both companies were clients of McKinsey. The consulting firm had advised the steelmaker and the happiest place on Earth that cutting maintenance costs was a good idea, according to prizewinning New York Times investigative reporters Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe.

“U.S. Steel and Disneyland could not have been more different – one a vestige of a once great blue-collar company, the other a sunny fantasy powered by the latest technology,” say the authors of When McKinsey Comes to Town.

“They were not McKinsey’s most lucrative clients or most controversial. Yet they did exemplify the cold cost-cutting advice that turned the firm into the godfather of management consulting.”

Bogdanich and Forsythe expose a rogue’s gallery of McKinsey clients, including Purdue Pharma. The authors report that McKinsey pitched a plan to turbocharge OxyContin sales even as families and entire communities were being laid to waste. “To boost sales amid the strengthening opioid epidemic, McKinsey had to cook up radical new ideas. One suggestion was to promote OxyContin as a drug that gave patients ‘freedom’ and ‘peace of mind’ along with the ‘best possible chance to live a full and active life.’ OxyContin could also reduce stress, making patients more optimistic and less isolated, McKinsey said.”

If that’s not bad enough, the authors say McKinsey was an advisor to both Purdue and the Federal Drug Administration at the same time. “At least 17 of the contracts awarded to McKinsey by the FDA between 2008 and 2021 – worth more than $48 million – called for the firm to work with the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. That division was responsible for approving certain drugs, including prescription opioids.” McKinsey denied there were any conflicts of interest.

While the firm closed ranks and refused to talk with the reporters, Bogdanich and Forsythe still managed to conduct hundreds of interviews and got their hands on tens of thousands of closely guarded internal records. “We became the first outsiders to peek inside McKinsey’s secret vault of clients and billings – information off-limits to governments, clients, competitors and even some of their employees.” Their book has 45 pages of detailed notes.

“McKinsey’s laissez-faire style of management has allowed its consultants to reap big paydays promoting addictive products, recommending policies that expand income inequality, and serving bad actors on the international stage, including major polluters.

“There is no questioning McKinsey’s desire to do good, to give back. But, as one former consultant said, McKinsey should also find a way to do less harm.”

If you’ve ever wondered if there are any limits to what people will do to make a buck and chase wealth without guilt, the ugly and unfortunate answer is apparently no.

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. He still refuses to this day to refer to employees as full-time equivalents.

Winners never quit? Not quite. Winners know when & what to quit. (review of Annie Duke’s Quit)

Muhammad Ali was a winner who should’ve quit after the Rumble in the Jungle.

Ali would’ve retired as the heavyweight champion after knocking out the younger, bigger and stronger George Foreman in October 1974.

But Ali went back in the ring for seven more years. Ali’s fight doctor quit when he couldn’t convince the boxer to retire. Madison Square Gardens stopped booking Ali for fights.

“The same grit that helped Ali become such a great champion – admired and revered almost without equal – became his undoing when it drove him to ignore signs that were obvious to anyone on the outside looking in that he should quit,” says Annie Duke, author of Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away.

“All those punches he absorbed after vanquishing Foreman unquestionably contributed to the 1984 diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and his physical and mental decline thereafter.”

Like Ali, we’re blind to the signs that we should quit jobs, careers and relationships.

Why do we ignore the obvious? We’ve bought into the myth that winners never quit and quitters never win. If we’ve been knocked down seven times before, we’ve been told to get back on our feet and soldier on. The eighth time might just be the charm.

Grit’s a virtue and quitting’s a sin. Successful people stick with it and stay the course. And should they ever make a change, they haven’t quit – they’ve made a pivot.

Meanwhile, quitting is for losers, cowards, wimps and wusses.

But what if we’ve been following bad advice?

“People stick to things all the time that they don’t succeed at, sometimes based on the belief that if they stick with it long enough, that will lead to success,” says Duke.

“Sometimes they stick with it because winners never quit. Either way, a lot of people are banging their heads against the wall, unhappy because they think there is something wrong with them rather than something wrong with the advice.

“Success does not lie in sticking to things. It lies in picking the right thing to stick to and quitting the rest.”

While grit is the stuff of TED Talks and bestselling books, Duke says a convincing case can be made for quitting early and more often.

“There is a rich universe of science studying the human tendency to persevere too long, particularly in the face of bad news. The science spans disciplines from economics to game theory to behavioral psychology and covers topics from sunk cost to status quo bias to loss aversion to escalation of commitment, and much more.

“And what the science is telling us is that every day, in ways big and small, we act like Muhammad Ali, sticking to things too long in the face of signals that we ought to quit.”

According to Duke, the hardest and most painful thing to quit is who we are.

From an early age, we’re asked what we want to be when we grow up rather than what jobs we want to do. It’s a difference with a big distinction, says Duke.

“When your identify is what you do, then what you do becomes hard to abandon, because it means quitting who you are.”

We also worry too much about what family, friends and even strangers will think of us for quitting. “We assume that if we quit, even if it’s obviously the right thing to do, other people are going to think that we failed. That we’re capricious or weak. We don’t believe there’s going to be any empathy or understanding of why we might have made the choice that we did.”

But Duke says the research shows most people won’t judge us for quitting. “Those worries we’ve projected onto others are just head trash we’re carrying around.”

So if you have a suspicion that it’s time to walk away, Duke offers the hard science to help you make a tough, yet necessary, decision. Life’s too short to keep getting knocked down and out.

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

Take the Cellophane Standoff and other ways to root out gender biases at work (review of You Should Smile More)

Your partner takes a month of parental leave and gets a Husband of the Year trophy and induction into the Great Guy Hall of Fame.

You take the other 11 months of leave and get interrogated by family, friends and coworkers.

Why aren’t you taking the full 12 months? Did you force your partner to take a month off? Are you comfortable putting work ahead of family? Will you stay home once your leave is up? Or at least work part-time?

Do you even need to take 11 months off? Can’t your partner spare more than a month? Are you comfortable putting family ahead of work? Aren’t you worried about losing out on promotions and being seen as less than fully committed?

And by the way, are you sure you’re not having twins? You’re absolutely huge.

“While companies can’t legally have policies that discriminate against pregnant women, the practice still happens,” say the five senior executives who wrote You Should Smile More. Dawn Hudson, Angelique Bellmer Krembs, Katie Lacey, Lori Tauber Marcus, Cie Nicholson and Mitzi Short – who call themselves the Band of Sisters – first met while working at Pepsi.

“Most women in the workplace recognize that despite laws to the contrary, pregnancy is something that can derail them at work. It was as if by getting pregnant they had been moved back to square one in their jobs. Indeed, many women believe that getting pregnant will unravel all the hard work they have done to convince their bosses and coworkers that they are valuable and reliable.”

If you’re the boss, don’t shy away from this topic. “Creating a culture that is supportive of pregnant women is part of your job,” say the authors.

For everyone else, we can do our part by avoiding and dispelling assumptions. “If you hear chatter about a colleague who is pregnant that suggests she’s now unreliable or uncommitted, call it out. Be a voice for challenging bad assumptions.

“And no tummy touching. At all. As they say in preschool, keep your hands to your own body.”

The authors call out dozens of gender biases in the workplace that don’t get flagged as issues or even noticed by men. “They are not ‘#MeToo’ moments. But they are not ‘nothing’ either. They are the particles that collect around us and create barriers to our careers. They are the walls that go up, one grain of sand at a time. They are the moments that slow-build until the unwelcome environment takes hold and women disengage.”

The authors draw on their own experiences to offer bias-busting strategies for women, leaders who want inclusive workplaces and witnesses who are ready to become allies.

Here’s a good test for your workplace. The authors call it the Cellophane Standoff.

Before the start of a meeting, put a cellophane-wrapped tray of cookies on the table. Watch what happens when your male colleagues wander in.

Do they unwrap and pass around the platter? Or do they stare at it and then look to you? Do they tear a hole in the cellophane to pull out a cookie for themselves? Or do they do nothing?

“The Cellophane Standoff is the unwavering obliviousness of our male colleagues when it comes to anything related to food services,” say the authors.

“Why focus on this rather benign behavior? After all, it’s not as if the men stand there and loudly demand a woman serve them. It’s more a matter of neglect. They’ll just avoid the chore rather than talk about who should handle it.

“We raise it because it’s part of a larger office phenomenon. It’s an example of the ways in which women are nudged towards doing the office housework.”

So it’s time for men to end the Cellophane Standoff and do their share of office housework. Don’t just unwrap the tray – be the one who buys and brings cookies to the meeting. And then encourage everyone around the table to join you in reading this essential how-to guide for dismantling gender biases in the workplace.

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

Don’t bank on tech titans saving you and me (review of Douglas Rushkoff’s Survival of the Richest)

Douglas Rushkoff got an offer he couldn’t refuse.

He was invited to give a speech at an ultra-deluxe resort.

“It was by far the largest fee I had ever been offered for a talk – about a third of my annual salary as a professor at a public college – all to deliver some insight on the future of technology,” says the author of Survival of the Richest.

Rushkoff anticipated getting up infront of a big audience. Instead, he sat down behind closed doors with just “five super-wealthy guys from the upper echelon of the tech investing and hedge fund world. At least two of them were billionaires.”

They weren’t there to listen to a keynote. “They had come to ask questions,” says Rushkoff. And they weren’t looking for ideas on how to save the world. They wanted advice on how to save themselves when the world is falling apart. And they didn’t want anyone else in their lifeboat.

Should they move to Alaska or New Zealand? Build a bunker? Buy an island? Join a flotilla of super yachts? Book a ride to Mars? Or go full meta and upload their brains to a supercomputer? And how could they buy the continued loyalty of their security forces when crypto coins and cash were suddenly worthless?

“This was probably the wealthiest, most powerful group I had ever encountered,” says Rushkoff. “Yet here they were, asking a Marxist media theorist for advice on where and how to configure their doomsday bunkers. That’s when it hit me: at least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology.

“They were preparing for a digital future that had less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether. Their extreme wealth and privilege served only to make them obsessed with insulating themselves from the very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is about only one thing: escape from the rest of us.”

Yes, the meeting sounds ridiculous, sad and disturbing. But don’t be so quick to cast the first stone.  

Some of us were lucky enough to escape the pandemic by hunkering down at home thanks to a big assist from technology. We kept making good money while hanging out in Zoom rooms and staring at screens all day. We ordered everything online with free next day delivery. Smartphone notifications let us know when deliveries were at our door, left by unseen, underpaid and overworked gig workers who were putting their health on the line to keep us fully stocked with stuff.

The pandemic also fuelled a growing mistrust and dislike of billionaire saviors. “The much-feared angry mob is real,” says Rushkoff, and the mob’s tired of feeling like they’re trapped in an endless TED conference or investor pitch and continually reminded that they’re dumb and someone else knows best.

“Fanciful pronouncements for a civilization-wide transformation orchestrated by technocratic billionaires doesn’t play well in Peoria, and they undermine more legitimate efforts at addressing crises, which are never so seamlessly deployed. Even when they’re functioning as intended, the solution sets imposed by the technocratic elite refuse to acknowledge the human soul, irrational though it may be. People want their leadership to be more than utilitarian. What progressives’ painstakingly constructed plans for job training, climate remediation, taxation and economic equality often fail to address are the more essential needs of people to feel recognized and heard.”

So what’s the solution? “I’m not going to offer a plan for how to save the world here, but I can point to some of what we need to do to mitigate the effects of these guys’ machinations, and develop some alternate approaches,” says Rushkoff.

“Most simply, we can stop supporting their companies and the way of life that they’re pushing. We can actually do less, consume less and travel less – and make ourselves happier and less stressed in the process.”

So maybe hold off on ordering that new electric vehicle from the world’s richest man or from Apple once they figure out how to put four tires on a jumbo-sized self-driving iPhone. Stick with your old car and find ways to drive it less or not at all. That’s not the stuff of an inspirational TED Talk or investor pitch. But it’s one of many ways to save our world that’ll actually work.   

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.