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.

First and lasting impressions matter (review of Cindy McGovern’s Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live and Sell a Powerful Personal Brand)

Yovana Mendoza Ayres is either a cautionary tale in personal branding or another sign of the apocalypse.

Ayres was a social media influencer and raw vegan evangelist who called herself Rawvana. More than 1.3 million people followed Ayres on YouTube as she made vegan breakfast drinks and meals while wearing short-shorts and midriff-baring tank tops and reminding the world how she was living her best life.

But then Ayres committed the cardinal sin of walking into a restaurant and going off-brand. Someone posted a video of Rawvana eating fish. It was an entrée too far for Ayres’ faithful, and deeply invested, followers. They called her Fishvana and much, much worse.

Ayres posted a 33-minute video in her defense that only ramped up the backlash. So she quit social media for four months. She returned as Yovana, continuing to promote healthy living minus the veganism. While she’s rebuilt an audience in the hundreds of thousands, there are former fans who refuse to forgive, forget and move on with their lives.

It’s not only fish-eating social media influencers who go off-brand. Many us didn’t show up as our best selves in Zoom rooms during the pandemic. Bedhead, sweatshirts, never quite giving our full and undivided attention and routinely muting our mics and turning off cameras for extended periods of time became our pandemic brand.

“Your personal brand is how you behave, what you say and how you treat others,” says Cindy McGovern, author of Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live and Sell a Powerful Personal Brand. “It’s not only what you say about yourself, it’s what others think and say about you, based on how you behave and what you do.”

According to McGovern, we need to do three things with our personal brands.

We first need to put in the time and effort to create thoughtful, deliberate brands that are true to who we are and want to become. “The first step seems easier than it is, but because you are a complex, multifaceted person, your brand must also be complex and multifaceted. Like all things in life, your personal brand will be more successful – and so will you – if you spend time planning it. You can’t wing it. You have to intentionally create your brand or it might not stick.”

We then need to live our brand every day, without exception. “It’s hard work to live up to your brand every time you interact with someone, post something on social media or shoot off a quick text after having a couple cocktails or getting some unfortunate news.” Pay particular attention to what you’re saying on social media, especially if you’re forever yelling at clouds, picking fights, virtue signalling and trying to score likes at someone else’s expense. Think carefully if snarky, sanctimonious and bullying is really how you want to brand yourself.

Finally, we need to sell our brand whenever we’re presented with opportunities in our professional and personal lives. “It’s short-sighted to create a brand – even a great one – if you’re not going to sell it. That would be like plunking down a year’s salary on your dream car, but never driving it. Everyone talks about how important it is to ‘sell yourself’ but too many overlook the truly important world in that cliché – sell.”

It’s never too late to build or revisit our personal brands. This is especially true if you joined the Great Resignation or the quiet quit movement. To land your dream job, you’ll need to know how to create, live and sell the best, and 100 per cent authentic, version of yourself. You’ll likely need a new brand for a new career.

Personal branding can also help those of us who’ve passed our career peaks and have an unobstructed view of retirement on the near horizon. This is where branding turns into legacy. “All of us have a personal brand that we live and sell every day by the way we behave and treat others. And that is what will become our legacy. You get to choose.”

McGovern shows us how to make good choices whether we’re starting out, starting over or winding down.

This review first ran in the Sept. 10th 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.

Anatomy of a crypto con (review of The Missing Cryptoqueen by Jamie Bartlett)

OneCoin’s just the latest chapter in the never-ending story of fools being parted from their money.

It’s estimated that a million people were conned in the $4 billion global Ponzi scheme.

OneCoin was dreamed up by Ruja Ignatova, an Oxford University graduate and two-time Bulgarian Businesswoman of the Year who’s fluent in five languages.

Ignatova pitched OneCoin as a world-changing cryptocurrency for the masses. She promised it would be bigger and better than Bitcoin.

The original plan was to have 2.1 billion OneCoins in circulation – 100 times the number of Bitcoins. But just 18 months later, Ignatova announced at a sold-out corporate event in Wembley Arena that there would now be 120 billion OneCoins. The coin would still be worth just shy of $10 CDN. And every investor who got in early was having their OneCoins doubled in a show of appreciation.

“With the click of her fingers, Dr. Ruja doubled the wealth of every single person in the crowd,” says Jamie Bartlett, tech journalist and author of The Missing Cryptoqueen. “Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of investors who hadn’t made it to London. It didn’t seem to matter that she was breaking rule 101 of economics: that when the supply of something goes up, the price goes down. Nor did it matter that she was breaking her own promise: that there would only ever be 2.1 billion OneCoin in circulation and that ‘fixed supply’ was the whole point of cryptocurrency. So how was it possible to increase the number of coins by a factor of 50? And without affecting the price?”

Ignatova pulled off this magic trick because she was running the biggest scam of the 21st century, says Bartlett.

While there were other cryptocurrencies, OneCoin was the first to embrace multilevel marketing. Promoters were paid generous commissions for selling the coin and signing up family, friends and strangers to do the same.

“The single most important word in multilevel marketing is momentum,” says Bartlett. “It happens when a team is big enough to start growing by itself, just like when a virus reaches an unstoppable tipping point. Most new MLM companies never reach that moment and peter out within a year or two.”

Instead of selling coins, promoters sold education packages at different price points. The packages came with training videos, a plagarized PDF and free tokens that would someday soon be converted into OneCoins. The starter package, which cost just over $150 CDN, came with 1,000 tokens. The “Tycoon Trader” package sold for nearly $8,000 and included as many as 48,000 tokens.

A blockchain was needed to convert the tokens into coins. Think of this specialized piece of software as a public diary for each coin that lists every transaction and continually updates itself every few minutes.

OneCoin never built a real blockchain. A fake one was posted on its website. Ignatova made up the price and no coins were ever traded. “OneCoin’s blockchain display looked like the real thing but it was some kind of pre-programmed ‘script’, an off-the-shelf piece of kit that was running phoney and meaningless transactions between imaginary wallets,” says Bartlett.

“The display was just a clever ruse to fool investors into thinking their coins were held on a brand-new mathematically secure state-of-the-art blockchain. But all they owned were meaningless entries on a database. A million people had bought Ponzi tokens. Monopoly money that was controlled not by computer code, but by Ruja.”

Momentum eventually stalled, top promoters bailed, OneCoin was exposed as a scam and the pyramid scheme collapsed on itself, says Bartlett. Investors lost their money and life savings. Senior executives went to jail. And Ignatova, who’s one of the FBI’s ten most wanted fugitives, has been on the lam since 2017.

“Good scams aren’t about facts or logic,” says Bartlett. “They are built on the manipulation of common human irrationalities: hope, belief, greed and, above all, by the nagging ‘fear of missing out’. Although OneCoin investors were victims, they weren’t entirely without blame. FOMO is driven by a desire to get rich quick, a willingness to replace work or effort with a risky bet.”

If you’re looking for a safe bet, bank on a future scam that dwarfs OneCoin and parts even more fools from their money. It’s the story that never ends.

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.

Exposing the deny and delay corporate playbook (review of Jennifer Jacquet’s The Playbook)

I’m professionally conflicted.

My days are spent in the company of scientists who are doing their part to build us a brighter world.

I also work in public relations. It’s an industry that’s helped corporations wage a decades-long war on science and scientists.

“PR firms have been essential to scaling and disseminating denial campaigns locally, nationally and globally,” says Jennifer Jacquet, an associate professor with the department of environmental studies at New York University and author of The Playbook: How to Deny Science, Sell Lies and Make a Killing in the Corporate World.

Denial’s an investment for corporations and delay’s the deliverable for PR firms, says Jacquet. Their mutual goal is the indefinite blocking of litigation, government regulation and swings in public opinion.

“The risks of scientific knowledge are as much about the public’s understanding of those risks as they are about the evidence of those risks. Therefore, the defense against scientific knowledge occurs on a battlefield of communications.”

There’s no bigger battle than global warming. Corporations are using the same playbook dreamed up by PR firm Hill and Knowlton back in the 1950s, according to Jacquet.

First came the Manufacturing Chemists’ Association, which hired the firm to help block the introduction of mandatory testing of the food supply for chemicals. Big Tobacco followed, wanting help in discrediting the link between smoking and cancer. The deny and delay was drafted. Cigarette makers got together and funneled $450 million to the Council for Tobacco Research which in turn funded more than 7,000 “scientific” papers. Other Hill and Knowlton clients included an asbestos company in the 1960s and the plastics industry in the 1970s which wanted to “refocus public and congressional attention and to reshape the national debate about the effect of plastics on American society.”

The well-used deny and delay playbook wages war on science and scientists across four fronts. “After a century of scheming, during which the tactics have been refined, disseminated, scaled and globalized by public relations firms, it is clear that corporate scientific denial also has a particular gestalt, with a four-pronged pattern to the approach and the arguments: challenge the problem, challenge causation, challenge the messenger and challenge the policy.”

So how do corporations challenge the problem of scientific findings that can devastate the bottom line?

Start by hiding or destroying internal evidence. “The destruction or concealment of internal knowledge is easier than destroying or suppressing knowledge that was created outside the corporation,” says Jacquet.

Deny outright that there’s a problem. “The complete denial of a problem is a bold stance but one that has proven effective.”

Pledge to look into the problem but acknowledge it’ll take time because it’s so complex.

Make the problem small and unworthy of a big fix. “Minimize the problem by showing it is inconsequential or affects a very small number of people.”

Point out there are bigger problems to worry about.

Announce there’s no longer a problem because it’s in the past.

Change language to eliminate the problem. The tobacco industry once called cancer “biological activity” and the fossil fuel industry managed to replace “global warming” with the less scary “climate change” back in 2002.

Play with statistics to eliminate the problem or change the scale of analysis to minimize the problem.

Point out that people are better off not knowing about the problem – what they don’t know will hurt them less.

And if all else fails, declare that it’s not the corporation’s fault. “Denial of causation is arguably the bread and butter of scientific denial. Scientific knowledge is at its most remarkable and perhaps most vulnerable when establishing a causal relationship.”

As Jacquet shows, corporations don’t have to fool all the people all the time. To throw sand in the gears, corporations only need to confuse enough of us to sow doubt and confusion. And sadly, there’s no shortage of hired hands who are schooled in the darks arts of denial and willing to roll out the playbook for a generous payday.

“The outlines of the strategy to challenge science can be elusive and it can take years or decades to even partially make sense of, in no small part due to secrecy of the corporation and its network of accomplices,” says Jacquet.

She’s done us a favour by skillfully exposing that secrecy and showing how we’re being duped. Jacquet also offers a playbook of her own to defend science.

This review first ran in the Aug. 12 Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager at McMaster University’s Faculty of Science and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Life’s a beach but for how much longer? (review of The Last Resort by Sarah Stodola)

There’s trouble in paradise for the beach resorts we flock to in the dead of winter.

Journalist Sarah Stodola has traveled the world to report on the economic and environmental impact of beach tourism, with stops in Thailand, Bali, Ibiza and Hawaii to Fiji, Miami Beach, Portugal, Barbados and Cancun.

“I enjoyed the snorkeling and the views, but I found the sanitized bubbles in which resorts existed curious,” writes Stodola in The Last Resort: A Chronicle of Paradise, Profit and Peril at the Beach. “To be honest, beach resorts weirded me out a little – their insistence on indolence, and on forgetting the world outside, both the one back home and the one immediately beyond the property.”

Our hothouse Earth is getting impossible for resort owners to forget and ignore. Rising sea levels threaten to wash out beaches, extreme storms are trashing properties and insurance companies are charging ever higher premiums. Soaring temperatures will make whole parts of our world uninhabitable, even for tourists lounging poolside with bottomless margaritas and mojitos. Mix in political instability triggered by ecological collapse and millions of environmental refugees and those of us who can still afford to travel may chose to stay closer to home. 

That’s a problem because tourism is big business. It’s the third-largest global export, provides more than one in every 10 jobs worldwide and accounts for around 10 per cent of global gross domestic product.

Based on what she’s seen from her travels, Stodola offers some strategies to make beach resorts more sustainable and resilient for the tough times ahead.

Rein in long-haul flights. Airplanes are responsible for around five per cent of global warming.“To become environmental allies, beach resorts need to address the problem of air travel.”

Source locally and regionally. “Resorts continue to import most of their food, sometimes because of unavailability in the local market, but sometimes simply because resorts want to serve their guests food with which they are familiar.”

Build more sensibly and flexibly. “Developers need to stop building with concrete next to beaches.” Those concrete high-rises that pack in tourists block the flow of sand and erode beaches.

Start welcoming locals. “The idea that a resort might be built for both visitor and local runs counter to its working definition.”

Quit planting palm trees. “Palm trees provide little shade, require huge amounts of water, have shallow root systems that don’t do much to prevent erosion and don’t absorb carbon as effectively as other trees can.” Plant canopy trees that deliver all of these benefits and regrow coastline-protecting mangroves that thrive in shallow, salty water.

Make resorts pay their fair share for maintaining and renourishing beaches and repairing the damage their operations and tourists inflict on the environment.

End the green certification racket, which Stodola calls nothing more than a moneymaking operation. “Certification is big business and has conflict of interest built into it: those applying for green certification are paying the certifier.”

Limit the number of tourists to let nature take priority. Resorts are realizing they can make more money catering to fewer well-heeled tourists who’ll pay a small fortune to escape the maddening crowds.

Stop building golf courses, the enemy of beachfront health. Courses need hundreds of thousands of litres of water every day and fertilizer run-off causes algae blooms that smother coral reefs. “The white sand common to tropical beaches is most often composed of broken-down coral. Lose the reefs, lose the sand, too.”

Deemphasize beaches and focus instead on cultural tourism. “Officials in beach destinations are beginning to understand that relying completely on their vulnerable shorelines for tourism revenue may spell economic disaster down the line.”

Stodola predicts tourists will still seek out surf, sand and sun but resorts will change in fundamental ways. “It will be farther away from the equator and farther back from the shoreline. It will forgo palm trees in favor of those that provide shade. For many of us, it will be prohibitively expensive. It will cater to Chinese and Indian tourists as much as to Western ones. It will be portable. It may even be intentionally temporary. It might not be at the beach at all, as long as there’s a killer pool to lounge around.”

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 July 29th edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

How to make your workplace a safe space (and why you should). Review of Alphabet Soup by Michael Bach

It’s not enough to just pinkwash your logo, install rainbow painted benches or sponsor a parade float during Pride Month.

If you’re serious about recruiting and retaining LGBTQ2+ employees and their allies, you need to do some heavy lifting year-round.

Job one is transforming your workplace into a safe space where everyone feels welcome and free to be themselves. “The world is not a safe place when you don’t fit into a certain box,” says Michael Bach, CEO of CCDI Consulting and author Alphabet Soup: The Essential Guide to LGBTQ2+ Inclusion at Work.

“This concept is difficult to understand if you are in the majority. Most women who have been sexualized or objectified, or who have otherwise been the target of sexism, understand it. Most people of colour understand it, having experienced subtle or overt acts of racism. Most people with disabilities understand it, having been forced to navigate a world that is designed for the able-bodied. And most LGBTQ2+ people understand it, because even if they have never personally experienced violence or discrimination because of their sexual or gender diversity, they’ve certainly witnessed it.”

Bach says most LGBTQ2+ people won’t come out at work until they know they’re in a safe space. “If you don’t give them that signal, they’ll quietly keep their heads down and stay in their closet – and they won’t be as engaged or productive.” They’ll also be gone from your organization if there’s another employer that’s offering an inclusive and welcoming workplace.

So how do you create a safe space at work? Start with human resources. Are your policies and procedures inclusive or are some people being inadvertently or deliberately excluded?  For example, do you have a maternity leave policy or a parental leave policy? Do your policies talk about husband and wife rather than partner or spouse? Do you, like the Ontario Public Service Pride Network, run a Positive Space Champions program? Do you have gender-inclusive restrooms? Do you have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to harassment and discrimination and is it enforced? “The first time you don’t, you completely devalue the policy and no one will ever believe you again.”

Do you offer optional one-and-done training or is the education mandatory and ongoing, especially for leaders and employees who are fence sitters, foes and fighters of change?  “There is not only a woeful lack of education about LGBTQ2+ inclusion, but also a real problem with (1) how the education is being executed and (2) how the education is perceived,” says Bach.

Building an inclusive safe space at work requires a committed and sustained effort. Know that you’ll lose whatever trust, loyalty and goodwill you’ve built up by making even a single and small contribution to a politician or group that traffics in homophobia, transphobia and biphobia.  

“You cannot have it both ways. You don’t get to be advocates of LGBTQ2+ inclusion and then donate to candidates who are actively working against that. If you’re an organization that has ‘values’ or a corporate credo, you must decide how important those values are to you. Unwavering support means you draw a line in the sand and donate only to candidates who are aligned with those values.”

You’ll not only lose LGBTQ2+ employees and customers. You’ll also lose their allies. Lots of us believe that everyone – our family, friends, coworkers and even perfect strangers – deserves to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Given what’s happening south of the border and the hate that’s metastasizing on social media, we need to become far more active and educated allies at work and in our community.  “An active ally is more than willing to use their privilege (usually as a straight cis person) to ensure that the space is inclusive of LGBTQ2 people, even when they’re not in the room. What is needed is for you to lend your voice and support to the cause; to yield to members of the communities; to advocate when it is required. Do not monopolize or patronize. Don’t feel the need to be the leader. Be part of something bigger.”

And if you happen to write business book reviews for your local newspaper, maybe you can do better than waiting 23 years before finally reviewing a book about LGBTQ2+ inclusion at 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.

The one question you should (but probably won’t) ask a dream candidate (review of Talent by Tyler Cowen & Daniel Gross)

You just hit the jackpot and can’t believe your luck.

You’re interviewing a dream candidate who’s knocking it out of the park and checking every box when it comes to experience and education.

You’re ready to make an outsized job offer that’ll be impossible to refuse.

You may want to check in first with Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross. They could save you from making an offer you’ll regret as your dream candidate turns into a nightmare.

Cowen is an economist and Gross is a venture capitalist. Together, they’ve studied the art and science of finding top talent.

They’d start by reminding you that if someone seems too good to be true, they probably are.

They’d also want to know why someone as educated, experienced and accomplished as your dream candidate wants to work for you and your organization.

If you’re the industry leader and the best at what you do, the answer’s obvious. 

“It is different if you are from the middle or bottom tiers of your sector,” say the authors of Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives and Winners Around the World.

“In that case, not everyone will want to work with you, and perhaps most people won’t want to work with you, as they will be hoping for something better, whether realistically or not.

“If you are in this position, as many of us are, you need to think especially carefully about what is wrong with the people you are trying to hire. Why aren’t they already working somewhere much better? Why are they talking to you at all?

“Maybe they are totally lacking in self-confidence, or their personalities will turn out to be poison, or they plan on leaving after a year and they are just using you in the meantime.”

Also beware of the highly credentialed and supremely talented who are forever moving from job to job in a restless, unhappy search. “They are good enough to keep on getting hired, but still, most of the time you should avoid them,” say Cowen and Gross.

And finally, Cowen and Gross would tell you that you’re looking for a good match and “not some supposed vision of candidate perfection.”

If you’re running a start-up, small business or non-profit, look for undervalued talent. You can’t afford to pay a premium for the candidates that everyone’s chasing.

“Large companies can afford to overbid for the ‘obvious’ talent, but if you are in a smaller institution you might not be in a comparable position. These days, the top talents are paid what they are worth, and so there is a much stronger incentive to find quality talent that has not yet been identified as such.”

Even though it’s 2022 and we shouldn’t need to be told, Cowen and Gross recommend hiring talented women, minorities and people with disabilities. “Disability is a complex concept, the label probably is a bad one, and apparent disabilities can be correlated with some really good hires. Keep an open mind.”

Your search for talent will run smoother if you flush out what Cowen and Gross call the kludge and sludge that build up in overly bureaucratic hiring processes. 

“Virtually all of you are familiar with the standard bureaucratic interview setup. A bunch of people show up in a room, armed with scripted questions (and answers), often bored by the process and hoping for the best; they are trying to find someone who seems ‘good enough’ and capable of commanding consensus by being decent but most of all sufficiently unobjectionable.”

That decent and unobjectionable candidate likely lacks the creative spark needed to take your organization to a better place.

By delving into the research, Cowen and Gross will get you thinking in new ways about intelligence and personality and what to look for in potential new hires.

There’s also lots of practical advice. What to ask better interview questions? Try these. What are the open tabs on your internet browser? And how do you spend your time away from work. Studies show that our true personality’s revealed by what we do and don’t do during weekends and downtime.

Before making a job offer you might regret, let Cowen and Gross help you do a better job of finding overlooked and undervalued talent.

Jay Robb is the communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and spends his weekends reviewing business books for the Hamilton Spectator.

Every business is in the entertainment business (review of Jesse Cole’s Fans First: Change the Game, Break the Rules & Create An Unforgettable Experience)

You can chase after customers, clients, patients or students like everyone else.

Or you can build fans. 

Jesse and Emily Cole spent months chasing customers after buying an independent-league ball club and the keys to a 1920s ballpark in Savannah, Georgia. It didn’t go well. 

“We worked tirelessly to connect with the community,” says Cole. “We marketed the team through newspaper and radio ads and posted on social media. No one was interested. The city’s message was unmistakable: no baseball team had ever made it in Savannah before. Why should we be any different?” 

Cole says it was a fair question and one they couldn’t answer. “Because we weren’t any different. We were acting like everyone else. We were advertising and marketing and selling by the normal rules.” 

They started doing the opposite of normal when the money ran out five months before opening day. Cole and his wife drained their savings, sold their home and slept on air mattresses in a rented duplex.  

This is when the team adopted the mission of Fans First, Entertain Always. They let a fan name the team the Savannah Bananas. They switched to general admission tickets that cost $15 and included all-you-can-eat-concessions. Advertising was pulled from the 1920s ballpark. The team went on social media to introduce the Banana Nanas, sports’ first senior citizen dance team and went into a local school to unveil their mascot Split, the Prince of Potassium.  

“Attention beats marketing,” says Cole. “We’d finally cracked the code on how to get the city’s attention. Savannah had dismissed all their previous teams for being just like most baseball teams – long, slow and boring. We couldn’t go after Savannah’s hearts until we had their eyes and ears. Eventually, that attention led to ticket sales, which led to our first sellout. And then our second. And then our third.” 

And the rest is history. The club now has 50,000 people on a wait list to buy tickets. More than 1,000 ball players reached out to join the team this year. And they’re selling millions of dollars worth of merchandise to fans around the world.

“Every innovation, every new idea, everything we do starts and ends with the fans. First, we ask is it fans first? Then, after we do it, we ask again, was that fans first?” 

What works for the Savannah Bananas can work for any business or organization, says Cole.

His tried and true Fans First Way has five Es: 

Eliminating friction is about putting yourself in your fans’ shoes and looking at every possible pain point, every possible frustration, every possible policy that slows things down, heats up tempers and punishes fans,” says Cole. Pay particular attention to microfrictions. Cole and the front office crew take turns being an undercover fan at every game and then report back on what could be improved from the moment fans arrive to when they head home (staff holding umbrellas and walking fans to their cars during downpours is a nice touch).

Entertain always. “Every business is in the entertainment business. If you are not entertaining your customers, you won’t have customers to entertain.”  Or heed this advice from Walt Disney. “I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.”

Experiment constantly. “Everything is about the experience. A lot of companies don’t try new things. They do the same thing over and over again. That creates boredom.” 

Engage deeply. “Human connection is everything. It’s not about the number of followers, ticket sales or customers through the doors. It’s about engaging deeply. If you want fans to be there for you when you need them, then your job is to be there for them always.” 

Empower action. “If you want to empower action in your team, start by changing the mindset of your organization. Instead of focusing on failure, focus on what you’re trying to do. 

The Fans First Way comes with one not-so-small cavaet. If you’re the boss of your business or the leader of your organization, you must be the first and biggest fanatical superfan of your employees and customers. There’s a reason why Cole’s at the ballpark for every game in a yellow tux and putting on a show.  

“When you care for your people, they’ll care for your fans, and your fans will take care of your bottom line,” says Cole. 

I’ve reviewed more than 600 business books over the past 23 years. Fans First is one of the best. So buy it, read it and then find ways to put fans first and entertain always. 

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

With friends like these…review of Happy at Any Cost: The Revolutionary Vision and Fatal Quest of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh

What happened to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh was tragic.

What Hsieh’s entourage did was abhorrent. They chose to ignore Hsieh’s alcoholism, drug addiction and rapidly deteriorating mental health to keep the party going and the money flowing.

While his “friends and associates” were inside getting ready to fly on a private jet to Hawaii, Hsieh was holed up alone outside in a poolside shed with a propane space heater, candles, bottles of Fernet and canisters of nitrous oxide. A fire broke out and an unconscious Hsieh was taken to hospital where he died nine days later from a cerebral edema. He was 46 years old and had hundreds of millions of dollars still left to his name.

While his death was sudden, Hsieh’s true friends and family saw it coming and tried to get him help.

“He began heavily abusing drugs, exacerbating lifelong mental health issues that he had always hidden from others,” Wall Street Journal reporters Kirsten Grind and Katherine Sayre write about Hsieh in their book Happy at Any Cost.  “He spent tens of millions of dollars in just a few months, with people around him vying for pieces of his fortune. It all caught up with him one night in a riverside house in New London, Connecticut, when a shed he was in caught fire.”

Hsieh co-founded an internet advertising network that Microsoft bought for $265 million in 1998. Hsieh then served for 21 years as CEO of Zappos, the online shoe retailer known for outstanding customer service and a unique workplace culture. He moved Zappos to Las Vegas and dedicated $350 million of his own money to revitalize the city’s struggling downtown district. He wrote Delivering Happiness, which stayed on the New York Times best seller list for 27 consecutive weeks. Hsieh left Zappos and Las Vegas during the pandemic, relocating to Park City, Utah with plans to build a utopian community.

“By that point in his life, a new entourage surrounded him, including his brother,” say Grind and Sayre. “At their best, many of these people, paid handsomely from Tony’s fortune and beholden to a man they worshipped, simply stood by as he unraveled before them. At their worst, others enabled all his most terrible instincts and drug use.”

Grind and Sayre say there are two lessons to be learned from Hsieh’s devastating story.

We need to quit idolizing tech titans and dismissing self-destructive behavior. “Silicon Valley doesn’t just accept strangeness from its titans, it expects and celebrates it. But some of the same traits – mania, magnetism and almost singular focus – that can catapult leaders to stardom can ultimately spell their downfall.”

Hsieh wasn’t acting strangely when he boarded a bus for a weekend retreat wearing nothing but pajama bottoms and carrying a box of crayons or when he began writing all over himself with magic marker and giving away millions of dollars to half-baked business ideas scribbled on Post-it Notes left by his entourage. It was a sign that something was seriously wrong and Hsieh needed immediate help.

Grind and Sayre also say we need to finally break the silence and end the shame around mental health and addiction. “The gulf between how people viewed Tony and his private struggles exposes a much greater societal problem: the taboo surrounding mental health problems and addiction. Both issues are still discussed in whispers, willfully ignored, unacknowledged even when they are in plain view.

“Without a dialogue surrounding addiction and mental illness, those who are suffering must do so alone, hiding their problems and putting on happy faces. They use drugs and alcohol to mask their pain and anxiety. Tony embodied that lonely struggle.”

It’s also worth asking what we would’ve done. Would we have tried to get Hsieh help and risked being banished and cut off or would we have stayed silent with our hands out and bags packed for yet another all-expense paid adventure?

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

Aim to deliver value rather than go viral (review of Becky Robinson’s Reach – Create the Biggest Possible Audience for Your Message, Book or Cause)

You can pay PR pros like me a boatload of cash to make you a thought leader and build an audience for your speaking gigs, books and consulting services.

Or you can get a head start and do most of the heavy lifting yourself, with some practical advice from Becky Robinson. Robinson’s the founder and CEO of a marketing agency and author of Reach: Create the Biggest Possible Audience for Your Message, Book or Cause.

While a leader needs followers, a thought leader needs an audience. To reach and grow the biggest possible audience, you need to be online and show up in the right way.

Worry less about going viral and focus instead on delivering value. No one wants or needs videos of you dancing to Jon Batiste’s Freedom or humblebragging about your wonderful life while you sit in your SUV on the way to the gym or a wellness retreat. Instead, keep putting out great content that makes life easier and better for the audience you’re hoping to grow.

“Going viral is not the goal,” says Robinson. “Viral does not equal value. Most viral content has a very short life. Even if you can create viral content, you will still face the challenge of creating impact over time if you want to make real difference through the content.

“Instead, start with focusing on creating value. When you do that, you may be able to achieve true reach that expands your audience and creates lasting impact.”

How do you deliver impactful content? Share your deep thoughts, big ideas and wealth of expertise. Be generous by giving audiences the best of what you know. Don’t hold back or tease us with promises of giving more once we’ve handed over our credit card or signed a contract.

“If you know something that can help your ideal audience, share it as often and as widely as you can,” says Robison. “Sometimes people worry that giving away their ideas for free will undermine their business success by preventing people from wanting to invest in their book, product or service. While it may seem counterintuitive, I’ve noticed that the more generous I am, the more successful my business becomes. The value you provide through generously sharing your expertise creates trust with your potential customers and draws them to you.”

Robinson does exactly that at the back of her book by mapping out her four-phase plan for launching campaigns. She also offers up her reach framework for growing an audience online.

To follow Robinson’s framework, you need to start with your own website, a permission-based email list, great audience-building content and a presence on social media so we can get to know, like and trust you and then head over to your home on the web.

“The most important investment you can make online is your own website,” says Robinson. “Your website is a place where you clearly share the value you offer to the world, where people can very quickly understand your message and where you can invite people to learn more from you.”

Most of us aren’t famous and never will be. But all of us can still make an outsized difference in the world. “Choose to show up in online spaces where you share valuable content and ideas,” says Robinson.

“As you do so, you will create the greatest possible impact for your work. Over time, if you invest patiently and consistently, you will create wider reach for your work and ideas. You’ll become more well known and you’ll experience the benefits of a growing online presence. Those you are serving will benefit also. The more you give, the more you’ll gain.”

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.