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How to hit the reset button on your career (review of Mike Lewis’ When to Jump)

This review first ran in the March 17th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

When to Jump: If the Job You Have Isn’t the Life You Want

By Mike Lewis

Henry Holt and Company


What would you be doing for a living if fear wasn’t a factor?

Would you continue doing what you’re doing right now?

Or would you hit the reset button on your career?

Personally, I’d make the jump from PR pro to cab driver in Aruba. I’d shuttle tourists around the One Happy Island and review business books between fares.

Mike Lewis was 23 years old when he went from being a well-paid venture capitalist to a professional squash player. He traveled more than 200,000 miles to 50 countries on six continents on his way to becoming the world’s 112th best squash player.

Based on his own experience and in talking with others who’ve also changed careers, Lewis has mapped out a jump curve with four key milestones. While not an instruction manual, the jump curve can help you figure out when and how to make your move.

You start by listening to the little voice inside your head and telling people what it’s saying. “To keep a jump alive, it helps to tell someone,” says Lewis. On hearing his plans to play squash, one of Lewis’ friends told him that is plan was absolutely crazy. “But there’s a difference between crazy and stupid,” added his friend.

You reduce the risk of doing something stupid by making a plan. Lewis spent 18 months planning his jump. Planning is where you get serious about building a nest egg, getting in pre-jump practice and sewing a safety net. As one career-switcher told Lewis, a successful jump is less an impulsive leap off a diving board and more of a slow wade in from the shallow end.

“Following a dream is lofty and sounds admirable but real consequences follow,” says Lewis. Switching careers is hard work and sacrifices will need to be made.

Letting yourself be lucky is the third milestone on the jump curve. “Once you’ve started to plan, favourable coincidences begin to appear. You have to jump and believe that some good luck will come back to you.”

Finally, don’t waste time looking back. “The people you meet, the story you’ll have, the lessons you will have learned make it an experience worth pursuing, regardless of what happens.”

After achieving his dream of playing professional squash, Lewis went on to found a global community of people who’ve left one path to pursue something completely different. It doesn’t have to be you alone against the world, says Lewis. Many people have already done what you’re considering and they’re willing to lend a hand.

Among the career-changers profiled by Lewis in his book are a mechanical engineer who became a fitness entrepreneur, an advertising executive turned advocate for sexual assault survivors, a lawyer who’s now a firefighter and a former garbage collector who’s designing and making furniture.

Lewis cautions against making the jump if you have a family to support and debts to pay. This isn’t the ideal time to quit a money-making job for a dream that doesn’t come with a paycheque. “But that doesn’t mean you can never chase your dream; it means not just yet.”

You also don’t need a ton of money socked away to make a change.

“The ability to jump is not limited to those who have a college degree or a certain-sized bank account,” says Lewis. “Applying for an internal promotion at work, going back to school at night, teaching cooking classes on the weekends – big jump or small jump, very many of us have something we’ve longed to try doing. A jump is a jump. If you can’t do it now, write it down for later. And if you can do it now? Go.”

aruba love

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton, has reviewed business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and would be happy to drive you and your family around Aruba.







12 Ways to Treat People Well (REVIEW)

treatThis review first ran in the March 10th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Treating People Well: The Extraordinary Power of Civility at Work and in Life

By Lea Berman and Jeremy Bernard



There’s a public relations intern on our team at work who’s acing the airport test.

Imagine that you and a colleague from work are stranded at Pearson International. What’s it like waiting for your delayed flight? Is it enjoyable or exhausting? Is there a risk that only one of you will make it out alive?

You’d be in good company with our intern. She’s smart, upbeat, self-confident and unfailingly polite. There’s zero drama and she’s been blessed with both a sense of humour and the ability to carry a conversation.

She’d earn high marks from Lea Berman and Jeremy Bernard, authors of Treating People Well. Both worked in the White House as social secretaries and special advisors to the president. Berman served George W. and Laura Bush while Bernard oversaw events, announcements, visits and dinners for Barack and Michelle Obama.

Berman and Bernard’s primary job was to treat people well. “So much of success, however you define it, hangs on how well we treat others from all walks of life,” say the authors. “Insisting on your importance rarely works. Everyone is important and everyone deserves to be treated well.”

Based on their experiences in the White House, Berman and Bernard have identified 12 practices that are the cornerstones for treating people well. These practices include:

Carry yourself with quiet confidence. “A confident person inspires trust – one of the most important components of all strong relationships.” Maintain a positive attitude, be prepared for whatever comes next and reassure others to help build their confidence.

Use self-deprecating humour and charm as the great equalizers. “Like humour, charm is a crucial social skill that bridges differences of opinion and smooths the path to understanding.” Berman and Bernard say that just one charming person can change the dynamics in a room or an entire organization.

Be consistent. “When your behavior reflects your words and promises, people know what to expect and they appreciate and remember you for it. There is no trust without consistency.”

Listen first and talk later. According to Berman and Bernard, we will live in a world of constant communication with lackluster listening. “When you listen quietly to another person, you’re sending a powerful message: that his or her words are more important to you than anything else.”

Radiate calm in a crisis. “When you remain serene, you’re communicating that you have the situation under control and there’s nothing to worry about.” Build trust by staying composed, avoiding drama, finding common ground and maintaining perspective while everyone else is losing their heads.

Handle conflict diplomatically. “People who treat others well don’t stonewall or criticize; instead, they collaborate, seize opportunities and try to create a better result for everyone concerned.”

Give the gift of loyalty. It’s the key ingredient to achieving success and fulfillment in life, say the authors. Practice discretion, stay steadfast in your loyalty and go above and beyond for others with no expectation of anything in return.

And keep smiling while working with difficult people. “The battles they seek and the conflicts they create aren’t really with you but with themselves. Remembering that makes it easier to view them with some level of compassion. And continuing to treat such a person with equanimity, despite the abuse he or she hands out, is a reflection of your own good character and integrity.”

We get to make a choice every day. We can choose to treat people well, poorly or with indifference. “If you’re optimistic enough to accept that treating people with kindness and respect will make them likely to do the same, then you’re already on the right path,” say Berman and Bernard.

So if you’re looking to hire a soon-to-be freshly minted PR grad who’s far along that path and will treat people well on behalf of you and your organization, I’d be more than happy to make an introduction.

Alana and Andrew Podcast

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: That’s What She Said – What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together by Joanne Lipman

she saidThis review first ran in the Feb. 24 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together

By Joanne Lipman

William Morrow


I can’t afford to wait 170 years.

That’s how long the World Economic Forum predicts it will take women and men to reach economic parity worldwide.

But I need the gap closed by the time my daughter’s done school and launches her career.

Parents want what’s best for our kids. We also want what’s right. And gender equality is a fundamental human right. My daughter deserves the same opportunities that will be afforded to my son.

To close the gap between women and men, all of us dads, husbands, brothers and sons need to man up.

So what’s stopping us? Journalist Joanne Lipman says there’s real fear of how both our male and female colleagues will respond if we join the fight. “Plenty of other men would be happy to join the conversation,” says Lipman, author of That’s What She Said. “They’re just terrified of saying something wrong.”

A non-profit focused on working women asked men what would undermine their support for gender equality. “A stunning 74 per cent cited fear – fear of loss of status, fear of other men’s disapproval, and most telling of all, fear of making a mistake. Men are walking around on eggshells.”

Yet Lipman says women will only solve 50 per cent of the problem if they just talk amongst themselves.

“We need men to join the conversation, to be our partners. And as for the men, most of them aren’t anywhere near villains. They don’t need beating up with a two-by-four. They’d like to see an equitable workplace, they just can’t figure out what they’re supposed to do about it.”

So here are some of Lipman’s suggestions on what men can do to help level the gender playing field at work.

Interrupt the interrupters. Don’t allow your male co-workers to interrupt and talk over female colleagues.

Diversify the interviewers, not just the applicants. It’s not enough to bring in female job applicants, says Lipman. “If the interviewers aren’t diverse – if, say, all the interviewers are white men – they are less likely to see her as a ‘cultural fit’ while she may also feel so uncomfortable that she rejects the job even if offered.”

Stop dishing compliments that belittle your female colleagues. “Would you say it to man? If not, you probably should not say it to a woman, either.”

Quit making decisions for women who are raising children. Do they want to travel, relocate or take on extra hours? “Don’t assume. Ask her. Even if she declines, present the next opportunity, and the one after that.”

Give women raises and promotions before they ask or think they’re ready for it. Research shows men are four times more likely than women to ask for a raise and a bigger job. “Make sure qualified women are in the mix, whether they have put up their hands or not. Be prepared to twist a few arms.”

And start respecting women by eliminating slights large and small. Researchers have found that men get more respect than women even if they hold the exact same position. The subtle digs and lack of respect are wearying, difficult to fight and the steady drumbeat can be debilitating, says Lipman.

“For real change to happen, if we are to transform a culture that has long been molded by and for men, it will take individuals, one at a time, taking a stand, reaching across the gender divide. The wins will come from the accumulation of small, everyday interactions of both women and men. When men and women both reach across the gender divide, we actually will have a shot at closing the gap.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review – The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle

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

culture codeThe Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups

By Daniel Coyle

Bantam Books


You and I are probably smarter than a bunch of kindergarten kids.

But don’t bank on us working smarter than them..

Engineer and designer Peter Skillman ran a competition where business students in university squared off against kids in kindergarten.

The four-member teams had to beat the clock and build a tower using  uncooked spaghetti, tape and string with a marshmallow on top.

Unlike the business students, the kids didn’t strategize, analyze or do blue-sky thinking. No roles and responsibilities were assigned. No team charters were drafted. They didn’t worry about who was in charge, what the rules were or whether it was okay to criticize.

Instead, they acted like a bunch of five-year-olds and got right to work.

“Their entire technique might be described as trying a bunch of stuff together,” says Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Code and an advisor to the Cleveland Indians.

Here’s what you would you have seen if you watched the little kids outperform the big kids.

“They are not competing for status,” says Coyle. “They stand shoulder to shoulder and work energetically together. They move quickly, spotting problems and offering help. They experiment, take risks, and notice outcomes which guides them toward effective solutions.”

In dozens of trials, the kindergarten kids built spaghetti towers that didn’t topple and averaged 26 inches tall. The business students either ran out of time or came up short with towers averaging less than 10 inches.

“The kindergartners succeed not because they are smarter but because they work together in a smarter way. They are tapping into a simple and powerful method in which a group of ordinary people can create a performance far beyond the sum of their parts.”

Because you can’t hire an army of five-year-olds, focus instead on creating a culture where groups in your organization will thrive.

As a leader, you create a high-performance culture by continually and consistently doing three things:

  • Building safety. “When you ask people inside highly successful groups to describe their relationship with one another, they all tend to choose the same word. This word is not friends or team or tribe. The word they use is family.” In a highly successful group, you’re constantly reminded that you belong and you feel psychologically safe.
  • Sharing vulnerability. Instead of covering up weaknesses or pretending you have all the answers, ask for help. Being vulnerable leads to co-operation and trust. Highly successful groups don’t shy away from asking tough questions and giving hard feedback. “These groups seem to intentionally create awkward, painful interactions that look like the opposite of smooth cooperation. The fascinating thing is, however, these awkward, painful interactions generate the highly cohesive, trusting behavior necessary for smooth cooperation.”
  • Establishing purpose. “High-purpose environments are filled with small, vivid signals designed to create a link between the present moment and a future ideal.” These organizations are not at all subtle in spelling out and constantly reminding everyone about here’s where we are and here’s where we want to go.

Coyle profiles eight high-performing groups and leaders who create the right conditions for teams to work smarter together.  He also offers practical ideas for building safety, sharing vulnerability and establishing purpose.

“While a successful culture can look and feel like magic, the truth is that it’s not,” says Coyle. “Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.


5 Ways to Derail Your Career & 2 Questions to Keep it on Track (review)

right stuffThis review was first published in the Jan. 29 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Right and Wrong Stuff: How Brilliant Careers are Made and Unmade

By Carter Cast

Public Affairs


A lousy annual performance review is a gift that few of us will ever get in our careers.

Most of us work for bosses who shy away from tough conversations, believe only in accentuating the positive or dismiss reviews as a time-wasting unnecessary evil.

They do us no favours. What’s left unsaid in performance reviews will eventually trip us up. Our blind spots will get us fired, demoted or passed over for promotion.

“Sooner or later, unaddressed developmental needs will limit the career progress of good people,” says Carter Cast, author of The Right and Wrong Stuff, a professor at Northwestern University and a former executive with Walmart, Blue Nile, Electronic Arts and PepsiCo.

Career derailment is in the cards for up to 80 per cent of us, warns Cast. Based on his research, a lack of self-awareness and difficulty in working with others are the leading causes of career derailment. He says that careers stall more from having the wrong stuff than from lacking the right stuff.

“It is often hubris – not lack of talent – that causes people on the rise to fall. Prior to failing, people who derail where successful and considered talented up-and-comers. Derailment often afflicts talented managers who are either unaware of a debilitating weakness or interpersonal blind spot or arrogant enough to believe that development feedback doesn’t apply to them.”

We’re headed for the fall if any of Cast’s five archetypes sound all too familiar:

Captain Fantastics lose friends and make enemies thanks to unbridled egos, an inability to listen and an “I-me-mine” mantra.

The solo flier is a strong individual contributor who fails to realize that you can’t build or lead a team by micromanaging or doing all the work yourself.

Version 1.0 is comfortable with routine and resistant to change. “Their attitude of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ will not serve them well over time and eventually their dinosaur-like tendencies may lead to extinction,” says

One-trick ponies consistently do one thing really well. But this overspecialization makes them one-dimensional and unpromotable. And what they’ve been good at in the past may not be what the organization needs them to start doing now or in the future.

Unfocused whirling dervishes overcommit and underdeliver, with weak planning and organizational skills to implement any of the creative ideas “spewing out of their brains like a hyperactive geyser.”

Avoiding career derailment is a DIY project, says Cast. “Most bosses are too worried about their own hide to take the time to worry about yours. There’s one person out there who really wants to help you get ahead – there’s one person who’s truly interested in your success and well-being – you.”

Start shoring up your weaknesses by asking two questions. Do I have the right strengths in my current position relative to people doing similar work? And do I have the right strengths around which to build my career in the future?

Now take the initiative for your professional and personal development. Be aware of your weaknesses. Seek out challenging assignments that will build your strengths. Routinely solicit honest feedback and act on what you hear. Build and maintain positive relationships with others. Recruit mentors and create a learning circle to share ideas, perspectives and lessons learned with industry peers outside your organization.

If you’re a boss, make developing others a genuine priority and adopt Cast’s three-strike rule. Hold three meetings with an underperforming employee.

Have the tough but necessary conversation in your first meeting and come up with a game plan to improve performance. Measure improvement or the lack of it in your second meeting. In your third meeting, either congratulate the employee for getting their career back on the track or wish them well in their future endeavours.

“All too often companies ignore the topic of derailment until it’s too late, but their employees cannot afford to do so,” says Cast. “Of course it’s important to focus on developing your strengths, but towering strengths cannot overcome debilitating weaknesses. We all need to understand and mitigate our career-limiting vulnerabilities.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: Impromptu – Leading in the Moment by Judith Humphrey

impromptuThis review ran in the Jan. 15 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Impromptu: Leading in the Moment

By Judith Humphrey



Something remarkable happened at work.

We went to a town hall meeting and a conversation broke out.

Here’s how it happened.

Senior leaders stepped out from behind the lectern, left the stage and went into the audience.

They didn’t have prepared remarks or PowerPoint slides. They hadn’t gone to a dress rehearsal and some had no idea they were about to be called on.

Senior leaders started off by giving spontaneous answers to real questions that staff had written on cue cards at the start of the town hall.

This in turn prompted other staff to put up their hands and ask even more questions.

The conversation continued for more than 90 minutes. The town hall ended with a round of applause. Senior leaders were grateful for the questions. Staff appreciated the authentic, candid, off the cuff answers.

The town hall was unlike any I had attended over my 25-year career with four organizations.

Judith Humphrey, author of Impromptu, says that leadership communications is undergoing a transformation. We’re moving from one-off formal speeches on the big stage to continuous impromptu speaking on smaller stages.

“More than ever, those who lead must find their authentic voice. Impromptu speaking provides a way to connect, inspire and lead in the 21st century world,” says Humphrey. “Scripted speeches, PowerPoint presentations, dog and pony shows, and marketing hype are being replaced by the conversations that leaders have every day with their followers. These conversations will change minds, hearts and organizations.”

Don’t confuse impromptu speaking with winging it. You won’t inspire others if you can’t stop talking and don’t make any sense.

You can mitigate this risk by using a four-part script template used by Humphrey’s leadership communications firm.

“Creating your script is an important aspect of impromptu speaking,” says Humphrey. “It will keep you from blathering on as so many people do. In every situation it’s important to collect your thoughts rather than spew out whatever comes in your head. With a clear and persuasive structure, you will influence and inspire your listeners. There is no more critical a skill for impromptu speaking than this ability to structure your thoughts.”

Humphrey’s template has you leading off with a grabber that connects you with your audience and builds rapport. “If you speak without reaching out to them and engaging them, it’s likely nobody will listen to you. Think of your grabber as a verbal handshake.”

You then deliver your key message. A good message is limited to one idea that’s communicated in a single, short sentence. Your message should engage the hearts and minds of your audience, carry your convictions and be positive.

You then make a compelling case for your key message with a handful of reinforcing proof points. “Stating your message is rarely sufficient. You need evidence that encourages listeners to buy into that point of view. So after presenting what you believe, share why you believe it.”

The script ends with you making a call to action to your audience. Be explicit. What do you want them to start, stop or continue doing?  Like the grabber at the start of the script, your call to action needs to engage your audience. “It gives legs to your message by transforming an idea into actionable steps. In doing so, it makes your script an act of motivational leadership.”

Humphrey shows how we can use her script templates to effectively communicate in a host of situations, from meetings, job interviews, toasts and tributes to elevator pitches, question and answer sessions and speeches.

“Few skills are more important today for leaders and aspiring leaders than the ability to speak well in impromptu situations,” says Humphrey. “The day when executives could deliver the big speech and then retreat to their offices is long gone. Constant, spontaneous interactions with colleagues, senior executives, clients and stakeholders has become the norm. The new world of leadership is full of conversation, collaboration and charisma. Make the most of these opportunities.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Five great ideas to carry over into your business or organization in 2018

Drawing from some of the best business books I read and reviewed last year for the Hamilton Spectator, here are five great ideas  to carry over into 2018.

no egoAdd an accountability filter to your 2018 employee engagement survey. Add questions that will let you separate out answers from two very different kinds of employees. Pay close attention to what high-accountable employees are telling you. They’re the high performers who’ll suggest ways to make your organization better for customers, clients, patients or students. Don’t waste time, money or effort in trying to shore up satisfaction scores of low-accountable employees who will only give you a list of demands on how to make their lives easier. “If we really want our engagement surveys to drive workplace results, then we need to be honest,” says Cy Wakeman, author of No Ego – How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results. “Not all employees contribute equally, and the feedback they offer isn’t equal either. Treating all feedback equally is crazy.” So too is holding managers accountable for driving up satisfaction scores among employees who contribute little or nothing to the organization.

egiHelp yourself by helping others first. Adopt what Ryan Holiday calls the canvas strategy. “Find canvasses for others to paint on,” says Holiday in Ego is the Enemy. “Whereas everyone else wants to get credit and be respected, you can forget credit. You can forget it so hard that you’re glad when others get it instead of you – that was your aim after all. Let the others take the credit on credit, while you defer and earn interest on the principle.” This is one way to keep your ego in check in 2018 and not allow a false sense of superiority to exceed the bounds of confidence and talent.

radicalStart practicing radical candor. Care personally and challenge directly in 2018. Find the courage to deliver difficult yet necessary feedback, make tough calls and set a high bar for results. At the same time, let people know that you care them. “When people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to accept and act on your praise and criticism,” says Kim Scott in Radical Candor – Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. You do yourself and the people around you no favours when you put being liked ahead of saying and doing what needs to be said and done.

MomentsPick an event that your organization runs every year and shake up the status quo. Don’t settle for what Chip and Dan Heath call the soul-sucking force of reasonableness. Invest the time and extra money to create a stand-out experience in 2018 that everyone in the room will remember and everyone else will wish they had attended. “Moments matter,” say the Heaths in The Power of Moments“And what an opportunity we miss when we leave them to chance. Teachers can inspire, caregivers can comfort, service workers can delight, politicians can unite and managers can motivate. All it takes is a bit of insight and forethought. We can be the designers of moments that deliver elevation and insight and pride and connection.”

powerMake sure everyone in your organization has the same answers to two fundamental questions. What do we stand for? And what do we want to be known for? The answers will define your organization’s culture in 2018. Average organizations have mission statements. Great organizations have people who are on a mission. The difference comes down to culture. “Your most important job as a leader is to drive the culture,” says Jon Gordon in The Power of Positive Leadership. “You must create a positive culture that energizes and encourages people, fosters connected relationships and great teamwork, empowers and enables people to do their best work.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: Weird in a World That’s Not – A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups and Failures by Jennifer Romolini

weirdThis review first ran in the Dec. 18th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Weird in a World That’s Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups and Failures

By Jennifer Romolini

Harper Business


Ziplining at Mount Tremblant brought back bad memories of team-building with a telephone pole.

I kept reassuring my skeptical wife that the zip line and treetop obstacle course would be fun for the whole family. And it was until it suddently wasn’t. We were about halfway through the course and past the point of no return when the course became an endurance test that I was failing.

I was sore, cranky and no longer thinking straight when I finally got to the highest and longest zip line. Forgetting the cardinal rule of ziplining, I put my ungloved hand in front of the pulley and slid off the platform. The pulley jammed into the web of flesh between my thumb and index finger and left me dangling in a cold sweat.

I eventually unstuck myself and then failed to reach out and grab the loop at the end of the zip line that pulls you onto the next platform.

Instead, I snagged the loop with my left foot while sliding back towards the middle of the zip line. I was now stretched out and stuck as the families waiting behind me and watching from below shouted out words of encouragement. I’m not proud of what I shouted back.

And that’s when I had a flashback to a team-building retreat at another resort that also left me stuck in a high place. I had to strap on a harness tied to a rope, climb a telephone pole, stand on a Frisbee nailed to the top of the pole and then jump off while I trusted coworkers to slowly let out the rope.

Everyone on the ground shouted at me to keep going while I perched frozen at the top of the swaying pole with one foot on the Frisbee.

Jennifer Romolini also had to climb a telephone pole at an employee retreat, with the same results and reaction. “It was an absurd situation, one made even more so because the people around me seemed to be having a good time – they were into it and having fun. I felt out of place, awkward and exposed, a Woman Who Fell to Earth If Earth Was A Contrived Corporate Retreat.”

Romolini survived the retreat, stayed with the company for six years and was promoted four times.  She’s now the chief content officer at and author of Weird in a World That’s Not.

At 27, Romolin was a divorced and broke college drop-out living with her parents. She went to 23 job interviews before landing her first gig with a New York media company.

“For a long time, I was pretty sure I would never make it in the world, that I would never become successful in the way that successful people are,” says Romolini. ”The reason I would never do this was because I was too intense, too socially clumsy, too sensitive.”

Romolini eventually figured out that her weirdness was an asset. She didn’t need to fake it to make it. She’s now sharing her hard-earned advice for other struggling misfits who’ve yet to find their way.

“Follow your bad feelings. Ultimately, the process for finding the vocation I wanted and would excel at wasn’t soft or calm. It wasn’t worksheets or matching my personality type against a series of careers to see what lined up. How I found the colour of my parachute was by force, taking a hard and honest look at my sadness and insecurity, what made me the most pissed off and envious, the things I wanted to be so badly that I seethed.”

Weird in a World That’s Not is part memoir and part career advice column for the introverted and socially awkward.  She tells how to write resumes and cover letters, what to say in job interviews and during meetings, what not to do at office parties and on social media, how to make small talk at networking events, how to get promoted and be a good leader and how to know that it’s time to go and move on to a new job.

There’s also a timely chapter on her one regret of not standing up to a demeaning and inappropriate male boss. “I urge you not to play along, not to act like it’s cool, like it’s cute ever, not when you’re 23 or not when you’re 53. I urge you because enough already; women deserve to be treated equally and respectfully at workplaces and other places, now and forever, the end.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.


Review – Creating Great Choices: A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking by Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin

choicesThis review first ran in the Dec. 4 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Creating Great Choices: A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking

By Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin

Harvard Business Review Press


Do yourself a favour.

Don’t tell a team to reach for consensus when they’re trying to solve a problem.

Yes, you’ll keep the peace. They’ll play nice and be polite to one another. The team won’t split into warring factions. Meetings won’t turn into cage matches. There will be no battle of the wills where the most persuasive, persistent and pushy railroad the rest of the team into choosing their preferred solution. No one will lose face or leave with bruised egos and lingering resentment.

But the team won’t deliver what you need. Reaching for consensus will leave you with an unholy mess of good, bad and ugly options stitched together into a weak compromise.

Instead of reaching for consensus, help the team build their integrative thinking skills. Show them how to hold opposing ideas in their minds and use the tension to create new and better choices.

“To produce better decisions, we need a better process,” say Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin, authors of Creating Great Choices and professors at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

“One key step in doing that is to explicitly consider opposing solutions, exploring deeply divergent possibilities for solving the problem. This approach is about challenging the notion that there is a single right answer. It is also about using conflict purposefully, thereby enriching our understanding of the problem and expanding the possibilities for its resolution.”

According to Riel and Martin, integrative thinking isn’t an innate skill. It can be learned by following three core principles at the heart of better decision-making: metarecognition, empathy and creativity.

“With these three components as the base ingredients for an effective approach to decision-making, you can lay the groundwork for a new way to think and work your way through difficult problems of almost any type,” say Riel and Martin.

Much of our thinking is automatic, implicit and abstract.  Metarecognition is the ability to be self-aware of how we think, draw conclusions and make decisions. “This means understanding why and how we believe what we believe. It means being clear not only about our conclusions and our actions but also about the data and reasoning that support them.”

Empathy is the ability to more deeply understand and better appreciate how others see the world. “It is the act of experiencing things as if we were in another person’s shoes. It’s about genuinely seeking to understand who another person is, what she thinks and how she feels.”

Creativity is about seeking the new and embracing the unique. It’s the imaginative spark that leads us to imagine something beyond existing options. “When we’re confronted with a difficult decision, most of us understand that it is our job to pick the right answer from among the options. In contrast, a richer decision-making process reframes our job: it isn’t to choose an option, but to create a better answer that effectively solves the problem.”

Creating Great Choices is the practical user guide to The Opposable Mind, Martin’s earlier book on integrative thinking. You’ll find exercises and templates to help you and your team look past least-worst options and instead reach for better solutions.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives and Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: Unbranding – 100 Lessons For The Age of Disruption by Alison and Scott Stratten

31McsOaqDZL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This review first ran in the Nov. 20 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Unbranding: 100 Branding Lessons for the Age of Disruption

By Alison and Scott Stratten



Our family used to go to a resort in the Muskokas. We went every Thanksgiving for 10 years.

Now I go online to remind myself why we’re never going back.

Our last stay at the resort was not a good one. And it appears the resort hasn’t turned things around, judging by reviews on sites like TripAdvisor.

The customer reviews are brutal. Worst hotel ever. What a disaster. Run away. So gross we left at one in the morning. If it wasn’t for its location and reasonable price for one night I would never stay in this dump. Run by teenagers. Seen better days. I would not recommend it under any circumstances. The resort is in desperate need of an update and lots of repairs. The pool was green and the hot tub was not working. Stained carpets, peeling wallpaper and a seagull-infested beach. Disappointed upon arrival; cancelled extra night immediately. Run-down resort with no pride of ownership.

I read these reviews whenever I feel nostalgic for the family bingo nights, beach bonfires, canoe rides, forest hikes and lakeshore views. No discounts or special offers will win me back.

As Scott and Alison Stratten point out in their latest book Unbranding, you don’t have a social media problem if you’re getting destroyed in online reviews. What you have is a business problem. What you do offline drives what customers say online.

And you can’t fix this problem with a new logo, ad campaign or a hotshot social media firm with expertise in online reputation management.

According to the Strattens, you build brand loyalty by delivering in four key areas:

  • Comfort: “All the successful brands we’ve seen brought their customers from a feeling of need or want into one of comfort. Once the need has been met, customers walked away confident that in the future the company would rise to the occasion again.”
  • Cost: This isn’t about a race to the bottom with the lowest prices. “Focusing on cost really means focusing on perceived value and giving people what they paid for.” Customers should feel their money is well spent on whatever you’re selling.
  • Convergence: “Loyal customers feel their ideals line up with the companies they work with. The most successful businesses understand their customers and what they believe in, making their products and services part of the individual’s identity.”
  • Convenience: “Products and services don’t only cost the customer’s money, they also cost time. Everyone is busy, and our successful brands earned loyalty by appreciating and saving customers’ time.”

The Strattens give 100 lessons in branding done brilliantly well and also horribly and hilariously wrong by businesses big and small.  They pull no punches but also sing the praises of companies that get it right when they’ve done wrong by their customers.

Here’s one key lesson for when customers inevitably complain. Don’t ignore them, stew over what was said, punch back, lawyer up, try to bury the bad reviews, play the blame game or say it’s someone else’s problem to fix.

Instead, step up, take responsibility, respond promptly and never forget that customer service is now a spectator sport thanks to social media.

“You always have an opportunity to create a positive brand experience for your customers and you always have the opportunity to move the needle,” say the Strattens. “You just need to start by owning each and every customer’s experience as your responsibility. No matter what your business card says, we are all responsible for branding.”

While we’ve never gone back to the resort in the Muskokas, I still get my bonfire fix with annual road trips to Darien Lake with my kids. The park is spotless and family-friendly, the line-ups for rides are short, the staff and service are great and so is the value for  money. Darien Lake has earned my brand loyalty and I’ve never felt the need to check online reviews before deciding whether to book a cabin for another year.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications at Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.