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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

$41.99

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

Wiley

$30

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.

Review – The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath

MomentsThis review first ran in the Nov. 6 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact

By Chip and Dan Heath

Simon & Schuster

$39

How do you get students from priority neighbourhoods to stay in school and go to college?

Yes Prep Public Schools in Houston has a great solution.

Senior Signing Day was launched in 2001. It’s modeled after the day when graduating high school football players sign letters of intent with American colleges. Staff at Yes Prep wanted to recreate the same level of excitement for their students’ academic achievements.

Last year’s Senior Signing Day was held in the Toyota Centre, home to the NBA’s Houston Rockets.

Students, family, friends, staff, alumni and supporters pack the arena for the two hour celebration. Each graduating student walks across the stage, steps up to the podium and announces what college they’re attending in the fall. Some of the students break the news by unveiling t-shirts, ball caps and pennants. The crowd goes wild. This is not a staid and somber ceremony.

The graduating students then make it official by signing their enrollment papers.

Maybe you think this event seems like a ton of work. You could ask why Yes Prep doesn’t just list the graduating students and their future colleges in a program and instead invite an alumnus, donor or celebrity to give a speech like the one given at at every other graduation ceremony.

But then you’d be missing the point.

Senior Signing Day was engineered to be a defining moment for everyone in the arena. It’s a celebration for the graduating students. It gives families yet another reason to be proud. It reminds staff and supporters that they’re transforming lives. And it inspires the younger students who picture themselves up on stage and getting rafter-shaking roars of applause in a few more years.

Every organization can create defining moments for customers, students, patients and employees, say brothers Chip and Dan Heath and authors of The Power of Moments.

“Moments matter,” say the Heaths. “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.”

You don’t have to fill an NBA arena to create defining moments. The Magic Castle Hotel in Los Angeles uses a Popsicle hotline. You pick up the phone and order a free cherry, orange or grape Popsicle. A white-gloved staff member then delivers it poolside on a silver tray. It’s a peak moment that guests will remember, rave about online and talk about when they return home.

So why don’t more organizations create these peak moments? The Heaths warn that it’s easy to fall victim to the soul-sucking force of reasonableness. Creating peak moments takes a lot of effort and it’s rarely in anyone’s job description. It’s far easier to stick with the predictability and safety of the status quo.

So instead of experiencing a few unforgettable peaks, we get unrelenting flatness. Learning, working and spending money start to feel like a never-ending road trip across the Canadian Prairies.

Your first day at a new job should be a defining moment. But how many of us have spent that day memorizing the corporate policy and procedure binder at an empty desk followed by a whirlwind round of introductions that interrupt busy coworkers who had no idea we were joining the team?

Along with succumbing to reasonableness, the Heaths say organizations are preoccupied with filling lots of potholes and pay little to no attention in creating a few peaks. Yet it’s these surprising moments that make us overlook or put up other moments that fall short of expectations. “When we assess our experiences, we don’t average our minute-by-minute sensations. Rather, we tend to remember flagship moments: the peaks, the pits and the transitions.”

For inspiration, the Heaths showcase defining moments created by at all kind of organizations. The only problem with their book is that you’ll find it impossible to sit and suffer through peak-free events and experiences that stick to the same old script and settle for reasonableness.

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

Review – The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google by Scott Galloway

the fourThis review first ran in the Oct. 23 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google

By Scott Galloway

Portfolio / Penguin

$37

Your favourite burger joint just got caught cooking fake meat  They knew the burgers were bad but kept serving them up and making people sick.

So what do you do?

Of course, you quit eating their burgers. And you cheer when they’re shut down and run out of town.

So why are you still on Facebook?

The company knows it’s being used by troll farms to spread lies that divide us, dial up the distrust and outrage and get us marching to extremes, says Scott Galloway, a tech entrepreneur, New York University professor and author of The Four.

While fake news is bad news for our mental health and civil society, it’s great business for Facebook.

“The true believers, whether from the left or the right, click on the bait,” says  Galloway. “The posts that get the most clicks are confrontational and angry. And those clicks drive up a post’s hit rate.”

High hit rates and more time spent on site mean more money for Facebook. And making money – not giving you a way to share baby photos and cat videos — is the company’s sole mission, says Galloway. “By trashing fake news stories, Facebook would sacrifice billions of clicks and loads of revenue. Once the company’s success is measured in clicks and dollars, why favour true stories over false ones?”

This is a big problem since nearly half of us now get our news from Facebook and one in six people on the planet use it every day. Mixing together real and fake news makes Facebook even more dangerous, warns Galloway.

We greatly overestimate our ability to separate fact from fiction and Facebook is in no hurry to spend whatever’s necessary to weed out fake news, says Galloway.

“This abdication from social responsibility, enabling authoritarians and hostile actors to deftly use fake news, risks that the next big medium may, again, be cave walls.”

Along with Facebook, Galloway takes a hard look at Amazon, Apple and Google.

Amazon renders moot the living wage debate with its warehouse robots and cashier-less grab and go retail stores.

Apple has morphed into a luxury brand. “It may sell millions of iPods, iPhones, iWatches and Apple Watches but likely only one percent of the world can (rationally) afford them and that’s how Apple wants it,” says Galloway.

And while God may not answer your prayers, Google has all the answers. “Look at your recent Google search history: you reveal things to Google that you wouldn’t want anyone to know. We believe, naively, that nobody (but the Big Guy) can listen to our thoughts. But let’s be clear…Google too is listening.”

Galloway says we need to cast a more critical eye on the four tech titans as they fundamentally change how we live, work, shop and get along with each other.

“These firms are not concerned with the condition of our souls, will not take care of us in our old age, nor hold our hand,” says Galloway. “They are organizations that have aggregated enormous power. These companies avoid taxes, invade privacy, and destroy jobs to increase profits because they can.

“Are these entities the Four Horseman of god, love, sex and consumption? Or are they the Four Horseman of the apocalypse? The answer is yes to both questions.”

@jayrobb lives and works in Hamilton, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and does not get his news from Facebook.

Review: Real Artists Don’t Starve – Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age by Jeff Goins

real artistsThis review first ran in the Oct. 10 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timelines Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age

By Jeff Goins

Nelson Books

$31

It’s never been easier to make a living off your creative talent.

But just don’t be too quick in quitting your day job.

John Grisham can show you how it’s done. He was a new father and a lawyer working 70-hour weeks. Writing was his hobby.

Grisham didn’t quit his Mississippi law practice. Instead, he woke up at 5 a.m. every day for three years to work on his debut novel A Time to Kill.

He repeated the routine with his second legal thriller.

“It wasn’t until he was two bestsellers into his writing career that he felt confident enough to leave his law practice and pursue writing full-time,” says Jeff Goins, entrepreneur and author of Real Artists Don’t Starve. “That’s the art of the small bet.”

Grisham’s early morning bets paid off. His books have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide, been translated into 40 languages and made into nine movies.

Goins says low-risk bets will get you the big win. “If you don’t have to go all in, don’t.”

It’s advice that’s confirmed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  They tracked 5,000 entrepreneurs over 14 years. The cautious entrepreneurs were more successful. The risk-takers who quit their day jobs were 33 per cent more likely to fail.

“Most significant change begins with a simple step, not a giant leap,” says Goins.  No one’s born an artist. We gradually become one through these simple steps and small bets.

It’s one of 12 rules for succeeding in what Goins calls our new creative renaissance.

There’s his rule of creative theft that encourages stealing from masters and peers. “Great artists do not try to be original,” says Goins. “Creativity is not about being original; it’s about learning to rearrange what has already been in a way that brings fresh insight to old material.”

Under the rule of the patron, you need to find someone early on who will vouch for your work and open doors. “Before you can reach an audience of many, you must first reach an audience of one,” says Goins. “These people lend their resources and influence to help creative talents succeed, introducing them to opportunities they would not encounter otherwise.”

And there’s the rule of never working for free. Don’t do something for the exposure or the opportunity. “Exposure will not put food on the table,” says Goins. “Charging what you’re worth begins with the belief that you’re worth what you charge.”

Making money allows you to continue making your art. “That is the point – to keep making things. You don’t have to be rich to do that, but you can’t starve. That’s not how your best work is going to be made.”

Follow the 12 rules and you’re more likely to thrive rather than starve and struggle as an artist.

“We can, in fact, create work that matters and earn a living doing so. We can share our gift with the world without having to suffer for it. And the sooner we take advantage of this opportunity, the sooner we can get on with doing our work.”

So set your alarm clock and start making small predawn bets before heading off to your day job.

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

Review: No Ego – How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results by Cy Wakeman

no egoThis review first ran in the Sept. 25 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results

By Cy Wakeman

St. Martins Press

$37.99

Survey says we’re having ice cream socials every Friday afternoon.

It’s an employee suggestion from your latest engagement survey. Free ice cream seems like a quick and easy way to buy some love and shore up engagement scores.

But a deluge of emotional waste will hit your managers starting Monday morning. They’ll be silently screaming about ice cream.

Monday morning is when they’ll start hearing from employees who can’t get make it to Friday socials even though senior management is well aware of this fact, obviously doesn’t care and is out to get them yet again.

Managers will be told to run a more inclusive event for employees who don’t like ice cream, are lactose intolerant, have sensitive teeth or prefer healthy options.

Managers will get requests to leave work a half-hour early from employees who don’t spend 30 minutes eating ice cream in the cafeteria.

Managers will get sermons on why locally sourced organic ice cream is the better, more sustainable option along with calls for employees to be consulted on whether vanilla and chocolate ice cream should be the only choices.

Managers will get complaints about the skimpy selection of toppings and how the absence of whipped cream and cherries is just one more way that senior management nickel and dimes employees.

Managers will hear about preferences for waffle bowls over plastic cups.

And someone will rat out Andy from accounting who’s rumoured to get extra scoops of ice cream because, as everyone knows, Andy is a suck-up who may, or may not, be dating the CEO’s daughter.

You can spare your managers the drama by putting an accountability filter on your next engagement survey, says Cy Wakeman, author of No Ego, consultant and founder of Reality-Based Leadership,

Ask survey questions that will differentiate responses from high and low-accountable employees.

Focus on what high-accountable employees are telling you. These are the resilient, self-aware, change-ready high performers who take full responsibility for their own optimism, energy and enthusiasm. They consistently give their best effort and continually look for ways to improve. They’ll use the engagement survey to highlight ways to better serve your clients, customers, patients or students. Free ice cream for employees likely isn’t on their list.

Low-accountable employees wear victimhood like a well-worn housecoat, says Wakeman. They blame everyone and everything for their lacklustre work, blown deadlines and sour disposition. They’ll use the survey to emotionally blackmail you into making their lives easier.

Trying to drive up engagement scores among low-accountable employees is a fool’s errand. And if you could actually pull this off, would you want an organization full of highly satisfied low-accountable employees?

“If we really want our engagement surveys to drive workplace results, then we need to be honest,” says Wakeman. “Not all employees contribute equally, and the feedback they offer isn’t equal either. Treating all feedback equally is crazy.”

Engagement without accountability leads to entitlement, warns Wakeman. That sense of entitlement causes time-wasting and productivity-killing drama and emotional waste.

Smart organizations and great leaders aren’t preoccupied with creating a workplace where everyone’s happy and comfortable. They’re not shielding employees from change, sugar-coating reality or trying to get buy-in through appeasement.

They don’t coddle, cajole or get themselves into codependent relationships.

Instead, they focus on building business readiness and instilling an organization-wide accountability mindset. They value action over opinions. They ask employees for their full commitment in exchange for full paycheques. The uncommitted get a clear choice: come up with a plan to get on the bus or find yourself another bus to ride.

“The role of leaders is to help people get clear on the fact that if they want to play on the team, buy-in is a prerequisite,” says Wakeman. “If you’re going to get great results, there can’t be an option that allows people to stay and sabotage or to stay and hate. Why would any organization tolerate an option that allows people to generate endless emotional waste?”

This may seem like tough love given the conventional wisdom around how managers should engage and inspire employees and manage change to minimize pain and disruption. Yet Wakeman makes a compelling argument for putting accountability ahead of engagement. Hold employees to a higher standard and they’ll do great work, step up to challenges, take pride in what they achieve together and become fully engaged in ways that free ice cream can’t buy.

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

Review: The Inspiration Code – How The Best Leaders Energize People Every Day by Kristi Hedges

inspiration codeThis review first ran in the Sept. 11 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Inspiration Code: How The Best Leaders Energize People Every Day

By Kristi Hedges

American Management Association

$35.95

We won’t find inspiration in a corporate video where our leader seems to have been kidnapped to an undisclosed location and forced to read a list of demands while in a state of severe sleep deprivation.

Equally uninspiring is the mandatory and tightly scripted all-staff town hall where our leader inflicts death by PowerPoint with ruthless efficiency and then dares anyone to ask a question.

What will inspire us to work harder and do better is a leader who knows how to have conversations that count.

“If we want to have inspired companies, then we need inspirational leaders,” says Kristi Hedges, leadership coach and author of The Inspiration Code. “And that involves being the kind of leader who communicates in a way that creates the conditions for inspiration in others. It’s about making the right connection and letting the inspiration take off from there.”

Leaders create these conditions by being present, personal, passionate and purposeful in their conversations.

A leader’s present when she’s focused on the person in front of her. She’s not distracted or visibly stressed. She listens more than she talks. She gives the impression that there’s no one else she’d rather be with and nowhere else she’s rather be. “For leaders, presence is a blinking red light that signifies importance. Being fully present at key times has a motivational impact. When a leader actually pays real attention to us, it feels great. We feel special. The capacity to inspire is heightened.”

Authenticity also plays a key role in building connections. “Your listener looks to you first to see how much you care and this is what shapes how much he will care,” says Hedges. “If you want to move behavior or shape thinking, you need to get personal and stay personal. We’re not inspired by fakes, frauds, blowhards, blusterers or even those who play it too close to the vest. We need to see the real deal.”

Along with being present and getting personal, leaders need to be passionate if they want an inspired effort from us. “People who are passionate enthusiasts for what they do create passion in others. Passion is optimistic, exciting, bold and captivating. Passion has a fiery drive to it, propelling forward momentum. People with passion show conviction. We know where they stand. They get things done.”

And finally, inspiring leaders have purposeful conversations. We need to be reminded that our day-to-day work contributes to the continued success of our organization.  “When we feel as though we’re running in circles, or spiraling downward, work is somewhere between boring and soul crushing. We’re counting the hours (or if nearing retirement, years) until we’re free.”

What a leader does will be as important as what they say. Hedges says a leader must show and model what it means to be a purpose-driven leader and live a purpose-driven life. “If others can’t see the purpose that ignites you, then they won’t likely be convinced that you can inspire anyone else. When it comes to purpose, you’ve got to wear it to share it.”

As Hedges reminds us, no one goes home after work and says they had a great day because they were influenced. Bull all of us would love to say that we were inspired.

Hedges shows leaders how to improve the odds of that happening with proven strategies for  being more present, personal, passionate and purposeful in their conversations.

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

Review: Perennial Seller – The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts

sellerThis review first ran in the Aug. 28 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts

By Ryan Holiday

Portfolio / Penguin

$35

I’ve got a lot of time for anyone who sacrifices a steady paycheque and a pension to build a business and create jobs.

So I was happy to spend a morning last month talking media relations with entrepreneurs who were vying for the final top 10 spots in this year’s Lion’s Lair competition.

We covered a couple caveats before getting into how to pitch stories and talk with reporters.

Media coverage is a good thing. But there are just 24 hours in a day. Time spent talking with reporters could be time spent meeting one-on-one and face-to-face with prospective investors and customers. That’s job one for aspiring entrepreneurs.

The second caveat: good media coverage won’t save a bad product that’s all hat and no cattle.

Media strategist Ryan Holiday would agree. Whether you’re building a new product, launching a new service or writing the next great Canadian novel, invest the majority of your time creating something great before promoting it.

“Crappy products don’t survive,” says the author of Perennial Seller. “Promotion is not how things are made great – only how they’re heard about.”

We’ll hear rave reviews about your product if you’ve nailed the answers to two questions.

Who’s your product for?

And what do they get for their money?

“If you don’t know – if the answer isn’t overwhelming – then keep thinking,” says Holiday. “It’s not that hard to make something we want, or something we think is cool or impressive. It’s much harder to create something other people not only want, but need.”

We’ll ignore your product if it’s merely a marginal improvement over whatever we’re already using.

To get our attention and our money, create something that’s bold, brash and brave. The alternative, says Holiday, is to try selling us something that’s derivative, imitative, banal and trivial. This leaves you with a boring product that’s liable to get crushed by relentless competition.

Using outside feedback to test, tweak, polish and perfect your product is also one of the keys to creating a perennial seller that stands the test of time. “Nobody creates flawless first drafts. And nobody creates better second drafts without the intervention or someone else. Nobody.”

When you’re ready to promote your product, don’t outsource the job and walk away. No agency or consultant will care as much as you, says Holiday.

You need to apply the same amount of creativity and energy into marketing that you put into making your product.

“We have to take this thing that means so much to us and make sure that is primed to mean something to other people too for generations to come. And the best person in the world to accomplish this difficult task? You.”

The harsh reality is that none of us actually care what you’ve made. We don’t care because we have no idea what it is. We didn’t dedicate years of our life to creating it. And even when we know what you’ve done thanks to your marketing efforts, we’re going to care far less than you’d like.

“Accepting your own insignificance might not seem like an inspiring mantra to kick off a marketing campaign but it makes a big difference,” says Holiday. “Humility is clearer-eyed than ego – and that’s important because humility always works harder than ego.”

Holiday’s worked hard to offer up clear-eyed advice to anyone who’s dreaming about creating something truly great. Success isn’t guaranteed but Holiday will put the odds more in your favour.

@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 Sum of Small Things – A Theory of the Aspirational Class by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

sumThis review first ran in the Aug. 14 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class

By Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

Princeton University Press

$37.95

When’s a tomato more than just a tomato?

When it’s an organic, open-pollinated, locally grown heirloom tomato that you bought at the co-op while pedaling home to your condo from a downtown microbrewery on a SoBi bike.

Lucky for us, you faithfully chronicle your virtuous life on social media to remind us of your membership in the aspirational class.

You’re part of a well-educated, city-dwelling tribe who aspire to be better humans in all aspects of your lives. The aspirational class defines and differentiates itself by what they buy and how they spend their time.

“They distance themselves from conventional material goods not because they are uncomfortable with wealth but rather because material goods are no longer a clear signal of social position or a good conduit to reveal cultural capital or knowledge,” says Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, author of The Sum of Small Things and a public policy professor at the University of Southern California.

“For the aspirational class, it is members’ eagerness to acquire knowledge and to use this information to form socially and environmentally conscious values that sets them apart from everyone else. They are very busy demonstrating and signifying the unique ways in which their time is being used doing things that are fundamentally different from everyone else.”

This explains why the aspirational class lines up out the doors at Intelligentsia, a specialty coffee shop with a handful of stores in the United States. The anti-Starbucks sells small cups of $5 fresh roasted coffee free of syrups, whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Instead of fair trade, Intelligentsia practices direct trade with farmers from around the world who handpick coffee cherries. The beans are then roasted on vintage machines from the 1940s and 50s.  The company says it’s not out to change the world, just a small corner of it.

Intelligentsia checks all the boxes for an aspirational class who want transparency with everything they buy.

“This transparency doesn’t simply add value – it is the value – of many cultural goods,” says Currid-Halkett. “We will eat the smaller, sadder apples from the farmers’ market because we met the farmer and we know he didn’t put nasty chemicals on his fruit. We will spend three times more on a linen shirt because we know it was picked up from a small shop somewhere on the Amalfi Coast and we met the store owner who personally made the voyage and met the tailor (and his children). We will slather on the organic coconut oil instead of Retin-A and eat in restaurants that charge $20 for mac and cheese because they list the originating dairy farm in chalk on a rustic sign in the front.”

The problem with the aspirational class beyond being more than a little pretentious is their obliviousness to socio-economic limitations. Yes, your enlightened purchases are saving the planet and make you a better person. But not everyone can afford a $5 cup of direct trade coffee, a linen shirt imported from Italy or a $20 bowl of mac n’ cheese.

Currid-Halkett warns against a “cultural and moral superiority directed toward those who don’t participate in these behaviors and an assumption that this lack of participation is always a choice. The aspirational class my not be the 0.01 per cent but they live in an entirely different and more privileged cultural universe than almost everyone else. Their decisions and investments, which are increasingly inconspicuous, reproduce wealth and upward mobility in a way that leaves out the middle class in detrimental ways.”

And Currid-Halkett cautions that relentlessly striving to be a better human doesn’t necessarily translate to leading a better life.

“The aspirational class consumer gestalt reflects a frenzy and status-consciousness that not only leaves many out, but also stresses us out. In all our consuming – conspicuous and inconspicuous – we may be missing out on living our lives, entirely.”

@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 End of Advertising by Andrew Essex

endThis review first ran in the July 31 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The End of Advertising: Why It Had to Die and the Creative Resurrection to Come

By Andrew Essex

Spiegal & Grau

$36

I’m a big fan of podcasts.

The Turnaround and On the Media are my favourites for two reasons.

Both podcasts deliver great hosts, guests and conversations. Turnaround host Jesse Thorn talks with interviewers about the art of interviewing while On the Media’s Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield look at how the news media shapes our view of the world.

And here’s the other reason why I’m a fan. The conversations on these podcasts aren’t interrupted to pitch razors, underwear and meal kits with special promo codes.

Lots of us are tired of traditional advertising and we’re finding ways to escape it, from ditching cable TV for Netflix to paying for premium advertising-free content and downloading ad blocking apps on our smartphones.

Advertisers need to start adding value to our lives and stop interrupting and annoying us, says Andrew Essex, author of The End of Advertising, past CEO of the award-winning Droga5 ad agency and a board member with the American Advertising Federation.

“In an era of unprecedented noise, producing pollution in the form of annoying advertising represents the height of an unprincipled approach and, more worrisome, is likely flat-out bad for business.

“Advertising will continue to take its lumps,” says Essex. “Like everything inherently unwanted, from stale pastries to last season’s social media, it was doomed to be overshadowed. Like pollution, we prefer it in the landfill rather than randomly strewn along the road. People, platforms and products will have to distinguish themselves by doing something radically different, will have to embrace the not-so-radical idea of always endeavouring to be useful, authentic, original and/or interesting.”

So what’s the radical alternative to traditional advertising?

Citibank spent $41 million over five years to sponsor New York City’s bike sharing program. Citi Bikes give the bank 6,000 roaming billboards, New Yorkers and tourists get a bike share program and taxpayers don’t pay a dime.

“You don’t need much more than intuition to see that most people would choose a clean Citi Bike over a useless ad,” says Essex. “One accomplishes something, the other doesn’t.”

American Girl puts out movies, books, clothes and accessories. Essex says his daughter knows all about American Girl without having ever seen a traditional TV, magazine or Internet banner ad from the company.

“All this very savvy company had done was communicate its values via content, a very old model that was new and necessary again. They’d become genuine storytellers and put themselves as the centre of the story.”

And then there’s the world’s biggest toy company. In 2014, Lego found a way to transcend advertising with the Lego Movie. Lots of us paid good money to put on 3D glasses and watch a 100-minute commercial. The Lego Movie grossed $260 million in North American and another $210 million internationally. In 2015, Lego overtook Mattel to become the world’s most valuable toy company with more than $2 billion in annual sales.

“A brand made a brilliant, well-executed movie,” says Essex. “The movie was a hit. The movie also happened to be an ad, one that people were willing to pay to see. For the first time in a long time, the thing that normally sold the thing had become the thing itself.”

Your company doesn’t need to create the next Hollywood blockbuster, says Essex. Just sponsor quality content that reflects well on your brand. Make that content commercial free for viewers, listeners and readers. Subsidize silence and give audiences freedom the interruptions and annoyance of traditional advertising.

And what do you get in return? If you became the presenting sponsor of The Turnaround or On the Media, you’d earn my gratitude, my attention and quite possibly my business.

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