Book review: Hot Spots at work

Hot Spots: why some teams, workplaces and organizations buzz with energy — and others don’t

By Lynda Gratton

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.


Consider yourself warned.

Slam the Hamilton Roundtable on Poverty Reduction and I’m going to pull a Bob.

Yes, I will throw my pen at all cynics and critics. And I have better aim than our repentant city councillor.

As a parent and someone who’s proud to call Hamilton home, making our community the best place to raise a child gets two thumbs up. Every kid matters. All children deserve the same chance to shine. All parents want a bright and better future for their kids. And I’m not so keen on raising my family in a city where a scary number of impoverished kids grow up to be resentful teens and desperate adults.

I’m also a fan because the Roundtable is turning Hamilton into one giant Hot Spot. And Hot Spots are where you go to hang out with really cool people.

"You always know when you are in a Hot Spot," says author Lynda Gratton, one of the world’s top management thinkers. "You feel energized and vibrantly alive. Your brain is buzzing with ideas and the people around you share your joy and excitement. The energy is palpable, bright, shining. These are times when what you and others have always known becomes clearer, when adding value becomes more possible."

Gratton says Hot Spots are the dynamic combination of a co-operative mindset, boundary spanning, an igniting purpose and productive capacity to tackle seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Which pretty much describes the Roundtable. Folks are getting together from the private, public and non-profit sectors to think, talk and act in new ways. They’re willing and able to collaborate and share lessons learned.

"The capacity to work co-operatively is at the core of Hot Spots," says Gratton. "In a real sense, the value from Hot Spots arises in the space between people."

As for an igniting purpose, making Hamilton the best place to raise a child fits the bill. And bringing hope to every kid who goes to bed hungry, goes to school without clean clothes or a lunch and who deals with adult-sized worries certainly qualifies as an Everest-sized challenge.

Hot Spots make the impossible possible by generating off-the-chart levels of energy, enthusiasm and excitement. This in turn drives creativity and innovation.

Most important, the Roundtable is getting the whole community engaged in a conversation that matters. Grappling with big questions that don’t offer easy, obvious or immediate answers provides the sparks that set off a Hot Spot.

"Conversations that ignite a Hot Spot are rarely about simply sharing knowledge. They are more often about novel associations, connections or hunches.

"These conversations rarely go from boss to subordinate; they are more likely to be peer-to-peer, colleague-to-colleague, friend-to-friend."

One other essential Hot Spot ingredient is what Gratton calls signature processes. These are unique ways of doing business and getting work done that reflect the culture and values of an organization.

Embed these signature processes into a Hot Spot and you stand a better chance of sustaining momentum. In Hamilton, our signature process may well be our spirit of volunteerism and our willingness to pitch in and help each other out.

While you can’t mandate a Hot Spot, leaders play a key role in keeping them alive. Leaders need to continue asking big questions. Setting tough yet inspiring challenges. Calling on other leaders and organizations to step up to the plate. Expanding their network of friendships to get more people involved. Encouraging boundary-spanning within and between organizations. And leading by example when it comes to co-operation instead of competition.

"Every moment of every day, in every country of the world, Hot Spots are springing up," says Gratton. "Fuelled by connections and high-quality relationships, these Hot Spots are capable of generating enormous value through the power of new combinations."

This is great news for the one in four kids in our community who live in poverty and who are counting on the rest us to make Hamilton the best place to raise a child.

Jay Robb is a Hamilton freelance writer who can be reached at

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Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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