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Book review: Immigrant Inc. — why welcoming newcomers is the right and smart thing to do

Immigrant, Inc.: Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs are Driving the New Economy

By Richard Herman and Robert Smith

John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

$35.95

So about Settlement and Integration Services Organization's New Dawn Reception Centre for refugees on the West Mountain.

In my opinion, we don’t need a refugee reception centre in Hamilton. We need a whole lot of centres all throughout our city. And yes, I’d be more than happy to have a centre in my backyard and have newcomers for neighbours.

And here’s why. Immigrants and refugees will be the lifeblood of our city. If we’re serious about building a stronger, more prosperous community, we need to welcome newcomers with open arms instead of anonymous letters stuffed in mailboxes.

In the not so distant future, it’s expected that immigration will account for all the growth in Hamilton’s population and workforce. What’s more, there’s a good chance a disprorpropriate percentage of those newcomers will become our next generation of hometown entrepreneurs and small business owners. And those are the folks who will create new jobs, new wealth and new prosperity and make Hamilton an even greater place for all us to call home.

“Coming from all corners of the globe, immigrant innovation and entrepreneurship is the real job-creating stimulus,” say authors Richard Herman and Robert Smith. “Immigrants bring the skills to create those jobs, but they bring something even more valuable. They bring their dreams.”

South of the border, immigrants created 450,000 high skilled jobs by founding one-fourth of the nation’s technology and engineering companies between 1995 and 2005.  Another study by the Immigrant Learning Center near Boston found that a quarter of biotech companies in New England had at least one immigrant founder and that those companies employed more than 4,000 workers and produced more than $7 billion in sales in 2006.

And here’s the thing. Most immigrants don’t arrive with dreams of being their own boss. The Kauffman Foundation did a survey of high-tech founders who’d immigrated to the United States. “The researchers learned something wholly unexpected,” say Herman and Smith. “Almost none of the founders set out to become entrepreneurs – not initially. In fact, the burst of entrepreneurship surprised even the immigrants. Few had come to America with the aim of starting a business. Some came to take a job, a few came to join family already here, but most came to earn an advanced college degree.”

An average of 13 years after immigrating, these new Americans started their own business. And enough of them launched companies to power a technology revolution.

“For a budding entrepreneur, the new immigrants offer success traits and trade secrets that can be studied and copied,” say Herman and Smith. “For a struggling neighbourhood or a Rust Belt city, they hold out hope for revival. For a nation resolved to be a leader in a global economy, they offer a pool of world-class talent.”

Herman and Smith have coined the term Immigrant, Inc. to describe a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation. In studying immigrant entrepreneurs who’ve made their mark, the authors have come up with a short list of success traits that all of us can adopt to unleash our inner immigrant:

· A keen sense of adventure with a pioneering spirit.

· A reverence for education and treating academics like a marquee sport.

· Love and respect for family.

· An eagerness to collaborate.

· A tolerance for risk and failure.

· Passion, often borne of desperation.

· A tendency to dream.

Or as Google vice president and immigrant Omid Kordestani told the graduating class of 2007 at San Jose State University, “To keep an edge, I must think and act like an immigrant. There is a special optimism and drive that I benefited from and continue to rely on that I want all of you to find. Immigrants are inherently dreamers and fighters.”

And one last story, closer to home. On the same day I got an email alert from SISO about the anti-New Dawn Centre flyer making the rounds on the West Mountain, I came home from work to find my daughter surrounded by markers, glitter glue and paper on the living room floor. She was busy making Happy Chinese New Year cards for her classmates. She wasn’t doing it because it was an assignment or mandated exercise in cultural diversity. She was making the cards out of friendship. And that’s what we should be putting in the mailboxes of newcomers to our community.

Book review: Made to stick

Finally got around to reading this book. The latest issue of Fast Company has a preview of the 2nd book about to hit the shelves from Chip and Dean Health.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

By Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Random House

$32

You’re losing sleep over the serious lack of buzz about your big project at work.

No one’s buying in and you don’t know why. You fired off the all-staff memo. Made the rounds with your PowerPoint presentation. Built the case for change with a burning platform and clear path to the promised land. But no one’s drinking your Kool-Aid. What gives?

Elizabeth Newton knows why. Newton earned her Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University by studying a simple game.

Newton assigned folks to play the part of tappers or listeners. Tappers got a list of 25 songs that we’ve all heard and sung since childhood. Newton had tappers secretly pick a song and tap out the rhythm on a table. Listeners had to name that tune.

Of the 120 tapped songs, listeners named only three for a success rate of just 2.5 per cent. Yet tappers went into the game predicting a 50 per cent success rate. When listeners got it wrong, tappers were flabbergasted. How could listeners be so clueless and stupid with songs that were so simple and obvious?

The tappers in Newton’s research study had fallen victim to the Curse of Knowledge. When they tapped, the songs were playing in their heads. They couldn’t imagine what it was like for listeners to hear only a disconnected series of taps.

 “Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it,” say authors and brothers Dan and Chip Heath. “Our knowledge has cursed us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily recreate our listeners’ state of mind.”

The Heaths say we’re forever replaying Newton’s research project at work. Chances are you’re suffering from it with your project that’s on the road to nowhere. You hear the music. The rest of us hear only noise.

“The tappers and listeners are CEOs and frontline employees, teachers and students, politicians and voters, marketers and customers, writers and readers. All of these groups rely on ongoing communication but, like the tappers and listeners, they suffer from enormous information imbalances.

“When a CEO discusses ‘unlocking shareholder value’, there is a tune playing in her head that the employees can’t hear. It’s a hard problem to avoid – a CEO might have 30 years of daily immersion in the logic and conventions of business. Reversing the process is as impossible as un-ringing a bell. You can’t unlearn what you already know.”

But you can make your ideas more powerful and sticky so that you escape the Curse of Knowledge and we have a better shot at understanding, remembering and acting on what you have tell us.

The Heath brothers have come up with the following six principles for making ideas stickier:

Aim for simplicity by stripping your sticky idea down to its essential core. What’s the single most important thing we absolutely need to know? Not three things. Only one.

To get and hold our attention, spark our interest and stoke our curiousity. Be counterintuitive and do something unexpected that surprises us.

Make your sticky idea clear and concrete. Steer clear of ambiguity, meaningless abstractions and jargon.

Help us believe in your idea by building credibility through convincing details, accessible statistics and testable credentials. Let us try before we buy in.

Make us care. For us to care, we have to feel something and we’re hardwired to feel things for people rather than abstract concepts.

Sell us your idea by telling us a story. Stories provide simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act). If a credible idea makes us believe and an emotional idea makes us care, a great story makes us act.

So if want more buzz and buy-in for your project, serve up a simple, unexpected, concrete, credentialed and emotional story. And beware the Curse of Knowledge.

With a little focused effort, the Heaths say anyone can make almost any idea sticker. “And a sticky idea is an idea that is more likely to make a difference.” And get you a good night’s sleep.