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Review: Robert Kaplan’s What You’re Really Meant to Do – A Roadmap for Reaching Your Unique Potential

meant to doThis review first ran in the July 29th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

What You’re Really Meant To Do: A Road Map For Reaching Your Unique Potential

By Robert Steven Kaplan

Harvard Business Review press


Everyone has bad days at work.

But your bad days are piling up into weeks and months.

You’ve lost that loving feeling for your job. What’s worse, you can’t remember or even imagine what you’d love to be doing instead.

While most folks would say you’ve been successful in your career, you know that you’ve fallen far short of your potential.

Yet you’re not about to hit the reset button at the halfway mark in your career.  You’ve got kids to put through school, a mortgage and debts that no honest man can pay.

You’re mad at painting yourself into a corner. And you feel guilty, knowing you make good money doing a job that’s not exactly backbreaking or rocket science.  You should be grateful and not bored beyond belief. Desperate job seekers would line up out the door and around the block for a shot at filling your seat.

Welcome to the wilderness that is the mid-career plateau. The good news is you’re not wandering alone and author Robert Steven Kaplan knows a way out.  He’s been a guide for his students at Harvard and for outwardly successful yet unfulfilled executives grappling with that big existential question of why we’re here and what we’re really meant to do.

The bad news?  It’s not an easy journey and will be especially hard if you’re not one for introspection. There are old habits to break and new skills to learn. You’ll be challenged and uncomfortable.  You’ll  need a thick skin to face some hard truths. And there aren’t any shortcuts, easy solutions or answers in the back of the book.

“Reaching your potential is not simply about dreaming or being idealistic,” says Kaplan. “It is a process that involve specific actions, exercises, discipline and hard work. It is challenging, rewarding and unending.”

The journey starts with a shift in perspective. “We are susceptible to pursuing paths that are based on someone else’s compass rather than our own,” says Kaplan, who warns that conventional wisdom and advice from family and friends is frequently dead wrong. “Worry less about being a success and worry more about reaching your potential.”

There are five legs to the journey:

  1. Assess your strengths and weaknesses. “In my experience, the reason people often fail to grow and improve isn’t necessarily that they lack the ability,” says Kaplan.” Instead, they lack awareness of their skills and skill deficiencies.”
  2. Find your passions. You won’t achieve your potential if you’re doing a job that leaves you cold.  “Lack of passion for your job limits your upward mobility, meaning that you’re more likely to be stuck in that job indefinitely.  Passion is critical for reading your potential.”
  3. Understand yourself and figure out the reason why you behave the way you do.“Every action you take gains meaning when it is viewed through the prism of who you are. The better you grasp who you are, the better you will be prepared to manage yourself and take actions that help you to reach your dreams.”
  4. Make the most of your opportunities.  What potential dream jobs would best match your skills and passions?  How well do your skills line up with the top three tasks that are critical to success in your current or future job? “I often see talented individuals who don’t fully understand the needs of their current job. This is one of the most common reasons highly skilled, passionate people fail to live up to their potential. They may be in the right job, but they haven’t done enough analysis to make the most of the opportunity.”
  5. Go from good to great to fulfill your potential. Figure out what you believe and then have the courage to act on your beliefs and values. “Leadership is the ability to figure out what you believe and then summon the courage to appropriately act on those beliefs,” says Kaplan.  “Great careers and organizations are built on people who are willing to act like leaders.
  6. Forge relationships. This isn’t a road trip you do solo. You need a handful of trusted colleagues and friends to give advice and feedback.  “It is critical to develop relationships with people who care enough about you to tell you the brutal truth – things you need to hear even though you don’t want to hear them.”

Kaplan has mapped out a different way of thinking about your career that rejects conventional wisdom, peer pressure and popular culture. It’s a journey that’ll take years of hard work and courage with little external reinforcement or approval along the way. Yet as Kaplan shows, it’s the only road worth taking.

“If you follow your own path, I don’t know how much money you will accumulate, how much stature you will achieve, or how many titles you will garner,” says Kaplan. “But if you’re true to your convictions and principles, I know you’re far more likely to feel like a big success. In the end, that feeling will make all the difference.”

Review: The Metropolitan Revolution – how cities and metros are fixing our broken politics and fragile economy

metropolitan revolutionThis review first ran in The Hamilton Spectator on July 12.

The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy

By Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley

Brookings Institution


Hamilton doesn’t need a hero.

We shouldn’t pray for a saviour to rise from our one-way streets.

And we shouldn’t pin our hopes and dreams on an elected or aspiring politician, captain of industry or civic booster with the vision, vim and vigour to singlehandedly steer Steeltown to the promised land.

What we could really use are more cruise directors – consummate networkers who know how to get and keep our city’s movers and shakers on board and all rowing in the same direction.

“The challenge for metropolitan areas is not whether they have leaders but whether those individuals work together in a concerted way to drive change,” say Jennifer Bradley and Bruce Katz in their book The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy. “Metropolitan areas are so big, so complicated and so diverse that they don’t need heroes, they need networks.”

This isn’t about slapping a new name on an existing clique or rounding up the usual suspects for another tour of civic duty. We need large and diverse networks that connect people who’ve yet to meet and work together. As Bradley and Katz point out, the strongest networks are held together by a multiplicity of weak ties rather than a repetition of strong ones.

The presence or absence of networks is one way to measure the health and future prospects of a city. Bradley and Katz have come up with a simple test to discern if a city is open or closed, collaborative or divisive. Talk with an elected official or appointed leader for 15 minutes. If she highlights the networks she’s leading and joining and sings the praises of her partners and collaborators, you have an open, functioning metropolis that has a fair shot at attracting talent, cracking hard problems and making key decisions.

“Collaboration and network building are the most important foundations for transformative action in a city and metropolis. Everything that follows – vision, strategy, tactics and impact – is derivative. Build and steward a strong network and you have set a platform for generational change.”

For Bradley and Katz, Northeast Ohio is a poster child for our post-hero economy and a test bed for building and stewarding networks. In 2003, foundations and philanthropic organizations from across the region joined forces to play a bigger role in rebuilding an economy that had lost nearly 200,000 manufacturing jobs in Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown.

The foundations created a $30 million Fund for our Economic Future and launched a two-year Voices and Choices project. They consulted with more than 20,000 residents through one-on-one interviews, town halls and workshops to identify the region’s assets, challenges and priorities. Ninety individuals and organizations were then recruited to move the yardsticks on four goals distilled from the consults.

According to Bradley and Katz, the Voices and Choices project had an immediate, positive and galvanizing effect on residents and leaders. “It helped them understand, as they never had before, the potential power in acting as a region and the need to work collaboratively to direct their economic destiny.”

The foundations created a model and culture for collaboration for others to adopt and bolstered a larger network of economic development organizations that came to include heavy hitters like the region’s universities, hospitals and research institutions. “Stewarding this network has been one of the Fund’s most important contributions to the region; it is doing what no other entity can do,” say the authors, who add that networks must be skillfully tended with intelligence and not managed to death. “People who run multimillion-dollar organizations are not going to join a network to be bossed around.”

It’s still very much a work in progress in Northern Ohio. They continue to grapple with how best to collaborate, communicate, build and maintain trust. Yet “Northern Ohio’s efforts to use networks to bring about a new economy – built on the foundations of its old economy – are aligned with powerful social, economic and cultural forces.”

Building networks is one of five steps for sparking a metropolitan revolution. The authors highlight revolutions already underway in Denver, Boston, Portland, Houston and New York City. These cities are taking control of their destinies and positioning themselves at the cutting edge of reform, investment and innovation. Pragmatic leaders with shared visions and commitments to their communities are working together to set ambitious goals, make distinctive bets and drive transformational change.

“Today’s metropolitan revolutionaries are not aiming to tear down an old regime or displace a tired clique of rulers. They are trying to build something positive that has lasting value for places and people.”

This should be required reading for anyone who believes Hamilton is overdue for a metropolitan revolution. And the chapters on how Neighborhood Centers does community consults in Houston and how Boston’s creating an innovation district on its waterfront are worth a close read.

5 questions worth asking Hamilton residents

Courtesy of Neighbourhood Centers and borrowed from The Metropolitan Revolution, five appreciative inquiry questions worth asking Hamilton residents that focus on strengths & assets rather than problems & deficiencies:

  1. What’s good about Hamilton and your neighbourhood?
  2. How do you know you are home?
  3. What attracted you to Hamilton and your neighbourhood?
  4. What would make you want to work or live here in Hamilton even longer?
  5. What skills and abilities can you contribute to make Hamilton and your neighbourhood better?

And from Neighbourhood Centers President CEO Angela Blanchard, the starting point for community change is “looking at your city and the DNA of your city and understanding what is that city really built around. What are the aspirations here?”



Review: Youtility – why smart marketing is about help not hype by Jay Baer

Youtility 2This review first ran in the July 2 edition of The Hamilton Spectator. When I tweeted I was reviewing Youtility and giving a shout-out to @Hiltonsuggests, I got a tweet back from Hilton Worldwide within 5 minutes. Give it a try.

Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help Not Hype

By Jay Baer



While staying at the Magnolia Hotel in downtown Dallas, @LTHouston sends out a tweet asking if there are any good restaurants nearby.

@Hiltonsuggests replies and recommends two restaurants within walking distance.

But here’s the thing. The Magnolia Hotel isn’t a Hilton property.

Melanie J with the Twitter handle @RockstarExtreme tweets “anybody know who’s hiring in Orlando for professional positions at this time? Seems like it’s at a standstill.”

@Hiltonsuggests could have ignored the tweet or suggested Melanie J’s @RockstarExtreme handle might be hampering her job search. But instead @Hiltonsuggests gives Melanie J a link to

So why is Hilton Worldwide giving real-time recommendations to people who aren’t staying at their hotels or looking for a room at the inn?

The company is playing the long game, rewriting the marketing playbook and winning over customers at a time when trust in business is on the wane.

@Hiltonsuggests is a pilot project running in 25 cities around the world. In each city, hotel managers recruit employees to listen and help on Twitter. About half are from concierges. Most have little if any prior social media experience.

Hilton Worldwide’s social media director says her company’s biggest opportunities come from helping people such as @LTHouston who are staying at a competitor’s property. Hilton is providing a level of service and responsiveness that prospective customers likely aren’t getting from their current hotels.

@LTHouston is now wondering why his hotel didn’t tweet dinner recommendations and wishing he’d stayed at a Hilton. And if Melanie J lands a job after checking out, where do you think she’s staying for her first big-city vacation? Today’s tweets could become tomorrow’s bookings.

Hilton Worldwide is practicing what marketing consultant and author Jay Baer calls Youtility. “Youtility is massively useful information, provided for free, that creates long-term trust and kinship between your company and your customers.”

Youtility allows you to sell more by selling less. As Baer points out, if you sell something, you make a customer today. If you help someone, you make a customer for life. “The difference between helping and selling is just two letters. But those two letters now make all the difference.”

Most businesses have a choice. Amaze your customers. Or help your customers be amazing.

The second option is a safer bet and it’s where Youtility comes into play, says Baer. Instead of trying to be amazing, focus on being useful. Inform rather than promote. Forgo the coupons and come-ons and instead add real value that fosters trust and kinship with time-starved customers who are tuning out and turned off by traditional marketing and advertising.

“You can’t survive by shouting the loudest and relying solely on anachronistic interruption marketing. You can’t proclaim you’re featuring the ‘biggest sale ever!” every day. You can’t simply rewrite a portion of your online brochure and hope that Google funnels customers to your website.”

Like Hilton Worldwide, Phoenix Children’s Hospital is one of those organizations that creates marketing that people actually want, seek out and would happily pay for if asked. The hospital’s created a free and award-winning app that helps parents find the right car seats for their kids. The app, available on iTunes, makes already available information easily accessible and understandable for overwhelmed parents who are staring at rows and rows of car seats with their smartphones in hand.

Baer credits Phoenix Children’s Hospital for utilizing Youtility to deepen bonds, break through the squall of marketing noise and forge friend of mind awareness with families and donors.

Youtility doesn’t have to be high-tech. In Banff, Taxi Mike puts out a where-to-eat quarterly dining guide that ranks, rates and sorts the ski town’s restaurants. Along with posting the guide online, Taxi Mike drops off hundreds of photocopied guides at every restaurant, hotel, bar and tourist trap.

As Baer notes, after spending the night polishing the brass rails at bars and pubs recommended by Taxi Mike, who are you hailing after last call for a ride back to your chalet?

Not only does Youtility build trust and loyalty. It grows your salesforce exponentially. “If you’re interesting and useful and helpful, your customers and prospects will do more of your marketing for you, helping your company work less arduously and expensively on interruption marketing in its various guises.”

Drawing on real-world examples, Baer shows how to figure out what your customers want to know and then how to best get that value-added information into their hands. Baer practices what he preaches with a book that’s all help and no hype. It’s a book that will inspire you to ask how your business can genuinely help your current and future customers.