Skip to content

Archive for

Review: Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy

egiThis review first ran in the Jan. 30 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Ego is the Enemy

By Ryan Holiday

Portfolio / Penguin


One of the all-time greatest coaches broke into the National Football League by doing unpaid grunt work.

Bill Belichick, who’s coaching in his seventh Super Bowl this Sunday, got his start by analyzing thousands of hours of game film for the Baltimore Colts.

“You gave him an assignment and he disappeared into a room and you didn’t see him again until it was done and then he wanted to do more,” said of the Colts coaches.

Belichick didn’t demand to get paid. He didn’t tell the coaches that he was too smart and talented to waste his time watching film. He didn’t expect to be showered with praise for his insights and ideas. He didn’t walk around the office boasting that he was destined for a Pro Football Hall of Fame career.

Instead, Belichick quietly got to work, paid his dues and adopted what Ego is the Enemy author Ryan Holiday calls the canvas strategy.

It’s a strategy where you help yourself by helping others. You trade short-term gratification for a longer-term payoff. “Find canvases for others to paint on. 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 principal.”

The culminating effect of the canvas strategy is profound, says Holiday. You learn from solving diverse problems for other people. You earn a reputation for being indispensable. You develop new relationships and build a bank of favours that you can later cash in.

We can adopt the canvas strategy at any time and at any stage in our careers. “Clear the path for the people above you and you will eventually create a path for yourself. The person who clears the path ultimately controls its direction; just as the canvas shapes the painting.”

Following the canvas strategy is one way to keep our egos in check and avoid an unhealthy belief in our own importance.

Ego is our enemy, says Holiday. Ego seduces us by telling us we’re special, better than everyone else and the rules don’t apply to us. It’s “the petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses getting his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility – that’s ego. It’s the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent.”

Learning to manage our egos will keep us humble in our aspirations, gracious in our successes and resilient in our failures.

“What is rare is not raw talent, skill or even confidence but humility, diligence and self-awareness,” says Holiday. “If the belief in yourself is not built on actual achievement you are setting yourself up for a precipitous rise followed by a calamitous fall.”

Social media does us no favours. Talk and hype have replaced quiet action away from the spotlight, warns Holiday. “We seem to think that silence is a sign of weakness. That being ignored is tantamount to death. So we talk, talk, talk as though our life depends on it. The only relationship between work and chatter is that one kills the other.”

And when faced with life’s inevitable setbacks, we console ourselves on social media and indulge in self-immolation. We cry how it isn’t fair and blame others. We traffic in conspiracy theories, promise retaliation and plot our revenge. “We don’t need pity – our own or anyone else’s,” says Holiday. “We need purpose, poise and patience.” We need stoic resilience and increased self-awareness, something that an unchecked ego will block.

Learning to supress, subsume and direct our egos is the best guarantee that we’ll make a difference and leave our mark, whether we’re leading a small business, a major organization, an NFL team or the most powerful nation in the free world.

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



Review: Mastering Civility – A Manifesto for the Workplace by Christine Porath

civilityThis review first ran in the Jan. 16 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace

By Christine Porath

Grand Central Publishing


One question will define your career.

You answer it every day by what do and say with colleagues at work.

Do you lift people up? Or do you hold them down?

Choose wisely.

“How you treat people means everything – whether they will trust you, build relationships with you, follow you, support you, and work hard for you, or not,” says Christine Porath, author of Mastering Civility and an associate professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.

Sobering stats from the Civility in America 2016 survey show that 95 per cent of respondents believe we have a civility problem, 74 per cent believe we’re less civil now than we were a few years ago and 70 per cent believe incivility has reached crisis proportions.

Incivility takes its toll on our health and well-being. It wrecks morale and productivity. It repels customers. And it’s contagious, spreading and lingering among bystanders who watch people behaving badly to others.

“Incivility usually arises not from malice but from ignorance,” says Porath. “Most bad behavior reflects a lack of self-awareness. We don’t want to hurt others but we do. We’re oblivious and behaving in ways we’d never want to be treated.”

Porath’s created an incivility test to help flag your bad behaviors and blind spots.

Everyone knows better than to belittle, berate and humiliate coworkers or fly off into rages at work.

But do you neglect to say please and thank you? Do you email or text during meetings? Take too much credit for collaborative work? Ignore invitations?  Keep people waiting needlessly? Speak unkindly of others?

To become more civil and inject greater civility into your workplace, Porath says you need to focus first on the fundamentals. Do four things differently and she promises you’ll see welcome changes in how people respond to you.

Start by saying please and thank you. Small gestures of civility matter far more than we think, says Porath.

“If you want to connect with your employee or team, lead with warmth. Warmth is the pathway to influence. It facilities trust, information, and idea sharing.”

Smile more. Kids smile as much as 400 times a day. Yet only 30 per cent of adults smile more than 20 days a day. “Without saying a word, you can use it to put people at ease, build rapport and inspire.”

Build relationships with subordinates. “Relationships with people lower than you in an organization matter. To relate well with a subordinate, you first have to acknowledge him or her. Feeling acknowledged matters. In order to acknowledge someone personally, it helps to actually know who the person is.”

Back in 2012, the CEO of investment company The Motley Fool told employees they’d get their 20 per cent annual bonus only if every one of them knew the names of all their colleagues by year end. At the time, 250 people worked for the company. “He could have issued a proclamation from on high: let’s treat one another like family,” says Porath. “He could have created general metrics around collegiality or culture. Instead, he realized that relationships came down to a few basic behaviors. In order to strengthen interactions between people, everyone should know one another by name.”  The employees learned everyone’s names and earned their bonus.

Porath also recommends actively listening to what people are saying. It’s hard work giving people our undivided attention and it demands a surprising amount of energy and concentration. “If employees don’t believe their bosses are listening, they’re far less likely to offer ideas and helpful suggestions. They’re also more likely to become emotionally exhausted and to quit.”

The good news is our behavior isn’t fixed, says Porath. We can learn to be more civil. “All of us, no matter how we’ve behaved in the past, can improve. If we care the least about ourselves, our work and our organizations, we must improve. Strive to listen more attentively. Acknowledge people. Say hello. Smile more. Look to include others, especially those who are forgotten or who are in need of our understanding and help.”

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

Review: Six ideas worth considering for your career, company and community in 2017

This review first ran in the Jan. 11 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Here are six ideas worth considering in the new year, pulled from some my favourite business book reviews in 2016.

deep workTake an unannounced social media sabbatical.  You won’t miss much. And we really won’t miss your daily musings, deep thoughts, witty observations and running social commentary. Once free of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, you’ll suddenly have more time to focus on what’s actually important. “A commitment to deep work is not a moral stance and it’s not a philosophical statement,” says Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success in a Distracted World. “It is instead a pragmatic recognition that the ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done.  Deep work is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity. To succeed, you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing – a task that requires depth.”

hug-your-hatersWhile taking a break from oversharing on social media, start paying attention to what’s being said online about your business. Customer service is now a spectator sport thanks to review sites like Yelp, OpenTable and TripAdvisor. We’re watching to see how you respond to complaints posted online. And we’re blown away when a company responds to our complaints and goes above and beyond what we expected. “In today’s world, meaningful differences between businesses are rarely rooted in price or product, but instead in customer experience,” says Jay Baer, author of Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers. “Hugging your haters gives you the chance to turn lemons into lemonade, morph bad news into good and keep the customers you already have. So few companies hug their haters that those that make the commitment are almost automatically differentiated and noteworthy when compared to their competitors.”

snowblowersIf you’re in a leadership role, try talking less amongst yourselves behind closed doors and start listening more to your frontline staff. They likely know the solutions to whatever problems you’re wrestling with and other issues that aren’t even on your radar yet. They have a very clear sense of what’s working, what’s not and how things could work even better. “The answer to unleashing the power of your team – and to delighting your customers – lies outside the conference room,” says Steven Goldstein, author of Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami? Transform Your Business Using The Five Principles of Engagement. “It is astounding how much valuable information can be obtained by simply talking to the people who really know the everyday inner workings of the company.”

no fearStart encouraging your children to follow their passion even if it doesn’t lead into law or medicine. And never tell your kids to quit dreaming, get practical and settle for a real career that they may eventually learn to like. Even telling your kids to have a plan B in case their big dreams doen’t pan out is not helpful advice.“Since we are protective of our children, why would we send them on a blood-sucking and soul-destroying path?” asks Larry Smith, a University of Waterloo professor and author of No Fears, No Excuses.  “The grown-up world is where talent goes to die. The rules are clear: do what you are told and you get paid; work to live on the weekend and dread Monday; look forward to retirement and hope you do not end up dreading that as well; expect that pleasure or satisfaction in the work is an uncommon bonus.”

work rulesTake a good chunk of your training budget and spend it instead on recruitment. Run your own in-house search firm, give bonuses to employees who make successful referrals and pay a premium for top talent. When you hire the right people, you don’t need to invest as much in soft skill training and development. “The presence of a huge training budget is not evidence that you’re investing in your people,” says Google VP Laszlo Bock, author of Work Rules. “It’s evidence that you failed to hire the right people to begin with. Refocusing your resources on hiring better will have a higher return than almost any training program you can develop.”

human-city-1Start loving the suburbs. To sustain Hamilton’s momentum, we need densification downtown and growth on our suburban boundaries. Like every generation before them, many of the young professionals we’re courting will eventually outgrow their one-bedroom condos in the heart of the city and dream of single family homes with front porches, back decks and driveways. They’ll look elsewhere if they can’t find, or afford, a home to raise their kids in Hamilton. “In reality, for most residents of cities, life is not about engaging the urban ‘entertainment machine’ or enjoying the most spectacular views from a high-rise tower,” says Joel Kotkin, author of The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us. “To them, the goal is to achieve residence in a small home in a modest neighbourhood, whether in a suburb or in the city, where children can be raised and also where, of increasing importance, seniors can grow old amid familiar places and faces. Cities with few children and families will prove fundamentally unsustainable, deprived of a base from which they can draw new workers and consumers, as well as critical sources of both parental motivation and youthful innovation.”

Jay Robb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College and has reviewed business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: The Revenge of Analog – Real Things And Why They Matter by David Sax

revenge-of-analogThis review first ran in the Jan. 2 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Revenge of Analog: Real Things And Why They Matter

By David Sax

Perseus Books


Shinola watches won’t track how many steps you take in a day, monitor your heart rate, remind you to stand up and get active, display photos and emails or keep you tethered to the Internet.

Instead, Shinola watches do just two things – tell time and employ hundreds of people in downtown Detroit.

Shinola founder Tom Kartsotis opened his watch factory in a landmark Midtown Detroit building that was once home to General Motors’ research and design division. Kartsotis chose the Motor City after consumers said they’d pay a premium for products made in Detroit. Along with high end watches, Shinola also makes leather goods, bicycles, turntables and other products. Shinola is a niche manufacturer building off the DNA of the city and its people.

“Shinola’s entire brand rests on its location in Detroit,” says David Sax, author of . “The Shinola marketing material is relentless in pushing this narrative of American artisan craftsmanship and ingenuity.

“Shinola may base its brand on a fanciful tale of renewed American manufacturing, but the dollars generated by the sale of its watches, and the jobs those sales have created, are undeniably real. The benefits of these jobs, and the business model of Shinola and other analog industries, have tangible, long-term benefits for investors, workers and communities, which differ greatly from those created in a digital economy, whose own benefit is far less widely spread.”

Yet every city is relentless in the pursuit of digital start-ups, tech companies, creative industries and the jobs of tomorrow. Politicians and civic leaders are quick and happy to throw money at research hubs, technology incubators and coding camps for kids.

Twitter’s decision to hire one person to work in Detroit generated the same media coverage as Shinola opening a factory and employing 500 residents.

“The problem is that analog jobs aren’t sexy in the way tech jobs are to politicians, investors and philanthropists, and the media,” says Sax.

“While the growth of the digital economy is real and will only continue, the benefits of that vast growth on employment, economies and communities have not even come close to matching the hype surrounding them. Those other jobs, the ones politicians and thought leaders don’t talk about – analog jobs – still matter a hell of lot more than do those associated with the digital economy. Nowhere is this clearer than in Detroit.”

Sax says high-paying tech jobs are accessible only to a select highly-educated few who already have their pick of plum jobs. Labour-intensive companies like Shinola create jobs for an analog workforce that can learn new skills while earning a decent middle class living.

Like Detroit, Hamilton also has a well-earned reputation for making things. As the demand for analog products and services goes mainstream, that reputation could help launch new businesses and bring new manufacturing jobs to the Ambitious City.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College and lives in Hamilton.