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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.