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Review: Weird in a World That’s Not – A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups and Failures by Jennifer Romolini

weirdThis review first ran in the Dec. 18th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Weird in a World That’s Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups and Failures

By Jennifer Romolini

Harper Business

$34.99

Ziplining at Mount Tremblant brought back bad memories of team-building with a telephone pole.

I kept reassuring my skeptical wife that the zip line and treetop obstacle course would be fun for the whole family. And it was until it suddently wasn’t. We were about halfway through the course and past the point of no return when the course became an endurance test that I was failing.

I was sore, cranky and no longer thinking straight when I finally got to the highest and longest zip line. Forgetting the cardinal rule of ziplining, I put my ungloved hand in front of the pulley and slid off the platform. The pulley jammed into the web of flesh between my thumb and index finger and left me dangling in a cold sweat.

I eventually unstuck myself and then failed to reach out and grab the loop at the end of the zip line that pulls you onto the next platform.

Instead, I snagged the loop with my left foot while sliding back towards the middle of the zip line. I was now stretched out and stuck as the families waiting behind me and watching from below shouted out words of encouragement. I’m not proud of what I shouted back.

And that’s when I had a flashback to a team-building retreat at another resort that also left me stuck in a high place. I had to strap on a harness tied to a rope, climb a telephone pole, stand on a Frisbee nailed to the top of the pole and then jump off while I trusted coworkers to slowly let out the rope.

Everyone on the ground shouted at me to keep going while I perched frozen at the top of the swaying pole with one foot on the Frisbee.

Jennifer Romolini also had to climb a telephone pole at an employee retreat, with the same results and reaction. “It was an absurd situation, one made even more so because the people around me seemed to be having a good time – they were into it and having fun. I felt out of place, awkward and exposed, a Woman Who Fell to Earth If Earth Was A Contrived Corporate Retreat.”

Romolini survived the retreat, stayed with the company for six years and was promoted four times.  She’s now the chief content officer at Shondaland.com and author of Weird in a World That’s Not.

At 27, Romolin was a divorced and broke college drop-out living with her parents. She went to 23 job interviews before landing her first gig with a New York media company.

“For a long time, I was pretty sure I would never make it in the world, that I would never become successful in the way that successful people are,” says Romolini. ”The reason I would never do this was because I was too intense, too socially clumsy, too sensitive.”

Romolini eventually figured out that her weirdness was an asset. She didn’t need to fake it to make it. She’s now sharing her hard-earned advice for other struggling misfits who’ve yet to find their way.

“Follow your bad feelings. Ultimately, the process for finding the vocation I wanted and would excel at wasn’t soft or calm. It wasn’t worksheets or matching my personality type against a series of careers to see what lined up. How I found the colour of my parachute was by force, taking a hard and honest look at my sadness and insecurity, what made me the most pissed off and envious, the things I wanted to be so badly that I seethed.”

Weird in a World That’s Not is part memoir and part career advice column for the introverted and socially awkward.  She tells how to write resumes and cover letters, what to say in job interviews and during meetings, what not to do at office parties and on social media, how to make small talk at networking events, how to get promoted and be a good leader and how to know that it’s time to go and move on to a new job.

There’s also a timely chapter on her one regret of not standing up to a demeaning and inappropriate male boss. “I urge you not to play along, not to act like it’s cool, like it’s cute ever, not when you’re 23 or not when you’re 53. I urge you because enough already; women deserve to be treated equally and respectfully at workplaces and other places, now and forever, the end.”

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

 

Review – Creating Great Choices: A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking by Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin

choicesThis review first ran in the Dec. 4 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Creating Great Choices: A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking

By Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin

Harvard Business Review Press

$41.99

Do yourself a favour.

Don’t tell a team to reach for consensus when they’re trying to solve a problem.

Yes, you’ll keep the peace. They’ll play nice and be polite to one another. The team won’t split into warring factions. Meetings won’t turn into cage matches. There will be no battle of the wills where the most persuasive, persistent and pushy railroad the rest of the team into choosing their preferred solution. No one will lose face or leave with bruised egos and lingering resentment.

But the team won’t deliver what you need. Reaching for consensus will leave you with an unholy mess of good, bad and ugly options stitched together into a weak compromise.

Instead of reaching for consensus, help the team build their integrative thinking skills. Show them how to hold opposing ideas in their minds and use the tension to create new and better choices.

“To produce better decisions, we need a better process,” say Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin, authors of Creating Great Choices and professors at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

“One key step in doing that is to explicitly consider opposing solutions, exploring deeply divergent possibilities for solving the problem. This approach is about challenging the notion that there is a single right answer. It is also about using conflict purposefully, thereby enriching our understanding of the problem and expanding the possibilities for its resolution.”

According to Riel and Martin, integrative thinking isn’t an innate skill. It can be learned by following three core principles at the heart of better decision-making: metarecognition, empathy and creativity.

“With these three components as the base ingredients for an effective approach to decision-making, you can lay the groundwork for a new way to think and work your way through difficult problems of almost any type,” say Riel and Martin.

Much of our thinking is automatic, implicit and abstract.  Metarecognition is the ability to be self-aware of how we think, draw conclusions and make decisions. “This means understanding why and how we believe what we believe. It means being clear not only about our conclusions and our actions but also about the data and reasoning that support them.”

Empathy is the ability to more deeply understand and better appreciate how others see the world. “It is the act of experiencing things as if we were in another person’s shoes. It’s about genuinely seeking to understand who another person is, what she thinks and how she feels.”

Creativity is about seeking the new and embracing the unique. It’s the imaginative spark that leads us to imagine something beyond existing options. “When we’re confronted with a difficult decision, most of us understand that it is our job to pick the right answer from among the options. In contrast, a richer decision-making process reframes our job: it isn’t to choose an option, but to create a better answer that effectively solves the problem.”

Creating Great Choices is the practical user guide to The Opposable Mind, Martin’s earlier book on integrative thinking. You’ll find exercises and templates to help you and your team look past least-worst options and instead reach for better solutions.

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