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Posts from the ‘Book reviews’ Category

Your meeting needs a bouncer and an unchill host (review of Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering)

priya parkerThis review first ran in the March 23 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters

By Priya Parker

Riverhead Books

$37

We’re gathered here today for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.

We’re in the dark because our host organized the event on autopilot, leaning hard on convention.

So while it’s neither meaningful or memorable, at least the event’s a familiar routine. And if we’re lucky, it’ll start on time and end ahead of schedule so we can get an early jump on heading home or back to work.

We shouldn’t be settling for just an efficient and uneventful event. Priya Parker shows what we’re missing and what we should aspire to whenever we bring people together, whether it’s an all-staff retreat, town hall, workshop, conference, fundraising dinner or awards night.

“The way we gather matters,” says Parker, author of The Art of Gathering and founder of Thrive Lab with a background in organizational design. “Gathering – the conscious bringing together of people for a reason – shapes the way we think, feel, and make sense of our world.

“Gatherings consume our days and help determine the kind of world we live in, in both our intimate and public realms. And we spend much of that time in uninspiring, underwhelming moments that fail to capture us, change us in any way, or connect us to one another.”

The solution for fixing forgettable events starts by deciding why we want to bring people together, what we hope to achieve, who should be there, when it should happen and where. The bolder and sharper our purpose for an event, the better.

“When we don’t examine the deeper assumptions behind why we gather, we end up skipping too quickly to replicating old, staid formats of gathering. And we forgo the possibility of creating something memorable, even transformative.”

So aim for specificity and uniqueness. Disputable is the other hallmark of a great event. A disputable purpose is a filter that forces you to make hard choices and decisions rather than compromises.

Think of purpose as the bouncer who decides what’s in and what’s out with your event. If you can’t find a purpose, don’t bring people together. Give them the gift of time instead.

If your event’s a go with a clear purpose, don’t be a chill host. “Chill is selfishness disguised as kindness,” says Parker. “Chill is a miserable attitude when it comes to hosting gatherings.”

Resist the urge to be noninvasive, relaxed and low-key. When you leave your guests alone, you leave them alone to one another to recreate The Lord of the Flies in a conference room or banquet hall. They’ll be confused, anxious and at the mercy of someone who’ll fill the void in a way that could prove inconsistent with your event’s purpose or your values. What your guests wind up with may not be what they signed on for.

“If you are going to gather, gather. If you are going to host, host. If you are going to create a kingdom for an hour or day, rule it – and rule it with generosity.”

Generous authority means protecting, equalizing and connecting your guests. “One measure of a successful gathering is that it starts off with a higher number of host-guest connections than guest-guest connections and ends with those tallies reversed, far in the guest-guest favour.”

Parker also advocates creating a custom constitution and pop-up rules for your event. “Etiquette allows people to gather because they are the same. Pop-up rules allow people to gather because they are different – yet open to having the same experience.”

And work hard on having a stellar opening and close to your event. Avoid the mundane housekeeping chores and sponsor shout-outs that mark the start of far too many gatherings. We can figure out where the bathrooms are and we know to tell our server about any dietary restrictions. “However vital it may seem to start with this housekeeping, you are missing an opportunity to sear your gathering’s purpose into the minds of your guests.”

The same holds true for the end of your event. Remind your audience what they experienced together and what they can take with them back into their jobs, families and community.  “Too many of our gatherings don’t end. They simply stop.  A strong closing has two phases corresponding to two distinct needs among your guests: looking inward and turning outward.”

Everyone who plans, organizes and scripts events should read Parker’s guidebook. Along with practical advice are examples of meaningful and memorable events that foster a genuine sense of belonging.  Wow us at your next event and we’ll happily sign on for more.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

 

Raising leadership standards = more women leaders (and fewer incompetent men) – REVIEW

boss-454867_1920This review ran in the March 9 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?

By Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Harvard Business Review Press

$32.50

menYour leadership search is down to two candidates.

One candidate is fully competent, with 20-plus years of directly relevant experience.

The other candidate’s full of confidence and rocked the room during the two-hour meet-and-greet interview with your selection committee.

Of course you’d choose two decades of experience over two hours of showmanship.

So how to explain organizations that inexplicably choose a confident man over a competent woman?

How do these organizations not know how this story plays out? Mr. Confident will quickly reveal himself to be all hat and no cattle. Along with failing to live up to the hype, he’ll prove that nothing destroys workplace morale quite like incompetence in the corner office. Meanwhile, the competent woman will go on to do great things with a smart organization that knew what to look for in an effective leader.

“When men are considered for leadership positions, the same traits that predict their downfall are commonly mistaken – even celebrated – as a sign of leadership potential or talent,” says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup, psychologist, university professor and author of Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?

“They are overconfident, abrasive and very much in awe of themselves, particularly in light of their actual talents. They are their own biggest fans by some distance.”

We confuse these flaws in men with desirable leadership qualities, says Chamorro-Premuzic. “Traits like overconfidence and self-absorption should be seen as red flags. But instead, they prompt us to say ‘Ah, there’s a charismatic fellow! He’s probably leadership material.”

This confusion saddles us with a glut of incompetent men running the show, crowding out and leaving fewer opportunities for competent women and men.

“Women’s paths to leadership are undoubtedly dotted with many barriers, including a very thick glass ceiling. But the more I have studied leaders and leadership, the more I believe that the much bigger problem is the lack of career obstacles for incompetent men.”

A Northwestern University review of 45 leadership and gender research studies makes the case for why we’d all be better off with more women in charge. The research shows women are more capable of driving positive change, elicit more respect and pride from their followers, communicate their vision more effectively, better mentor subordinates, problem-solve in more creative ways and give more objective evaluations to direct reports.

‘Compelling evidence suggests that leadership is more likely to improve if we start drawing more heavily from the female talent pool, especially if we understand that the women most likely to drive positive change look quite different from the typical leaders we have today, irrespective of gender.”

Good leadership from both women and men requires intellectual, social and psychological capital. There’s also a host of bright side personality traits to look for in strong leaders, including curiosity, extroversion and emotional stability.

Chamorro-Premuzic says the evidence shows a good leader is someone who builds a winning team, helps that team outperform rivals, depends on the team’s performance and unites the team in pursuit of a shared goal.

Telling women to lean in, man up and fake it until they make it is not the answer. Why would we want competent women to adopt the leadership traits of incompetent men? Chamorro-Premuzic instead shows organizations how to redefine and elevate leadership and why they should start choosing competence and integrity over confidence and charisma.

“Since we all want better leaders, we should not lower our standards when we select women, but we should raise them when we select men.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Pick one – a pay raise for you or a pink slip for your boss (review of The Mind of a Leader)

mindThis review first ran in the Feb. 9 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Mind of the Leader

By Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter

Harvard Business Review Press

$39

A pay raise for you or a pink slip for your boss.

Which one would you choose?

Apparently, a third of us would pass on the bigger paycheque to instead wish our leaders well on their future endeavors.

That’s one of the key findings from research done by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacequeline Carter with the Potential Project.

They also report that only 13 per cent of the global workforce is engaged while 24 per cent is actively disengaged.

Yet in a McKinsey and Co. study, 77 per cent of leaders say they do a good job of engaging their people. That same study found that their people just aren’t feeling it, with 82 per cent saying their leaders are lousy at engagement. Basic human needs of finding meaning, purpose, connection and genuine happiness appear to be going unmet in too many workplaces.

So maybe the $46 billion spent annually on building better leaders needs to come with a money back guarantee.

If you’re a leader who wants a more engaged and productive workforce, Hougaard and Carter say it’s all in your head.

They recommend you focus on the three foundational and mutually reinforcing mental qualities of mindfulness, selflessness and compassion.

“Mindfulness, selflessness and compassion are universal languages that are understood by everyone. They are innate human qualities in which status and authority do not get in the way of true human connectedness.”

Mindfulness is about turning off our autopilot and intentionally managing our attention and thoughts. “You learn to hold your focus on what you choose.” Through focus and awareness, we develop better emotional resilience and lose our fight-or-flight instincts and our tendency to default to knee-jerk reactions.

Selflessness is a winning combination of humility, service to others and self-confidence. “With selflessness, trust increases because we have no secret agendas and followership strengthens because our selflessness sets free our people to be their best selves.” By comparison, a raging, unhealthy ego leaves you vulnerable to criticism, susceptible to manipulation, corrupts your behavior and values.

Compassion helps your people feel safe and connected. “When we as leaders value the happiness of our people, they feel appreciated. They feel respected. And this makes them feel truly connected and engaged. It’s no accident that organizations with more compassionate leaders have stronger connections between people, better collaboration, more trust, stronger commitment to the organization and lower turnover.”

Leaders who are mindful, selfless and compassionate can then lead by example and instill these foundational qualities in their people and across their organizations.

“Leading with mindfulness, selflessness and compassion makes you more human and less leader. It makes you more you and less your title. It peels off the layers of status that separate you from the people you lead,” say Hougaard and Carter.

“Mindfulness, selflessness and compassion make you truly human and enable you to create a more people-centred culture where your people see themselves and one another as humans rather than headcounts.”

And instead of wanting you to get a pink slip, your employees will give you extra effort, respect and loyalty.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books since 1999.

How to fool people into giving you nearly a billion dollars (Bad Blood review)

This review first ran in the Jan. 5 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

By John Carreyrou

Alfred A. Knopf

$38.95

Let’s be thankful that investigative reporters aren’t among the people who can be fooled all or some of the time.

Lots of smart and successful people lost their minds and nearly a billion dollars to Elizabeth Holmes. More concerning were all the people who trusted her with their health and well-being.

The 20-something founder and CEO of Theranos was Silicon Valley’s first female billionaire tech founder. Holmes was heralded as the second coming of Steve Jobs and even dressed the part in black turtlenecks.

The college dropout with two semesters of chemical engineering courses was promising the iPod of health care with a revolutionary blood testing device.

With just a painless drop or two of blood, we could quickly, easily and cheaply test our blood from the comfort of our home or while buying groceries and picking up prescriptions.  Drug companies saw the technology as a way to drive down the cost of clinical trials. The military saw life-saving battlefield applications.

holmesHolmes graced the cover of Fortune magazine (“This CEO is out for blood”), appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, Inc., Fast Company and Glamour and did star turns on NPR, Fox Business, CNN, CBS News, Charlie Rose and Jim Cramer’s Mad Money on CNBC.

She was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people. President Barack Obama appointed her a US ambassador for global entrepreneurship and Vice President Joe Biden toured the company and called it the laboratory of the future.

Holmes stacked the board of directors with former cabinet members, congressmen and military officials, including former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz and former Marine Corps general and secretary of defense James Mattis.

Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who controlled the Wall Street Journal’s parent company, personally invested $125 million.

Walgreens and Safeway planned a nationwide rollout of the blood testing system in their grocery and drug stores.

But then a skeptical blogger tipped off the Wall Street Journal’s two-time Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter John Carreyrou.

The first in his series of stories ran in October 2014, revealing that Theranos couldn’t deliver reliable test results. The company was putting lives at risk and soaking investors.

“Holmes and her company had overpromised and then cut corners when they couldn’t deliver,” says Carreyrou. “It was one thing to do that with software or a smartphone app, but doing it with a medical product that people relied on to make important health decisions was unconscionable.”

To his credit, Murdoch personally rebuked Holmes when she wanted Carreyrou’s story spiked. The Journal’s editorial team also didn’t try to save face after running a favourable profile two years earlier that had served as Holmes’s coming out party.

“My newspaper had played a role in Holmes’s meteoric rise by being the first mainstream media organization to publicize her supposed achievements,” says Carreyrou. “It made for an awkward situation but I wasn’t too worried about it. There was a firewall between the Journal’s editorial and newsroom staffs.”

Despite a line-by-line bullet-proof review by editors and lawyers, Holmes, her lawyers and PR firm tried to discredit the reporting, smear Carreyrou as a misogynist and intimidate whistle-blowing ex-employees.

Carreyrou’s stories became the talk of Silicon Valley and opened the floodgates on critical coverage by other media outlets.

Theranos would be forced to void or correct nearly a million blood tests. The company agreed to pay $4.65 million into a fund to reimburse 76,000 people for their blood tests, settled a $43 million case with an investment firm and a $25 million Walgreens lawsuit. Back in March, Holmes and her company were charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission for conducting “an elaborate, years-long fraud.”

How did Holmes lose her way? “A sociopath is often described as someone with little or no conscience,” says Carreyrou. “I’ll leave it to the psychologists to decide whether Holmes fits the clinical profile but there’s no question that her moral compass was badly askew.

“I’m fairly certain she didn’t initially set out to defraud investors and put patients in harm’s way. But in her all-consuming quest to be the second coming of Steve Jobs amid the gold rush of the ‘unicorn’ boom, there came a point when she stopped listening to sound advice and began to cut corners. Her ambition was voracious and it brooked no interference.”

While Holmes’ Silicon Valley unicorn was all smoke and mirrors, Bad Blood shows why investigative journalism will always be a smart investment that pays life and money-saving dividends for us all.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The one question marketers must answer first (Review of Seth Godin’s This is Marketing)

godinThis review first ran in the Jan. 19 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See

By Seth Godin

Portfolio / Penguin

$32

The question isn’t how much money you can make and how fast you can make it.

It’s not how big you can build your brand and how many real and fake followers you can find or buy online.

It’s not how to game the system by using the latest search engine optimization hacks.

Instead of all that, it’s only this -“who can you help?”.  Market nothing until you have a definitive answer.

Whether you’re looking for customers, clients, subscribers, students, audiences, donors, funders or voters, Seth Godin says this must be your first and foundational question.

Godin is the author of 18 bestsellers, a member of the Marketing Hall of Fame, tech company founder and former Yahoo VP.

“Marketing is the generous act of helping someone solve a problem. Their problem.  Sharing your path to better is called marketing and you can do it. We all can.”

Godin uses a lock and key analogy. You could make a key and then run around hoping to find a lock. Or you could start by finding the problem – a lock that needs opening – and make the key.

“It’s easier to make products and services for the customers you seek to serve than it is to find customers for your products and services.”

You don’t use people to solve your problems. You’re in business to solve their problems.  Successful marketers “have the empathy to know that those they seek to serve don’t want what the marketer wants, don’t believe what they believe and don’t care about what they care about. They probably never will.”

Godin says there are five steps to marketing a product, service or idea:

  1. Invent something work making, with a story worth telling and a contribution worth talking about.
  2. Design and build it so a few people will benefit greatly and care deeply. Identify your smallest viable market. You can’t change everyone but you can change someone. “What’s the minimum number of people you would need to influence to make it worth the effort?”.
  3. Tell a story that lines up with your customers’ hopes, dreams and desires. Say what people need to hear. This is how you earn attention, trust and action.
  4. Start spreading the word, ideally by the people you’re serving. “What you say isn’t nearly as important as what others say about you.” Have a product or service that’s worth talking about and searching for beyond a generic search.
  5. Show up regularly, consistently and generously year after year after year. Deliver on your promise.

You have a choice with your business, organization, non-profit or personal brand. You can be marketing-driven or market-driven.

Marketing-driven is a dead end, says Godin. “When you’re marketing-driven you’re focused on the latest Facebook data hacks, the design of your new logo and your Canadian pricing model.

“When you’re market-driven, you think a lot about the hopes and dreams of your customers and their friends. You listen to their frustrations and invest in changing the culture. Being market-driven lasts.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

5 career and business-boosting New Year’s resolutions

This review first ran in the Dec. 21 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Here are five New Year’s resolutions courtesy of the best business books I reviewed this year for the Hamilton Spectator.

trigger1. Give us something to talk about. 

Word of mouth is the least expensive and most effective way to grow your business, say Talk Triggers authors Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin.

Do something different, unique and unexpected and we’ll rave about you online and in person. Check in anytime and every time at a Doubletree Hotel and you get a fresh-baked cookie. That warm cookie reinforces the hotel chain’s promise of a warm welcome

“A unique selling proposition is a feature, articulated with a bullet point, that is discussed in a conference room. A talk trigger is a benefit, articulated with a story, that is discussed at a cocktail party. Done well, talk triggers clone your customers.”

2. Start answering the questions we’re asking.

Every business and organization is a media company, according to Marcus Sheridan.

they ask“As consumers, we expect to be fed great information,” says the author of They Ask, You Answer. “Are you willing to meet their expectations? Or would you prefer that the competition be the one who answers the question for them? Remember, they’re going to get their answers from someone, so wouldn’t you prefer they get their answers from you?”

Sheridan saved his pool company by doing exactly that. He told prospective customers what it would cost to put a pool in their backyard, why his pools weren’t for everyone and made referrals to his competitors. So quit talking about yourself in 2019. Stop cranking out content that we didn’t ask for or care about. Instead, be the best teacher within your industry. Earn our trust and our business by answering our questions with fierce honesty.

3. Skip the wine and cheese mix and mingle and instead put us to work.

“Research suggests we are better off engaging in activities that draw a cross-section of people and letting those connections form naturally as we engage with the task at hand,” says Friend of a Friend author David Burkus

friend of a friend“You may not be focused on networking while you participate in such activities, but after you finish, you’ll find that you have gathered a host of new and interesting people that now call you friend.”

If you score an invite to a Jon Levy dinner party in New York City, you make the meal together. You can only talk about what you do for a living once you’ve sat down at the dinner table.

Pixar Animation Studios runs an in-house university with courses that bring together senior executives, front-line staff, veterans and new hires. Everyone is treated the same, can take up to four hours of paid time each week and can skip meetings if they’re supposed to be in class.

4. Instead of the golden rule, follow the mom rule.

Treat us the way you’d want us to treat your mom.

momJeanne Bliss, the godmother of customer service and the author Would You Do That To Your Mother? The “Make Mom Proud” Standard For How To Treat Your Customers says you need to respect our time, take the monkey off our back, stop asking us to repeat ourselves and don’t leave us in the dark.

“To put this in the simplest terms, do you deliver pain or pleasure? Do you make it easy and a joy for your customers to do business with you?” Your mom would want you to the do the right thing. So make her proud by taking customer service seriously and making it personal.

5. Prepare ahead for a viral video starring an employee doing something truly dumb or way worse. 

“We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea,” said a Domino’s spokesperson after employees violated every imaginable health code in a kitchen.

“Even people who’ve been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino’s, and that’s not fair.”

crisis readyMelissa Agnes, author of Crisis Ready, lists eight expectations you must immediately meet if you have any hope of recovering when your reputation takes a mortal hit. Make building a culture of crisis readiness a priority in 2019.

“You want to get your team to a level of preparedness that is instinctive, rather than solely being dependent on a linear plan that cannot possibly account for all the variations, bumps and turns that may present themselves.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

 

Six ways to send better emails (review of Nick Morgan’s Can You Hear Me?)

can-you-hear-me-nick-morganThis review first ran in the Dec.8 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Can You Hear Me? How to Connect With People in a Virtual World

By Nick Morgan

Harvard Business Review Presss

$39

I take pride in having never put an emoji into a work email.

Nick Morgan says it’s time to swallow my pride and start sending out smiley faces.

“Yes, they run the risk of seeming childish,” says Morgan, a communications coach and author of “Can You Hear Me?”

“But they do let the recipient know what you’re feeling. And that’s incredibly important — way more important than what you’re actually saying.”

An emoji puts some emotion back into our virtual communications and helps reduces the risk of misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

“The virtual world bleaches out human emotion and takes away one of the deep joys of human interaction — that sense of near simultaneity, when you and I are in sync, communicating effortlessly, immediately and passionately with hardly any sense at all of the distance between us.”

Morgan says virtual communications suffer five basic problems. There’s a lack of feedback, empathy, control, emotion and commitment.

“Humans crave connection and the virtual world seems endlessly social. But real connection, like decision-making, is based on emotions. Take the emotions out, and we feel alone more often than makes sense. The bonding that naturally happens when people meet face-to-face and size each other up, fall in love, find mutual interests, and so on, is lacking.

“And thus with thousands of Twitter followers, oodles of Instagram and Facebook friends, and a huge LinkedIn community, we’re still left endlessly chasing the junk food of connection online — likes, clicks and links that give us a passing thrill but no real sense of connection.”

emailYour employer won’t be shutting down the email system so Morgan has some practical fixes on how to make the best use of what he calls a messy, imperfect and overwhelming impoverished method of communication.

Lead off your email with a one sentence headline that clearly answers the “what’s in it for me” question that everyone asks when another email lands in our inbox.

Ruthlessly edit your emails. “Writing needs clarity, a point of view, a clear idea, hierarchical thinking and grace of expression.”

Practice restraint. Tell us something we don’t know but don’t tell us everything. “We only crave a little extra knowledge,” says Morgan.

Don’t send a hot email that stings with snark. Practice self-restraint. Sleep on an email before you hit send.

Never email a brick at the last minute, says Morgan. “One of the most irritating features of modern digital life is the last-minute communication.” It’s the 50-page report or PowerPoint deck that lands in your inbox at 8:30 a.m. to be discussed at the 9 a.m. team meeting. “Don’t send last-minute reading bricks to others and don’t ready them if they come from someone else. That’s a rule we all need to live by.”

And if you want and expect a response to your email? Explicitly ask for it.

Morgan also offers strategies for improving conference calls, webinars and chat sessions.

“Our very human job now is to learn to put the emotional and the memorable back into this attenuated world that has sprung up around us, the digital dragon’s teeth we have sown and that have brought us virtual convenience and speed — at far too high a price.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Be a learn-it-all: The 8 keys to staying relevant and reinventing yourself (review of Never Stop Learning)

This review first ran in the Nov. 24 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Never Stop Learning: Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself and Thrive

By Bradley Staats

Harvard Business Review Press

$39

never stop learningI’m university bound after 13 years at college.

One thing will stay the same and another will change in a big way when I join Canada’s most research-intensive college on Monday. While I’ll continue working with outstanding faculty and staff, I’ll be climbing a new and steep learning curve.

And here’s why I’m excited to make that climb. In a world of continual change, it’s far better to be a learn-it-all than a know-it-all.

“Learning is so vital today that we can think of ourselves as living in a learning economy,” says Bradley Staats, an engineer, investment banker, associate professor with the University of North Carolina and author of Never Stop Learning. “We can’t just be knowledge workers; we must also be learning workers.”

But most of us are bad at learning, says Staats. “Supremely bad. In fact, we’re our own worst enemies. Instead of doing the things that will help us learn, we often do just the opposite. If we fail to learn, we risk becoming irrelevant. We end up solving yesterday’s problems too late instead of tackling tomorrow’s problems before someone else does.”

So if you too are making or mulling a move that’ll bring you to the base of a new learning curve, Staats has identified eight keys for successfully climbing the curve as a dynamic learner.

Value failure. If you’re not trying new things and making mistakes then you’re not learning.

Focus on the process rather than the outcome. “At its core, learning involves understanding what (and how) inputs affect important outputs – building a model of the way things work.”

Ask questions rather than rush to answers.

Reflect and relax. “Dynamic learners fight the urge to act for the sake of acting and recognize that when the going gets tough, the tough are rested, take time to recharge and stop to think.”

Be yourself. Instead of conforming, find the courage to stand out. “When we are truly ourselves, we are more likely to expend the necessary effort. We do things for both intrinsic and extrinsic reasons.”

Play to your strengths and quit trying to fix irrelevant weaknesses.

Combine specialization and variety so you have a T-shaped portfolio of experiences where you’re deep in one or a few areas and broad in many others.

Learn from others. Learning is not a solo exercise. “The people with whom we interact are integral to our eventual success or failure.”

In a constantly changing world, we can’t afford to put our careers on cruise control and coast on muscle memory and institutional knowledge. Staats shows why becoming a dynamic learner is the best way to stay relevant, reinvent ourselves and thrive.

“Yes, learning requires constant vigilance. When it comes to learning, you can be your own worst enemy. But if you recognize the challenge and seek to overcome it, with determination, you can.”

So regardless of whether you’re changing jobs or staying put, keep looking for new learning curves to climb – the steeper, the better.

@jayrobb lives and works in Hamilton and has reviewed and learned from business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. Reviews are archived at http://www.jayrobb.me.

How leaders can engage employees (review of Alive at Work)

alive at workThis review first ran in the Nov. 10 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do

By Daniel Cable

Harvard Business Review Press

$39

Here’s a lesson for any leader who’s looking to leave a legacy.

Write down the names of your maternal and paternal grandparents. No checking Ancestry.com or calling your family’s resident genealogist.

Now write the names of your great-grandparents.

Don’t feel bad if you can’t name everyone. Lots of us draw blanks as we work our way down the family tree.

“And that’s the legacy for us: our own family isn’t going to remember our names in two generations,” says Daniel Cable, author of Alive at Work.

“Lots of leaders spend time thinking about their legacy but really all we have are the positive effects that we can have on each other today. As leaders, we have a chance to make life more meaningful, and more worth living, for the people we lead.”

engageSo how exactly do you make that happen? Focus on firing up the seeker system that’s hardwired into our brains, says Cable.  “Our seeking systems create the natural impulse to explore our worlds, learn about our environments, and extract meaning from our circumstances. When we follow the urges of our seeking system, it releases dopamine – a neurotransmitter linked to motivation and pleasure – and that makes us want to explore more.”

When our seeker system’s up and running, we’re excited. We’re learning new things. Our world feels like a better place to live. We’re more creative and productive. We perform better, we’re happier overall and we’re alive at work.

“Our evolutionary tendency to disengage from tedious activities isn’t a bug in our mental makeup – it’s a feature,” says Cable. “It’s our body’s way of telling us that were designed to do better things, to keep exploring and learning.”

Bad things happen when we’re locked into tedious work and unable to explore and learn. Our seeker system shuts down. Work turns into a grinding and frustrating commute to the weekend. As neuroscience pioneer Jaak Panksepp puts it, “when the seeking systems are not active, human aspirations remain frozen in an endless winter of discontent.”

That discontent is reflected in ugly Gallup poll results that show the majority of us are disengaged and not contributing to our fullest potential at work. The lack of employee engagement isn’t a motivational problem, says Cable. It’s biological.

Organizations are failing employees by smothering their seeker systems with policies, procedures and processes. The rituals of SMART goals (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bound) and the fixed distribution of performance ratings fire up our fear systems and distract us from learning, taking risks and solving problems with new approaches.  Fear is kryptonite to our seeking systems, says Cable.

“Even though we may say we want employee creativity and innovation, we place even greater value on exploiting existing ideas and processes that are tried and true.”

It takes humble leaders to restart our seeker systems, says Cable. We need more leaders who’ll express feelings of uncertainty and humility, share their own developmental journeys and spend more time observing, listening and actively encouraging their teams to play to their strengths, experiment, explore and rediscover a sense of purpose with their work.

Being humble won’t just benefit the people you lead. “Finding ways to trigger employees’ seeking systems will do more than increase the enthusiasm, motivation, and innovation capabilities of your team,”says Cable. “By improving people’s lives, your own work as a leader will become more meaningful, activating your own seeking system.”

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

The 4 keys to giving your customers something to talk about

triggerThis review first ran in the Oct. 27 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth

By Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin

$36

Portfolio / Penguin

It’s the bonus chunk of kielbasa that comes with the mixed meat sandwich from Starpolskie’s Deli in East Hamilton.

It’s the Tim Horton’s gift card you’re given and told to use while your kid spends the next 90 minutes getting his braces put on at Taylor-Edwards Orthodontics.

It’s also the warm chocolate chip cookies at DoubleTree by Hilton, the Graduate Hotel room keys that look like college student ID cards, the free and unlimited soft drinks at Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari, the Cheesecake Factory menu that run to almost 6,000 words and the silver telephones at Umpqua Bank branches that connect directly to the president.

These are all examples of what Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin call talk triggers that drive word of mouth. None of us talk about a good customer experience. But we’ll rave online and off about something that’s different, unique and unexpected. Research shows that word of mouth drives five times more sales than advertising so smart organizations are deliberating engineering these conversations.

“Word of mouth is perhaps the most effective and cost-effective way to grow any company,” says Baer and Lemin. “We’re in an era where trust matters more than truth, and the truth is that your customers simply don’t trust you as much as they trust each other.

“The best organizations are purposefully crafting differentiators that get customers to tell authentic, visceral, trusted stories about the business and its products or services – stories that create new customers through referrals and recommendations.

“A unique selling proposition is a feature, articulated with a bullet point, that is discussed in a conference room,” says Baer and Lemin. “A talk trigger is a benefit, articulated with a story, that is discussed at a cocktail party. Done well, talk triggers clone your customers.”

So here’s how you do it well. Your talk trigger must be remarkable, relevant, repeatable and reasonable.

Take DoubleTree’s chocolate chip cookie. No other hotel chain gives away 75,000 cookies each day to every guest whenever they check in. The cookies are baked onsite and served warm. The free cookie reinforces DoubleTree’s brand promise of a warm welcome and triggers conversations. When surveyed about the hotel’s best attributes, guests rank the cookie just below friendly staff and comfortable beds and more than a third of guests tell others about the cookie.

DoubleTree’s talk trigger would be nothing more than a marketing and PR stunt if the cookies were only given away on the first Saturday of the month or during the holidays or just to Hilton Honors members or first-time guests or if a suitcase-sized cookie covered in gold leaf was given one-time only to a randomly chosen customer.

A talk trigger falls into one of five categories based on empathy, usefulness, generosity, speed or attitude. Choose the category that works best for your organization and come up with something unique. Same is lame, say Baer and Lemin.

There are then six steps for successfully launching your talk trigger. You start by gathering internal insights from marketing, sales and service and having this cross-departmental team sift through data about your customers, your business and the competition.

Get close to your customers to better understand what they really want.

Come up with four to six potential talk triggers and then assess for both complexity to deliver and customer impact. Focus on a trigger that has medium impact and complexity.

Now test and measure your talk trigger with a subset of customers. Is it spurring conversations, emails, online comments and reviews?

If your talk trigger gets people talking, roll it out across your entire organization to all your customers.

Finally, amplify your talk trigger through paid advertising so everyone knows both the what and they why. DoubleTree tells guests the cookie is part of their commitment to a warm welcome. Guests can also order the cookie dough and have it shipped to their homes.

Baer and Lemin show how any business or organization can drive word of mouth by doing something remarkable every time for every customer. They also offer their own talk trigger to readers. If you don’t like their book, just send Baer and Lemin a note and they’ll buy you whatever book you want. While it’s unlikely to get many takers, it’s the thought that counts and gets people talking.

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