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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.

Review: No Ego – How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results by Cy Wakeman

no egoThis review first ran in the Sept. 25 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results

By Cy Wakeman

St. Martins Press

$37.99

Survey says we’re having ice cream socials every Friday afternoon.

It’s an employee suggestion from your latest engagement survey. Free ice cream seems like a quick and easy way to buy some love and shore up engagement scores.

But a deluge of emotional waste will hit your managers starting Monday morning. They’ll be silently screaming about ice cream.

Monday morning is when they’ll start hearing from employees who can’t get make it to Friday socials even though senior management is well aware of this fact, obviously doesn’t care and is out to get them yet again.

Managers will be told to run a more inclusive event for employees who don’t like ice cream, are lactose intolerant, have sensitive teeth or prefer healthy options.

Managers will get requests to leave work a half-hour early from employees who don’t spend 30 minutes eating ice cream in the cafeteria.

Managers will get sermons on why locally sourced organic ice cream is the better, more sustainable option along with calls for employees to be consulted on whether vanilla and chocolate ice cream should be the only choices.

Managers will get complaints about the skimpy selection of toppings and how the absence of whipped cream and cherries is just one more way that senior management nickel and dimes employees.

Managers will hear about preferences for waffle bowls over plastic cups.

And someone will rat out Andy from accounting who’s rumoured to get extra scoops of ice cream because, as everyone knows, Andy is a suck-up who may, or may not, be dating the CEO’s daughter.

You can spare your managers the drama by putting an accountability filter on your next engagement survey, says Cy Wakeman, author of No Ego, consultant and founder of Reality-Based Leadership,

Ask survey questions that will differentiate responses from high and low-accountable employees.

Focus on what high-accountable employees are telling you. These are the resilient, self-aware, change-ready high performers who take full responsibility for their own optimism, energy and enthusiasm. They consistently give their best effort and continually look for ways to improve. They’ll use the engagement survey to highlight ways to better serve your clients, customers, patients or students. Free ice cream for employees likely isn’t on their list.

Low-accountable employees wear victimhood like a well-worn housecoat, says Wakeman. They blame everyone and everything for their lacklustre work, blown deadlines and sour disposition. They’ll use the survey to emotionally blackmail you into making their lives easier.

Trying to drive up engagement scores among low-accountable employees is a fool’s errand. And if you could actually pull this off, would you want an organization full of highly satisfied low-accountable employees?

“If we really want our engagement surveys to drive workplace results, then we need to be honest,” says Wakeman. “Not all employees contribute equally, and the feedback they offer isn’t equal either. Treating all feedback equally is crazy.”

Engagement without accountability leads to entitlement, warns Wakeman. That sense of entitlement causes time-wasting and productivity-killing drama and emotional waste.

Smart organizations and great leaders aren’t preoccupied with creating a workplace where everyone’s happy and comfortable. They’re not shielding employees from change, sugar-coating reality or trying to get buy-in through appeasement.

They don’t coddle, cajole or get themselves into codependent relationships.

Instead, they focus on building business readiness and instilling an organization-wide accountability mindset. They value action over opinions. They ask employees for their full commitment in exchange for full paycheques. The uncommitted get a clear choice: come up with a plan to get on the bus or find yourself another bus to ride.

“The role of leaders is to help people get clear on the fact that if they want to play on the team, buy-in is a prerequisite,” says Wakeman. “If you’re going to get great results, there can’t be an option that allows people to stay and sabotage or to stay and hate. Why would any organization tolerate an option that allows people to generate endless emotional waste?”

This may seem like tough love given the conventional wisdom around how managers should engage and inspire employees and manage change to minimize pain and disruption. Yet Wakeman makes a compelling argument for putting accountability ahead of engagement. Hold employees to a higher standard and they’ll do great work, step up to challenges, take pride in what they achieve together and become fully engaged in ways that free ice cream can’t buy.

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

Review: The Inspiration Code – How The Best Leaders Energize People Every Day by Kristi Hedges

inspiration codeThis review first ran in the Sept. 11 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Inspiration Code: How The Best Leaders Energize People Every Day

By Kristi Hedges

American Management Association

$35.95

We won’t find inspiration in a corporate video where our leader seems to have been kidnapped to an undisclosed location and forced to read a list of demands while in a state of severe sleep deprivation.

Equally uninspiring is the mandatory and tightly scripted all-staff town hall where our leader inflicts death by PowerPoint with ruthless efficiency and then dares anyone to ask a question.

What will inspire us to work harder and do better is a leader who knows how to have conversations that count.

“If we want to have inspired companies, then we need inspirational leaders,” says Kristi Hedges, leadership coach and author of The Inspiration Code. “And that involves being the kind of leader who communicates in a way that creates the conditions for inspiration in others. It’s about making the right connection and letting the inspiration take off from there.”

Leaders create these conditions by being present, personal, passionate and purposeful in their conversations.

A leader’s present when she’s focused on the person in front of her. She’s not distracted or visibly stressed. She listens more than she talks. She gives the impression that there’s no one else she’d rather be with and nowhere else she’s rather be. “For leaders, presence is a blinking red light that signifies importance. Being fully present at key times has a motivational impact. When a leader actually pays real attention to us, it feels great. We feel special. The capacity to inspire is heightened.”

Authenticity also plays a key role in building connections. “Your listener looks to you first to see how much you care and this is what shapes how much he will care,” says Hedges. “If you want to move behavior or shape thinking, you need to get personal and stay personal. We’re not inspired by fakes, frauds, blowhards, blusterers or even those who play it too close to the vest. We need to see the real deal.”

Along with being present and getting personal, leaders need to be passionate if they want an inspired effort from us. “People who are passionate enthusiasts for what they do create passion in others. Passion is optimistic, exciting, bold and captivating. Passion has a fiery drive to it, propelling forward momentum. People with passion show conviction. We know where they stand. They get things done.”

And finally, inspiring leaders have purposeful conversations. We need to be reminded that our day-to-day work contributes to the continued success of our organization.  “When we feel as though we’re running in circles, or spiraling downward, work is somewhere between boring and soul crushing. We’re counting the hours (or if nearing retirement, years) until we’re free.”

What a leader does will be as important as what they say. Hedges says a leader must show and model what it means to be a purpose-driven leader and live a purpose-driven life. “If others can’t see the purpose that ignites you, then they won’t likely be convinced that you can inspire anyone else. When it comes to purpose, you’ve got to wear it to share it.”

As Hedges reminds us, no one goes home after work and says they had a great day because they were influenced. Bull all of us would love to say that we were inspired.

Hedges shows leaders how to improve the odds of that happening with proven strategies for  being more present, personal, passionate and purposeful in their conversations.

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

Review: Perennial Seller – The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts

sellerThis review first ran in the Aug. 28 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts

By Ryan Holiday

Portfolio / Penguin

$35

I’ve got a lot of time for anyone who sacrifices a steady paycheque and a pension to build a business and create jobs.

So I was happy to spend a morning last month talking media relations with entrepreneurs who were vying for the final top 10 spots in this year’s Lion’s Lair competition.

We covered a couple caveats before getting into how to pitch stories and talk with reporters.

Media coverage is a good thing. But there are just 24 hours in a day. Time spent talking with reporters could be time spent meeting one-on-one and face-to-face with prospective investors and customers. That’s job one for aspiring entrepreneurs.

The second caveat: good media coverage won’t save a bad product that’s all hat and no cattle.

Media strategist Ryan Holiday would agree. Whether you’re building a new product, launching a new service or writing the next great Canadian novel, invest the majority of your time creating something great before promoting it.

“Crappy products don’t survive,” says the author of Perennial Seller. “Promotion is not how things are made great – only how they’re heard about.”

We’ll hear rave reviews about your product if you’ve nailed the answers to two questions.

Who’s your product for?

And what do they get for their money?

“If you don’t know – if the answer isn’t overwhelming – then keep thinking,” says Holiday. “It’s not that hard to make something we want, or something we think is cool or impressive. It’s much harder to create something other people not only want, but need.”

We’ll ignore your product if it’s merely a marginal improvement over whatever we’re already using.

To get our attention and our money, create something that’s bold, brash and brave. The alternative, says Holiday, is to try selling us something that’s derivative, imitative, banal and trivial. This leaves you with a boring product that’s liable to get crushed by relentless competition.

Using outside feedback to test, tweak, polish and perfect your product is also one of the keys to creating a perennial seller that stands the test of time. “Nobody creates flawless first drafts. And nobody creates better second drafts without the intervention or someone else. Nobody.”

When you’re ready to promote your product, don’t outsource the job and walk away. No agency or consultant will care as much as you, says Holiday.

You need to apply the same amount of creativity and energy into marketing that you put into making your product.

“We have to take this thing that means so much to us and make sure that is primed to mean something to other people too for generations to come. And the best person in the world to accomplish this difficult task? You.”

The harsh reality is that none of us actually care what you’ve made. We don’t care because we have no idea what it is. We didn’t dedicate years of our life to creating it. And even when we know what you’ve done thanks to your marketing efforts, we’re going to care far less than you’d like.

“Accepting your own insignificance might not seem like an inspiring mantra to kick off a marketing campaign but it makes a big difference,” says Holiday. “Humility is clearer-eyed than ego – and that’s important because humility always works harder than ego.”

Holiday’s worked hard to offer up clear-eyed advice to anyone who’s dreaming about creating something truly great. Success isn’t guaranteed but Holiday will put the odds more in your favour.

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

Review: The Sum of Small Things – A Theory of the Aspirational Class by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

sumThis review first ran in the Aug. 14 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class

By Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

Princeton University Press

$37.95

When’s a tomato more than just a tomato?

When it’s an organic, open-pollinated, locally grown heirloom tomato that you bought at the co-op while pedaling home to your condo from a downtown microbrewery on a SoBi bike.

Lucky for us, you faithfully chronicle your virtuous life on social media to remind us of your membership in the aspirational class.

You’re part of a well-educated, city-dwelling tribe who aspire to be better humans in all aspects of your lives. The aspirational class defines and differentiates itself by what they buy and how they spend their time.

“They distance themselves from conventional material goods not because they are uncomfortable with wealth but rather because material goods are no longer a clear signal of social position or a good conduit to reveal cultural capital or knowledge,” says Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, author of The Sum of Small Things and a public policy professor at the University of Southern California.

“For the aspirational class, it is members’ eagerness to acquire knowledge and to use this information to form socially and environmentally conscious values that sets them apart from everyone else. They are very busy demonstrating and signifying the unique ways in which their time is being used doing things that are fundamentally different from everyone else.”

This explains why the aspirational class lines up out the doors at Intelligentsia, a specialty coffee shop with a handful of stores in the United States. The anti-Starbucks sells small cups of $5 fresh roasted coffee free of syrups, whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Instead of fair trade, Intelligentsia practices direct trade with farmers from around the world who handpick coffee cherries. The beans are then roasted on vintage machines from the 1940s and 50s.  The company says it’s not out to change the world, just a small corner of it.

Intelligentsia checks all the boxes for an aspirational class who want transparency with everything they buy.

“This transparency doesn’t simply add value – it is the value – of many cultural goods,” says Currid-Halkett. “We will eat the smaller, sadder apples from the farmers’ market because we met the farmer and we know he didn’t put nasty chemicals on his fruit. We will spend three times more on a linen shirt because we know it was picked up from a small shop somewhere on the Amalfi Coast and we met the store owner who personally made the voyage and met the tailor (and his children). We will slather on the organic coconut oil instead of Retin-A and eat in restaurants that charge $20 for mac and cheese because they list the originating dairy farm in chalk on a rustic sign in the front.”

The problem with the aspirational class beyond being more than a little pretentious is their obliviousness to socio-economic limitations. Yes, your enlightened purchases are saving the planet and make you a better person. But not everyone can afford a $5 cup of direct trade coffee, a linen shirt imported from Italy or a $20 bowl of mac n’ cheese.

Currid-Halkett warns against a “cultural and moral superiority directed toward those who don’t participate in these behaviors and an assumption that this lack of participation is always a choice. The aspirational class my not be the 0.01 per cent but they live in an entirely different and more privileged cultural universe than almost everyone else. Their decisions and investments, which are increasingly inconspicuous, reproduce wealth and upward mobility in a way that leaves out the middle class in detrimental ways.”

And Currid-Halkett cautions that relentlessly striving to be a better human doesn’t necessarily translate to leading a better life.

“The aspirational class consumer gestalt reflects a frenzy and status-consciousness that not only leaves many out, but also stresses us out. In all our consuming – conspicuous and inconspicuous – we may be missing out on living our lives, entirely.”

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

Review: The End of Advertising by Andrew Essex

endThis review first ran in the July 31 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The End of Advertising: Why It Had to Die and the Creative Resurrection to Come

By Andrew Essex

Spiegal & Grau

$36

I’m a big fan of podcasts.

The Turnaround and On the Media are my favourites for two reasons.

Both podcasts deliver great hosts, guests and conversations. Turnaround host Jesse Thorn talks with interviewers about the art of interviewing while On the Media’s Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield look at how the news media shapes our view of the world.

And here’s the other reason why I’m a fan. The conversations on these podcasts aren’t interrupted to pitch razors, underwear and meal kits with special promo codes.

Lots of us are tired of traditional advertising and we’re finding ways to escape it, from ditching cable TV for Netflix to paying for premium advertising-free content and downloading ad blocking apps on our smartphones.

Advertisers need to start adding value to our lives and stop interrupting and annoying us, says Andrew Essex, author of The End of Advertising, past CEO of the award-winning Droga5 ad agency and a board member with the American Advertising Federation.

“In an era of unprecedented noise, producing pollution in the form of annoying advertising represents the height of an unprincipled approach and, more worrisome, is likely flat-out bad for business.

“Advertising will continue to take its lumps,” says Essex. “Like everything inherently unwanted, from stale pastries to last season’s social media, it was doomed to be overshadowed. Like pollution, we prefer it in the landfill rather than randomly strewn along the road. People, platforms and products will have to distinguish themselves by doing something radically different, will have to embrace the not-so-radical idea of always endeavouring to be useful, authentic, original and/or interesting.”

So what’s the radical alternative to traditional advertising?

Citibank spent $41 million over five years to sponsor New York City’s bike sharing program. Citi Bikes give the bank 6,000 roaming billboards, New Yorkers and tourists get a bike share program and taxpayers don’t pay a dime.

“You don’t need much more than intuition to see that most people would choose a clean Citi Bike over a useless ad,” says Essex. “One accomplishes something, the other doesn’t.”

American Girl puts out movies, books, clothes and accessories. Essex says his daughter knows all about American Girl without having ever seen a traditional TV, magazine or Internet banner ad from the company.

“All this very savvy company had done was communicate its values via content, a very old model that was new and necessary again. They’d become genuine storytellers and put themselves as the centre of the story.”

And then there’s the world’s biggest toy company. In 2014, Lego found a way to transcend advertising with the Lego Movie. Lots of us paid good money to put on 3D glasses and watch a 100-minute commercial. The Lego Movie grossed $260 million in North American and another $210 million internationally. In 2015, Lego overtook Mattel to become the world’s most valuable toy company with more than $2 billion in annual sales.

“A brand made a brilliant, well-executed movie,” says Essex. “The movie was a hit. The movie also happened to be an ad, one that people were willing to pay to see. For the first time in a long time, the thing that normally sold the thing had become the thing itself.”

Your company doesn’t need to create the next Hollywood blockbuster, says Essex. Just sponsor quality content that reflects well on your brand. Make that content commercial free for viewers, listeners and readers. Subsidize silence and give audiences freedom the interruptions and annoyance of traditional advertising.

And what do you get in return? If you became the presenting sponsor of The Turnaround or On the Media, you’d earn my gratitude, my attention and quite possibly my business.

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

Review: Good People – The Only Leadership Decision That Really Matters by Anthony Tjan

good peopleThis review first ran in the July 17 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Good People: The Only Leadership Decision That Really Matters

By Anthony Tjan

Portfolio / Penguin

$37

People aren’t our organizations’ greatest asset.

It’s actually good people who make the difference.

Great things happen when we’re in the company of good people. They lead with humility, honesty and integrity. They’re generous, empathetic and compassionate. They’re also wise, respectful and grateful.

Good people inspire us to perform at our best. And being at our collective best is good for our organizations’ bottom lines and long-term financial health.

Author, entrepreneur and strategic advisor Anthony Tjan says good people are “committed to continuously cultivating the values that help them and others become the fullest possible versions of who they are. Good people purposely and proactively put people first in their decision-making.”

So why do smart leaders sometimes make dumb decisions when it comes to hiring and promoting? Why do they bring not-so-good people into our organizations who put themselves first and make the rest of us bitter instead of better?

Tjan says we’re conditioned to put credentials and competencies ahead of a job candidate’s character and values.

“Defining goodness and good people, especially in business, is challenging. Goodness is something we all intuitively sense but nonetheless have trouble describing clearly or tangibly.”

How many all-staff announcements have you read that introduce new senior leaders as good people? We’re told about where our newest executive worked, the projects she led, the schools she attended, the awards she won, what she does outside of work and the names of her kids and the family dog. Yet little to nothing is said about her values and beliefs and how they match up with those of our organization.

To improve your odds of hiring a good person, Tjan has 10 questions to consider before making a job offer.

  1. Is this job candidate self-aware? “Is the person intellectually honest about who she is, about her strengths and weaknesses? Is she actively curious about learning new things? Is she humble? Are her thoughts, words and actions consistent?”
  2. Is this person authentic or obsequious? “There are few things worse than phony praise. Good people do not feel compelled to tie themselves into knots in order to impress you.”
  3. What’s the talk-to-listen ratio? If the ratio’s skews heavily to talking, the candidate could suffer from self-importance or indifference to what you and others have to say.
  4. Is this person an energy giver or taker? Good people are optimists who give off energy. Takers are cynical emotional vampires.
  5. Is this person likely to act or react to a task? When asked to do something, good people jump in and get it done.
  6. How does this person treat people she doesn’t know? Good people believe we’re all equal. There’s no condescension, brusqueness, rudeness or snobbery.
  7. What is the spouse or partner like? “We are known by the company we keep, especially the people we keep closest to us.”
  8. Is there an element of struggle in the person’s history? “Early setbacks tend to shape character more than early successes and developing resilience in response to adversity is a key predictor of success later in life.”
  9. What has this person been reading? “Reading frames ideas, ignites new thoughts and adds complexity and nuance to familiar perspectives.”
  10. Would you want to go on a long car ride with this person? Tjan says this question reminds us to think about the “who” rather than the “what” of a person.
  11. Is this person comfortable with idiosyncrasies? “Our most unusual traits make us who we are. In some cases, simply being true to ourselves – to our own idiosyncrasies – can make us good.”
  12. Is the person multidimensional or multidisciplinary? “People who can’t navigate between, around and across diverse fields of learning and experience have drastically limited horizons of possibility.”

Tjan says we should also ask ourselves these 10 questions. Our answers will show where to get better at being good and helping the people around us do the same.

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

 

 

Review: Barking Up The Wrong Tree by Eric Barker

barkingThis review first ran in the July 3 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success is (Mostly) Wrong

By Eric Barker

$33.50

Your son wasn’t named class valedictorian.

Your daughter didn’t get straight As on her report card.

Don’t panic. This actually bodes well for their future success and happiness.

A researcher at Boston College tracked 81 high school valedictorians and salutatorians.  Nearly all went to college and graduated into high-paying professional careers.

They’ve proven to be reliable, consistent and well-adjusted.

But according to the researcher, none of these academic all-stars have gone on to change, run or impress the world.

“Research shows that what makes students likely to be impressive in the classroom is the same thing that makes them less likely to be home-run hitters outside the classroom,” says Eric Barker, author of the Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog and book.

“Schools reward students who consistently do what they are told. Grades are an excellent predictor of self-discipline, conscientiousness and the ability to comply with rules,” says Barker.

Conformists don’t change the world. They play by the rules. They pay their dues and rise up through the ranks. They don’t rock the boat.

Yet sometimes boats need rocking and organizations need steering into uncharted waters by transformational, rule-breaking leaders.

“School has clear rules. Life often doesn’t. When there’s no clear path to follow, academic high achievers break down,” says Barker.

Along with rewarding conformity, schools train our kids to be generalists. Your daughter or son may have a passion for math or the creative arts but they’re spending most of their year tackling other subjects.

The Boston College researcher found that smart students with a love of learning struggle in high school and find it stifling. Valedictorians see it as their job to get good grades and give teachers what they want.

Yet a career where you’re great at doing one thing will be more rewarding and satisfying than a job where you’re as good as everyone else at doing many things.

“This generalist approach doesn’t lead to expertise,” says Barker. “Yet eventually we almost all go on to careers in which one skill is highly rewarded and other skills aren’t that important.”

So a report card with straight As offers no clues about your kids’ signature strengths. A range of grades would help reveal where they shine and should invest more of their time.

“Consider the people we’re all envious of who can confidently pick something, say they’re going to be awesome at it, and then calmly go and actually be awesome at it.  This is their secret: they’re not good at everything, but they know their strengths and choose things that are a good fit.”

Know thyself is one of the keys to success and happiness, says Barker. The other is to pick the right pond.

“Context is everything. If you follow rules well, find an organization aligned with your signature strengths and go full steam ahead. Society clearly rewards those who can comply, and these people keep the world an orderly place,” says Barker.

“If you’re more of an unfiltered type, be ready to blaze your own path. It’s risky, but that’s what you were built for.”

Along with questioning the wisdom of playing it safe and doing what we’re told, Barker dives into the research to discover if nice guys finish first or last, if quitters never win and winners never quit and if who we know matters more than what know. He also explores the thin line between self-confidence and self-delusion and how to strike the right work-life balance.

“Much of what we’ve told about the qualities that lead to achievement is logical, earnest and downright wrong. Sometimes what produces success is raw talent, sometimes it’s the nice things our moms told us to do, and other times it’s the exact opposite.”

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

Review – White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America by Joan Williams

whiteThis review first ran in the June 19 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America

By Joan C. Williams

Harvard Business Review Press

$29.99

“Although its steel and manufacturing-based economy gave Hamilton its ‘Steeltown’ moniker, students need not be deterred by images of an industrial wasteland.”

This is how Maclean’s kicks off McMaster’s profile in its 2017 Canadian Universities Guidebook.

I’m a university grad who was lucky to spend part of my career in Steeltown’s “industrial wasteland.”

I worked with good people who took real pride in their work, the company and our community.

They made steel and built strong and stable middle class lives for their families. They also made Hamilton better for everyone by donating more money than any other local employer and volunteering countless hours to community groups and local causes.

Respect was the company’s core value. None of us in the main office were under any illusion that we were better than the people in the plant. Everyone worked hard and shared in the success.

That mindset is getting harder to find among professional and managerial elites and it’s fuelling populist movements, warns Joan Williams, author of White Working Class and a distinguished professor of law and Hastings Foundation chair at the University of California.

“Over the past 40-odd years, elites stopped connecting with the working class, whom prior generations had given a place of honor,” says Williams. “Class consciousness has been replaced by class cluelessness and in some cases, even class callousness.

“During an era when wealthy white Americans have learned to sympathetically imagine the lives of the poor, people of color, and LGBTQ people, the white working class has been insulted or ignored during precisely the period when their economic fortunes tanked.”

Hamilton’s not immune to this trend. When we convene summits and conferences to dream up ways of recruiting and retaining 20-somethings, we’re not talking about millennials who work in skilled trades. And the claim that professionals hate riding buses but love taking trains wins the prize for dumbest argument yet made in support of spending a billion dollars of taxpayer money on Hamilton’s LRT project.

Williams considers the working class and the middle class to be one and the same. They’re neither poor nor rich, with family incomes ranging from $41,000 to just over $130,000 with a median income of $75,144.

“When progressive policymakers talk about guaranteeing things like paid sick leave or a higher minimum wage, they often frame them as issues that would help working families,” says Williams. “But neither offers what my father-in-law had: a steady job that yielded his vision of a middle-class life. That’s what the working class still wants.”

Williams does a masterful job of responding to the clueless and callous questions that professional and managerial elites like ask themselves when diagnosing what’s wrong with the working class.

Why do they resent the poor and professionals yet admire the rich?

Why doesn’t the working class move to where the jobs are, go to college and push their kids harder to succeed?

Is the working class just racist and sexist?

Why don’t they understand that manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back?

Why don’t working class men take pink collar jobs?

And why don’t the people who benefit most from government help seem to appreciate it?

“The working class doesn’t want to be examined like some tribe in a faraway land,” says Williams. “They don’t want the kind of pious solicitude the wealthy offer the poor. They want respect for the lives they’ve built through unrelenting hard work. They want recognition for their contributions and their way of life. They keep our power lines repaired, our sewers functioning, our trains running. They give the mammograms that save our lives and pick us up off the street when we’ve been injured. They demand dignity – and they deserve it.”

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

Review: The Power of Positive Leadership by Jon Gordon

powerThis review first ran in the June 5th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Power of Positive Leadership

By Jon Gordon

Wiley

$30

Average organizations have mission statements.

Great organizations have people who are on a mission.

The difference comes down to culture and positive leaders.

“Your most important job as a leader is to drive the culture,” says Jon Gordon, author of The Power of Positive Leadership and a consultant to Fortune 500 companies. Building a culture is not a job you delegate.

“You must create a positive culture that energizes and encourages people, fosters connected relationships and great teamwork, empowers and enables people to do their best work.”

You build a great culture by answering two questions.

What do we stand for?

What do we want to be known for?

Your actions will answer both questions. What you do will matter far more than what you say in memos, meetings and speeches.

“As a positive leader, you can’t just show the way and talk about the way. You must also lead the way. If you don’t set the example and live the values – if you aren’t on a mission – your culture won’t come to life,” says Gordon.

Positive leaders build positive cultures and organizations loaded with people on a mission.

They also do eight other things that transform average organizations into great places to work.

They create and share a positive vision for a brighter and better future that keeps everyone moving in the right direction.

They lead with optimism, positivity and belief.

Positive leaders confront, transform and remove negativity. “One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is that they ignore the negativity within their team and organization. They allow it to breed and grow and it eventually sabotages the team and organization.”

They create united and connected teams. “Unity is the difference between a great team and an average team.”

They build strong relationships. “People follow the leader first and their vision second. What you say is important but who you are is even more important.” Invest in relationships, bring out the best in others, coach, encourage, serve, care and be someone that others can trust.

Positive leaders pursue excellence. “They are always looking for ways to transform what is into what could be,” says Gordon.

They lead with purpose. “Purpose is why you wake up and want to transform your team and organization and change the world.”

And they have grit. “Positive leaders find a way to navigate the roadblocks or run through them to move closer to their vision and goal.”

Gordon shows how even the most pessimistic among us can become a more positive person and effective leader.

He confesses to once being a fearful, negative, stressed-out and miserable husband and father. An ultimatum from his wife forced Gordon to change his ways.

“When I was young my dad struggled with himself,” Gordon’s daughter wrote in her college admission essay. “But over the years, I watched my dad work to become a more positive person. Then he started writing and speaking about it and sharing his message with others. I saw people change for the better and I know that if he can change, and they can change, the world can change.”

Would the people you lead and live with say the same thing?

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