Review: Paul Born’s Deepening Community: Finding Joy in Chaotic Times

deepThis review first ran in the May 26 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Deepening Community: Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times

By Paul Born

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

$22.95

We’re the Ambitious City. But are we a caring city and a deep community?

There are lots of reasons to think so. Hamiltonians look after our own. We’re generous with our time and money. Local employers can be counted on to step up and help make our city an even better place to call home.

But fault lines start to show on hot button issues like bike lanes, one-way street conversions and light rail transit. You’re with us or against us is a recurring refrain in letters to the editor, online comments and blog posts.

Not a fan of scrapping one-way roads? Then you’re an SUV-driving, stuck-in-the-1950s suburbanite who thinks racing through our lower city streets to get somewhere else in 20 minutes or less is your birthright.

An LRT supporter? Then you’re a Millennial hipster who pines for Portland and wants to play a real world version of Sim City with tax dollars we don’t have to swap blue collar buses with white collar trains so the creative class can ride in comfort.

These tired stereotypes are untrue, unhelpful and if unchecked, can slide us into what Paul Born calls a fear-based community.

“A community based on fear is a dangerous place,” warns Born, author of Deepening Community and cofounder and president of Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement. “They are built by people who are trying to make sense of changes outside their control and their comfort zone. Fear-based communities derive their sense of reality from being against community; they exist only on the basis of creating an enemy or developing a ‘them against us’ narrative.”

A shallow community is no better. Instead of us versus them, there’s only you. Civic engagement ends with retweets and likes on our smartphones. “We go from one group activity to the other seeking connection and personal fulfillment and are so often left wanting more and seeking the next great experience,” says Born. “These experiences are shallow not because they are fun or entertaining but because they do not require ongoing connection and mutual caring.”

Deep community is where we need to be. “To deepen community is to find opportunities for ongoing connection with those we care about and those who care about us. This connection strengthens the bonds between us,” says Born. We start to act together for the benefit of all.

There are four ways we can individually and collectively deepen community:

  1. Share our stories.
  2. Enjoy one another by spending time together.
  3. Care for one another.
  4. Work together to build a better world.

“There are other ways to build connection, but these four simple acts are, in my experience, the most powerful,” says Born. “Each is compelling, but – as I have seen again and again, to my great joy – when all four are present in our interactions and connections, that is when we can experience the full benefits of community.”

Ask Born what’s the most important thing we can do to make a difference in the world and he’ll tell you to bring chicken soup to your neighbor. It’s a simple solution that takes a lot of work upfront.  You need to build a relationship with your neighbour before she’s under the weather.

“The work takes place long before you perform the act of bringing soup,” says Born. The same holds true with building a deep community.

“Community is not automatic. We cannot take it for granted; we cannot assume that is what is should be; we cannot stand on the sidelines and just hope that things will work out.”

Whether at work or at home, deepening community is everyone’s responsibility.

“When we belong and enjoy strong relationships with one another, we can rely on one another in both good and difficult times. This makes us more resilient, and it makes us healthier. It improves our economic opportunities and even makes us happier.”

Review: Dan Roam’s Show and Tell – How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations

dan roamThis review first ran in the May 12th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations

By Dan Roam

Portfolio

$32.95

Greg Maychak from the City of Hamilton paid our senior management team a visit last month.

Maychak gave us a presentation on the 2015 Pan Am Games and made a pitch for volunteers.

Maychak’s pretty passionate about the Games and he made a strong case for why we should share his enthusiasm.

About a third of all tickets sold for the Pan Am Games will be for the 32 soccer matches to be played at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. More than 300,000 people will be in the stands and then celebrating in our streets over 16 days next July. The Games will showcase Hamilton to the Americas and inject a pile of money into our local economy. It’s going to be a very good summer for restaurants, bars and pubs along James Street North.

I put away my smartphone and gave Maychak my undivided attention because he did what all good presenters do.

“As presenters, our goal is simple,” says Dan Roam, visual communications expert and author of Show and Tell. “Help others see what we see.”

You do that by entertaining, educating, persuading, motivating and ultimately changing your audience.

To deliver an extraordinary presentation, follow what Roam calls the three rules of show and tell.

“Lead with the truth and the heart will follow. Lead with a story and understanding will follow. Lead with the eye and the mind will follow.”

Lead with none of the above and you inflict death by PowerPoint on an audience that’s not paying attention.

When you tell the truth, you connect with your audience, you become passionate about what you’re presenting and you find your self-confidence. Audiences are perceptive and will tune you out if you’re stretching or dodging the truth.

When you tell a story, you make complex ideas clear, you make your ideas unforgettable and you make everyone feel included.

“Clear storylines are our best defence against confusion,” says Roam. “They force complexity into submission long enough to be tamed.”

He claims all presentations can be delivered using just four storylines. The report storyline conveys facts and changes the audience’s information. The explanation storyline teaches new insights, changing our knowledge or ability. The pitch storyline recommends a new solution that changes our actions. And the drama storyline inspires a new way of looking at the world and changes our beliefs.

Think of storylines as a guide rope that connects you with your audience. “As presenters, it is our job to keep this line taut and moving,” says Roam.

You keep that line from going slack or getting tied in knots by showing pictures. When you tell us a story with pictures, we see exactly what you mean, you grab and keep our attention and you banish boredom.

According to those in the know, more of our brain is devoted to vision and visual processing than other known functions, including language.

“If our eyes don’t have something interesting to look at, we will make stuff up.” A PowerPoint slide jammed with text and charts that no one can read is not interesting.

According to Roam, any story can be illustrated using just six pictures: portraits, charts, maps, timelines, flow charts and equations.

Roam is a big believer in doodles. “Overly beautiful stock photos actually damage our message. Our audience knows the picture isn’t true and disconnects from us. Staged photos of people compete with the person actually on the stage. The ideal picture is just the essence of an idea made instantly visible and nothing more.”

A presentation done right is a gift, says Roam. “At any presentation, our audience is investing a part of their lives in us. The best gift we can give ourselves is learning how to show and tell. The best gift we can give one another is an extraordinary presentation.”

Review: Smart People Should Build Things by Andrew Yang

smart peopleThis review first ran in the April 28 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Smart People Should Build Things: How to Restore Our Culture of Achievement, Build a Path for Entrepreneurs and Create New Jobs in America

By Andrew Yang

Harper Business

$33.50

Kudos to you on graduating top of your class.

So what’s your next move?

Off to law school? Business school? Medical school?

How about choosing none of the above and opting instead for a Steeltown start-up?

Your parents may not approve but author Andrew Yang would congratulate you on a smart career move. And the rest of us here in Hamilton might just throw you a parade.

Yang is founder and CEO of Venture for America (there’s also a Venture for Canada for top grads north of the border). He’s out to create an army of company builders with a sense of purpose.  His non-profit enlists freshly minted grads south of the border to join start-ups and help revitalize cities and communities through entrepreneurship.

Right now, the best and brightest aren’t flocking to start-ups. They’re taking the lucrative and well-traveled path to work as bankers, lawyers, consultants and doctors in a handful of major cities.

“Achievers want to achieve and that’s what achievement now looks like,” laments Yang. “These structured paths are clearly laid out, and are pursued collectively by many – or most – of the students who have been screened and sorted as the academic and cognitive elite. These prestige pathways have become the default options.”

We’re witnessing a hyper-allocation of top talent flooding professional service industries. While it’s easy to see the upside, Yang cautions there’s a downside that too many grads ignore.

“If you work in professional services, you will be paid handsomely and have a brand-name firm on your resume. You’ll gain skills, confidence and exposure.

“But you may also become heavily socialized and specialized, more risk averse and accustomed to operating in resource-rich environments with a narrow set of deliverables. You’ll be likely to adopt an arm’s length relationship with your work. You won’t build anything; instead, you will compartmentalize and put the armor on each day as deals, clients and colleagues come and go.”

And should you find yourself bored, burned out or out of a job, Yang says it’s often toughen than anticipated to change careers.

At a start-up, you’re working on something you own, believe in and care about. “You’ll be 100 per cent engaged and motivated. You can lead an integrated life, as opposed to a compartmentalized one in which you play a role in an office and then try to forget about it when you get home. You can define an organization, not the other way around.”

The work will be gritty and unglamorous. Yet you’ll learn how to get things done. You’ll be comfortable making decisions working off limited knowledge. You’ll create and improve products.  You’ll know how to win and keep customers. And you’ll discover what it takes to hire, manage and lead a team.

All of that experience is great for a long and successful career. And it’s great for our community, given that start-ups and growing companies create the bulk of all new jobs.  “If you want to spur long-term job growth, you want as much talent as possible heading to new firms so that more of those firms can succeed, expand and hire even more people,” says Yang. “Having the right people early on can make the difference.”

Yang says it’s unrealistic to expect freshly minted grads to go forth and successfully launch companies on their own. “Building things is very, very hard. The best way to become an entrepreneur is to learn from a more experienced leader as he or she builds a company.”

Along with creating those hands-on learning opportunities, Venture for America provides training, networks and support for top grads who are working with start-ups in cities like Detroit, New Orleans and Cleveland.

So if you’re headed to a spring convocation cermeony, skip the obligatory copy of Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and give this book instead to your freshly minted grad. And be sure to highlight one of Yang’s favourite quotes from an unknown source on page 68.

“Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of life like most people can’t.”

Review: Reimagining Greenville – Building the Best Downtown in America by John Boyanoski with Knox White

greenvilleThis review first ran in the April 14 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Reimagining Greenville: Building the Best Downtown in America

By John Boyanoski with Knox White

The History Press

$10.42

Believe the hype.

The reopening of the Royal Connaught will kick downtown renewal into overdrive.

For a preview of what’s in store, look 1,300 kilometres south to Greenville, South Carolina.

Like Hamilton, Greenville had a landmark hotel that had fallen on hard times. Boarded up for a decade, the Poinsett Hotel was a downtown eyesore that cast a long shadow over the renewal that was happening around it.

The hotel was a bricks and mortar symbol of what wasn’t working, says John Boyanoski, a local journalist and author of Reimagining Greenville: Building the Best Downtown in America. “The Poinsett was a visual reminder of the hurdles downtown Greenville faced as its revitalization gained momentum.”

In 1989, Greenville residents were asked to name a great downtown. Less than five per cent chose their hometown.

Mayor Knox White saw the Poinsett as the key to winning back longtime residents who weren’t interested in condos, street festivals and bars for millennials. “Nothing said downtown Greenville was back than the reopening of the Poinsett. It spoke to the older people in Greenville who were the most skeptical about downtown redevelopment.”

The hotel reopened in the Fall of 2000 and $65 million worth of commercial and residential investment in the two blocks surrounding the hotel soon followed. The Westin Poinsett joined a new performing arts centre and stadium as downtown anchors. The ballpark, home to a Boston Red Sox farm team, was built with no taxpayer money and drew 330,078 fans downtown in its first year. Connecting the hotel, arts centre and stadium are more than 90 restaurants and pubs plus high end retail.

To give the downtown a personality and a reason for pedestrians to keep walking the next block, Greenville doubled down on public art. Donor-funded bronze sculptures of local heroes and nine mice hidden throughout downtown are a crowd favourite.

The business-first city council has held firm on its commitment to historical preservation, private-public partnerships and mixed use development in the core.  Since 1999, Greenville has added 1,000 housing units downtown. Underused parking lots have been sold to developers who commit to putting up buildings that offer a mix of office space, restaurants, retail, condos and apartments.

“A typical day in Greenville is something truly to behold,” says Boyanoski. “It is a small southern downtown that is alive 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Pick a point at any time of the day and something is going on.”

Renewal has been 30 years in the making and didn’t always come easy. “Every success met with battles and very public opposition,” says Boyanoski. There was pushback on everything from narrowing Main Street from four to two lanes of traffic, widening sidewalks and knocking down a four lane concrete bridge built over a downtown waterfall. The unobstructed falls, with a 23-acre park and pedestrian suspension bridge in the heart of the city, is now Greenville’s main attraction.

The city also took on a night club developer who planned to fill a prime piece of real estate with billiard tables and video poker machines. “Greenville’s road to getting and retaining retail started with a lawsuit, one of the nastiest in city history,” says Boyanoski. Today, the building is home to Mast General Store and jammed with customers.

Above all else, Greenville has been blessed with strong mayors, a committed council and city staff at the top of their game. They’ve followed through on a consultant’s bold blueprint to make downtown Greenville everyone’s neighbourhood.

“The secret to Greenville’s success wasn’t really a secret,” says Knox. “It was planning. It was implementing. It was bringing people together who believed. It was listening to those who didn’t believe. It was changing people’s minds. It was creating a vision and making it happen.”

Three things will happen after reading this book. You’ll want to take a 13 hour summer roadtrip to Greenville, stay at the Westin Poinsett and catch a ballgame. You’ll gain a new appreciation for what downtown renewal means for all Hamiltonians and what’s required to make the core everyone’s neighborhood. And when you step into the voting booth Oct. 27, you’ll cast your vote for strong and visionary local leaders who have the courage to stay the course and not lose sight of the big picture.

Review: 11 Deadly Presentation Sins by Rob Biesenbach

deadlyThis review first ran in the March 3 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

11 Deadly Presentation Sins

By Rob Biesenbach

Eastlawn Media

$10.42

Not only does Jon Favreau know how write a great speech, he knows how to deliver one too.

I was at conference in Washington where President Obama’s former speechwriter delivered the opening keynote.

Favreau owned the podium. He came prepared. He told stories. He gave us three lessons learned from his time with the President. He didn’t inflict death by PowerPoint.  He was authentic and self-deprecating. He talked candidly about his greatest hits and misses. He spoke for 20 minutes and then spent the rest of the hour fielding questions.

It was a gold medal performance free of the 11 deadliest presentation sins catalogued by author Rob Biesenbach.

“It’s happening right now,” laments Biesenbach. “Somewhere in the world, in a windowless conference room or a cavernous ballroom, people just like you are suffering through PowerPoint Hell. Their only solace is their little smartphone screens, which they use to steal occasional glimpses of an outside world that now seems hopelessly out of reach.”

How do we take audiences to this forlorn place? As a presenter or speaker, commit any or all of the following sins.

Don’t bother trying to understand your audience. Be clueless about who we are, where we’re at and where we want to go.

Deliver a flat opening.  Read us your resume. Tell us a joke that’s familiar and not funny. Give us the dictionary definition for teamwork. Or tell us how you’re really nervous or deathly ill.

Be completely unfocused. Cram everything into your presentation even if it means you ultimately communicate nothing. Ramble on and leave us guessing what you want us to know, feel or do.

Either skip telling us a story or walk us through a long, tortured tale that never gets to the point.

Deliver a presentation that’s drained of all emotion. Numb us with numbers. Ignore the heartstrings and just hammer us in the head with blunt force logic.

Use dull, ugly visuals. Or better yet, skip the 1980s clip art and overload your slides with words, sentences or best of all, complete paragraphs.

Turn down the volume. Talk with little or no energy and suck whatever life is left out of the room.

Don’t interact with your audience. Look over our heads while delivering your monologue. Pretend we’re not there.

Fool yourself into believing that how you say it matters more than what you say. Compensate for your complete lack of content with some razzle dazzle and jazz hands.

Skip rehearsal and just wing it because your time is so much more valuable than ours and we have nothing better to do.

And close with a weak finish.  “I guess that’s it and there’s nothing else to say” is always a crowd favourite that brings us to our feet.

Biesenback offers practical tips for avoiding these 11 deadliest sins in your speeches and presentations. “Work on a few of these tips at a time. Learn from your mistakes and measure your progress against yourself. Don’t despair when you see a TED Talk that knocks it out of the park. That’s not a fair comparison. Nobody who watches Tiger Woods on TV expects to get off the couch and join the PGA Tour.”

Or deliver a keynote like a former speechwriter for President Obama.

Review: Leaders Eat Last – Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek

Leaders eat lastThis review first ran in The Hamilton Spectator Feb. 18.

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

By Simon Sinek

Portfolio / Penguin

$32.95

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Good words to live by unless you’re the boss.

Gallup did a poll in 2013 that looked at employee engagement.

If you constantly criticize your employees, 22 per cent of them will be actively disengaged from their jobs. They’ll be unhappy campers who make life miserable for you, their coworkers and your customers.

But if you ignore your employees completely, 40 per cent will disengage.

“Even if we’re getting criticized, we are actually more engaged simply because we feel that at least someone is acknowledging that we exist,” says Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last and Start with Why.

Of course you know better than to freeze out or grind down your direct reports. Gallup found that if you recognize and reward your employees for a job well done, employee disengagement drops to just one per cent.

Of all your responsibilities as a leader, perhaps none is more important than putting your employees inside what Sinek calls a circle of safety. It’s your job to build, expand and defend the circle and decide who’s in and who’s out.

“When we feel the circle of safety around us, we offer our blood, sweat and tears and do everything we can to see our leader’s vision come to life. The only thing our leaders ever need to do is remember whom they serve and it will be our honour and pleasure to serve them back.”

We’re hardwired to want the safety and security of a tribe with a strong leader.  While sabre-toothed tigers no longer lurk outside our caves, it’s still a hostile world. Our organizations are under constant siege from competitors, disruptive innovations and economic downturns.

Strong leaders know we can’t face these challenges head-on if we’re also fighting fires flaring up within our organizations.

“When the people have to manage dangers from inside the organization, the organization itself becomes less able to face the dangers from outside. There is no value in building organizations that compound that danger by adding more threats from the inside.”

Free of infighting, hidden agendas and power plays, we don’t waste our days worrying about who’ll stick a knife in our back. Instead, we have each other’s back. We trust the people we work with. We collaborate and innovate.

“Exceptional organizations all have cultures in which the leaders provide cover from above and the people on the ground look out for each other,” says Sinek.

“It should be the goal of leadership to set a culture free of danger from each other. And the way to do that is by giving people a sense of belonging. By offering them a strong culture based on a clear set of human values and beliefs. By giving them the power to make decisions. By offering trust and empathy.”

Instead of bringing everyone into a circle of safety, weak leaders retreat to an inner circle. They look after themselves and a chosen few, leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. “Silos form, politics entrench, mistakes are covered up instead of exposed, the spread of information slows and unease soon replaces any sense of cooperation and safety.”

Weak leaders break the social contract. They take the pay and the perks but shirk the responsibility to protect those in their care. “If our leaders are to enjoy the trappings of their position in the hierarchy, then we expect them to offer us protection,” says Sinek. Strong leaders make personal sacrifices, put the well-being of others ahead of themselves and have the courage and integrity to do the right thing.

The final word goes to Lieutenant General George Flynn of the United States Marines, where the most junior marines are served first and the most senior eat last. “The cost of leadership is self-interest.”

@jayrobb lives and works in Hamilton and blogs at jayrobb.me

 

Review: You First – Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along & Get Stuff Done by Liane Davey

you firstThis review first ran in the Feb. 3 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along and Get Stuff Done

By Liane Davey

Wiley

$29.95

My all-time favourite team-building exercise featured a metal trash can, flames and paper.

Our team-building facilitator handed us slips of paper.  We were headed on a journey. We needed the courage to lose sight of the shore.  We were told to write down what we were prepared to leave behind as we set sail and moved forward together into the future.

I don’t remember what I wrote. I’m not a fan of corporate reindeer games so I likely left my slip of paper blank or wrote “ice breakers and team building exercises”.

We went outside and stood in a circle in the parking lot  holding our slips of paper. We dropped our slips into the trash car. The facilitator doused the paper with lighter fluid and lit a match.

It was a windy. Flaming paper flew out of the trash can. What we wanted to leave behind came back to haunt us. One of our teammates got singed on the side of her head before the lid was slammed on the trash can and the fire was snuffed out. We then went back inside to reflect on what we’d learned.

Ice breakers and retreats may put the fun in dysfunctional teams. But at the end of the day, the team’s still broken and causing grief for its members and the entire organization.  This is especially true if the toxic team’s at the top of your org chart.

“The problems facing teams are serious, but instead of fixing serious teamwork problems with serious solutions, most team-building sessions focus on fun or frivolous activities like cooking classes or white-water rafting,” says Liane Davey, author of You First and VP for Global Solutions and Team Effectiveness at Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions. “I guess the idea is that if you can have fun outside the office, maybe you can recapture the fun back in the office. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out that way.”

Davey says there are five types of toxic teams.

There’s the crisis junkie team that only pulls together when there’s an urgent and immediate threat.

There’s the homogenized bobble head team.

The apathetic spectator team with members who show up for meetings, sit down and immediately check out.

The bleeding back team takes conflict underground and makes decisions through back channels.

And the ego-clashing royal rumble team is rife with personal agendas, shouting matches and vicious vendettas.

Maybe you think you can get your job done by sidestepping a toxic team and going it alone. Think again.

“Teams are the way we get work done,” says Davey. “Organizations need teams to live up to their promise instead of getting mired in dysfunction. Getting teams healthy will pay off richly in terms of productivity, innovation and risk management.”

You don’t fix a toxic team by playing games. You flush out the toxin by living up to five responsibilities. It’s a short list that Davey says is simple in theory yet difficult in practice.

Start with a positive assumption. Value what your teammates bring to the table.

Add your full value. Don’t be a spectator.

Amplify other voices. “Loan your credibility and your airtime to teammates whose minority perspectives are usually shut out of the discussion.”

Know when to say no. A team that tries to do everything invariably gets nothing done. Lose your own fear of missing out.

Embrace productive conflict and fight the good fight.

Everyone  needs to put these responsibilities into practice. The good news is a toxic team can be cured even if the leader’s clueless, a bully or bobblehead.

“Each and every team I’ve seen recover from dysfunction has been led by one brave soul who looked in the mirror and didn’t like what he or she saw. And instead of waiting for everyone else to change, that person decided to go first. Each and every team that got healthy had one member who would trust without being trusted. One person who would respond to hostility with curiousity. One person who would stand up for the teammate who others were shutting down.”

And that person can be you. Starting today.

Review: The Effortless Experience – Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty

effortless experienceThis review first ran in the Dec. 23 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty

By Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman and Rick DeLisi

Penguin Group

$31.50

‘Twas the morning after WestJet’s holiday video hit the air.

And CEOs near and far exclaimed we too need to go there.

Look at those Westjetters, those jolly Santa’s elves,

Collecting passengers’ wishlists and clearing store shelves.

As the video went viral, there arouse such chatter,

Going above and beyond for customers is all that must matter.

Our businesses too must amaze, delight and wow,

Because that’s how you turn us into a perpetual cash cow.

So managers and staff were tasked with finding the way,

Of blowing their own customers’ expectations away.

Yet they got down to business with a misguided belief,

That customers want delight instead of relief.

But the research is clear, the Effortless Experience authors do say,

What customers want most is to be saved from delay.

If there’s a problem that needs fixing, solve it with haste,

Because there’s nothing we hate more than having our time go to waste.

And here’s another key finding sure to make some executives cry,

While we’re satisfied today there’s no guarantee that tomorrow we’ll buy.

But wait, there’s more harsh truths that companies must get,

Our loyalty’s pretty much the same whether our expectations are exceeded or simply just met.

And no matter how hard you try to impress and how much money you spend,

Customer service’s four times more likely to make us disloyal in the end.

To lose us as customers, all that will suffice,

Is making us contact you with the same problem at least twice.

Deliver generic service that makes us feel like a number,

And odds are good we’ll leave you and wander.

Another dumb move that drives us away,

Is to transfer us over and over and make us repeat what we say.

To keep the cash flowing and avoid destitution,

Make this your Holy Grail – first contact resolution.

If we come to you with a problem, here’s what you say,

I’m going to fix thisASAP so you can get on with your day.

Because the less effort we make to get what we need,

The more money you’ll make and the more your business will succeed.

And if you’re looking to move up, up and away on the loyalty curve,

The future’s all about easy-to-use websites and customer self-serve.

So rather than wowing us with hopes that we’ll stay,

Make it super easy to get what we need and then get on with our day.

And one last piece of advice, some wisdom to share,

If you’re at an airport terminal and find St. Nicholas there,

Wish for free flights, tablets and flatscreens instead socks and new underwear.

Review: The Viral Video Manifesto by Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe

viralThis review was first posted on thespec.com Nov. 22.

The Viral Video Manifesto: Why Everything You Know Is Wrong and How to do What Really Works

By Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe

McGraw Hill

$24.95

I’m an old dog trying to learn a new trick.

For 20 years, I’ve worked in public relations and made a career out of putting words together.

Back in September, my colleague and I decided to try our hand at telling stories by video. We picked up a camera, hit record and started posting weekly episodes to YouTube.

Our videos — which are like the Rick Mercer Report minus the humour and rants — showcase our co-workers and the people we serve.

Unlike a traditional employee newsletter, we know exactly how many people are watching. Each unscripted episode is averaging 600 unique viewers and we’re getting good feedback from our target audience.

If we wanted our videos to go viral and be watched by millions, we’d follow the rules set out by authors Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe.

Chances are, you’ve watched their videos. They created their first back in 2006 by dropping 500 Mentos into 100 bottles of Coke. The Extreme Diet Coke and Mentos Experiments video has been watched more than 100 million times.

“Viral video is the 21st century sideshow,” say Voltz and Grobe, who both worked in theatrical circus. “It’s immediate and unpolished, and it embraces the bold, daring and unabashedly strange.”

So if you want to create a video watched by millions, adhere to these four rules:

• Be true. Create a direct, personal connection with your audience. Use real people, one camera and no edits. “Viral video is about a raw, unfiltered experience, so don’t dress it up.”

• Don’t waste our time. Immediately get down to business, show nothing but “money shots” and don’t overstay your welcome. “So whether your video will be five seconds long, five minutes long or longer, be ruthless. Make sure there isn’t a second more than is absolutely necessary.”

• Be unforgettable. Show us something we haven’t seen before. Stand out from the crowd. Capture a unique moment. “Show us something new and exciting — that’s the strongest tactic for going viral.”

• And ultimately, it’s all about humanity. “You want to find a place where the audience can see themselves, their emotions or their experiences reflected on the screen. That human element will make your video more contagious.”

Viral videos can be great for business, according to Voltz and Grobe whose viral videos generated sales spikes for both Diet Coke and Mentos.

“You can use online video to build a strong, honest, authentic relationship with your consumers.”

You can also connect with a whole lot of potential customers on the cheap.

YouTube draws a billion unique viewers every month who watch upwards of 6 billion hours of video.

And unlike print advertising and television commercials, it won’t cost you a dime to post to YouTube.

But competition for attention is fierce, with 100 hours of video posted every minute to YouTube.

For every video that gets millions of views, there are others that never find an audience.

These are the videos that confuse product shots with money shots, use actors instead of real people and have scripts instead of spontaneous moments.

Voltz and Grobe recommend your business be the source of the content that makes us smile. “Take credit for being the cool people who made this cool video happen.”

Add a title card at the end of the video that identifies your business as the sponsor.

“Think of a video as a gift you are giving to your audience. You want your gift to make us smile, so that when we think of you, we smile all over again.

“If you give us something awesome with no strings attached, we will love you for it.”

Review: Robert Kiyosaki’s Why A Students Work for C Students and B Students Work for the Government

Why A StudentsThis review first ran in the Nov. 11 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Why A Students Work for C Students and B Students Work for the Government

By Robert Kiyosaki

Plata Publishing

$19.95

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.

Show him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Be the one who supplies the fish, poles and tackle and you’re set for life.

It’s the lesson we need to start teaching our kids, according to author Robert Kiyosaki, who’s also penned the best selling Rich Dad, Poor Dad series.

“The world of the future belongs to those who can embrace change, see the future and anticipate its needs and respond to new opportunities and challenges with creativity and agility and passion,” says Kiyosaki.

So are we preparing our kids for that future?  Are we training them to be employees or entrepreneurs?  Are we teaching them to climb or build corporate ladders? And are we showing them how to work for money or have money work for them?

Kiyosaki says we need to stop telling our kids to go to school to get a good job. The focus should be on going to school to learn how to create high-paying jobs.

“The problem is that our educational system trains students to be ‘A’ students – academics – or ‘B’ students – bureaucrats. Our schools do not train our young people to be ‘C’ students – capitalists. Furthermore, it’s these ‘C’ students who so often follow an entrepreneurial path, carrying the torch of capitalism and creating new jobs.”

True capitalists are entrepreneurs. They fundamentally believe that the more people they serve, the more effective they become. They risk everything to launch companies, create jobs and build prosperity.

“Capitalists serve people in many ways, the least of which is stepping up to the challenge of free marks in producing more with less…including better products and services at better prices,” says Kiyosaki. “From my point of view, that’s not greed. It’s ambition and drive. They’ve enriched other lives on the road to becoming rich and I have a hard time labeling that as greed.”

So how do we help more of our kids think like entrepreneurs rather than employees?

Give your kids a head start and unfair advantage with a solid financial education at home, says Kiyosaki.  Prepare them for the real world of money where financial statements matter far more than report cards.  Make income, expenses, assets and liabilities the foundation of their financial vocabulary. Drive home the importance of building assets that put money into their pockets. And foster their entrepreneurial spirit.`

Reading Kiyosaki’s book and playing Monopoly, with its rent-generating green houses and red hotels, are good places to start.

“Every child has the potential to grow into a rich person, a poor person or a middle-class person,” says Kiyosaki. “Parents have the power to influence which one their child becomes.”