The investor revolution will be memed (review of Ben Mezrich’s The Antisocial Network)

Don’t mess with nostalgic Millennials who have money to spend and a score to settle.

Gabe Plotkin made that mistake and it cost him billions of dollars. Plotkin’s hedge fund had shorted GameStop, banking on the struggling bricks and mortar mall retailer going the way of Blockbuster.

But Millennials had spent their formative years buying new and used videogames at GameStop. Now they were stuck at home with their COVID stimulus cheques playing a new game with the Robinhood stock trading app on their smartphones while getting investment advice from the meme-filled WallStreetBets group on Reddit.

Millennials also remembered how Wall Street got bailed out while their parents and the rest of Main Street were hammered and abandoned during the 2008 financial crisis.

So these ragtag retail investors banded together to save GameStop, take down one of Wall Street’s biggest hedge funds and put Wall Street on notice. Shares that once traded below $5 in mid-2020 and under $20 in December 2020 had shot up to $347.51 in late January 2021, putting the squeeze on short sellers who’d expected the stock to tank. Plotkin’s hedge fund suffered a 53 per cent loss that month.

Ben Mezrich called what happened with Gamestop GME the first shot in a revolution that threatens to upend the financial establishment.

“The battle that drove up the price of a single share of GameStop to a premarket high of $500 had origins that dated back to Occupy Wall Street and beyond, when anger toward big banks and the havoc wreaked in the last economic meltdown bubbled up into largely impotent protests and sit-ins,” Mezrich writes in his latest book The Antisocial Network.

“At the same time, the rise of GME could also be seen as the culmination of a populist movement that began with the intersection of social media and the growth of simplified, democratizing, financial portals – tech that weakened the old-world pillars propping up the financial establishment.”

Mezrich chronicles the revolution by reporting on a 34-year-old who calls himself Roaring Kitty, livestreams trading strategies for hours on end from his basement and became an overnight multimillionaire thanks to his shares in GameStop. Other shareholders who went along for the ride include a 22-year-old college student, a nurse and a mom-to-be working at a hair salon.

Elon Musk also makes an appearance in Mezrich’s book. Like the retail traders rallying to save GameStop, Musk had a score to settle with short sellers who’d taken aim at Tesla. “Like his ideological siblings on the WallStreetBets board, Elon had taken the battle personally and hadn’t merely been angry at the short sellers, but apparently had been disgusted by the Wall Street practice of betting on the failure of others.” Musk’s single “Gamestonk!!” tweet to his 42 million followers drove GameStock’s share price even higher.

The short squeeze ended when Robinhood halted buying because it couldn’t put up $3.7 billion to cover capital requirements for the volume of trades going through their brokerage account.

GameStop has since brought in new leadership and announced plans to become a technology company, with a marketplace for non-fungible tokens. 

“Does it really matter what GameStop management does?” writes Mezrich. “Will the company’s fundamentals – any company’s fundamentals – have any bearing on its stock price in the world we are moving toward, where a group of amateurs on social media can move markets? Where a well-constructed tweet, or a particularly humorous meme, or an inspiring YOLO post can shift billions of dollars into a company’s valuation?”.

Two of Mezrich’s previous bestselling books – The Accidental Billionaires and Bringing Down the House – were made into movies. Bank on an AntiSocial Network also being adapted for the big or small screen. It’s a business story that proves truth is stranger than fiction.

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

Review: It’s not just where we’ll work. It’s also how & how much (review of Out of Office)

Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

That’s great advice to give if you’re a divorce lawyer or cardiologist looking for future clients and patients.

But it’s lousy advice for the rest of us, according to the authors of Out of Office.

“A lot of us find something that we’re good at and like and then try to make a career out of it in some way,” say journalists Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen. “Those who’ve followed this pernicious advice to ‘do what you love’ know this endgame: it’s a burnout trap, and a fantastic way to evacuate all pleasure and passion from an activity. Do what you love and you’ll work every day for the rest of your life.”

Here’s an alternative. Take what you love and make it your hobby.

“The restoration we find in hobbies can make us better partners, better friends, better listeners and collaborators, just overall better people to be around,” says Warzel and Petersen. “Hobbies help us cultivate essential parts of us that have been suffocated by productivity obsessions and proliferating obligations. The hobby in itself ultimately matters far less than what its existence provides: a means of tilting your identity away from a person who is good at doing a lot of work.”

Warzel and Petersen have a few hobby ground rules.

No turning your hobby into a money-making side hustle. Your hobby is not a productivity hack or a professional development opportunity. Don’t perform your hobby on social media in a bid to win likes and shares. And if you’re a mom or dad, don’t make your hobby a family affair.

“Sublimating your desire for activities that don’t involve your children does not make you a more impressive parent; it just makes you a more exhausted and resentful one.”

Not sure what to do for a hobby that isn’t tied to making money, advancing your career or building your personal brand?  “Think back on a time in your life before you regularly worked for pay,” say Warzel and Petersen “Recall, if you can, an expanse of unscheduled time that was, in whatever way, yours. What did you actually like to do?”

Petersen and Warzel prescribe hobbies as one way to course correct after a pandemic that’s thrown work-life balance out of whack for many of us.

While we’ve spent a lot of time mulling over where we’ll work post-pandemic, how we’ll work is the bigger question.

Warzel and Petersen say we need to “think through how we can liberate ourselves from the most toxic, alienating, and frustrating aspects of office work. Not just by shifting the location where the work is completed, but also by rethinking the work we do and the time we allot to it.

“Reconceptualization means having honest conversations about how much people are working and how they think they could work better. Not longer. It means acknowledging that better work is, in fact, oftentimes, less work over fewer hours which makes people happier, more creative, more invested in the work they do and the people they do it for.”

Petersen and Warzel admit there’s no easy endgame. You won’t find checklists or six easy steps in their book.

“The process is difficult and, if we’re being honest, never ending. But we are at a societal inflection point. Parts of our lives that were one quietly annoying have become intolerable; social institutions that have long felt broken are now actively breaking us. So many things we’ve accepted as norms have the potential to change.”

So as we figure out where we’ll work when the pandemic ends, it’s also worth having a hard and overdue conversation about how we’ll work and how we can free up more time family, friends, community and our hobbies.

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.

Three ways to save & support your favourite local restaurants

Want to help your favourite local and independent restaurants recover from the extinction-level event that’s been COVID-19? 

Freelance food writer and former cook Corey Mintz has three suggestions. 

Delete delivery apps from your phone, pass on It Spots and change your attitude when you walk through the door. 

Mintz is not a fan of third party delivery apps. “In my opinion, they are a predatory enterprise that has figured out how to use technology to get between restaurants and their customers and then sell the customers back for a cut of the action. From my perspective, that’s a scam.” 

The tech companies behind these apps charge commissions of up to 30 per cent from restaurants with razor thin profit margins. To make matters worse, chain restaurants and fast food outlets are being charged lower, or even no, commissions. So your family-owned independent restaurant is subsidizing delivery service for Taco Bell and McDonald’s, says Mintz is his book The Next Supper: The End of Restaurants as We Knew Them and What Comes After

Along with deleting delivery apps, don’t follow the crowds to the latest It Spot restaurant that’s all over social media thanks to a well-financed, media-savvy hype machine. Don’t be fooled by social media influencers who’ve been comped a dinner in exchange for raving about the restaurant. “At any given time, there’s an It Spot restaurant in your town. The status of the It Spot – impossible to get a reservation because everyone wants to eat there right now – never lasts. The crowd always grazes toward another spot, newer and more ‘it’ every six months.” 

Skip the over-priced “Insta-bait” meals that photograph nicely but taste awful and instead spend your money with the restaurant owners who’ve served you well over the years. “When your friends ask you to check out the new It Spot, remind them of a restaurant where you all shared a wonderful, memorable evening.” Says Mintz. “Remember that dinner and how good a time you had. They deserve your patronage. They’ve worked for it. Not only can I guarantee you’ll have a better time at a good restaurant, rather than a new restaurant, you know it too.” 

If you’re looking for a new restaurant to add to your list of favourites, venture out to the strip malls of suburbia and on the edges of town. That’s where you’ll find immigrant-run family restaurants that can afford the cheaper rents and serve up meals you won’t find anywhere else. “The latest downtown restaurant, with its million-dollar renovation and dynastically certified chef, seem so pale, pompous and unimportant by comparison.” 

And finally, fix your attitude when you return to your favourite restaurant. “The most important action we can take to contribute to a more equitable restaurant industry is to let go of the idea that the customer is always right,” says Mintz. “That attitude, philosophy and prevailing power dynamic is one thing about hospitality that we not only must change, it is shockingly within our power as diners to do so. Asking and expecting working people, who are doing so much, to do one more thing is not a right to which we are entitled.” 

Mintz says the pandemic has been an extinction-level event for restaurants. He predicts we’ll be left with fewer and smaller restaurants that employ fewer people. He hopes the era of chef-driven restaurants is over and we start paying more attention to how staff are treated and who’s supplying the food that’s served on our plates. Mintz also makes a strong case for eliminating tipping and instead charging higher prices that let staff earn a living wage. 

“COVID-19 has been a nightmare for restaurants. The businesses that survive, and those that sprout in the soil after this calamity, must be better than what came before. I think there is a better future for restaurants. And we can be part of making it happen.” 

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. 

Don’t panic – your biggest mistake could take you somewhere great (review of Terry O’Reilly’s My Best Mistake)

Gilbert and Clarke Swanson had a 236-tonne problem.

That’s how much unsold turkey the brothers were stuck with after the Thanksgiving of 1953. Their company didn’t have enough freezers so they stockpiled the birds in 10 refrigerated boxcars. To keep the compressors running, the gobbler express had to run back and forth across the United States.

While the frozen birds rode the rails, a Swanson salesman was flying Pan American Airways. His dinner was served on an aluminum tray with three compartments. He sent the tray to Swanson HQ and suggested selling the leftover turkey as frozen dinners with sides of potatoes and peas.

TV DINNER, 1954. Packaging for Swanson’s turkey TV dinner, 1954, designed to resemble a television set.

Swanson wasn’t the first company to sell frozen dinners. But they were the first to trademark TV Dinner and package the meals in boxes that looked like a wood-paneled television set.

Americans bought more than 33 million televisions in 1954. As they sat in front of their new TVs, they ate millions of Swanson TV Dinners. The company later added fried chicken, Salisbury steak, meatloaf and desserts and made a fortune. One of Swanson’s original trays is on display in the National Museum of American History.

What could’ve been a catastrophic mistake became a golden goose for Swanson and a cultural icon, says Terry O’Reilly, radio host, podcaster and author of My Best Mistake.

O’Reilly says there’s also a lesson to be learned for anyone who’s screwed up on an epic scale and fears it’ll cost them their job, business and reputation.

“If I’ve learned anything in my career, it’s to embrace the obstacle. The answer to life’s most vexing moments is always sitting at the heart of the mistake, waiting patiently to be discovered.

“When you peel the problem like a banana, an opportunity slowly comes into focus. That opportunity may feel, in the moment, like a desperate gamble or a Hail Mary pass, but it’s often much more meaningful than that.”

Steven Spielberg threw a Hail Mary pass in 1974. Spielberg was at Martha’s Vineyard shooting Jaws. His first big movie was shaping up to be his last. He’d spent a fortune on three animatronic sharks that didn’t work in salt water. Spielberg didn’t have the time or money to build a better shark. So he rewrote the script for Jaws on the fly. 

No shark? No problem. We don’t see the shark until three quarters of the way into the movie and it’s on screen for a grand total of just four minutes.

Jaws became the first movie to make more than $100 million. It won three Academy Awards. John Williams’ score is ranked the sixth greatest by the American Film Institute. Jaws ushered in the summer blockbuster and launched Spielberg’s career.

“Obstacles often generate astonishing waves of creativity,” says O’Reilly. “Spielberg, faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, sat in his hotel room one night and asked himself, how would (Alfred) Hitchcock handle the situation? Then it came to him: what we can’t see is the most frightening thing of all.”

So whatever’s gone wrong, don’t hit the panic button just yet. Remember the Swanson brothers’ turkey train and Spielberg’s defective sharks. O’Reilly’s book includes 22 other inspirational stories of big screw-ups that turned into even bigger wins. If you can’t wait to for return of Ted Lasso on Apple TV, this book about believing in silver linings will hold you over.  

“When an epic mistake feels like it might be career-ending or debilitating or humiliating, when you feel like you may have lost your credibility, your livelihood or even your sanity, it might be destiny preparing you for what you’ve asked for all along,” says O’Reilly. “Just remember to ask one question – what is the hidden gift?”

The final word goes to Winston Churchill. “You never can tell whether bad luck may not after all turn out to be good luck…when you make some great mistake, it may very easily serve you better than the best-advised decision.”

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.

How to find your ideal customers (review of The Ultimate Marketing Engine by John Jantsch)

I learned two things while staying at Killarney Lodge in Algonquin Park.

I’m not at my best when paddling a canoe across a lake into a stiff wind or slight breeze.

And it shows when you know who’s your ideal guest, customer or client.

Killarney Lodge has done their homework. They know their ideal guest doesn’t need to be entertained. So there are no bingo and movie nights. No shuffleboard and volleyball tournaments. No pre-dinner wine and cheese receptions and after-dinner cover bands butchering the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Taylor Swift in the banquet and party hall. In fact, there’s no banquet and party hall. Just like there are no flat screen TVs in any cabin.

Instead, the resort caters to guests who want a nature fix, screen-free solitude, an uninterrupted sleep and the luxury of a spotless waterfront cabin with a million dollar view, a comfortable bed and a private dock with a canoe plus friendly staff, home-cooked meals and the world’s best butter tarts and pies.  

Killarney Lodge does what John Jantsch preaches in his book The Ultimate Marketing Engine.

“It doesn’t matter that you think everyone needs what you have to sell,” says Jantsch, a marketing consultant and founder of Duck Tape Marketing. “Ideal customers have the right set of problems, the right circumstances, the right characteristics, the right motivation, the right beliefs, the right behavior and the right amount of money.

“The key is to recognize the value that you, your products and your services bring; to appreciate what an ideal client looks like; and then to understand and promise to solve that ideal customer’s greatest problem. Creating a marketing engine means helping your customers go from where they are now to where they want to arrive, to experience the transformation they seek, and to get the best result possible.”

Jantsch says there are five keys to growing your business.

Map where your best customers are today and where they want to go. Understand the key milestones on that journey.

Uncover the real problem you solve for your ideal customers. What’s the transformation they’re seeking? “People don’t buy products or services just because they want them. They buy them because they believe they will solve a problem.”

Narrow your focus to the top 20 per cent of your ideal customers. “There are plenty of customers to go around; you don’t need them all.” Your top 20 per cent want to do more business with you, says Jantsch. “A subset of this group wants to spend 10 times more than they currently do. You need to figure out who they are and offer them the opportunity.”

Attract more ideal customers with the narrative they’re already telling themselves. You’ve done your homework so you know this story, the journey they’re on and the milestones along the way.

And then grow with your customers. “This is the key to long-term, sustainable growth because expansion comes organically rather than through the discovery of some new sales tactic or marketing channel.”

Jantsch’s latest book should be required reading for every small business owner. Not everyone’s made it through the pandemic. But many small businesses, restaurants and resorts have survived and even thrived. The pandemic’s exposed a fundamental and often unforgotten business truth, says Jantsch.

“In good times, growth often comes from being in the right place at the right time; in tough times, growth comes from being important in some meaningful way in the lives of your customers.”

Jantsch shows how to be important in a meaningful way for your most important customers, clients or guests. Sometimes that way involves delivering a nature fix, solitude, a canoe, a million dollar view and the world’s best butter tarts and pies.

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.

Read like your career depends on it (review of Lead to Read)

You were spared and I was saved by a former business editor at the Hamilton Spectator.

I went into the newsroom back in the fall of 1999 to pitch the editor on an advice column about public relations.

The editor said what you’re thinking. No one would want to read that week after week.

What went unsaid was my complete lack of qualification to write that column.  I was just six years into my career. I’d only held two junior PR jobs. Along with embarrassing myself, writing about PR hits and misses by local leaders and employers would’ve been a definite career-limiting move.

While the PR column was DOA, the editor pointed to an overflowing bookcase and asked if I’d be interested in reviewing business books. I left with the first of what would be nearly 600 books and counting.

The authors of Read to Lead would agree that my saying yes to reading and reviews business books was a smarter career move.

“One of the best, most affordable and flexible ways you can improve yourself professionally is by reading books,” says Jeff Brown and Jesse Wisnewski. “Reading books may not appear on your resume or LinkedIn profile. But the benefits you reap from what you read will.

“Reading books will help you learn new skills, improve your decision-making abilities, and even provide you with more professional opportunities. Reading books can also help you avoid costly mistakes and reduce your learning curve.”

While the benefits are many, lots of us aren’t reading nearly enough. And some of us don’t read any books at all.  

A lack of time is a common excuse even though we average close to six hours a day starring at screens. “Don’t blame TV, social media, or the internet for your being a non-reader,” say the authors. “Instead, fight to give your attention to reading more by doing less of whatever else you’re giving your leisurely attention to. Your future self will thank you.”

So what books should you be reading? It shouldn’t be an exclusive diet of business books. Brown and Wisnewski recommend reading for personal change and personal enrichment, spiritual enrichment, professional development and wisdom. Also read books recommended by people you trust. “If a book has changed someone else’s life and they recommend it, get it. Reading a book recommended by someone you know or respect from a distance can be a game-changer.”

The authors are big fans of joining or starting a book club at work. “Encouraging your colleagues, team, or employees to join a book club is arguably one of the most cost-effective ways you can build a healthy culture, train your team and develop future leaders.”

To start a book club, get permission and financial support from your boss. Pick a moderator to lead the group discussion. Choose a book and set a date, ideally giving everyone a month to read the book. As a group, talk about the book’s big ideas and then implement what you’ve learned. The authors’ Leadbook.com website has free resources for setting up and running a book club at work, including questions to jumpstart conversations and a recommended reading list.

Whether on your own or in a club, Brown and Wisnewski say you should read like your career depends on it.

“There’s no secret to reading other than making it a priority, picking up a book, cracking it open and getting to work. If you want to read more books, then you will have to prioritize reading. There’s no way around making this decision, and you’re the only one who can make it.”

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.

In defense of common sense at work (review of Martin Lindstrom’s The Ministry of Common Sense)

A parent emailed in a panic.

Her son, who used a wheelchair, was graduating from college. His convocation ceremony was just days away. His dream was to walk across the stage to accept his diploma. To do that, he’d need help from his mom.

But mother and son were told that couldn’t happen. There was a hard-and-fast rule against family and friends being on stage during convocation. No exceptions even in exceptional circumstances.

The mom’s plea found an empathetic ear. Her email was forwarded to the president. Common sense prevailed.

When the student got up from his wheelchair, everyone in the packed theatre got out of their seats. With help from his mom, he walked across the stage to a standing ovation, lots of cheers and more than a few tears.

So how about your organization? What hard-and-fast rules, regulations, policies, procedures and practices are driving out common sense?

Count on the number of common-sense issues to be off the charts, says Martin Lindstrom, author of The Ministry of Common Sense: How to Eliminate Bureaucratic Red Tape, Bad Excuses and Corporate Bullshit. “This pervasive lack of common sense hampers the real business of companies – that is, serving their customers better than the competition and becoming more responsive, attentive and attuned to their needs. Companies have abandoned whatever common sense they once had in favour of systems and processes that a two-week-old golden retriever would find dumb. Either businesses never had much common sense to begin with or they’re not aware it’s gone missing.”

If common sense is MIA in your organization, Lindstrom blames eroding empathy, an insular inside-out rather than outside-in perspective, corporate politics and technology that more often complicates, rather than streamlines, our lives.

So how do you help common sense make a comeback? Start with small, modest changes that’ll yield quick, easy and momentum-building wins, says Lindstrom. The people you serve will be more than happy to tell you how you frustrate them to no end. Your employees will do the same if they believe candor won’t cost them their jobs. Having senior leaders experience your organization as a customer, client or frontline employee is also highly instructive.

Once you’ve identified red tape and roadblocks, stage a three-month intervention. “This strategy involves doing things quickly, accurately and efficiently – within a 90-day time limit. A ticking clock injects a sense of urgency to the proceedings, which typically dissolves company politics. The busier and more focused that employees are on hitting a target, the more that internal politics disappears.”

Optimism will wane so celebrate your wins no matter how small. “Only rarely do organizations commemorate truly special occasions. If they do, these usually revolve around boring economic metrics, soaring stock prices or a cursory email that shows up in your inbox telling you that Barb in accounting is turning 50 next week, and asking whether you will be chipping in for cake and a hot stone massage. Designed mostly to please HR or throw a bone to employees, these sorts of celebrations are often the extent of a company’s recognition of the culture.”

To pull off these changes and make sure they stick, Lindstrom recommends establishing a CEO-endorsed Ministry of Common Sense, “devoted to overturning the frustrations, hurdles and roadblocks within corporations that most leaders and managers don’t even know are there. And by the way, the Ministry isn’t some cloying, whimsical, feel-good jurisdiction either. It’s not a Band-Aid. It’s real, and it serves as the first line of defense against the thoughtlessness, at-times-incoherent systems, processes, rules and regulations that squander resources, morale and productivity.”

As Lindstrom shows, reviving common sense in your organization will save you money, improve your culture and strengthen the customer experience.  As the pandemic forces us to rethink and reinvent how we run our organizations and do our jobs, we should also revisit all the hard-and-fast rules that are crushing common sense. Let empathy reign.

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.

Our best hope is to give up hope of doing & having it all (review of Oliver Burkeman’s 4,000 Weeks)

Your bucket list is bottomless.

Your vacations are all about pushing yourself to physical and mental extremes, curating the highlights on Instagram and recharging your batteries for work.

You don’t have the time or patience to read a book but you listen exclusively to work and life hack podcasts while training for your next marathon.

You have side hustles instead of hobbies.

Inbox Zero is your religion.

And you genuinely believe that you’re destined to leave a permanent dent in the universe.

Oliver Burkeman would like a word. He’d warn that you’re squandering your most scarce and precious resource. It’s not just that there are only 24 hours in a day. If you’re lucky enough to make it to your 80th birthday, you’ll have clocked a little over 4,000 weeks.

So what’s the best way to use your finite amount of time in the face of infinite opportunities and demands?  Lead a limit-embracing life and acknowledge that it’s impossible to do and have it all,  says the author of Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals.

“The average human lifespan is absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short,” says Burkeman. “But that isn’t a reason for unremitting despair, or for living in an anxiety-fueled panic about making the most of your limited time. It’s a cause for relief.

“You get to give up on something that was always impossible – the quest to become the optimized, infinitely capable, emotionally invincible, fully independent person you’re officially supposed to be. Then you get to roll up your sleeves and start work on what’s gloriously possible instead.”

To find your glorious possibility, Burkeman has five existential questions for you to wrestle with.

Where in your life or your work are you currently pursuing comfort, when what’s called for is a little discomfort? “Choose uncomfortable enlargement over comfortable diminishment whenever you can,” says Burkeman.

Are you holding yourself to, and judging yourself by, standards of productivity or performance that are impossible to meet? “Let your impossible standards crash to the ground. Then pick a few meaningful tasks from the rubble and get started on them today.”

In what ways have you yet to accept the fact that you are who you are, not the person you think you ought to be?

In which areas of life are you still holding back until you feel like you know what you’re doing? That day isn’t coming anytime soon. “There is no institution, no walk of life, in which everyone isn’t just winging it, all the time. If that feeling of total authority is never going to arrive, you might as well not wait any longer to give such activities your all.”

How would you spend your days differently if you didn’t care so much about seeing your actions reach fruition? “We’re all in the position of medieval stonemasons, adding a few more bricks to a cathedral whose completion we know we’ll never see. The cathedral’s still worth building, all the same.”

Burkeman calls his book an extended argument for the empowering potential of giving up hope.  “Embracing your limits means giving up hope that with the right techniques, and a bit more effort, you’d be able to meet other people’s limitless demands, realize your every ambition, excel in every role or give every good cause or humanitarian crisis the attention it seems like it deserves. It means giving up hope of ever feeling totally in control, or certain that acutely painful experiences aren’t coming your way. And it means giving up, as far as possible, the master hope that lurks beneath all of this, the hope that somehow this isn’t really it – that this is just a dress rehearsal and that one day you’ll feel truly confident that you have what it takes.”

It’s not enough to stop spending your limited time on low to no-value distractions. You’ll also have to make tough calls on very important things. No matter how productive and efficient you become, there won’t be enough time to do everything that matters. And if you try, you won’t enjoy the moments you spend with everything and everyone who matter most.

Our world is bursting with wonder, says Burkeman “yet it’s the rare productivity guru who seems to have considered the possibility that the ultimate point of all our frenetic doing might be to experience more of that wonder.”

Fortunately for us, Burkeman is one of those gurus who can help us do justice to “the outstanding brevity and shimmering possibilities of our four thousand weeks”.

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

Going under the hood of the world’s most voracious data-mining machine (review of An Ugly Truth)

What’s the price to be paid when you put company before country and profits over privacy?

For Facebook, it adds up to record results.

The company’s second quarter ad revenue jumped 56 per cent to $29.1 billion compared to the same quarter last year, with profits more than doubling to $10.4 billion. Facebook also reported 2.9 billion monthly active users.

But beyond the balance sheet, it’s been a brutal stretch for Facebook and all the rest of us who have to live in CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s world. Some of the company’s lowest hits include the Cambridge Analytica data breach and Russian disinformation campaigns against Western democracies to the genocide in Myanmar and Zuckerberg giving Holocaust deniers a pass by saying “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

“Throughout Facebook’s 17-year history, the social network’s massive gains have repeatedly come at the expense of consumer privacy and the integrity of democratic systems,” write New York Times journalists Cecilia Kang and Sheera Frenkel in their book An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination. “And yet, that’s never gotten in the way of its success.”

Kang and Frenkel spent more than 1,000 hours interviewing over 400 people, including former and current employees, executives, investors and advisors. They also drew from a trove of never-reported internal emails, memos and white papers. Zuckerberg refused repeated requests for interviews, while Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg walked back her promise of off-the-record conversations.

“The people who spoke to us, often putting their careers at risk, were crucial to our ability to write this book. Without their voices, the story of the most consequential social experiment of our times could not have been told in full. These people provide a rare look inside a company whose stated mission is to create a connected world of open expression, but whose corporate culture demands secrecy and unqualified loyalty.”

Kang and Frenkel look at the origins and consequences of Facebook’s growth-at-any-cost business strategy, which includes buying or burying competitors that stifles innovation and leaves us with fewer choices. “Many people regard Facebook as a company that lost its way: the classic Frankenstein story of a monster that broke free of its creator. We take a different point of view. From the moment Zuckerberg and Sandberg met at a Christmas party in December 2007, they sensed the potential to transform the company into the global power it is today. Through their partnership, they methodically built a business model that is unstoppable in its growth and entirely deliberate in its design.”

It’s a business model that makes Facebook’s 2.9 billion users the product that’s packaged and sold to advertisers for billions in ad revenue. The authors call Facebook the world’s most voracious data-mining machine. The more time users spend on the platform, the more money Facebook makes from advertisers. And nothing hooks users and keeps them coming back day after day quite like tribal fear and hatred fueled by a constant feed of misinformation and disinformation on everything from election results to COVID-19 vaccinations.

While Facebook and its legion of lawyers and lobbyists will tell us that big tech regulation is unnecessary and breaking up the company would be disastrous, Kang and Frenkel say it’s likely the only way to force Facebook to change for the common good. Last December, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and nearly every state sued Facebook for harming its users and competitors.

“The algorithm that serves Facebook’s beating heart is too powerful and too lucrative. And the platform is built upon a fundamental, possibly irreconcilable dichotomy: its purported mission to advance society by connecting people while also profiting off them. It is Facebook’s dilemma and its ugly truth.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton, gets none of his news from Facebook and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Self-care won’t cure burnout at work (review of The Burnout Epidemic by Jennifer Moss)

Your team’s exhausted and burning out.

Because you’re a leader who cares, you’re ready to pick up the tab for lunch hour yoga classes, a mindfulness and resilience workshop and a meditation app. You’re also planning to invite everyone to skip work next Friday and spend the day at your place for a catered barbecue, pool party and an epic game of ultimate frisbee.

Hold that thought, and not just because forced fun is a slow death for introverts and co-workers should never see each other in swimwear.

Your self-care intentions are good but it won’t fix what ails your team.

“Burnout can’t be stretched out of people in yoga classes or sweated out of them at the gym,” says Jennifer Moss, journalist and author of The Burnout Epidemic.

“Burnout doesn’t care if they breathe better or deeper. And it most certainly isn’t prevented by suggesting that maybe if they just listened to the sound of rainfall for 30 seconds instead of 15. This is the psychology of leaders in denial.”

Burnout is a sign that something’s seriously wrong with your organization’s culture. Look for one or more of these six roots causes of burnout: imposed or self-inflicted chronic overwork, micromanaging with little to no autonomy, no meaningful rewards or recognition for a job well done, strained relationships with coworkers and supervisors, a real or perceived lack of fairness and a values mismatch between employees and employer.

“Burnout is a complex constellation of poor workplace practices and policies, antiquated institutional legacies, roles and personalities at higher risk, and systemic, societal issues that have been left unchanged, plaguing us for far too long,” says Moss. A focus on self-care solutions makes burnout a “me” rather than “we” problem and absolves leaders from taking responsibility to clean up poor organizational hygiene.

The real cure for burnout comes from tackling those six root causes. And how do you figure out which of these problems haunt your team? Ask them. Let them answer anonymously. Act on what you’re told  and then report back on what you’re doing to clean up your organizational hygiene.  

“Yes, we need to help our people develop the skills that support their mental health and happiness,” says Moss. “But, to battle burnout, we’re talking a different game. Though employees are ultimately responsible for their own happiness, it is our responsibility to provide the conditions that support, and not detract, from their happiness. Burnout occurs when those conditions fail.”

Pay particular attention to younger employees who are at the highest risk of burnout, says Moss. They tend to have less autonomy at work, lower seniority, greater financial pressures and deeper feelings of loneliness.

Address the root causes of burnout and you’ll earn your team’s trust and respect. They’ll know that you genuinely care. Your concern for their well-being won’t come across as lip service or a public relations exercise meant to impress the outside world and score best places to work awards and accolades.

And once you’ve cleaned up your organizational hygiene, that’s when you can revisit your well-intentioned self-care classes, workshops and apps.  Just continue holding off on that stress-inducing backyard pool party.  A Randstad USA survey found that 90 per cent of workers would rather get a bonus or extra vacation day than attend a company holiday party. A party where everyone’s wearing beachwear likely gets you to 100 per cent.

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