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.

Time to retire retirement and opt for rewirement instead (review of Michael Clinton’s Roar Into the Second Half of Your Life (Before It’s Too Late)

I know I’m getting old because I’ve had the talk.

This is when you can retire and this is how much money you’ll have in the bank, said my financial planner.

I wanted to ask her if I’m richer than I think but that’s a different bank and my financial planner is all business.

Don’t check your retirement savings plan balances every day, she said while handing me a folder stuffed with charts and figures. Remember, these are longer term investments. Markets fluctuate.

I’ve ignored her advice. While I check the balances daily, I’ve sent only one panicked email wondering if I should switch to investments with little risk and no return. Cooler heads have prevailed.

I’ve also started reading the emails sent by my employer, inviting me to retirement planning workshops on Zoom where I can learn how to retire without debt, master the basics of investing and pick up strategies for navigating taxes.

This is all very helpful and much appreciated. But what I could really use is some “rewirement” planning. Michael Clinton’s book Roar Into the Second Half of Your Life is a good start.

“Let’s banish the word retire and call it refire or rewire instead, as many people are living extraordinary lives after they leave their main profession,” says Clinton. “The traditional construct – marriage and a couple of kids, a job at a company for 30 years or more with a pension and a comfortable retirement – is being blown up every day. You may have lived that life once, but now there are ‘reimagineers’ among us who are redefining what might be beyond the first half of one’s life.”

Clinton, who rewired his own career after serving as president of Hearst Magazines, interviewed more than 40 fellow reimagineers and surveyed 630 individuals between the ages of 45 and 75.

He took what he heard and came up with a concept he calls ROAR. It’s about reimagining yourself, owning who you are, acting on what’s next and reassessing your relationships to get you there.

Your mighty ROAR starts with a question.

What’s your favourite future?

Maybe your future looks exactly like the present. You love what you’re doing and wouldn’t change a thing. Well done you!

But maybe you’re ready or long overdue for a change. Maybe it’s a new job, a new career, a new place to call home or a new relationship. You know a change would do you good but you’re hazy on the details. You’re not alone.

“ROAR was actually conceptualized before the pandemic, but as an idea it was never more relevant than in such fraught times as so many of us began reassessing our lives and looking for inspiration from those who have successfully crossed over into a new second half,” says Clinton.

“The Great Pause, as it has been called, has made us reflect and ask: what is important in our lives? Are we on a path that will satisfy us individually? Do we have a lot of unlived moments that we pine for? Do we have a clear view of our future and what we truly want?”

Give yourself time to work through the four steps of ROAR and find the right path for you. Clinton says this could take between one or two years. It’ll be hard, soul-searching work. But don’t put if off indefinitely.

Time is not on your side. Life is short. And being a miserable SOB who’s stuck in a rut will likely force the changes you’re reluctant, afraid or unwilling to make.

“You need to put your life on hyperspeed until your dying breath, regardless of when that might be,” says Clinton. “To ROAR is to contradict and challenge all of what you thought about getting older, to have the imagination, the self-awareness, and the self-confidence to start anew. Your dreams are yours to make happen. It can start today.”

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.

How to figure out what makes you come alive at work (review of Sparked by Jonathan Fields)

Planning to join the Great Resignation and jump ship?

Park those plans until you’ve righted your own ship first. You may find that you only need to tweak your job rather than change employers.

It’s good advice I could’ve used at the start of my career

I’ve changed jobs five times over the past 28 years, with three of those moves happening in my first decade after graduating from the Harvard of the North. Lucky for me and my family, every move to a new employer’s panned out and been a great experience (my bosses and colleagues may have a slightly different take).

But I may have stuck with one employer longer if I’d known earlier what kind of work makes me come alive and what wears me out and trips me up.

Jonathan Fields knows. According to the Good Life Project founder and author of Sparked, I’m a Sage. That’s one of 10 Sparketypes that Fields has identified based on insider-intel from half-a-million individuals and organizations plus 25 million data points.

“For sages, illumination is your call,” says Fields. “You live to share insights, ideas, knowledge and experiences with others in a way that leaves them in some way better, wiser, and more equipped to experience life differently – and maybe sparks something in them that makes them want to learn more.”

Along with sages, there are Mavens who live to learn. Makers create and bring ideas to life. Scientists figure things out. Essentialists create order from chaos. Performers turn moments into magic. Warriors gather and lead people. Advisors coach, mentor and help others grow. Advocates serve as champions for others, amplifying their voices. And Nurturers listen, care and help others in personal, hands-on ways.

A free online assessment at sparketype.com will identify your primary and secondary Sparketypes and your anti-Sparketype. For the record, I’m a sage and maven and definitely not a warrior.

“For most people, discovering your Sparketype is like meeting your true self,” says Fields. “There is an immediate, intuitive knowing – an undeniable truth that explains so many past choices and outcomes. It empowers you to not only understand who you are and why you do what you do, but also how you contribute to the world on a very different, more intentional, and fulfilling level.”

Fields starts and ends his book with a warning. Don’t blow everything up once you know your Sparketype. He calls this the premature nuclear career option.

“There can be a strong tendency to convince yourself that the pain and disruption and financial upheaval of walking away is nothing in comparison to the existential angst of unfulfilled potential you currently feel,” says Fields.

“But you know what else is real? The very painful cost of dynamiting your current reality, the emotional groundlessness it can lead to, the fissures it often creates in your relationships, the relentless stress it can foster; the and the devastating effect it can have on your emotional and physical health as you realize your next thing isn’t dropping into your lap with quite the speed or ease you’d hope.”

Instead of blowing up your career or jumping ship to pretty much do the same job somewhere else for a bit more money, rethink the job you’re already doing. “Ask what might happen if you stayed where you were, but did the work needed to reimagine and realign your current job, position or role to allow you to more fully express your Sparketype.”

Your boss and colleagues would appreciate the change in your mood and productivity and you’d likely get assigned more of the work that makes you come alive and perform at a higher level.  

Maybe you’ll still jump ship but you’ll leave with a much better sense of the work you should be doing.

“You’ll do it from a place of not only far great conviction, but also embodied self-knowledge and the sense of alignment and radiance that often generates a level of possibility not available when your exit is more ‘cut and run’ than ‘I did the work’.”

If you’ve spent the pandemic dreaming of a new job or career change, Fields can help you figure out what to do next. Jumping ship isn’t your only option and it shouldn’t be your first move.

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

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.

How to save your reputation from the digital mob (review of Molly McPherson’s Indestructible)

You said or did something stupid.

And now you’re being called out on social media by the digital mob. Reporters, your employees and customers are watching from the sidelines.

What you do next will seal your fate. Do it wrong and you’ll get yourself cancelled. You may very well lose your job, your business and your reputation.

Now is not the time to throw yourself a pity party, run and hide or hope the mob gets bored and moves on to its next target.

“The online shunning is not random nor is it unfair,” says Molly McPherson, author of Indestructible and an expert in public relations and crisis response in the digital age.

“The people who are targeted for cancellation or the brands that find themselves in the public’s crosshairs are in that position for a reason.

“The outrage is typically not from the questionable act that took the notice of the public, but from an inadequate response to the questionable act. The blowback is caused by a collective repudiation of the response itself or the hubris behind it.”

Brace yourself for extinction-level blowback if you’re defiant, snarky, tone deaf or slow off the mark.

McPherson has a far better three-step response that can save your reputation.

Own it. Acknowledge and accept responsibility for what you’ve said or done. Be sincere, humble and show genuine remorse. “An apology is critical to rebuilding a reputation and shows respect to people impacted or victimized by an incident. Accepting responsibility may seem risky, but it’s far riskier from a reputational point of view to try and avoid it.”

Clarify it. Give background that puts what you said or did in context. Explain, but don’t try to excuse, yourself. Use your weekend words when explaining yourself. “Speak to your stakeholders in a language they understand. Speak clearly and as jargon-free as possible.”

Promise it. Put yourself on the path to redemption. Announce your plans, priorities and the changes to come. Take real steps to make amends. “It goes without saying that this is not the time for token efforts – you’ll need to show how serious you are about mending the situation if you expect your reputation to emerge intact without being cancelled.”

And if you do these three steps, you have a shot at winning it and not getting yourself cancelled.

McPherson sees the same mistake being repeated by leaders facing a digital revolt. “The most dangerous thing a leader can do the moment they hear of pushback from the public is dismissal. They dismiss the complaint. They dismiss the complainer. They dismiss the power of social media. I have never, ever worked on or have been aware of a situation in which such dismissal hasn’t hurt a business in the short or long term.”

So why are leaders so quick to dismiss and make things worse for themselves? The number one reason is fear, says McPherson. “Fear of consumers rising up against their leadership. Fear of social media. Fear of information taken out of context.”

There are also leaders who still believe everything is private unless and until they chose to release it. The game has changed, says McPherson. Not only do we want information, we expect it on demand. “Being told ‘no’ is an invitation to ask again and to ask even harder because the reluctance to share arouses suspicion.”

In a world where everything you say and do can and likely will be used against you on social media, McPherson says leaders now more than ever need to practice honesty, humility, genuineness, transparency, responsiveness, relevance and accountability “Leading with these core values will help you navigate the environment and digital landscape in ways that older, outdated paradigms will not.”

So if you find yourself being called out online, silence, denial, defiance and non-apologies are not winning strategies. McPherson will show you a far better way to avoid getting cancelled and come out of a crisis with your reputation intact.

This review ran in the July 17th edition of the Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.