Don’t just feel our pain – remove it and you’ll earn our loyalty (review of Joe Polish’s What’s In It For Them?)

Joe Polish first learned the meaning of true appreciation in a janitorial supply store in Chandler, Arizona.

Polish was a recovering drug addict and dead broke carpet cleaner living off credit cards in the 1990s. “I started my own carpet-cleaning business with all my savings – $1,500 – because I wanted a better future and I didn’t have any better options,” says Polish. “I quickly learned that carpet cleaning is dirty, hard work.”

A client asked Polish to clean a sofa. The job needed equipment that Polish didn’t have and couldn’t afford to buy.

Polish went to the supply store and asked if he could rent the equipment. The store owner had a better idea. He let Polish borrow the equipment along with the cleaning chemicals.

“If you need something, just let me know and take whatever you need,” the owner told Polish. “Build up your business first and then come pay me back later.”

Polish’s cleaning business took off and he stayed loyal to the store owner. “Even as my business grew and grew, I would still go back to the same store to buy all my supplies – even it meant driving 45 minutes across town.”

Polish built a million-dollar cleaning business and eventually moved into sales and marketing, with cleaning companies as his first clients. Today, he’s the founder of the Genius Network for entrepreneurs, a marketing consultant, a host on three top-ranked marketing and business podcasts, founder of Artists for Addicts and Genius Recovery and even the co-owner of a 40-acre ghost town in Arizona.

The store owner’s generosity also let Polish in on an invaluable secret. 

“The secret to success in life and business is learning how to connect and form relationships with other people – and most people don’t know how to do that,” says Polish in his book What’s In It For Them?

So what’s one of the best way to connect and form strong relationships? Do what the store owner did for Polish.

Ease other people’s pain. Figure out how they’re suffering and how you can help. The store owner knew Polish was struggling to make ends meet and needed a break.

“Suffering is pain,” says Polish. “Suffering can be physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. There’s suffering everywhere and there’s much more than most people realize.”

To get at the root of someone’s suffering, ask three questions – where are you, where do you want to go and how are you going to get there?

According to Polish, we all want to connect with others, feel special, cared about and appreciated and have our problems solved.

Meet our needs in authentic, useful and valuable ways and you’ll earn our appreciation, trust, loyalty, business and friendship.

“Connecting with people is about helping them get what they want and helping them reduce or remove what is causing them suffering.”

The added bonus in helping others? You help yourself in ways that go far beyond monetary rewards, says Polish.

“By connecting with others, you reduce your own suffering, improve your own life, have richer relationships and make the world a better place.

“If you’re a person who cares about others and can solve their problems – someone who understands what’s in it for them – there’s no limit to what you can accomplish or the peace and joy you can find in your own existence.”

The owner of the janitorial supply store did it for Polish and Polish returns the favour by offering dozens of exercises and action steps to help us do the same should someone who’s struggling and suffering come into our businesses or lives in need of a helping hand.

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. This review first ran in the Jan. 13 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The one question to keep asking yourself in 2023 (review of Marshall Goldsmith’s The Earned Life: Lose Regret, Choose Fulfillment)

Skip the usual New Year’s resolutions that you’ll break within weeks and instead spend 2023 asking yourself one question over and over again.

Am I being the person I want to be right now?

Write that question out on an index card.

Put the card in your wallet.

And take it out whenever you need a reminder of how to behave and what to say and do at work, home or out in the community.

“Do this once with an affirmative answer and you’ll discover that you have earned the moment,” says Marshall Goldsmith, executive coach and author of The Earned Life. “Do this habitually and continually and you will create a string of many earned moments, stretching from days into months into years, that add up to an earned life.”

So what’s an earned life?

“We are living an earned life when the choices, risks and effort we make in each moment align with an overarching purpose in our lives, regardless of the eventual outcomes,” says Goldsmith. “In the end, an earned life doesn’t include a trophy ceremony. The reward of living an earned life is being engaged in the process of constantly earning such a life.”

Cover of The Earned Life by Marshall Goldsmith

The alternative is going through our careers and lives on autopilot. We’re focused on action and ambition and completely ignore aspiration. We make a pile of money and get every promotion but sacrifice everything else. Or we have big dreams to make the world a better place but accomplish little or nothing at all. We overestimate risks or rewards and make questionable short-term decisions with lousy long-term consequences. And then we’re surprised, angry and disheartened to find ourselves drowning in the regret of what we could’ve, should’ve and would’ve done differently.

Goldsmith has other suggestions for avoiding this fate and leading an earned life instead. We can go beyond the one question on our index card and start answering a half dozen more  that Goldsmith promises will improve our lives.

At the end of every day, ask if we did our best to set clear goals.

Did we make progress toward achieving our goals?

Did we do our best to find meaning?

Be happy?

Maintain and build positive relationships?

And be fully engaged?

Answer each question on a scale that measures effort but not results. Ten is maximum effort. One is next to no effort. “Segregating effort from results is critical because it forces you to acknowledge that you can’t always control your results (stuff happens) but you have no excuse for not trying,” says Goldsmith.

He also recommends sharing our results each week with a group. “Don’t do this alone. Common sense should tell you that reviewing your plan in the select company of others is vastly superior to reviewing your plan alone. Why would you try to adhere to an ambitious life plan and refuse to share the experience with anyone else, especially if you didn’t have to? What added value does going solo bring to the endeavor? It would be like baking a birthday cake to eat by yourself or giving a speech to an empty room.”  

Choose your group wisely and set some ground rules, says Goldsmith. Recruit a diverse group of five to eight people who are all committed to getting better. “It’s a gathering of successful people with shared goals for the future, not a gripe session for unsuccessful people with problems,” says Goldsmith. “You’re looking for people of any and every stripe who share the same optimism about getting better. They are not victims or martyrs.”

The rules are simple. Show up each week and steer clear of judgement, negativity and cynicism, especially when reporting on how much effort you put in during the past week. Don’t beat yourself up, says Goldsmith.

“Accomplishing something with the help of a chosen community resonates more resoundingly, affects more people and is often an improvement on the solo act because of the contributions of the many. Would you rather be the soloist or sing with a choir behind you?”.

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.

Quit singing messaging karaoke and tell us a great story instead (review of Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes)

Every business tells us they’re customer-centred. Every hospital is patient-centred. Every school, college and university is student-centred.

But to stand out from the competition, you can’t be with them in the choir singing what Ann Handley calls messaging karaoke.

Instead of tossing out the same exhausted words and tired phrases that we all tune out, show us how you’re putting customers, patients and students first. Highlight some of the big and small ways you’re doing this that are unique and unexpected. And recap who or what inspired you to go the extra mile.

“What sets you apart,” says Handley, who’s just revised and updated her bestselling book Everybody Writes. “Don’t tell me what you do. Show me who you are – and then show me why you matter to me.”

You show who you are and why you matter by telling stories.While we ignore messaging karaoke, we pay attention to stories. We’re hardwired for storytelling. Great stories stand out, stay with us and connect with us at a deeper emotional level than a straight up sales pitch. The good news is every business and organization – even yours – has a great story to tell.

To help you find your story, Handley poses 11 questions.

What’s unique about your business or organization?

What’s interesting about how your business or organization was founded?

What’s interesting about the founder(s)?

What problem are you trying to solve for others?

What or who inspired your business or organization?

What are the aha! moments for your business or organization?

How’s your business or organization evolved?

How do you feel about your business or organization, your customers and yourself?

What’s an unobvious way to tell your story? Can you look to analogy instead of example?

What do you consider normal and boring that everyone else would think is cool?

And what’s your vision? How will your company or organization change the world?

“That last question is especially salient because it’s central to your bigger story: How will you change the world…even a little bit? How will you make it better for all of us?”

When telling your story, never make yourself the hero. The hero is always a real customer, patient or student. You’re the solution to your hero’s problem, the answer to their prayers and the resolution to their searches. Build your true story around an ordinary person who’s done something extraordinary with your help.

Also know that how you tell your story is as important as the story you tell. Again, you don’t want to sound like everyone else.

“Your brand’s tone of voice sets you apart,” says Handley, who calls brand voice your personality in words.

“It differentiates you from competition. It signals what you’re like to do business with. It’s key to creating and sustaining customer relationships.

“Brand tone of voice is not a small, throwaway thing. And yet most companies treat it that way. Very few take the time to consider the branding boost that an approachable, relatable, friendly voice can give a company.”

Here’s an easy way to test for brand voice. Strip your logo and name off your website. Would anyone know it’s still you? Or would the words and tone be indistinguishable from your competitors and have all the warmth and personality of copy created by artificial intelligence or a room full of lawyers?

“Storytelling in business isn’t about spinning a yarn or a fairy tale,” says Handley. “It’s about showing how your business (or its products or service) exists in the real world: who you are and what you do for the benefit of others; how you add value to people’s lives, ease their troubles, help shoulder their burdens, and meet their needs.

“Your brand stories give your audience a chance to view your business as what it is: a living, breathing entity run by real people offering real value.”

So please don’t tell us like everyone else that you’re innovative, creative, leading edge, best in class, world class, driven by excellence, committed to quality, a champion of inclusivity and an employer of choice. Show us instead with a great story and a hero’s journey.

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

The case for getting boys and men into HEAL jobs (review of Richard Reeves’ Of Boys and Men)

Turns out there are two gaps we need to mind.

There’s the earnings gap between women and men. For every $100 earned by men, women earn just $82. The gap’s closing but not fast enough.

There’s also a gap in higher education. That gap gets less attention but is just as troubling. For every 100 bachelor’s degrees awarded to women, only 74 are awarded to men. And the gap’s growing. “The gender gap in college degrees awarded is wider today than it was in the early 1970s but in the opposite direction,” says Of Boys and Men author Richard Reeves.

In all 38 member countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Reeves says there are now more young women than young men with bachelor’s degrees. Forty percent of 18-year-old women in Britain head off to college, compared to 29 per cent of their male peers.

That gap is one of many warning signs of a male malaise, especially for boys and men on the lower rungs on the economic and social ladders. “Things are worse than I thought,” says Reeves, a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. “I knew some of the headlines about boys struggling at school and on campus, men losing ground in the labour market and fathers losing touch with their children. I thought that perhaps some of these were exaggerations. But the closer I looked, the bleaker the picture became.”

How bleak? Deaths of despair from drug overdoses, suicides and alcohol-related illnesses are nearly three times higher among men than women.

Here’s one solution proposed by Reeves to help ease the struggles of boys and men. Just as there’s been a concerted and successful effort to get more girls and women into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs and occupations, we should do the same to encourage more boys and men to train for, and work in, health, education, administration and literacy (HEAL) jobs.

“HEAL sectors are where the jobs are coming from,” says Reeves. “To improve men’s employment prospects, we need to get more of them into these kinds of jobs. By my calculations, for every new STEM job created by 2030, there will be more than three new HEAL jobs.”

To accomplish that, Reeves says we need to build a pipeline in the education system, provide financial incentives and reduce the social stigma faced by men working in fields like nursing and early childhood education.

Reeves says friends and colleagues advised him not to write this book. “In the current political climate, highlighting the problems of boys and men is seen as a perilous undertaking. Progressives refuse to accept that important gender inequalities can run in both directions and quickly label male problems as symptoms of ‘toxic masculinity’. Conservatives appear more sensitive to the struggles of boys and men, but only as a justification for turning back the clock and restoring traditional gender roles.

“The Left tells men ‘be more like your sister.’ The Right says ‘be more like your father.’ Neither invocation is helpful.”

It’s not an either/or proposition. “We can hold two thoughts in our heads at once. We can be passionate about women’s rights and compassionate toward vulnerable boys and men.”

If you’re worried about your underemployed, unemployed, bored, listless and seemingly lost son, boyfriend or husband, Reeves will confirm your fears but also let you know you’re not alone and these are systemic problems that require collective action to solve. “The problem with men is typically framed as a problem of men. It is men who must be fixed, one man or boy at a time. This individualist approach is wrong.”

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.

Buyer beware with online advertising (review of Bob Hoffman’s Adscam)

Best of luck to the rest of us if big name brands like Nike, Adidas and Starbucks are in the dark when it comes to buying online ads.

The companies thought they were advertising on USA Today’s website.

But Gannett Publishing – which owns USA Today – accidentally placed billions of digital ads in its smaller community news sites for nine months.

“Not a single brand noticed that their ads were not where they were supposed to be,” says Bob Hoffman, author of Adscam: How Online Advertising Gave Birth to One of History’s Greatest Frauds, and Became a Threat to Democracy.

“Not a single media buyer noticed that their ads were misplaced. And for nine months we can only assume that these ‘sophisticated’ advertisers were receiving fictious reports about the nature of their programmatic buy.”

But at least the ads ran somewhere.

If you’re buying online ads, you’ve likely been scammed with fake audiences, websites and clicks. Online ad fraud is estimated at $60 billion a year, with crooks siphoning off 20 per cent of online ad budgets. That’s bigger than credit card fraud even though the credit card business is 10 times the size of online advertising. By 2025, it’s expected that online ad fraud will trail only drug trafficking as the largest source of criminal income.

“Ad fraud is one of the largest frauds in the history of the world,” says Hoffman.

Why all the fraud? Adtech is so complicated that no one really knows how it works, says Hoffman. Adtech tracks everywhere we go online. When we visit a website, ad space is instantly auctioned off.  Some websites charge a premium while others take less than penny. With hundreds of thousands of websites, it’s tough to know which site is legit and which is fake and which sites you’d your business to be associated with.

“Instead of reaching Bob Hoffman by running their ad on The New York Times website, where it might cost $1 to reach Bob, advertisers can track Bob to binkinibeachbabes.com, a much lower quality website, where they can run the same ad and it may cost them only a nickel,” says Hoffman.

“The only problem is that bikinibeachbabes.com may not be a real website, and Bob Hoffman may not be a real person.” And those nickles can quickly add up.

So why does no one seem to care?  

Hoffman quotes a former ad executive who says “it’s in nobody’s interest for digital ad numbers to be true as long as they’re good. No one will question the efficacy of the numbers because they love showing the CEO (who understands nothing about marketing) that we gained x number of followers, reached an additional y people and z more people saw our content. Everybody is in on the con. None of the involved parties want anyone to examine the numbers as long as they’re good. It’s pathetic.”

Chase Bank ran the numbers and decided something didn’t add up. The bank was buying ads on more than 400,000 sites every month. The bank cut back to 5,000 sites and saw no difference in performance. “An astounding number of the sites they were buying programmatically were worthless,” says Hoffman.

“On the surface, the value proposition of ad tech – reaching the highest quality eyeballs at the cheapest possible locations – is an appealing proposition. But advertising has probably never experienced a wider gap between promise and reality. This has led to all kinds of expensive and dangerous consequences. “

Hoffman says those consequences include a cesspool of corruption, an ocean of fraud and the degrading and devaluing of legitimate online publishers, news media and journalism.

“And it has played a major role in driving a perilous wedge into our culture,” says Hoffman. “Other than that, it’s great.”

So what’s the solution? Ban tracking, says Hoffman. Stop letting companies spy on us online and don’t let them sell, trade or give away our personal and private information. And if you’re buying online advertising, spend it where you can see it.

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

Chasing wealth without guilt (review of When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden influence of the World’s Most Powerful Consulting Firm)

I had no clue what the consultants were talking about.

And that was a problem given my job. I’d been seconded to a project team. The team was working with the consultants to re-engineer the organization. The consultants were flown in every week and put up in a downtown hotel. Even though they lived out of a suitcase, they were always very well dressed.

Meetings were long and many. Every meeting included a super-sized PowerPoint presentation stuffed with charts, graphs, facts and figures. Sometimes, the names of past clients were accidentally left on the slides.

My job was to turn those PowerPoints into a weekly newsletter and to make sense of what I didn’t fully understand. I was half-way fluent in consultant speak and knew enough (KPIs and FTEs) to get by.

I’d also been deputized as a change agent. I took the role, and myself, a little too seriously as I sold the benefits of change and transition to staff who’d been doing their jobs for longer than I’d been alive. I’m ashamed to admit I may have even reminded coworkers that “one does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” I’m lucky I wasn’t tossed overboard.

Support soured as staff realized the project was less about getting rid of the boring and repetitive parts of their job and more about eliminating jobs altogether or finding someone to do more work for less pay.

This was my first rodeo so I believed the growing resistance was misplaced and futile. Sure, the old guard had institutional knowledge and common sense. But we had spreadsheets and algorithms on our side.

Eventually the consultants were sent packing. The project team disbanded. I can’t remember what, if any, changes stuck or how much money was saved or spent.

But at least no one died. That tragedy fell on the families of Charles Kremke, Jonathan Arrizola and Marcelo Torres. Kremke and Arrizola were electrocuted at U.S. Steel’s plant in Gary, Indiana. Torres was crushed to death on a ride at Disneyland. Both companies were clients of McKinsey. The consulting firm had advised the steelmaker and the happiest place on Earth that cutting maintenance costs was a good idea, according to prizewinning New York Times investigative reporters Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe.

“U.S. Steel and Disneyland could not have been more different – one a vestige of a once great blue-collar company, the other a sunny fantasy powered by the latest technology,” say the authors of When McKinsey Comes to Town.

“They were not McKinsey’s most lucrative clients or most controversial. Yet they did exemplify the cold cost-cutting advice that turned the firm into the godfather of management consulting.”

Bogdanich and Forsythe expose a rogue’s gallery of McKinsey clients, including Purdue Pharma. The authors report that McKinsey pitched a plan to turbocharge OxyContin sales even as families and entire communities were being laid to waste. “To boost sales amid the strengthening opioid epidemic, McKinsey had to cook up radical new ideas. One suggestion was to promote OxyContin as a drug that gave patients ‘freedom’ and ‘peace of mind’ along with the ‘best possible chance to live a full and active life.’ OxyContin could also reduce stress, making patients more optimistic and less isolated, McKinsey said.”

If that’s not bad enough, the authors say McKinsey was an advisor to both Purdue and the Federal Drug Administration at the same time. “At least 17 of the contracts awarded to McKinsey by the FDA between 2008 and 2021 – worth more than $48 million – called for the firm to work with the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. That division was responsible for approving certain drugs, including prescription opioids.” McKinsey denied there were any conflicts of interest.

While the firm closed ranks and refused to talk with the reporters, Bogdanich and Forsythe still managed to conduct hundreds of interviews and got their hands on tens of thousands of closely guarded internal records. “We became the first outsiders to peek inside McKinsey’s secret vault of clients and billings – information off-limits to governments, clients, competitors and even some of their employees.” Their book has 45 pages of detailed notes.

“McKinsey’s laissez-faire style of management has allowed its consultants to reap big paydays promoting addictive products, recommending policies that expand income inequality, and serving bad actors on the international stage, including major polluters.

“There is no questioning McKinsey’s desire to do good, to give back. But, as one former consultant said, McKinsey should also find a way to do less harm.”

If you’ve ever wondered if there are any limits to what people will do to make a buck and chase wealth without guilt, the ugly and unfortunate answer is apparently no.

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. He still refuses to this day to refer to employees as full-time equivalents.

Anatomy of a crypto con (review of The Missing Cryptoqueen by Jamie Bartlett)

OneCoin’s just the latest chapter in the never-ending story of fools being parted from their money.

It’s estimated that a million people were conned in the $4 billion global Ponzi scheme.

OneCoin was dreamed up by Ruja Ignatova, an Oxford University graduate and two-time Bulgarian Businesswoman of the Year who’s fluent in five languages.

Ignatova pitched OneCoin as a world-changing cryptocurrency for the masses. She promised it would be bigger and better than Bitcoin.

The original plan was to have 2.1 billion OneCoins in circulation – 100 times the number of Bitcoins. But just 18 months later, Ignatova announced at a sold-out corporate event in Wembley Arena that there would now be 120 billion OneCoins. The coin would still be worth just shy of $10 CDN. And every investor who got in early was having their OneCoins doubled in a show of appreciation.

“With the click of her fingers, Dr. Ruja doubled the wealth of every single person in the crowd,” says Jamie Bartlett, tech journalist and author of The Missing Cryptoqueen. “Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of investors who hadn’t made it to London. It didn’t seem to matter that she was breaking rule 101 of economics: that when the supply of something goes up, the price goes down. Nor did it matter that she was breaking her own promise: that there would only ever be 2.1 billion OneCoin in circulation and that ‘fixed supply’ was the whole point of cryptocurrency. So how was it possible to increase the number of coins by a factor of 50? And without affecting the price?”

Ignatova pulled off this magic trick because she was running the biggest scam of the 21st century, says Bartlett.

While there were other cryptocurrencies, OneCoin was the first to embrace multilevel marketing. Promoters were paid generous commissions for selling the coin and signing up family, friends and strangers to do the same.

“The single most important word in multilevel marketing is momentum,” says Bartlett. “It happens when a team is big enough to start growing by itself, just like when a virus reaches an unstoppable tipping point. Most new MLM companies never reach that moment and peter out within a year or two.”

Instead of selling coins, promoters sold education packages at different price points. The packages came with training videos, a plagarized PDF and free tokens that would someday soon be converted into OneCoins. The starter package, which cost just over $150 CDN, came with 1,000 tokens. The “Tycoon Trader” package sold for nearly $8,000 and included as many as 48,000 tokens.

A blockchain was needed to convert the tokens into coins. Think of this specialized piece of software as a public diary for each coin that lists every transaction and continually updates itself every few minutes.

OneCoin never built a real blockchain. A fake one was posted on its website. Ignatova made up the price and no coins were ever traded. “OneCoin’s blockchain display looked like the real thing but it was some kind of pre-programmed ‘script’, an off-the-shelf piece of kit that was running phoney and meaningless transactions between imaginary wallets,” says Bartlett.

“The display was just a clever ruse to fool investors into thinking their coins were held on a brand-new mathematically secure state-of-the-art blockchain. But all they owned were meaningless entries on a database. A million people had bought Ponzi tokens. Monopoly money that was controlled not by computer code, but by Ruja.”

Momentum eventually stalled, top promoters bailed, OneCoin was exposed as a scam and the pyramid scheme collapsed on itself, says Bartlett. Investors lost their money and life savings. Senior executives went to jail. And Ignatova, who’s one of the FBI’s ten most wanted fugitives, has been on the lam since 2017.

“Good scams aren’t about facts or logic,” says Bartlett. “They are built on the manipulation of common human irrationalities: hope, belief, greed and, above all, by the nagging ‘fear of missing out’. Although OneCoin investors were victims, they weren’t entirely without blame. FOMO is driven by a desire to get rich quick, a willingness to replace work or effort with a risky bet.”

If you’re looking for a safe bet, bank on a future scam that dwarfs OneCoin and parts even more fools from their money. It’s the story that never ends.

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.

Exposing the deny and delay corporate playbook (review of Jennifer Jacquet’s The Playbook)

I’m professionally conflicted.

My days are spent in the company of scientists who are doing their part to build us a brighter world.

I also work in public relations. It’s an industry that’s helped corporations wage a decades-long war on science and scientists.

“PR firms have been essential to scaling and disseminating denial campaigns locally, nationally and globally,” says Jennifer Jacquet, an associate professor with the department of environmental studies at New York University and author of The Playbook: How to Deny Science, Sell Lies and Make a Killing in the Corporate World.

Denial’s an investment for corporations and delay’s the deliverable for PR firms, says Jacquet. Their mutual goal is the indefinite blocking of litigation, government regulation and swings in public opinion.

“The risks of scientific knowledge are as much about the public’s understanding of those risks as they are about the evidence of those risks. Therefore, the defense against scientific knowledge occurs on a battlefield of communications.”

There’s no bigger battle than global warming. Corporations are using the same playbook dreamed up by PR firm Hill and Knowlton back in the 1950s, according to Jacquet.

First came the Manufacturing Chemists’ Association, which hired the firm to help block the introduction of mandatory testing of the food supply for chemicals. Big Tobacco followed, wanting help in discrediting the link between smoking and cancer. The deny and delay was drafted. Cigarette makers got together and funneled $450 million to the Council for Tobacco Research which in turn funded more than 7,000 “scientific” papers. Other Hill and Knowlton clients included an asbestos company in the 1960s and the plastics industry in the 1970s which wanted to “refocus public and congressional attention and to reshape the national debate about the effect of plastics on American society.”

The well-used deny and delay playbook wages war on science and scientists across four fronts. “After a century of scheming, during which the tactics have been refined, disseminated, scaled and globalized by public relations firms, it is clear that corporate scientific denial also has a particular gestalt, with a four-pronged pattern to the approach and the arguments: challenge the problem, challenge causation, challenge the messenger and challenge the policy.”

So how do corporations challenge the problem of scientific findings that can devastate the bottom line?

Start by hiding or destroying internal evidence. “The destruction or concealment of internal knowledge is easier than destroying or suppressing knowledge that was created outside the corporation,” says Jacquet.

Deny outright that there’s a problem. “The complete denial of a problem is a bold stance but one that has proven effective.”

Pledge to look into the problem but acknowledge it’ll take time because it’s so complex.

Make the problem small and unworthy of a big fix. “Minimize the problem by showing it is inconsequential or affects a very small number of people.”

Point out there are bigger problems to worry about.

Announce there’s no longer a problem because it’s in the past.

Change language to eliminate the problem. The tobacco industry once called cancer “biological activity” and the fossil fuel industry managed to replace “global warming” with the less scary “climate change” back in 2002.

Play with statistics to eliminate the problem or change the scale of analysis to minimize the problem.

Point out that people are better off not knowing about the problem – what they don’t know will hurt them less.

And if all else fails, declare that it’s not the corporation’s fault. “Denial of causation is arguably the bread and butter of scientific denial. Scientific knowledge is at its most remarkable and perhaps most vulnerable when establishing a causal relationship.”

As Jacquet shows, corporations don’t have to fool all the people all the time. To throw sand in the gears, corporations only need to confuse enough of us to sow doubt and confusion. And sadly, there’s no shortage of hired hands who are schooled in the darks arts of denial and willing to roll out the playbook for a generous payday.

“The outlines of the strategy to challenge science can be elusive and it can take years or decades to even partially make sense of, in no small part due to secrecy of the corporation and its network of accomplices,” says Jacquet.

She’s done us a favour by skillfully exposing that secrecy and showing how we’re being duped. Jacquet also offers a playbook of her own to defend science.

This review first ran in the Aug. 12 Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager at McMaster University’s Faculty of Science and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Life’s a beach but for how much longer? (review of The Last Resort by Sarah Stodola)

There’s trouble in paradise for the beach resorts we flock to in the dead of winter.

Journalist Sarah Stodola has traveled the world to report on the economic and environmental impact of beach tourism, with stops in Thailand, Bali, Ibiza and Hawaii to Fiji, Miami Beach, Portugal, Barbados and Cancun.

“I enjoyed the snorkeling and the views, but I found the sanitized bubbles in which resorts existed curious,” writes Stodola in The Last Resort: A Chronicle of Paradise, Profit and Peril at the Beach. “To be honest, beach resorts weirded me out a little – their insistence on indolence, and on forgetting the world outside, both the one back home and the one immediately beyond the property.”

Our hothouse Earth is getting impossible for resort owners to forget and ignore. Rising sea levels threaten to wash out beaches, extreme storms are trashing properties and insurance companies are charging ever higher premiums. Soaring temperatures will make whole parts of our world uninhabitable, even for tourists lounging poolside with bottomless margaritas and mojitos. Mix in political instability triggered by ecological collapse and millions of environmental refugees and those of us who can still afford to travel may chose to stay closer to home. 

That’s a problem because tourism is big business. It’s the third-largest global export, provides more than one in every 10 jobs worldwide and accounts for around 10 per cent of global gross domestic product.

Based on what she’s seen from her travels, Stodola offers some strategies to make beach resorts more sustainable and resilient for the tough times ahead.

Rein in long-haul flights. Airplanes are responsible for around five per cent of global warming.“To become environmental allies, beach resorts need to address the problem of air travel.”

Source locally and regionally. “Resorts continue to import most of their food, sometimes because of unavailability in the local market, but sometimes simply because resorts want to serve their guests food with which they are familiar.”

Build more sensibly and flexibly. “Developers need to stop building with concrete next to beaches.” Those concrete high-rises that pack in tourists block the flow of sand and erode beaches.

Start welcoming locals. “The idea that a resort might be built for both visitor and local runs counter to its working definition.”

Quit planting palm trees. “Palm trees provide little shade, require huge amounts of water, have shallow root systems that don’t do much to prevent erosion and don’t absorb carbon as effectively as other trees can.” Plant canopy trees that deliver all of these benefits and regrow coastline-protecting mangroves that thrive in shallow, salty water.

Make resorts pay their fair share for maintaining and renourishing beaches and repairing the damage their operations and tourists inflict on the environment.

End the green certification racket, which Stodola calls nothing more than a moneymaking operation. “Certification is big business and has conflict of interest built into it: those applying for green certification are paying the certifier.”

Limit the number of tourists to let nature take priority. Resorts are realizing they can make more money catering to fewer well-heeled tourists who’ll pay a small fortune to escape the maddening crowds.

Stop building golf courses, the enemy of beachfront health. Courses need hundreds of thousands of litres of water every day and fertilizer run-off causes algae blooms that smother coral reefs. “The white sand common to tropical beaches is most often composed of broken-down coral. Lose the reefs, lose the sand, too.”

Deemphasize beaches and focus instead on cultural tourism. “Officials in beach destinations are beginning to understand that relying completely on their vulnerable shorelines for tourism revenue may spell economic disaster down the line.”

Stodola predicts tourists will still seek out surf, sand and sun but resorts will change in fundamental ways. “It will be farther away from the equator and farther back from the shoreline. It will forgo palm trees in favor of those that provide shade. For many of us, it will be prohibitively expensive. It will cater to Chinese and Indian tourists as much as to Western ones. It will be portable. It may even be intentionally temporary. It might not be at the beach at all, as long as there’s a killer pool to lounge around.”

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. This review first ran in the July 29th edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

How to make your workplace a safe space (and why you should). Review of Alphabet Soup by Michael Bach

It’s not enough to just pinkwash your logo, install rainbow painted benches or sponsor a parade float during Pride Month.

If you’re serious about recruiting and retaining LGBTQ2+ employees and their allies, you need to do some heavy lifting year-round.

Job one is transforming your workplace into a safe space where everyone feels welcome and free to be themselves. “The world is not a safe place when you don’t fit into a certain box,” says Michael Bach, CEO of CCDI Consulting and author Alphabet Soup: The Essential Guide to LGBTQ2+ Inclusion at Work.

“This concept is difficult to understand if you are in the majority. Most women who have been sexualized or objectified, or who have otherwise been the target of sexism, understand it. Most people of colour understand it, having experienced subtle or overt acts of racism. Most people with disabilities understand it, having been forced to navigate a world that is designed for the able-bodied. And most LGBTQ2+ people understand it, because even if they have never personally experienced violence or discrimination because of their sexual or gender diversity, they’ve certainly witnessed it.”

Bach says most LGBTQ2+ people won’t come out at work until they know they’re in a safe space. “If you don’t give them that signal, they’ll quietly keep their heads down and stay in their closet – and they won’t be as engaged or productive.” They’ll also be gone from your organization if there’s another employer that’s offering an inclusive and welcoming workplace.

So how do you create a safe space at work? Start with human resources. Are your policies and procedures inclusive or are some people being inadvertently or deliberately excluded?  For example, do you have a maternity leave policy or a parental leave policy? Do your policies talk about husband and wife rather than partner or spouse? Do you, like the Ontario Public Service Pride Network, run a Positive Space Champions program? Do you have gender-inclusive restrooms? Do you have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to harassment and discrimination and is it enforced? “The first time you don’t, you completely devalue the policy and no one will ever believe you again.”

Do you offer optional one-and-done training or is the education mandatory and ongoing, especially for leaders and employees who are fence sitters, foes and fighters of change?  “There is not only a woeful lack of education about LGBTQ2+ inclusion, but also a real problem with (1) how the education is being executed and (2) how the education is perceived,” says Bach.

Building an inclusive safe space at work requires a committed and sustained effort. Know that you’ll lose whatever trust, loyalty and goodwill you’ve built up by making even a single and small contribution to a politician or group that traffics in homophobia, transphobia and biphobia.  

“You cannot have it both ways. You don’t get to be advocates of LGBTQ2+ inclusion and then donate to candidates who are actively working against that. If you’re an organization that has ‘values’ or a corporate credo, you must decide how important those values are to you. Unwavering support means you draw a line in the sand and donate only to candidates who are aligned with those values.”

You’ll not only lose LGBTQ2+ employees and customers. You’ll also lose their allies. Lots of us believe that everyone – our family, friends, coworkers and even perfect strangers – deserves to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Given what’s happening south of the border and the hate that’s metastasizing on social media, we need to become far more active and educated allies at work and in our community.  “An active ally is more than willing to use their privilege (usually as a straight cis person) to ensure that the space is inclusive of LGBTQ2 people, even when they’re not in the room. What is needed is for you to lend your voice and support to the cause; to yield to members of the communities; to advocate when it is required. Do not monopolize or patronize. Don’t feel the need to be the leader. Be part of something bigger.”

And if you happen to write business book reviews for your local newspaper, maybe you can do better than waiting 23 years before finally reviewing a book about LGBTQ2+ inclusion at work.

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.