How to avoid a climate disaster (review)

My mom put gas in her car for the first time since November and she doesn’t drive a hybrid.

The pandemic’s parked cars and planes the world over. Many of us have spent the past year working from home and we’ve gone nowhere beyond the grocery store. Yet it’s estimated that greenhouse gas emissions have only dropped by around five per cent during our global lockdown.

Here’s our collective problem. To save our kids and grandkids from a climate catastrophe, experts say we need a permanent 100 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. And we need to get to zero while keeping the economy firing on all cylinders and pulling hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. 

“What’s remarkable to me is not how much emissions went down because of the pandemic but how little,” writes Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates in his new book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. “This small decline in emissions is proof that we cannot get to zero emissions simply or even mostly by flying and driving less.

“Just as we needed new tests, treatments and vaccines for the novel coronavirus, we need new tools for fighting climate change: zero-carbon ways to produce electricity, make things, grow food, keep our buildings cool and warm and move people and goods around the world.”

We’re currently pumping around 46 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year. Nearly a third of those emissions come from making things like steel, concrete and plastic. Generating electricity accounts for 27 per cent. Growing crops and raising livestock represent 19 per cent. Getting around by planes, trucks, ships and cars add 16 per cent. And the remaining 7 per cent comes from heating and cooling homes and buildings.

“If a genie offered me one wish, a simple breakthrough in just one activity that drives climate change, I’d pick making electricity,” says Gates. In the absence of a genie, we’ll need a combination of affordable, zero-carbon renewable energy sources to replace the coal, oil and natural gas that currently generates most of our electricity.

Finding alternatives to the 15 billion litres of gas we consume each and every day and eliminating 46 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will be wickedly hard to pull off.

“We need to accomplish something gigantic we have never done before, much faster than we have ever done anything similar,” says Gates. “To do it, we need lots of breakthroughs in science and engineering. We need to build a consensus that doesn’t exist and create public policies to push a transition that would not happen otherwise. We need the energy system to stop doing all the things we don’t like and keep doing all the things we do like – in other words, to change completely and also stay the same.”

Yet Gates remains optimistic that we’ll find our way to zero. He says we can avoid disaster by fully deploying the technologies we already have and creating breakthrough innovations that’ll take us the rest of the way. He’s confident enough citizens, scientists, engineers, business leaders and politicians will rise to the challenge and put up a sustained full-court press.

Gates acknowledges that “the world is not exactly lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do or who think technology can fix any problem”.  Yet Gates has put forward a practical and accessible plan that he’s personally backing with a sizeable chunck of his $130 billion net worth.    

“We should spend the next decade focusing on the technologies, policies and market structures that will put us on the path to eliminating greenhouse gases by 2050. It’s hard to think of a better response to a miserable 2020 then spending the next 10 years dedicating ourselves to this ambitious goal.”

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.

Rediscovering our sense of humour at work (review of Humor, Seriously)

I used to have a sense of humour.

In university, I drew a daily cartoon strip for the student paper about a sorority sister and fraternity brother. Profs taped the strip to their office doors. A candidate for student council president promised to ban the strip if elected. He lost.

Early in my career, I put out fake newsletters. These were the early days of PowerPoint presentations, the high water mark for management consultants and the peak of re-engineering the corporation. The zingers wrote themselves. The head of HR thought the union had put out the first newsletter. Lucky for me, he had a sense of humour.

But somewhere along the way, I lost mine and fell off the humour cliff. I can go days without cracking a smile. Weeks without a laugh. I’m not that much fun to be around.

“The collective loss of our sense of humor is a serious problem afflicting people and organizations globally,” say professor Jennifer Aaker and executive coach Naomi Bagdonas, authors of Humor, Seriously. “We’re all going over the humor cliff together, tumbling down into the abyss of solemnity below.”

Aaker and Bagdonas, who teach a humour course at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, know the way back up humour mountain. It’s a climb that’ll restore some much needed levity to balance out the gravity of our situations at work and home.  

“We don’t need more ‘professionalism’ in our workplaces,” say Aaker and Bagdonas. “Instead, we need more of ourselves, and more human connection – especially as in-person meetings are replaced by video chats and more relationships are sustained entirely by email. Often, all it takes is a hint of levity to shift a moment, or a relationship, from transactional and robotic to relational and authentic.”

Humour serves up a cocktail of hormones that can make us happier, more trusting and productive, less stressed and even euphoric.

Aaker and Bagdonas have identified four humor styles. While we all have a default mode, our humour styles vary based on our moods, situation and audience.

There are stand-ups who come alive in front of crowds, earnest and honest sweethearts who never tease, magnets with their unwavering good cheer and the edgy, sarcastic snipers with their dry sense of humour and deadpan delivery (take a free quiz to figure out your humour style).

As with everything else, leaders set the tone when it comes to humour at work. It’s less about being funny and more about letting your team know you actually have a sense of humour. Be quick to smile, laugh at other people’s jokes, lean into self-deprecating humour and continually look for ways to break the tension and lighten the mood.

Solemnity can seem like the safer bet. No one gets cancelled for being humourless. Yet you can be funny and stay employed by following two cardinal rules. Never punch down by making fun of someone who’s lower on the org chart. For example, a president who makes fun of an intern is a bully and a jerk.

And never make someone’s identity a prop, plot point or punchline.  “Derogatory humor doesn’t just push boundaries or highlight divisions. It can perpetuate prejudice and impact behavior by those with prejudiced views. It further divides.”

Aaker and Bagdonas close their book with a compelling argument for more levity and humor. No one on their death bed says “if only I had laughed less and taken myself more seriously.”

Sharing a laugh is a tiny expression of love, say Aaker and Bagdonas. “Where there is love, humor is not far behind.  A life of purpose and meaning is a life filled with laughter and levity.”

It’s time we get out of the abyss of solemnity and start scaling humour mountain with Aaker and Bagdonas as our sherpas.

This review first ran in the Feb. 26 edition of the Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager at McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.     

Stop sharing and cut to the chase (review of Joel Schwartzberg’s Get to the Point!)

Sharing is caring unless you’re sharing a few thoughts.

And then it’s exhausting for us and a wasted opportunity for you.

Buried in your thoughts may well be an idea that’ll make our world a better place.  But we’re not waiting around to hear about your big idea if you can’t cut to the chase.

“Effective communication hinges on one job and one job only: moving your point from your head to your audiences,” says Joel Schwartzberg, author of Get to the Point: Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter.

“That’s the ball game. If you deliver your point, you succeed. If you don’t deliver your point, you fail – even if you’re otherwise hilarious, friendly, attractive, relatable, admirable, knowledgeable and likable.”

If you struggle to get your ideas into other people’s heads, you likely suffer from a fatal yet fixable flaw. “It’s a flaw that contributes directly to nervousness, rambling and, ultimately, epic failure, and most speakers have no idea that this flaw is ruining their presentations,” says Schwartzberg.  “They don’t have a point. They have what they think is a point, but it’s actually something much less. Without a point, everything you say is pointless.”

Schwartzberg says we lose audiences when we confuse a point with a theme, topic, title, catchphrase or half-baked idea. “None of these are actual points. A point is a contention you can propose, argue, defend, illustrate and prove. A point makes clear its value and its purpose. And to maximize its impact, a point should be sold, not just shared or described.”

To help find your point and sharpen your message, Schwartzberg has a three-step test.

Start by tacking “I believe that” to the front end of your point. Do you have a complete sentence that makes sense?

The “so what” test saves you from peddling weak and self-evident truisms that’ll bore your audience. “You can tell if your point is too shallow or a truism by asking two questions,” says Schwartzberg. “Is there a reasonable counterpoint? Can I spend more than a minute defending this point?”

And the “why” test purges your point of meaningless and lazy words, or what Schwartzberg calls badjectives. “These are generic adjectives that only add dead weight to your point. When we say something is ‘great’ or ‘very good’, there’s little indication of scale, reason or specific meaning. Yet speeches and written reports – and more than a few tweets – are often loaded with badjectives.”  So instead of saying something’s important, tell us why it matters and why we should care.

Now more than ever, we need to be kind to our colleagues by cutting to the chase in our presentations, conversations, meetings, emails and voicemails. All of us are running on fumes 11 months into the pandemic. And none of us have the patience or mental bandwidth to hop on a slow train taking the scenic route to nowhere. So if you truly care, please don’t share. Just get to the point and stick the landing.

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 Feb. 13 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

What’s luck got to do with it? Pretty much everything (review of Michael Sandel’s The Tyranny of Merit)

Three things have yet to happen as I hit the 28-year mark in my career.

I’ve never been laid off, fired or had a daily commute beyond 20 minutes.

What’s been the secret to my success?

Dumb luck and good fortune.

I’ve been blessed with patient bosses who’ve believed in second and third chances. I’ve worked with kind colleagues who’ve had my back and shown me the ropes. And when it’s been time to move on, a local employer always posted a job that somehow matched my skills and experience.

Around the same time I started on this 28-year run of good luck, Michael Sandel noticed a trend among the students he taught at Harvard.

“Beginning in the 1990s and continuing to the present, more and more of my students seem drawn to the conviction that their success is their own doing, a product of their effort, something they have earned,” says Sandel, author of The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good. “Among the students I teach, this meritocratic faith has intensified.”

That faith is a problem because it leads to both hubris and humiliation.  The winners in a meritocracy fool themselves into believing they deserve the good life. They’ve earned their pay, perks, performance bonuses, golden handshakes and the right to fly off and lay on a beach during a pandemic.

“Meritocratic hubris reflects the tendency of winners to inhale too deeply of their success, to forget the luck and good fortune that helped them on their way,” says Sandel. “It is the smug conviction of those who land on top that they deserve their fate and that those on the bottom deserve theirs, too.”

So we don’t lose sleep over growing income inequality and widening gaps between winners and losers. We’re not outraged when we hear that Canada’s 100 highest-paid CEOs made 202 times what the average worker earned in 2019. If anything, we’re a little envious and hopeful that, with the same drive and determination, we too will get a fair shot at grabbing the brass ring.

“The notion that your fate is in your hands, that ‘you can make it if you try,’ is a double-edged sword, inspiring in one way but invidious in another. It congratulates the winners but denigrates the losers, even in their own eyes. For those who can’t find work or make ends meet, it is hard to escape the demoralizing thought that their failure is their own doing, that they simply lack the talent and drive to succeed.”

The end result is an abandonment of the common good. The smug winners in a meritocracy are indifferent to those who are struggling. The demoralized losers are grow resentful of elites and throw their support behind populist leaders.

So what’s our solution? Sandel says we need to start appreciating the dignity of essential frontline workers in places like hospitals, long-term care homes and grocery stores. If these workers left their posts to join senior executives on the beach, we’d all be in serious trouble. Yet in a meritocracy, there’s rampant credentialism. We’re told that the only way to realize our full and true potential is by earning a degree or diploma. This diminishes both the value of work that doesn’t require a credential and worth of the people doing these jobs.

We also need to rediscover a much-needed sense of humility. It’s time we remember how to count our blessings.

“A lively sense of the contingency of our lot can inspire a certain humility. Such humility is the way back from the harsh ethic of success that drives us apart. It points beyond a tyranny of merit toward a less rancorous, more generous public life.  

“Why do the successful owe anything to the less-advantaged members of society? The answer to this question depends on recognizing that, for all our striving, we are not self-made and self-sufficient; finding ourselves in a society that prizes our talents is our good fortune, not our due,” says Sandel.

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

Ditch the presentation & have a conversation (review of Eric Bergman’s One Bucket at a Time)

There’s only one good reason to bring us together for a meeting on Zoom or in a room.

Walking us through PowerPoint decks isn’t it.

“The only reason for bringing people together, whether in person or remotely, is to listen to someone share something of value,” says Eric Bergman, presentation skills coach and author of One Bucket at a Time.

“The secret to success is simple,” says Bergman. “Bring meaningful content. Deliver that content in a memorable way. If you do, you significantly increase your chances of informing, educating, influencing or persuading anyone.”

PowerPoint makes it hard to share something of value in a memorable way for two reasons.

We can’t listen to you and read your slides at the same time. Ask us to both and we’ll do neither.  During virtual meetings, we’ll mute our mics, turn off our cameras, minimize our Zoom screens and beg off because of conveniently unstable internet connections. When we finally return to meeting rooms, we’ll revert to our pre-pandemic habit of staring at our phones or off into space.

PowerPoint also makes it easy to bury audiences in ideas and information. But we can’t absorb more than one idea at a time. Run us through 60 bullet-ridden and chart-stuffed slides in 45 minutes and you’ll overload our short-term working memory. Nothing will transfer over and stick in our long-term memory. You’ll tell us everything but we’ll remember nothing.

So if you have something worth sharing, try saying it without PowerPoint. It’ll be a leap of faith but trust that we’ll love you for it, remember what you say and act on what you tell us.

“Without slides, there can be a presentation,” says Bergman. “Without a presenter, there is no presentation. Successful presenters understand this. They know that capitalizing on how people listen is the key to their success – to having their ideas understood, absorbed, remembered and acted upon.”

Successful companies also get it.  At LinkedIn, a document formatted in PowerPoint’s landscape mode goes out at least 24 hours before a meeting. There’s no discussion until everyone’s read the document. “Slides are never presented to the group. Instead the focus in on discussion, a process that distinctly separates the written word from the spoken.”

Amazon’s eliminated slideware presentations altogether.  Meetings start with everyone reading a six-page memos written with complete sentences and paragraphs rather than bullet points. “The six-page memo provides a deep context of what’s going to be discussed. When everyone is ready, discussion begins. Questions are asked and answered. A decision is made.” Ditching PowerPoint doesn’t seem to be holding Amazon back.

Converting presentations into structured conversations requires you to welcome questions from start to finish. Never force audiences to sit in silence until you’ve finished talking.

“The simplest way to breathe life into modern presentations is to create an equal, engaging partnership with the audience by encouraging and answering their questions,” says Bergman. “Give them a chance to probe your ideas. The simple exercise of them asking questions helps cement those ideas into part of who they are. When that happens, they’ll be applying those ideas long after you and they have left the room.”

Answering questions clearly and concisely is a skill that can be learned. “Whenever an answer extends for more than 10 words, you’re making assumptions about what’s important to whoever asked the question. If all answers extend beyond 20 seconds, don’t be surprised if they simply quit asking.”

Many of us are closing in on our first anniversary of working from home. One way to combat Zoom fatigue is to have a little less information and a little more conversation in 2021. Bergman can help make that happen.

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.

Your male colleague says something sexist? It’s your two-second litmus test moment (review of Good Guys)

I failed the test but I’ll be ready for the next one.

I was in a meeting with a manager who kept mentioning “his girls”. He wasn’t talking about his preteen daughters. He was referring to his colleagues around the boardroom table.  

I shot the women a sympathetic look but didn’t call out the manager. I was still new on the job and stunned by this unexpected throwback to the 1950s. I admit that was a pretty thin excuse for staying silent.

Men saying sexist and stupid things serve up what David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson call litmus test moments. These are the moments when the women we work with decide whether we’re an ally or a bystander. And we have no more than two seconds to pick a side.

So what should we say?

The authors of Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace recommend a single word.

“Just say ‘ouch!’. The beauty of the ouch intervention is that it buys you a few extra seconds to formulate a coherent way to communicate what landed the wrong way with you.

“So, after you tell everyone in the meeting or within earshot in the workplace that something just happened that wasn’t okay, you’ve now got time to formulate your follow-up elaboration.”

You can elaborate by saying the comment or quip wasn’t cool, it was way out of line and not something we say or do around here.

You can ask your colleague if he really just said what you thought you heard. Did he actually mean it? Did he think he was being funny, clever, ironic or endearing?

“Going against your gender tribe’s long-standing bro code to promote an equitable and inclusive workplace is where the cost of allyship quickly gets real,” acknowledge Smith and Johnson.

They believe public confrontation’s warranted if your male colleague is a malignant and serial misogynist, is young enough to know better, has been unapologetic about past misbehavior or has said something so egregious or offensive that it demands an immediate rebuke.

For a clueless colleague who doesn’t check these boxes, follow up your “ouch” with a private conversation. 

The women we work with don’t need to be rescued. They’re not looking for a savior. They just want us to be better allies.

“Allies emphasize humility and gender partnership – men and women working together in complementary roles – to create and support inclusive workplaces.”

It’s not enough to be an ally in private. Men need to speak up and advocate for gender equality, especially when women aren’t in the room.

“Speaking out isn’t easy,” admit Smith and Johnson. “But becoming a partner and ally to women is a crucial element of helping them reach equity in the workplace. If you think you’re doing enough, you’re probably not. Push further.”

The authors offer 60 practical strategies for interpersonal, public and systemic allyship.

We’ve all had the privilege of working and living with wicked smart and strong women.  As colleagues, husbands and dads, we need to be more than just good guys. Gender inequality is not a women’s issue. It’s a leadership issue and it’s a fight we need to loudly join as all-in allies.

This review first ran in the Dec. 26 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.  

The epic rise & spectacular fall of WeWork & Adam Neumann (review)

Today’s overworked, underpaid and unappreciated employee is tomorrow’s confidential source for a reporter.

And disgruntled workers will happily talk as it all goes wrong for leaders lacking in hubris.

In writing about the rise and fall of shared office renter WeWork, journalist Reeves Wiedeman did more than 200 interviews over 18 months with employees at all levels and from every department. Senior executives, landlords, investors, bankers, lawyers and advisors also chimed in.

What they told Wiedeman for his book Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork makes the company’s botched $47 billion initial public offering and the sacking of co-founder Adam Neumann seem inevitable. This was a company and leader who weren’t exactly diligent at managing their nickels.

Take WeWork’s annual summer camps, which Vanity Fair once described as “a lavish bacchanalia” and “a sort of corporate retreat-meets-Coachella for the Silicon Valley set.”

In 2018, WeWork flew 6,000 employees to Eridge Park south of London. Deepak Chopra delivered a keynote. Lorde and Bastille performed concerts. Employees camped out in tents and slept on air mattresses.

Neumann, his wife and kids flew in on WeWork’s brand-new $60 million Gulfstream jet. To furnish and stock their campsite compound, Neumann sent his event team a shopping list that ran to three-and-a-half pages which Wiedeman reprinted in his book. Along with a “tent house suite via Raj Style” and an RV, Neumann ordered three air conditioning units, two fridges, a king-size bed, four twin-size beds, a coffee table plus a 24/7 security guard, two drivers and two bartenders. The bar included two bottles of Highland Park 30-year-old single-malt Scotch retailing at $1,000 each plus all the ingredients for making Bellinis, mimosas and white wine sangria.

In between sets by new age gurus and pop stars, Neumann and his wife took to the stage and talked about going beyond renting coworking spaces to finding homes for every orphan. “If we do the work right, we could wake up one day and say ‘we want to solve the problem of children without parents in this world’ – and do it, within two years,” Neumann said. “And from there we can go to world hunger. There’s so many topics that we can take one by one, and we will be able to tackle anything that we set our minds to.”

Not everyone was sold on Neumann’s plans to save the world. “For many longtime employees, the close of Summer Camp 2018 felt like the end of an era,” says Wiedeman. “The event had grown so large that it lost much of its charm, and many employees wished the company would just give them a week off to rest and spend the money it poured into Summer Camp on giving them all a $2,000 bonus instead.”

At its peak, WeWork had almost 10,000 employees. By the end of 2018, half the workforce had been with the company less than 6 months. “Many employees began to see WeWork less as a company than a cult. Adam’s preaching attracted a constant influx of fresh devotees who kept the machine running.”

But the machine stalled out when private investors quit throwing billion-dollar lifelines at WeWork. With a growing mountain of debt, Neumann had no choice but to take his company public. Wiedeman says prospective investors were shocked by what they discovered in WeWork’s filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

On his way out the door, Neumann negotiated a billion dollar severance package. That deal fell through when SoftBank, a Japanese conglomerate and WeWork’s largest investor, abandoned its $3 billion buyout of existing shareholders. Neumann has since sued Softbank, accusing it of breaching a contract.

Like John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, Wiedeman’s equally excellent book begs the question how smart people make stupid bets on false prophets. Along with a COVID-19 vaccine, we need an inoculation against the reality distortion fields thrown up by charismatic, cult-like founders with messiah complexes.

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 answer the wrong question when you’re procrastinating (review of Who Not How)

I’ve been procrastinating since the start of the pandemic. It turns out that’s been a smart move.

On the desk in my home office basement bunker is a notebook. Inside that notebook is nearly 30 years’ worth of hits, misses and lessons learned on leadership communications.

I’ve cribbed notes from the hundreds of leadership books I’ve reviewed and the dozens of senior executives I’ve worked with and watched in action. Some were great communicators and a few made it seem like hiring committees sometimes play cruel practical jokes on employees.  

But now I’m stuck on how to get what’s in my notebook out into the world. Next steps remain a mystery.

It turns out dawdling can be a good thing.

“Procrastination is wisdom if you listen to it,” say Who Not How authors Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy. “The bigger your personal ambition, the more procrastination you’ll experience. Everyone who is ambitious procrastinates. It is part of having big goals that stretch far beyond you.”

Procrastination puts us at a crossroads and prompts us to ask one of two questions.

“How do I do this?” is the wrong question. Turning your big and bold goal into a do-it-yourself project will lead you down the path where dreams go to die.  As you stumble along, you’ll lose confidence, your ambition will wane, you’ll grow increasingly frustrated and eventually ditch your dream.

“Who can help me with this?” is the right question. Instead of going it alone, you assemble a team of wicked smart and passionate people with the know-how and connections to get you across the finish line. They’ll boost your confidence, deepen your commitment, refuel your ambition and take your good idea and make it better.

“Asking ‘who?’ is the automatic response you need to develop every time you think of a new goal or desire,” say Sullivan and Hardy. “If you’re procrastinating, it’s because you’re focusing on how rather than who.

“If you’re courageous enough to pursue big goals, you’ll need Whos to help you. You’ll need Whos to transform your vision, giving it greater purpose and possibility than your initial thoughts could.”

So how do we assemble a dream team of Whos?

Ask for help and be as clear and compelling as possible. 

Sullivan and Hardy recommend using something they call an impact filter. On one page, answer these seven questions:

  • What’s our project?
  • What do we want to accomplish? What’s our purpose?
  • What’s the biggest difference our project will make in the world? Why’s it important?
  • What does our completed project look like? What’s the ideal outcome?
  • What’s the best that’ll happen if we take action?
  • What’s the worst that’ll happen if we do nothing? 
  • What has to be true when our project’s finished? What’s our criteria for success?

“It is actually impossible not to attract incredible Whos once your vision is defined and expressed,” say Sullivan and Hardy. “There is endless talent and skill – endless resources – waiting to be directed toward your clearly and powerfully expressed goals. People are attracted to purpose and are looking for something meaningful to be a part of. Everyone wants a compelling cause.”

Our relationships with the people who voluntarily join our compelling cause must be transformational rather than transactional. We need to be the hero to our Whos, say Sullivan and Hardy. “Don’t reach out to someone unless you have something meaningful to offer them.”

So be generous by giving more than you take and never micromanage. Trust your Whos to figure out the Hows.

“Every entrepreneurial breakthrough comes as an entrepreneur finds Whos rather than doing all of the Hows themselves,” say Sullivan and Hardy. “The greatest work you’ll do is with the people you serve and the people you work with. Your ability to succeed is based on the quality of the people in your life.”

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

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 your day job smartly & safely (review of How I Built This by Guy Raz)

Dreaming of being your own boss?

Don’t quit your day job. At least not yet. Keep putting in your 40-hour work week and spend your free time being entrepreneurial.

That steady paycheque will buy you a longer runway for getting your business off the ground.

“Most of the successful entrepreneurs I’ve met left the comfort of their previous lives as safely and smartly as possible,” says Guy Raz, who’s interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs as an award-winning journalist and author of How I Built This.  Very few entrepreneurs made blind leaps without safety nets.

Daymond John continued to wait tables at Red Lobster for six years after launching his hip hop apparel company FUBU. John used a month’s worth of wages and tips to buy a classified ad in the New York Times. That ad secured funding at a pivotal moment for his fledgling company. Nike co-founder Phil Knight kept working for five years as a certified public accountant while Southwest Airlines co-founder Herb Kelleher ran his law practice for 14 years. 

“Having a fallback plan does not mean you are building an escape hatch from your dream,” says Raz.“It’s not an excuse not to try hard, nor is it a ready-made reason to quit. It just means you’re given yourself a cushion at the bottom of your entrepreneurial leap of faith so that if you do crash, you can bounce back to fight another day.”

Raz shares key insights, lessons learned and inspirational origin stories from entrepreneurs who’ve launched companies that include Five Guys, Away luggage, the Headspace meditation app, Slack, Method, AirBNB, the Boston Beer Company, 5-hour Energy Shots, Shopify, Dropbox, TRX, Clif Bar, Dippin’ Dots, Rent the Runway and Netflix.

“It’s never been easier to make this journey,” says Raz. “So many entrepreneurs have done what you are about to do. You have a chance to prepare for what’s coming your way – if you are willing to learn from these unwitting helpers. They’ve made every mistake. They’ve fallen into every trap. They’ve taken every wrong turn. And the good ones – the successful ones – only made those mistakes, fell into those traps, took those wrong turns…once. Because they borrowed from the entrepreneurs who came before them as well. They heard the stories and learned the lessons. Now it’s your turn.”

Raz made the entrepreneurial journey himself as a radio host and podcaster. And like all entrepreneurs, he’s wrestled with crippling despair, doubt and anxiety. There will come a point when you’re ready to quit. You’ll feel completely alone and believe your world is collapsing.

This is when you put down Raz’s guidebook and crack open a notebook. “Starting a business is difficult. It is a twisting road with hours, days, weeks and months filled with struggle and failure and self-doubt and even tears,” says Raz.

“When that happens, I want you to pull out a notebook and write those worries down. I want you to trap them on the page, so that you can look at them the next day, the next week, the next month, the next year and realize that while every challenge and crisis you face in the pursuit of your idea feels like it could be the end of it all, it’s not, I promise.”

Launching a business during a pandemic is scary. But putting your entrepreneurial dream on indefinite hold and staying in a soul-crushing job that makes you miserable and fills you with regret is far more dangerous. Start your journey by reading Raz’s book, putting a notebook on your nightstand and sticking with your day job for a little while longer.

This review first ran in the Oct. 30 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Job one for leaders – find and keep stunning colleagues & part ways with everyone else (review of Reed Hastings No Rules Rules)

Because it’s been a terrible, horrible, no good and very bad year, imagine if your entire team announces they’re jumping ship.

Who do you persuade to stay? And who do you help pack up and send on their way?

At Netflix, managers call this the keeper test.

You’re a keeper if you’re exceptionally creative, do loads of great work, love your job and play well with others. In exchange, you’re well-paid and treated like a grown-up.

If you’re a jerk, slacker or a sweet person who’s a non-stellar employee, you get a generous severance package. Your departure frees up a spot for a new hire who’ll add to Netflix’s talent density. 

“Your number one goal as a leader is to develop a work environment consisting exclusively of stunning colleagues,” says Netflix CEO and No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention co-author Reed Hastings.

“For top performers, a great workplace isn’t about a lavish office, a beautiful gym or a free sushi lunch. It’s about the joy of being surrounded by people who are both talented and collaborative. People who can help you be better. When every member is excellent, performance spirals upward as employees learn from and motivate one another.”

Combining top talent with a commitment to candor and honesty always lets you rip most of the pages out of your creativity-killing and initiative-stifling employee handbook. The thinner the book, the better your chances of unleashing your team’s entrepreneurial spirit and ability to move fast.

“If you build an organization made up of high performers, you can eliminate most controls,” says Hastings. “The denser the talent, the greater the freedom you can offer. At most companies, policies and control processes are put in place to deal with employees who exhibit sloppy, unprofessional or irresponsible behavior. But if you avoid or move out these people, you don’t need the rules.”

It’s been a winning formula for Netflix.

Hastings and his business partner once tried to sell Netflix to Blockbuster for $50 million. At the time, Blockbuster was a $9 billion company.

“Blockbuster held all the aces,” says Hastings. “They had the brand, the power, the resources, and the vision. Blockbuster had us beat hands down. It was not obvious at the time, even to me, but we had one thing that Blockbuster did not: a culture that valued people over process, emphasized innovation over efficiency, and had very few controls. Our culture has allowed us to continually grow and change as the world, and our members’ needs, have likewise morphed around us.”

Blockbuster declared bankruptcy in 2010 and shuttered more than 9,000 stores (the last remaining store is in Bend, Oregon which you can book through Airbnb for all-night, back to the 90s slumber parties). Today, Netflix has just shy of 170 million subscribers in 190 countries. A stock price that started at $1 hit $350 in 2019. The company runs its own studio and streams award-winning original content. Netflix ranks as America’s most highly regarded company and it’s where tech workers say they’d most like a job.

“Netflix is different,” says Hastings. “We have a culture where ‘no rules’ rules. Once you start developing this type of culture, a virtuous cycle kicks in. Removing controls creates a culture of freedom and responsibility which attracts top talent and makes possible even fewer controls. All this takes you to a level of speed and innovation that most companies can’t match.”

Hastings asked Erin Meyer, an INSEAD business school professor and author of The Culture Map, to take an impartial look at Netflix’s culture, interview hundreds of current and former employees and help write No Rules Rules. “In most organizations, people join the dots the same way that everyone else does and always has done,” says Meyer. “This preserves the status quo. But one day someone comes along and connects the dots in a different way, which leads to an entirely different understanding of the world. That’s what happened at Netflix.”

So while binge-watching Netflix over the weekend, think about who on your team you’d fight hard to keep. Assembling a team of stunning colleagues is your first dot.

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.