The six habits of resilient leaders to get us through these turbulent times (review of Rise Up by Ali Grovue and Mike Watson)

I’ve worked with some great leaders, lots of good ones and a few who left me wondering if the hiring committee had played a cruel joke.

Early in my career, I worked at a company that was loaded with great leaders. Almost all were homegrown. The executive team had brought the business back from the brink and turned it into an industry leader. The company was also a leader when it came to employee engagement. Employees, from new hires to the old guard, were proud to work for the company and confident in senior leadership.

I didn’t fully appreciate at the time what the executive team had pulled off. I assumed every organization was blessed with this caliber of leader. I’d learn over the years that resilient leadership is a rare and wonderful thing.

Ali Grovue and Mike Watson with Ignite Management Services are doing their part to close this leadership gap. Through coaching established and emerging leaders, the authors of “Rise Up: Leadership Habits for Turbulent Times” have identified six essential habits that separate the best from the rest.

Resilient leaders build relationships based on mutual trust. “If your team does not trust you, you cannot succeed,” say Grovue and Watson. Trust is built through care, communication, character, consistency and competence.

Great leaders are inquisitive. “Be present, ask questions and listen deliberately.” Make a habit out of asking open-ended questions. You don’t know all the answers or even all the questions you should be asking.

Humility is another hallmark habit of resilient leaders. Success is a team effort so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Resilient leaders are optimistic. They believe that hard work pays off and leads teams and organizations to a better place. “Leaders who fear the worst will be more prone to accepting mediocrity. Their mindset permeates their team, who invariably embrace negativity, which stifles creativity.”

Great leaders have the courage to push themselves, their teams and organizations out of their comfort zones. They also have the courage of their convictions, refusing to compromise on core values.

And above all, resilient leaders are disciplined. It’s the one habit to rule them all, says Grovue and Watson. “Self-discipline is the master habit that enables leaders to sustain behavior change across all six habits. The most resilient leaders are those who are unrelenting in their efforts to prioritize their health and use their time well.”

Grovue and Watson acknowledge that making these six habits a daily practice will be challenging. You can’t get away with mastering a few and ignoring or faking the others. You’ll also need outside help to break your bad habits and build up the right ones.

“If resilient leadership were easy, we would see much more evidence of it,” say Grovue and Watson. “Countless leaders have ambitiously set out to change the way they lead. Yet few make changes that are enduring. Building new habits is a difficult thing. It takes great tenacity to redefine, on a permanent basis, how we lead – and requires having the discipline to stick with it and the ability to reengage when we face setbacks.”

These are tough and turbulent times. Now more than ever, we need resilient leaders who share Grovue and Watson’s belief that “being a great leader is about enabling people, individually and collectively, to be the best versions of themselves in pursuit of noble goals.”

So if you’re a leader who’s only in it for the next promotion with a bigger title and more pay, perks and power, you have a choice. You can either change your mindset and adopt new habits or step aside and let a resilient leader rise up and take the helm.

Organizations would also be wise to require everyone heading off for leadership training and development to first read Grovue and Watson’s book and do some serious self-reflection. It’ll be time well spent.

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.

Punch up, never down (review of Cathy O’Neil’s The Shame Machine)

Did anyone else stress-eat their way through the pandemic?

After two long years of sitting around on Zoom, I signed up with Noom in a bid to get into shape before going back to the office.

Noom’s a subscription-based app that calls itself the most modern weight loss course known to man or woman. It claims that 78 per cent of customers lost weight over a six-month study.

I am not one of those customers. I bailed before my free trial expired.

Cathy O’Neil would tell me I dodged a silver bullet. “Noom provides a prime example of marketing with sketchy statistics,” says the mathematician and author of The Shame Machine: Who Profits in the New Age of Humiliation. “I’m glad I’m here to walk us through that research.”

According to O’Neil, Noom’s study only counted customers who’d recorded their data two or more times a month for six consecutive months. Customers, like me, who dropped out, weren’t included. “Noom’s decision to track only very active users is guaranteed to weed out people who have been overcome with shame. Selection bias, check.”

The study also didn’t go beyond a year, which O’Neil says is too short a time frame. Studies have shown that dieters who lose a lot of weight in the first year are likely to gain most or all of it back in years two through five.

“Noom makes money with bad science,” says O’Neil. “Let’s consider the human toll on the folks who ‘failed’ on the Noom diet. They are made to feel not only fat but condemned to remain so. And it’s their fault. Like other toxic forms of shame, this one hinges on a false choice. This failure, as defined by the shame machine, disheartens them every day. It’s a lifelong blight.”

The multi-billion dollar weight loss industry isn’t the only place we’ll find what O’Neil calls shame machines. We’re targeted daily by businesses and influencers who make us feel bad and then sell us pseudoscientific fixes that don’t work. They bank on us failing, feeling even worse and coming back for more. Shame sells and never runs out of easy marks. The rest of us turn a blind eye.

“These immense shame machines punch down on people to exploit their obesity, addiction, poverty or suboptimal health, gaining power and market share in the process,” says O’Neil.

“From addiction to poverty, a constant in these shame industries is the concept of choice. The guiding premise is that the victims screwed up: they could have chosen to be rich, shapely, smart and successful, and they didn’t. It’s their fault and yes, they should feel awful about it. But now they have the opportunity to right the wrong, to correct the problem and follow the prescribed route to redemption, which is almost always fruitless. The rest of us maintain this status quo by accepting as gospel its false premises: the losers deserve their fate because they’ve made bad choices; maybe if they feel bad enough, they’ll fit ix.”

The most powerful shame machines are the social media companies on our smartphones, says O’Neil. Enragement drives engagement and nothing works us into a frenzy quite like a digital shaming. But performative virtue-signaling solves little to nothing, and risks making things far worse. “The shame networks are busy engaging us to rip apart our social fabric, and in doing so, addict us to short-term highs, the feelings of petty power or outrage or vengeance.”

So what’s the solution? Don’t spend your time and money with businesses that profit off shame. Don’t vote for politicians that campaign on shaming others. Quit shaming strangers on social media. Extend dignity and forgiveness instead. Adopt a personal policy of due process. Treat others the way you’d want to be treated when you screw up.

And start punching up to shame the shamers. “We’ll fare far better as a society, in terms of both happiness and justice, if we succeed in redirecting shame from its current victims, who are disproportionately poor and powerless, to people who are taking advantage of the rest of us and poisoning our lives and culture,” says O’Neil.

This review was first published in the April 23rd 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.

What’s hate got to do with? Everything if you want to stay in business (review of Nicholas Webb’s What Customers Hate)

What’s not to love about your business?

If you don’t already know, you’re in for a shock. And you’re flirting with disaster.

 “Haters hold the secret to your success – or lack thereof,” says Nicholas Webb, a customer service expert and author of What Customers Hate. “Being loved by your customers should be your goal, and every business must be focused on providing value and a superior customer experience. But the recognition of the flip side of the coin—the fact that consumers hate many businesses—should alert you to the very important fact that reducing what your customers hate is just as important as increasing what they love.”

Here’s why you need to reduce the hate. Most of your customers stick with you not because they love you the most but because they hate you the least. Of the millions of people who shop at Amazon and Walmart, could you fill a minivan with all the customers who are truly, deeply and madly in love with either retailer?

For your customers, you’re currently their best possible option. You’re in serious trouble if a competitor shows up promising fewer headaches and hassles.

This is why you need to ask your customers straight up what they hate about you.

If you don’t ask, they’ll tell you indirectly through one-star reviews posted online for the whole world to see. It won’t matter if you have dozens of glowing reviews from happy and satisfied customers. Everyone reads one-star reviews to find out what’s the worst thing that could happen by doing business with you.

 “When compared to customers who love you, haters are far more likely to share with friends and social media the fact that they hate you,” says Webb. “A few bad reviews can knock you out of the competitive arena, costing your organization dearly.”

Think of the hater’s feedback as a gift, even if it hurts. Dissatisfied and disappointed customers will tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong and, as an added bonus, tell you how to make it right. “Haters are inventors who offer up specific suggestions regarding what companies can do to stop the hate.”

Best of all, you can win haters over by talking with them and taking action. “Haters who are converted to lovers are some of the best promoters for an organization or brand,” says Webb.

Webb’s created a Net Customer Experience tool along with a RealRating survey. It’s a way to track and tally what customers both love and hate from the start to finish of their customer journey with you.

That journey usually begins with a website that too often gives prospective customers a reason to hate you right from the start. “The overwhelming majority of organizations essentially suspend a brochure on the internet that they call a website,” says Webb. “Your website should be structured in such a way that it is delivering real and meaningful value to your site visitor. If you look at websites that deliver the best experiences for their customers, they are dispensing free e-books, white papers, value-based videos and free offers that are of conspicuous value.”

So don’t use your website to humble brag. Make it all about your customers. Show them some love. And make it quick and easy for them to get what they need.

Webb has practical advice for taking the hate out of the rest of your customers’ journey. He even identifies the first step every business or organization should take starting today.

“The most important action you can take right now is to repeat this mantra out loud,” says Webb. “Our customers judge our company, brand or service not only on what they love about it but what they hate about it. We pledge to recognize this reality, and henceforth strive to both increase what they love and identify and decrease what they hate. This is the future of our organization.”

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.

Lost a step at work? Prepare to jump (review of Strength to Strength by Arthur Brooks)

Brace yourself Gen Xers.

Our careers are about to peak, if they haven’t already. What follows once we’re past our prime is a swift and steep drop.

“When it comes to the enviable skills that you worked so hard to attain and that made you successful in your field, you can expect significant decline to come as soon as your thirties, or as late as your early fifties,” says Arthur C. Brooks, author of From Strength to Strength. “That’s the deal, and it’s not fun. Sorry.”

Brooks says we have three options. One’s bad, one’s sad and one’s our ticket to a new kind of success, greater happiness and a deeper purpose in life’s second half.

We can deny reality and rage against the inevitable.   This means working harder and faster, tempting fate with our health and hoping no one notices that we’ve lost a step.

This traps us in a vicious cycle where we’re “terrified of decline, dissatisfied with victories that come less and less frequently, hooked on the successes that are increasingly of the past, and isolated from others.”

Our second option is to give up and make peace with our slide into irrelevance. For a preview of where this leads, take four minutes and 20 seconds and listen to Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days.

Or we can work up the courage to jump to what Brook calls the second curve where there’s a new strength waiting for us.

“If you choose door number three, congratulations,” says Brooks. “There’s a bright future ahead. But it requires a bunch of new skills and new way of thinking.”

In our younger years, it was fluid intelligence that fueled our career. It’s this intelligence that let us come up with new ideas, solve hard problems, learn quickly and focus hard.

As that intelligence fades, crystallized intelligence takes over and draws on our lifetime of knowledge and experiences.

“When you are young, you have raw smarts; when you are old, you have wisdom,” says Brooks. “When you are young, you can generate lots of facts; when you are old, you know what they mean and how to use them.”

So why are we so reluctant to jump? Brooks blames our addiction to success and our need to feel special. We’re not ready to give up the money, power, prestige and adulation.

“The symbols of your specialness have encrusted you like a ton of barnacles. Not only are these things incapable of bringing you any real satisfaction; they’re making you feel too heavy to jump to your next curve. You need to chip a bunch away.”

The trick is to redefine satisfaction. On life’s first curve, we believe that satisfaction equals continually getting what we want, success equals continually having more than others and failure equals having less.

There’s a different equation on the second curve. Satisfaction equals what we have divided by what we want. The key is to want less of what doesn’t matter.  Brooks recommends loving people rather than things. “To misplace your love is to invite frustration and futility – to get on the hedonistic treadmill and set it to ultra-fast.”

If you’ve hit the peak of your career, it’s time to gracefully step off that treadmill and put your crystallized intelligence to work on life’s second curve.   

 “No matter how you find your passion, early on, pursue it with a white-hot flame, dedicating it to the good of the world,” says Brooks. “But hold your success lightly – be ready to change as your abilities change. Devote the back half of your life to serving others with your wisdom. Get old sharing the things you believe are most important. Excellence is always its own reward, and this is how you can be most excellent as you age.”

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.

Pay attention to what’s stealing your focus (review of Stolen Focus by Johann Hari)

Would you pay to use Tik Tok, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or LinkedIn?

While these social media platforms are currently free, we’re paying a steep price.

These platforms are pouring acid on our attention, warns journalist Johann Hari. He interviewed more than 250 experts on focus and attention while writing his book Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again. Hari says social media platforms harm us in six ways.

These platforms have conditioned our minds to crave constant rewards above all else. It’s all that many of us seem to focus on. “They make us hunger for hearts and likes,” says Hari.

These platforms push us to continually switch tasks. We stop whatever we’re doing at work, school and home to check in dozens, even hundreds, of times a day. “The evidence shows this is as bad for the quality of your thinking as getting drunk or stoned,” says Hari.

We’re being fracked. “These sites get to know what makes you tick, in very specific ways – they learn what you like to look at, what excites you, what angers you, what enrages you. They learn your personal triggers – what, specifically, will distract you.”

Enragement equals engagement so the algorithms that run these sites amp up the crazy and intentionally make us angry. “Scientists have been proving in experiments for years that anger itself screws with your ability to pay attention,” says Hari.

We start believing that we’re surrounded by equally angry people. “These sites make you feel that you are in an environment full of anger and hostility, so you become more vigilant – a situation where more of your attention shifts to searching for dangers and less and less is available for slower forms of focus like reading a book or playing with your kids.”

And most concerning of all, Hari says these sites have set the world on fire. “There is evidence that these sites are now severely harming our ability to come together as a society to identify our problems and to find solutions.”

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found that fake news travels six times faster on Twitter than real news. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, falsehoods on Facebook outperformed all of the top stories at 19 mainstream news sites combined. This explains why once rational family and friends believe conspiracy theories, deny science, distrust institutions, cheer on trucker convoys, refuse vaccinations and pledge allegiance to autocrats here at home and around the world.

So what’s the solution? Ban surveillance capitalism and these social media platforms will switch overnight to subscription-based business models. Yes, we’d have to pay to use these platforms but we’d stop being the product that’s constantly distracted, packaged and sold to advertisers.

“Suddenly, Facebook would no longer be working for advertisers and offering up your secret wishes and preferences as their real product,” says Hari. “It would be working for you. Its job, for the first time, would be to actually figure out what makes you happy and give it to you. So if, like most people, you want to be able to focus, the site would have to be redesigned to facilitate that.” Notifications could be batched and served up once a day. Infinite scrolling could be dropped while features that connect you offline with nearby friends could be added.

Expect Silicon Valley to put up a fight. Instead of changing business models, we’ll be told to change our individual behavior by showing some self-restraint. Hari says offering upbeat, simplistic and individual solutions to big problems with deep causes in our culture constitutes cruel optimism. “It is cruel because the solution you are offering is so limited, and so blind to the deeper causes, that for most people, it will fail.” And when that solution fails, we’ll believe it’s our fault and won’t hold social media companies accountable.

Hari is calling for an attention rebellion because a distracted life is a diminished life. It’s time we start paying attention to what’s stealing our focus.

This review first ran in the March 11 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 annoying coworkers with your emails (review of 33 Ways Not to Screw Up Your Business Emails by Anne Janzer)

Here’s a Netflix docuseries I’d binge watch in a weekend.

Have ordinary people stand in front of a packed theatre and read their most cringe-worthy work emails.

There’d be the “my boss is a complete idiot” emails accidentally sent to bosses. The soul-baring private messages inadvertently forwarded to all-staff distribution lists. The late-night 3,000-word rally cries and manifestos to fix all that’s wrong at work. The self-aggrandizing and ingratiating emails sent to higher-ups. The all-cap emails fired off in righteous fury over a perceived slight. The snarky and tongue-in-cheek emails that were cruel, unkind and broke friendships. And the emails with jokes, memes and videos that were never in any way suitable for work.

Now, you’re smart enough to never send any of these emails or you at least know better than to read them before a live studio audience. But all of us are likely sending emails that are taxing the cognitive load of our bosses and colleagues.

Anne Janzer has practical tips for cleaning up our email hygiene in her book 33 Ways Not to Screw Up Your Business Emails.

“An email may seem impermanent, fleeting and private,” says Janzer. “But it long outlasts the attention you pay to it, and could haunt you later. Check what you’re saying before you send messages to other people’s mailboxes and corporate email servers. Once you send an email, you lose control over what others do with your words.”

Here are five simple tips to fix your emails

Take the coffee test.  You’ve written an email that you need everyone to read. Don’t hit send just yet. Instead, email yourself a draft. Then go stand in line for a coffee or wander into the kitchen and pop a pod into your Keurig. Take out your phone and read your draft email. Can you finish reading it  before your coffee’s served or brewed? If not, rewrite your email and try again.

Now apply the GPS test to make sure there’ll be no confusion. “To test for tone and clarity, read it aloud in a monotone voice,” says Janzer. “Think of the automated navigation voice on a GPS system. Does your email make sense when stripped of all vocal inflection.? If you find yourself wanting to emphasize words to clarify what you mean, you may be misleading the reader.”

Stay in the Goldilocks zone. We all know to never email anyone a wall of words. But emails that are too short can be just as problematic. Aim for emails that are just right in terms of length, context and detail.

Always lead with a personalized greeting. “We are wired to pay attention to our names,” says Janzer, who ran a survey about salutations on LinkedIn. More than half of respondents chose “Hi name”, with 20 per cent opting for “Hello name” and 12 per cent preferring “Dear name”.

And start putting the purpose of your email in the subject line. Are you emailing something for review, discussion or approval? Are you sharing, or asking for, information?  Have your team agree on abbreviations like FR, FA, FD and FYI.  What you put in the subject line decides the fate of your email. Is it opened and read right away or is it left unread and quickly forgotten?

I could’ve used this book at the start of my career. Email rules at work tend to be unwritten and learned through trial and error. So why not have your team read Janzer’s book as a team-building and bonding exercise? And then bring everyone together to hammer out some email ground rules. If you need an icebreaker, invite a few brave souls to revisit their worst ever work emails. I have a few I could send you that’ll make you cringe.

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

Beware of billionaires offering to save the world (review of Peter Goodman’s Davos Man)

Alexa, how much did Jeff Bezos spend on his 10-minute rocket ride to the edge of space?

Bezos has reportedly spent $5.5 billion on his space company.

Here’s what the Amazon founder could’ve done with that money here on Earth.

He could’ve saved 38 million people from starvation, according to World Food Program estimates.  Vaccinated two billion people in developing countries against COVID-19. Given paid sick leave to Amazon employees who contracted COVID while working in his warehouses.  And he could have cut, rather than hiked, the price of masks sold by Amazon during the pandemic.

Bezos is not only the world’s richest man – he’s also a Davos Man. Political scientist Samuel Huntington coined the term in 2004 for the globe-trotting billionaires who fly into the Alpine resort town every year for the World Economic Forum.

New York Times global economics correspondent Peter S. Goodman has covered the forum for years and watched Davos Man in action.

“He is a rare and remarkable creature – a predator who attacks without restraint, perpetually intent on expanding his territory and seizing the nourishment of others, while protecting himself from reprisal by posing as a symbiotic friend to all,” says Goodman in his book Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World.

“He pretends that his interests are the same as everyone else’s. He seeks gratitude for his exploits, validation as the product of a just system in which he is a guardian of the public interest, even as he devours all the sources of sustenance. He argues that his own prosperity is a precondition for broader progress, the key to vibrancy and innovation.”

What does Davos Man want in return for gracing us with his presence and saving our world? Tax cuts. Deregulation. No unions. Minimum wages instead of living wages. Austerity measures that force bankrupt governments to privatize public services. No handouts for anyone during tough times until billionaires get their taxpayer-funded corporate bailouts because stocks need to bought back, dividends need to be paid out and executive compensation packages need bumping up.

So how’s that deal working out? Goodman reports that over the past 40 years, the wealthiest one per cent of Americans saw their fortunes soar $21 trillion while households in the bottom half saw their wealth shrink by $900 million. Since 1978, total compensation for corporate executives has increased more than 900 per cent, while wages for typical American workers have risen just under 12 per cent. Worldwide, the 10 richest people are worth more than the combined economies of the 85 poorest countries.

In 2020, the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by $3.9 trillion while their philanthropic contributions hit a 10-year low. At the same time, upwards of 500 million people fell into poverty during the global pandemic.  “If the agony of 2020 had demonstrated anything it was how the rich could not only prosper but profiteer off everyone else’s suffering,” says Goodman.

Extreme inequality is leading us to a bad place. We’re scared and struggling. Out of desperation, we turn to real or pretend populists who pocket campaign contributions from Davos Man, slash their taxes, dismantle safety nets, fuel conspiracy theories and deflect our anger onto immigrants (build walls!) and governments (drain swamps and fire up the freedom convoys!).

“Strife and inequality will create more opportunities for political movements that employ scarcity as a springboard to hate, stoking fear of ethnic and religious minorities as an electoral strategy.”

So what’s the solution? Goodman recommends a universal basic income that provides economic security for regular people along with a wealth tax for billionaires and the break-up of their monopolies.

It won’t be easy. Bank on billionaires threatening to take their ball and go to one of their dozen homes, yachts or islands. This may also help explain why they’re suddenly keen to fly off into space and dream about living on Mars.

“Reducing economic inequality is not terribly complicated,” says Goodman. “It’s just exceedingly difficult as a political objective. The government needs to reapportion wealth so that ordinary people gain a meaningful stake in society. But those who possess wealth have mastered how to use it to manipulate democracy, preventing a fair distribution.”

While that redistribution will be difficult, it’s essential and ultimately doable.

“Democracy has been warped by the billionaire class, its workings tilted toward private islands, offshore bank accounts and secret meetings in Davos convened to plot the next insider deal.

“Reclaiming power from Davos Man requires no insurrection or revolution of ideas. It demands the thoughtful use of a tool that has been there all along: democracy.”

Although a convoy that grounds the Gulfstream private jets at the next World Economic Forum may be worth considering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warzel and Petersen have a few hobby ground rules.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the world’s a factory (review of Christopher Mim’s Arriving Today)

I did my Christmas shopping last year in under an hour thanks to a century worth of technological innovation, supply chains that stretch around the world and a legion of industrial athletes.

While we were in the thick of a global pandemic, the gifts starting arriving on my front porch the next day. How that happened was a miracle and a mystery that journalist Christopher Mims reveals in his book Arriving Today: From Factory to Front Door – Why Everything Has Changed About How and Why we Buy.

Mims acts as an international tour guide, inviting us to follow a USB charger from a factory in Vietnam to a front porch in the United States.

“Along the way, you’ll become convinced, I hope, of this astonishing fact: You live inside a factory,” says Mims. “We all do. And you are also a worker inside that factory. As are we all. By the time you finish this book, I hope that you will never again be able to take a package from your front step without feeling a tiny shiver at the gobsmacking effort and complexity behind its delivery to your home.”

Mims’ tour starts at Cai Mep International Terminal, one of the largest container ports in Southeast Asia. “Manufacturing in the twenty-first century isn’t material in, finished products out, as it was in the days of Bethlehem Steel and Henry Ford,” says Mims. “Today’s manufacturing is waypoints on much longer supply chains, a string of factories transforming raw materials into parts and subassemblies before final assembly in some other facility.”

Mims then boards a cargo ship that’s the length of four football fields and carries up to 6,600 shipping containers. It’s about half the size of the world’s largest cargo ship, which is as long as the Empire State Building is tall.

“If you look around the room you’re in now, it’s almost certain that all or nearly all of what you can see came by ship.”

Once back on shore after a 22-day crossing of the Pacific Ocean, Mims takes us through the Port of Los Angeles, the cab of a fully wired long-haul semitruck and into an Amazon fulfilment centre. “Graft Willy Wonka’s sense of whimsy onto Henry Ford’s pragmatism, hire M.C Escher to decorate and Rube Goldberg as chief engineer, then crib the scale of the place from the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which a warehouse of crates stretches to the vanishing point. Make the ceilings snow white, the floors polished concrete, and fill the guts of the thing – miles of curving stainless-steel conveyor – with tens of thousands of daisy-yellow plastic totes.”

Mims’ tour ends with us riding shotgun in a UPS truck. Delivery drivers are industrial athletes, averaging 135 stops a day during a 10 or 12-hour shift.

“In the twenty-first century, how things get to us matters as much as how they’re made,” says Mims. “With manufacturing of even a single object spread across ever more intermediary stages, factories and countries, in many ways the supply chain and the factory floor are now indistinguishable. Adding you, the consumer to the equation and molding your behavior to make it more compatible with this system, through algorithms and marketing tricks, is trivial compared to all the effort that comes before you click the Buy button.”

Mims delivers on his promise of leaving us gobsmacked by the technology, logistics and networks of factories, ports, ships, barges trains, planes, trucks and warehouses that deliver the world to our front door.

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 Dec. 17th Hamilton Spectator.