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.

Three ways to save & support your favourite local restaurants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gilbert and Clarke Swanson had a 236-tonne problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your mighty ROAR starts with a question.

What’s your favourite future?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jantsch says there are five keys to growing your business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning to join the Great Resignation and jump ship?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A parent emailed in a panic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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