Social media at the water’s edge (review of Michael Hyatt’s Platform)

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

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World

By Michael Hyatt

Thomas Nelson


A quick look at the books for the Hamilton Waterfront Trust shows there’s a big problem.

The Waterfront Trust needs to spend a lot more money on advertising. Last year’s ad buy was a meager $37,000 for seven Trust-run businesses with combined revenues of more than $2 million. Eight out of every 10 ad dollars went to the Hamilton Harbour Queen. For those of you not in the know, that’s a boat and not the winner of a nautical beauty pageant.

The Waterfront Trust can’t cost-cut its way to financial sustainable. Revenues need to grow. That means more of us need to spend more of our money at the water’s edge. But we won’t go if we don’t know what’s there.

Not only does the Trust’s brain trust need to double down on its ad buy. They need to invest in social media and build a bigger and better platform beyond a website that has all the charm and personality of an instruction manual.

“A platform is the thing you have to stand on to get heard,” says author and social media expert Michael Hyatt, who has more than 400,000 monthly visitors to his website and 50,000 subscribers to his daily blog posts. “It’s your stage. Today’s platform is not build of wood or concrete or perched on a grassy hill. Today’s platform is built of people. Contacts. Connections. Followers.

“In today’s business environment, you need two things: a compelling product and a significant platform.” Hyatt says business competition has never been greater and consumers are more distracted than ever before.

A well-built platform delivers on three fronts:

  • Increased visibility that elevates you above the crowd
  • More amplification so you can be heard over the roar of the crowd
  • And greater engagement with current and prospective customers

Social media makes up the main planks in your platform. These planks include Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest, YouTube, blogs and websites.

Taken together, social media gives you a platform to start and join conversations. Share ideas. Champion a cause. Lead the charge. Offer solutions. And build an ever-expanding tribe of raving fans and loyal followers.

“Marketing may not be dead but, in the world of social media, it has morphed. Dramatically. Tribe-building is the new marketing. Marketing is no longer about shouting in a crowded marketplace; it is about participating in a dialogue with fellow travelers. Marketing is no longer about generating transactions; it is about building relationships. Marketing is no longer about exploiting a market for your own benefit; it is about serving those who share your passion – for your mutual benefit.”

An engaged tribe will sing your praises to family and friends, fans and followers both online and off. They’ll happily offer up testimonials and endorsements. They’ll share their stories and experiences. They’ll shoot videos, take photos and create some amazing social media content that casts you in favourable light.

Hyatt cautions that you must have a wow before figuring out how to build a platform and connect with your tribe.  Twitter and Facebook won’t save a lousy product or disappointing service. If anything, it will hasten your demise. To borrow a line from marketing guru David Ogilvy, “great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster.”

The Waterfront Trust has a real wow at the water’s edge. With the right social media platform, the Trust could easily connect and engage with a pretty passionate tribe. A tribe who’s looking for a safe and scenic place to run, walk and bike. To entertain in-laws and impress out-of-town guests. To go on dates. To get the kids unplugged from their iPads and Playstations and connected with the outdoors and. To throw cool parties, events and offsite retreats. And to foster an even greater sense of community and civic pride.

@jayrobb works and lives in #HamOnt and blogs at

Book review: The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited

This review was published in the July 16th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited

By Richard Florida

Basic Books


Back in May and at the 11th hour, city politicians put pressure on the public school board to renovate and relocate their headquarters to the former Cannon Knitting Mills in the downtown core. The school board said thanks but not thanks. So the building sits vacant and the search for a savior continues.

At around the same time, a Toronto company inked a $61.75 million deal to buy the former Lang Tannery in downtown Kitchener.

This deal was eight years in the making. In 2004, the City of Kitchener introduced a special 10-year property tax levy. The 1.25 per cent tax hike was expected to generate $110 million for an economic development investment fund earmarked specifically for postsecondary education and knowledge industries.

The city drew $30 million from the fund to help build the University of Waterloo’s $147 million school of pharmacy across from the former leather tannery. Another $6.5 million brought Wilfrid Laurier’s faculty of social work a few blocks over. A new transit hub will be also going in nearby to bring regional light-rail, Via Rail, GO Transit and buses under one roof.

Impressed by the renewal happening downtown, a developer asked about buying the former tannery in 2007.  The mayor cut his vacation short to close the sale and the city and region gave the developer just shy of $900,000 to help cover environmental clean-up costs.

The developer in turn transformed the factory into the Tannery District. The 350,000 square foot district covers two city blocks and is 95 per cent leased to dozens of companies and start-ups from technology, digital media and life sciences industries. Tenants include Google, education software company Desire2Learn and Communitech, the association representing Waterloo Region technology companies.

In our knowledge-based and innovation-driven economy, these are companies you want setting up shop in your city. And you want the people working in those companies to call your community home.

Richard Florida, the Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, first christened these workers the Creative Class in 2002.

These highly skilled and sought after people work in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music and entertainment. They create the new ideas, new technology and new creative content that drive productivity and prosperity. There’s also a broader group of creative professionals in business and finance, law, health care and related fields who are well compensated to solve complex problems.

On the 10th anniversary of the Rise of the Creative Class, Florida has revisited and revised what quickly became the playbook for urban renewal in many communities. His predictions and prognostications have proven true while his critics seem to have missed the mark.

The Creative Class has fared far better in weathering the economic storm compared to the Service and Working Classes. The same holds true for communities that have recruited and retained a critical mass of creative workers.

“These places are prospering, distinguished by a new model of economic development that takes shape around the 3Ts – technology, talent and tolerance. The most successful and prosperous metros excel at all three,” says Florida, citing U.S. cities like Boston, Ann Arbor, Boulder, and Ithaca where the Creative Class accounts for more than 40 per cent of the workforce.

Florida adds to the economic development mix a fourth T in territorial assets. Quality of place matters to the Creative Class. When deciding where to live and work, they ask what’s there, who’s there and what’s going on?

“Successful places do not provide just one thing; they provide a range of quality of place options for different kinds of people at different stages in their lives. Great cities are not monoliths, they are federations of neighbourhoods.”

Building a creative community is an organic process, says Florida. He argues that public boondoggles like stadiums, casinos, convention centres and entertainment districts don’t work. It’s the small things that matter most to the Creative Class. “Real economic development is people orientated and community-based. It’s a matter of providing the right conditions, planting the right seeds and then letting things take their course.

“The bottom line is that cities need a people climate as much as, and perhaps even more than, they need a business climate.” Cities like Hamilton need a smart and focused strategy for attracting and retaining charter members of the Creative Class and building our own homegrown talent. Get that right and the companies, developers and investment firms will follow. And, as Florida spells out, that’s how buildings like the Cannon Knitting Mills are reborn, cities are revitalized and the creativity inherent within us all is fully realized. 

Book review: The New Geography of Jobs

The New Geography of Jobs

By Enrico Moretti

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


So what company will our city keep? 

Will Hamilton join the ranks of the fortunate few? Will our city be blessed with a thriving innovation sector and a highly skilled and well-paid workforce?  Will great employers set up shop and will the best and brightest employees take up residence in Hamilton?

Or will our city join the ranks of struggling communities, cursed with the wrong industries for a knowledge economy, a limited human capital base and too many dead-end jobs paying less than living wages?

Cities are rapidly moving in one of these two directions in what author  and University of California economics professor Enrico Moretti calls The Great Divergence.  Even through the economic downturn, a select few cities are experiencing an ever increasing concentration of good jobs, talent and investment. Other cities are in free fall.

“At one extreme are the brain hubs – cities with a well-educated labour force and a strong innovation sector,” says Moretti. “At the other extreme are cities once dominated by traditional manufacturing, which are declining rapidly, losing jobs and residents. In the middle are a number of cities that could go either way.”

In today’s knowledge economy, the strength of a city rests on the health of its innovation sector. It’s a sector that includes advanced manufacturing, information technology, clean tech, life sciences, medical devices, robotics and nanotechnology. 

The innovation sector is where the jobs are. Take life science research as just one example. Employment has grown 300 per cent over the last 20 years. And biomedical engineers rank at the top of the list of occupations expected to grow the most over the next decade.

The innovation sector goes beyond health and technology to include jobs that generate new ideas, products and services. “There are entertainment innovators, environmental innovators, even financial innovators,” says Moretti. “What they all have in common is that they create things the world has never seen before.”

 The only way to generate good-paying jobs in the face of global competition is to produce goods and services that are innovative, unique and not easily reproduced. Moretti says innovation has become America’s new engine of prosperity. “Cities with a large percentage of interconnected, highly educated workers will become the new factories where ideas and knowledge are formed.”

A thriving innovation sector benefits everyone in the community. Moretti has crunched the numbers and found that for each new high-tech job added to a city, five additional jobs in both skilled and unskilled occupations are created outside of the high-tech sector. What’s more, skilled and unskilled workers earn significantly more than their counterparts doing identical work in cities caught on the wrong side of The Great Divergence.

“Innovative industries bring good jobs and high salaries to the communities where they cluster, and their impact on the local economy is much deeper than their direct effect. Attracting a scientist or a software engineer to a city triggers a multiplier effect, increasing employment and salaries for those who provide local services. The best way for a city to generate jobs for less skilled workers is to attract high-tech companies that hire highly skilled ones.”

Unfortunately, there’s no blueprint or proven formula for transforming a city into a brain hub. That said, Moretti shows that we can put the odds in Hamilton’s favour by getting two things right. First, build the ecosystem that fosters, supports and connects our city’s innovators. And second, build a highly skilled workforce. Helping young people in our Code Red neighbours earn diplomas, degrees and skilled trade certificates may well be the best investment our city can make.

Book review: Time to Start Thinking – America in the Age of Descent

Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent

By Edward Luce

Atlantic Monthly Press


Marlin Steel Wire Products President Drew Greenblatt calls it a skills matrix.

Author and Financial Times columnist Edward Luce wonders if some workers see it as a Doomsday Book.

For Hamilton, it could be our blueprint for prosperity.

Marlin makes precision steel-wire baskets from an industrial park in Baltimore.

The skills matrix is posted on a wall outside the shop floor for all to see. Each of Marlin’s 30 employees is listed on the chart’s horizontal axis. On the vertical axis are 28 skills. Employees earn up to five points for each skill they learn. Some employees have more than 100 points. Some have less than 10.

“I would be worried about my future if I was him,” Greenblatt says about a low-scoring employee on the matrix.

“The exercise sounds brutal,” says Luce. “But it is also realistic. Basic skills are no longer enough to keep you in a decent job in America. You have to keep climbing the skills ladder.”

If employees miss the message with the skills matrix, in the middle of the factory is a $700,000 robot that makes 431 wire rings per minute.

When Greenblatt bought the company in 1998, most employees had low skills. Today, a quarter of the workforce has postgraduate degrees mostly in manufacturing design.  “When I took this over, there were a lot of men on the shop floor with big biceps,” Greenblatt says. “Now it’s robots and people with skills.”

Between 2000 and 2009, America lost five million manufacturing jobs. Manufacturing now accounts for less than a tenth of private sector employment and the jobs remaining are high-tech and high-skilled.

 “What few manufacturing jobs are likely to be created in the United States in the coming years will be largely for highly educated people, those who have acquired knowledge that cannot be learned on the job, such as robotics, advanced engineering or biochemistry,” says Luce.

The loss of middle-skilled manufacturing jobs is hollowing out the economy. At one end are low-skilled, low paying jobs largely in the service sector. At the other end are high-skilled, high paying professions. Luce cites MIT economist David Autor who says the economy will increasingly require people with either very high skills or very few.

Accelerating the shift to low and high-skilled jobs is the rising cost of hiring full-time employees.  Luce says it’s no coincidence that those costs and the average duration of unemployment in the U.S. are both reaching European levels.

Climbing costs are forcing employers to move in one of two directions. “One group, typified by the big box retailers, keeps most of its labour force casualized to avoid the overheads that come with hiring full-time employees. The other large category of employers, which includes America’s more competitive manufacturers, are aiming for fewer and fewer employees, who, in turn, will need to have increasingly impressive qualifications.”

So here’s why you want to stay in school, go back to school and get as much training, education and professional development as you can. Even with high unemployment, finding skilled employees with those impressive qualifications is a challenge. “In 2011, there were still five unemployed people for every job available,” reports Luce. “Yet American businesses in 2011 reported more than three million job openings they have been unable to fill because of a skills shortage.

“Unless America can sharply boost the proportion of its workforce that is skilled – whether from college or vocational studies – a growing share will face the probability of spending their lives in low-paid work. The structure of the U.S. economy is likely to continue to bifurcate in troubling directions. The middle is likely to get only lonelier.”

Luce is not overly optimistic that our neighbour and largest trading partner can stop, much less reverse, its economic and geopolitical descent. “America is losing its ability to tackle problems.”

Here in Hamilton, building a highly skilled workforce may well be our one and best shot at remaining a prosperous city that continues to make things like advanced steels and health science breakthroughs.

Book review: The Start-Up of You

This review first ran in the May 22nd edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Start-Up of You

By Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

Crown Business


Showcasing our city’s start-up superheroes was one of the best suggestions to come out of this month’s Hamilton Economic Summit.

Recognizing our hometown innovators and entrepreneurs is a smart move on two fronts.

First, these are the folks who are taking big risks and working long hours to launch businesses, create jobs and build prosperity. They deserve a turn in the spotlight and a show of support.

Showcasing our start-up superheroes will also benefit the rest of us in our own careers. Even if we have no interest in launching a business, everyone needs to start thinking and acting like entrepreneurs. Our careers depend on it.

“To adapt to the challenges of professional life today, we need to rediscover our entrepreneurial instincts and use them to forge new sorts of careers,” say authors Ben Casnocha and Reid Hoffman, the cofounder and chairman of LinkedIn. “You need to think of yourself as an entrepreneur at the helm of at least one living, growing start-up venture: your career.”

Like an entrepreneur, you need to know how to deal with uncertainty, constant change and constraint.  You need to know how to take stock of your assets, aspirations and market realities to find your competitive advantage. You need to create flexible, iterative career plans.  You need to build networks of relationships to help you along the way. You need to aggressively seek out, capitalize on and create break-out opportunities. You need to take, and know how to manage, risks.

These entrepreneurial strategies are valuable no matter your career stage, according to Hoffman and Casnocha. “They are urgent whether you’re just out of college, a decade into the workforce and angling for that next big move, or launching a brand-new career later in life.”

We need to forever be a start-up in permanent beta. “Each day presents an opportunity to learn more, do more, be more, grow more in our lives and careers. Keeping your career in permanent beta forces you to acknowledge that you have bugs, that there’s new development to do on yourself.”

Hoffman and Casnocha recommend you embrace ABZ career planning. Plan A is what you’re doing today. Plan B is the career you pivot to when you need to change either your goal or the route for getting there. Plan B tends to be in the same ballpark and related field as your Plan A. And once you’ve moved to Plan B, that becomes your new Plan A and you need line up another Plan B.

Plan Z is your fallback position and lifeboat.  “What’s your certain, reliable, stable plan if all your career plans go to hell or if you want to do a major life change?”

With any luck, you’ll never need your Plan Z. But expect to move back and forth between Plan A and Plan B because, like any true entrepreneur, you’ll be quick to adjust, change course and capitalize on opportunities.

Gone are the days of guaranteed lifetime employment. The skills you have today will likely be redundant tomorrow. We’re all part of a global economy where technology is driving rapid change, creating, reinventing and killing off entire industries without a whole lot of advance warning.

And if that wasn’t enough to stoke your entrepreneurial spirit, know that there are lots of people who can and want to have your dream job. You need to outsmart and outhustle the competition.

“The gap is growing between those who know the new career rules and have the new skills of a global economy, and those who clutch to old ways of thinking and rely on commoditized skills,” say Hoffman and Casnocha. “The question is, which are you?”

Book review: Return on influence by Mark Schaefer

This review first ran in the May 7 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Return on Influence: The Revolutionary Power of Klout, Social Scoring and Influence Marketing

By Mark Schaefer


I’m influential when it comes to magic.

So says Klout, a company that measures our online influence by pulling data from social networks like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn.

I’m not sure where the data is coming from.

I’ve never tweeted about magic. Never followed a magician, fired off a link to a magic video or joined a discussion group for aspiring magicians.

Truth is, I enjoy magicians about as much as mimes.

When watching talent shows, I cheer when the magician bores the judges, blows the trick and makes an early exit. And I feel bad for the wife or girlfriend who, out of desperation or denial, stands by her man in a bedazzled bikini.

While I’ve yet to tweet about magic, I’ve offered up more than 50 rules on how to pitch stories to reporters.

I’ve also shared some reasons to love Hamilton beyond bike lanes, food trucks and James St. North.

I’m not sure any of these tweets make me influential. But I know beyond a doubt that Klout is finding ways to sell this information to a growing roster of 3,000 corporate clients that include Nike, Disney and Virgin America.

Author and business consultant Mark Schaefer says status-ranking companies like Klout are at the forefront of a new marketing gold rush. “For the first time, the world’s biggest brands have a way to cost-effectively and rapidly identify, connect with, and nurture customers who are their megaconnectors in niche markets.”

Citizen influencers with high Klout scores get showered with swag and treated like VIPs. With more than 2,000 followers on Twitter, Valentina Monte is one of those citizen influencers that companies covet. Monte got a $10 gift card from Subway. She tweeted and took pictures when she got her card and ordered her sandwich. She checked in with Foursquare while she was Subway. Friends retweeted and tweeted Monte. Subway got a lot of mileage out of a $10 gift card.

But Klout cuts both ways. There’s the cautionary tale of a marketing exec who got called out on his low Klout score during an job interview. The job went to a candidate with a higher score.

“To many, this whole trend is starting to feel a lot like high school,” says Schaefer. “The people with high Klout scores are the cool kids. But in addition to the very emotional and visceral reactions of being rated in a public way, there are many legitimate concerns about the social scoring trend, privacy, the underlying methodology and its implications.”

Of course, there’s an underground economy of cheating and gaming the algorithm used by Klout to set scores.  On eBay, you can buy false Twitter accounts preloaded with thousands of followers. There’s autoposting, tweet blitzes, spam bots and fake Foursquare mayorships.

If you want to improve your Klout score without cheating, Schaefer recommends three steps. Build a relevant network by choosing wisely who to follow.  Have a strategy to provide compelling, value-added content. And engage influencers with high scores who will distribute your content to their networks.

“We are entering the age of the Citizen Influencer, in which every person has a chance to get behind the velvet rope and be treated like a rock star. You too can discover the power of your own return on influence. And in fact, many companies already have.”

@jayrobb works and lives in Hamilton and has a Klout score just shy of  40.

Book review: Leave No Doubt by Mike Babcock

Leave No Doubt: A Credo For Chasing Your Dreams

By Mike Babcock

Everyone wants to be on a winning team.

Yet some of us are satisfied with being just good enough.

Good enough gets us by. Good enough keeps things comfortable and familiar.  Good enough lets us play it safe.

But settling for just good enough should make you afraid. Very, very afraid.

Somewhere out there is a competitor who’s not settling. Someone who’s relentlessly driven to get better and become the best. Someone who’s constantly learning, testing and pushing their limits and taking risks.

Detroit Red Wings bench boss Mike Babcock is no fan of just good enough.  He says it’s his one fear and motivator. 

“That fear keeps me activated,” says Babcock, the only hockey coach to lead teams to Stanley Cub, World Championship and Olympic Games victories. “It keeps me grinding to get better. It’s a fear that has helped me take every step in my career.”

Babcock says it’s a good kind of fear, one that doesn’t paralyze or wear you out. “It can push you to break through and hit your potential – to make a difference. It can push you to a success that at first seems unreachable. Good enough is where you find average.”

The drive to be better is where you find and realize your potential. It’s where the fun is. It’s where you come up big, be a gamechanger, get to your dreams and find joy.

And it’s a fear that can get you to the podium for an Olympic gold medal.  Not settling for good enough was part of the credo that Babcock and long-time friend and ad exec Rick Larsen came up with for Team Canada in 2010. The credo hung in the dressing room throughout the two weeks of the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Leading off that credo was leave no doubt.

“Doubt is the biggest energy-taker there is. It eats away at our emotional core. It drains us of mental energy and physical energy. It demoralizes, distracts and demotivates. A lot of people say ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’. But they never do.”

Babcock says if you’re feeling doubt, go first. Jump in and give it a go. Putting yourself out there is a great way to learn and grow. And the more you push, the more you grow.

 Babcock faced a world of doubt in 1993. He’d just been fired from the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League. He and his wife had a three-month-old baby, no money in the bank and few job prospects. 

But then Babcock got two offers. One was with a business consulting firm. The other was with the University of Lethbridge, coaching a hockey team that had never made the playoffs and was at risk of being shut down.

The consulting gig offered more money, stability and a clear career path.

Babcock pushed past doubt and took the coaching gig.  In his first season, the Lethbridge Pronghorns won their first national championship. Babcock went on to coach the WHL Spokane Chiefs, the Canadian team at the World Junior Championships, the American Hockey League Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, the National Hockey League Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Detroit Red Wings.

“I’m not sure that anybody would have looked at me in 1993 as I began my stint as the head coach of the University of Lethbridge, and figured me a good bet to be the head coach of Canada’s hockey team at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Then again, if you put yourself out there, if you take a risk and face your doubt, good things can start to happen. I’m living proof of that. Don’t doubt your dreams.”

Anyone who’s leading a team on or off the ice will learn something from one of the best coaches in the business. That said, Babcock should have taken his own advice and hired an editor who wasn’t just good enough. While Babcock sings the praises of Shea Webster, odds are his Red Wings will break the bank to make defenseman Shea Weber their top free-agent acquisition this off-season.

@jayrobb works and lives in Hamilton and is a long-suffering Washington Capitals fan.

Book review: Speaking as a Leader

An edited version of this review ran in the April 9 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Speaking as a Leader: How to Lead Every Time You Speak

By Judith Humphrey

John Wiley & Sons Canada Ltd.


I went to a conference in Washington last month to learn how to write better speeches.

As an added bonus, I got a two-day master class in how to give a great speech. The conference featured keynotes by three seasoned speechwriters who proved they’re as good on the podium as they are with a pen (kudos to Mark Schumann, Justina Chen and Terry Edmonds — the first African American to serve as a presidential speechwriter).

All three made an immediate and sustained connection with the audience. They were absolutely passionate about the craft of speechwriting. Their speeches were well-rehearsed conversations that didn’t feel scripted or staged. They told stories and shared lessons learned with a healthy mix of self-deprecating humour.

Just as impressive is what these speakers didn’t do.  They didn’t inflict death by PowerPoint. They didn’t bore us and bury us in a data dump. They didn’t limit themselves to telling us what they knew. They told with us what they believed.

And perhaps most important of all, they knew they were on stage as much to inspire as to inform.

In short, these keynote speakers communicated like leaders.

“The most effective leaders use every speaking opportunity to influence and inspire,” says author Judith Humphrey, who’s also the founder and president of an executive communications firm. “They make every formal speech, presentation, phone call, or elevator conversation a leadership opportunity. They realize that their power lies less in any title they hold than in their ability to move others. They realize that the true task of a leader is to create believers.”

Great leaders stick to a script, says Humphrey.  That script leads off with an introduction that includes a grabber, subject, message and structural statement. 

To grab the attention of your audience, share a story, quote or interesting fact or stat. Then state the subject. What do you want to talk about?  The message spells out where you stand on the topic in a single, simple sentence.  The introduction closes with a structural statement that previews how you’ll make your case and prove your point.

The introduction is followed by the body of your script.  Here’s where you set out your arguments. You can run through three key points. Talk about the challenge and then offer your solution. Look at the present and preview what the future could hold.

The leader’s script ends with a two-part conclusion. You restate your message and then issue a call to action. What do you want people to do next?

Humphrey says the script will help transform your audience into followers, and your speaking into an act of leadership.

Along with sticking to a script, great leaders speak with conviction. They’re passionate, authentic, courageous and honest in their communications.  They use small and simple words to sell big ideas.

Great leaders look to the positive, focusing on solutions rather than problems. “Negatives bring people down, rather than lifting them up. If you want to lead when you speak, stay on the high ground.”

Great leaders listen physically, mentally and emotionally to secure a lifeline to their audience. “You must understand precisely what concerns and motivates your listeners or they will never follow you. You must get inside the minds of your audience and shape what you say so that it reaches them.”

Great leaders don’t paste jokes onto the front end of their communications. “Great speeches, presentations and meeting comments are not dull. They are enlivened with wit, quotations and anecdotes. But they do not rely on canned humour or tired jokes.” Count on at least someone in the audience taking offense or not getting your humour. And few of us have the comedic timing to pull off a joke.

Great leaders also recognize that they’re the best visual. They want their audience to watch and listen without distraction. The danger with PowerPoint – even when it’s a handful of slick slides with killer graphics – is that you divide your audience’s attention. Minds can wander and never return.

“When speakers use visuals, they create competition for the audience’s attention. The audience must divide its focus looking at the visual and listening to you. Your visuals get star billing; what you are saying finishes a distant second in the audience’s mind.”

Humphrey’s point was underscored at the speechwriters’ conference. One of the presenters talked about the wonders of using video in speeches. But technical snafus derailed the video-heavy presentation, rattled the speaker and lost the audience. While that’s all I can remember from that session, I have no trouble recalling the big ideas, inspiring words and passion from the trio of keynote speakers who showed how it’s done.

@jayrobb works in Hamilton and dreams of living in Georgetown.

Book review: Hiring for Attitude

Hiring For Attitude

By Mark Murphy

McGraw Hill


Beware the Talented Terrors.

On paper and at first blush, these low performers look like all-stars. They have smarts, great skills and loads of talent. 

But they also have horrible attitudes. They’re relentlessly negative. Quick to blame anyone and everyone. Resistant to change. And forever in need of constant praise and recognition.

These folks are the emotional vampires of the workplace, sucking the life out of managers and coworkers.

Chances are you’re already cursed with a coven of Talented Terrors. You definitely don’t need more. So why do you keep hiring them?

Lots of us are quick to hire candidates who can do the job and have the right skills, experience and credentials. They’ve held plum jobs, won awards and graduated from A-list schools.

But when it comes to making their mark or making you crazy, the top predictor of new hire success is attitude and not skills.

“Even the best skills don’t really matter if an employee isn’t open to improving or consistently alienates coworkers, lacks drive, or simply lacks the right personality to succeed in that culture,” says author and CEO of Leadership IQ Mark Murphy.

“Your organization’s culture, and the attitudes required to succeed in that culture, are unique. The right attitudes that define a high performer will vary from culture to culture.”

 Murphy’s company tracked 20,000 new hires over three years. Within the first 18 months, 46 per cent of those hires were fired, received poor performance reviews or were written up. Coachability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament accounted for 89 per cent of the failures. Just 11 per cent was attributed to technical incompetence.

“Overwhelmingly, the characteristics that define mishires are attitudinal,” says Murphy. The attitudes of the new hire and the culture of the organization didn’t mesh.

To bring fewer mishires and more high performers on board, ask better questions during job interviews.

 “Most interview questions are useless for assessing attitude and some can even put your company at legal risk,” says Murphy.

Ask a candidate to “tell us about yourself” and “identify your top strengths and weaknesses” and you get nothing but well-rehearsed and canned answers that reveal nothing about attitude.

Even worse are leading questions. You telegraph the answer you’re looking for when you ask a candidate “tell us about a conflict with a coworker and how you resolved it.”

Talented Terrors don’t play well with others and blame everyone but themselves for strained and broken relations. But your leading question prompts them to talk about the one time they kissed and made up with a coworker and sidestep the 499 other unresolved conflicts that have forced them to pursue other opportunities.

Here’s another popular leading question. Tell us about a time when something went wrong and what did you do to help fix the problem?

With their above average smarts, the prompted Talented Terror won’t fall into the trap of dissing her boss and coworkers and saying that messes are for other people to clean up. 

“Leading questions rob you of your chance to find out if someone is a problem bringer or a problem solver,” says Murphy.

Ask high performers about problems they’ve faced and they instinctively talk about how they rolled up their sleeves, stuck with it and came up with a solution. Low performers don’t share that instinct, opting instead to point fingers, duck responsibility and walk away.

The always popular hypothetical question doesn’t reveal what candidates have done in real life and generates only idealized answers. “There’s a big difference between knowing the path and walking the path,” says Murphy.

Low performers love to talk in generalities and abstractions, with a lot of “one should do this” and “one should do that”. High performers will speak in specifics, drawing from personal experience, saying “here’s what I did in a very similar situation.”

And then there are the utterly useless questions that don’t assess attitudes or differentiate high from low performers.

Inane questions like tell us what you do for fun. How are M&Ms made? Why are manhole covers round and how many are there in downtown Hamilton? Which of the seven dwarfs would you be? What kind of animal or tree would you be? What’s the last book you read or movie you watched?

These pseudo-psychological questions aren’t just timewasters.

They throw open the door to potential legal problems, warns Murphy. What if a candidate says the last book she read was Practicing Your Faith as a Litigious Bisexual Wiccan Cancer Patient?  

Murphy recommends a different approach for filtering out your Talented Terrors. Rewrite your interview questions. Start by defining the specific attitudes that define your culture and matter most to your organization. What are the attitudes of your high and low performers, your problem solvers and problem givers?  

Now create real world situations built around the attitudes that predict success and failure in your organization.  Five or six questions are all you’ll need. And make sure you ask only hanging questions.

“The ultimate test of a great interview question is the extent to which it differentiates between high and low performers.

So here’s a question that works if your organization values initiative, risk taking, entrepreneurial thinking and problem solving.

Could you tell me about a time you tried to fix or improve something but your solution just didn’t work?

High performers will tell you about why the solution didn’t work, accept personality responsibility and then recap how they searched for and ultimately found a better solution.

Low performers won’t get past the finger-pointing and casting themselves as victims.

And here’s an actual response from a low performer. “I was going to fix it my way, but then my boss had some supposedly brilliant idea for fixing it. Of course, it failed, just like I knew it would. Although it probably doesn’t really matter, because even if he had used my idea, God knows I wouldn’t have gotten credit for it anyway.”

This is not the sort of person you’d ever want to hire and spend eight hours a day with. But if you don’t ask the right questions, you run the real risk of continuing to hire and getting stuck with the wrong people who have the wrong attitudes.

“Whether you’re hiring your next hourly employee, your next CEO or something in between, attitude will likely be the issue that determines success or failure.”


Book review: Succeeding When You’re Supposed to Fail by Rom Brafman

This review was originally published in The Hamilton Spectator.

Succeeding When You’re Supposed to Fail: The Six Principles of High Achievement

By Rom Brafman

Crown Archetype


One of the most resilient people I know just happens to be my kid sister.

Ellie was only 11 years old when our dad suddenly died. They’d been inseparable. My dad had summers off so most of every July and August was spent at the beach. He was proud of his daughter and no doubt grateful and relieved that she had the smarts and focus that appeared to be missing in his two older yet somewhat less mature sons.

A few years after losing her husband, our mom decided to start over. So Ellie said goodbye to her hometown friends and moved from a big city to a very small town with an even smaller high school. 

Now, my sister could have opted to become a sullen, miserable and rebellious teenager. Had she strayed from the straight and narrow, hid from the world and made some stupid choices, we would have understood and given her a free pass.

Instead, Ellie met the nicest boy from that very small town. Her grades were so good in high school that I wondered if there’d been a mix up in the maternity ward and she’d accidentally wound up with our family. Ellie graduated from high school with top marks and went on to university. She earned scholarships and research grants, served as a student leader and reluctantly became one of the poster children for the university’s nationwide marketing and recruitment campaign.

And when Ellie completes her PhD in a few months time, I’ll get to call my kid sister Dr. Robb.

Author Rom Brafman would also call my sister a tunneler. “Working as a psychologist, I have had the privilege of interacting with a number of clients who are tunnelers. When they relate the difficulties in their lives, which are often filled with unimaginable hardships, I’m constantly intrigued by their ability to fight through their difficulties and surmount the challenges that would keep most people back. What allows them to go on to lead extremely successful lives – to graduate from college, form loving relationships and lead successful careers?

“When I bring this to their attention and ask them how or why they think it is that they were able to overcome their disadvantages, they are puzzled. They don’t realize they are tunnelling or doing anything out of the ordinary. But as we spend more time together, it becomes increasingly evident that they lead their lives differently from most of us.”

And how they lead their lives reveals what Brafman calls the six enduring principles of high achievement. The good news is you’d don’t need to graduate from the school of hard knocks to adopt these principles.

“I believe that by embracing these principles, all of us can learn how to better face and overcome adversity in our lives. Instead of giving in to events – no matter how challenging or difficult they may be – we can find ways to work through that adversity and appreciate life and its endless potential to the fullest.”

High achievers point the limelight at themselves rather than the world around them. “They take full responsibility for the events that unfold in their lives, viewing themselves as central participants,” says Brafman. They don’t point fingers, blame others when things go sideways or cast themselves as helpless victims to forces beyond their control.

High achievers have a desire for generating meaning in all aspects of their lives. “An essential aspect of the drive to persevere and overcome the odds involves the extraction of meaning.” They put a premium on engaging in activities that they find fulfilling.

High achievers have an unwavering commitment to persevere and stay the course.  They’re blessed with an even-tempered disposition and don’t get easily worked up or stressed out. They use humour to counteract adversity.

And they have what Brafman calls a satellite. It’s not all inner drive with high achievers. They have someone in their corner who offers what psychologists call unconditional positive regard.

“Think back to any significant challenge you had to overcome in your life. Chances are you can point to a specific individual who was there to support you, whether a mentor, a good friend or a trusted family member. He or she acts as a satellite – someone who is consistently available when needed, who’s there as a point of strength. Knowing that we have someone on our side, someone to whom we can turn whenever we need help, makes enduring life’s burdens a lot easier.”  

Which brings me back to the resilient and high achieving soon-to-be Dr. Robb.  My mom moved to that small town to live a few streets over from her brother and sister-in-law. My aunt and uncle took my kid sister under their wing. They included my sister and mom in winter vacations, family get-togethers and holidays. They went to every graduation ceremony and celebrated every birthday. And when Ellie married the nicest boy from that very small town, it was my uncle who proudly walked my kid sister down the aisle.