Don’t follow your passion and know when to call it quits (book review)

The Algebra of Happiness: Notes on the Pursuit of Success, Love and Meaning

By Scott Galloway

Penguin Random House

$28

This review first ran in the July 20 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

algebraA special public service announcement for all freshly minted grads who were told during their convocation ceremonies to pursue their passion and never quit.

It’s lousy advice that may not lead you to a life well lived, warns Scott Galloway.

“People who speak at universities, especially at commencement, who tell you to follow your passion – or my favourite, to ‘never give up’ – are already rich,” says Galloway, a professor at New York University’s business school and author of The Algebra of Happiness.

“And most got there by starting waste treatment plants after failing at five other ventures – that is, they knew when to give up.”

Instead of pursuing your passion, figure out what you’re good at and then spend years getting better at it, whether that’s building treatment plants, practicing tax law or installing kitchen cabinets.

“The emotional and economic rewards that accompany being great at something will make you passionate about whatever that something is.”

Scott also has a reality check for 20-somethings who intend to maintain perfect work-life balance while stepping onto the bottom rung on the ladder of success.

That balance comes at a cost, says Galloway. “If balance is your priority in your youth, then you need to accept that, unless you are a genius, you may not reach the upper rungs of economic security.

“The slope of the trajectory of your career is (unfairly) set in the first five years post-graduation. If you want the trajectory to be steep, you’ll need to burn a lot of fuel. The world is not yours for the taking, but for the trying. Try hard, really hard.”

To maintain a steep trajectory, you need to get the easy stuff right. For Galloway, that means showing up early, having good manners and always following up.

Galloway also has advice for those of us in the back half of our careers. “The number one piece of advice seniors would give to their younger selves is that they wish they’d been less hard on themselves. Your limited time here mandates that you hold yourself accountable. But also be ready to forgive yourself so you can get on with the important business of life.”

And our most important decision is not what credential to earn, what career to pursue or what investments to make but deciding who to spend our life with. Choose wisely, says Galloway.

“Who you marry is meaningful; who you have kids with is profound. Raising kids with someone who is kind and competent and who you enjoy being with is a series of joyous moments smothered in comfort and reward.

“Raising kids with someone you don’t like, or who isn’t competent, is moments of joy smothered in anxiety and disappointment. Sharing your life with someone who’s unstable or has contempt for you is never being able to catch your breath long enough to relax and enjoy your blessings.”

Galloway’s book expands on the final and most popular lecture in his brand strategy course. So, if like Galloway’s students, you’re wrestling with life strategies around what career to choose and how to set yourself up for success, reconcile ambition with personal growth and live without regrets, you’ll find some proven formulas in the Algebra of Happiness.

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

 

Review – The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google by Scott Galloway

the fourThis review first ran in the Oct. 23 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google

By Scott Galloway

Portfolio / Penguin

$37

Your favourite burger joint just got caught cooking fake meat  They knew the burgers were bad but kept serving them up and making people sick.

So what do you do?

Of course, you quit eating their burgers. And you cheer when they’re shut down and run out of town.

So why are you still on Facebook?

The company knows it’s being used by troll farms to spread lies that divide us, dial up the distrust and outrage and get us marching to extremes, says Scott Galloway, a tech entrepreneur, New York University professor and author of The Four.

While fake news is bad news for our mental health and civil society, it’s great business for Facebook.

“The true believers, whether from the left or the right, click on the bait,” says  Galloway. “The posts that get the most clicks are confrontational and angry. And those clicks drive up a post’s hit rate.”

High hit rates and more time spent on site mean more money for Facebook. And making money – not giving you a way to share baby photos and cat videos — is the company’s sole mission, says Galloway. “By trashing fake news stories, Facebook would sacrifice billions of clicks and loads of revenue. Once the company’s success is measured in clicks and dollars, why favour true stories over false ones?”

This is a big problem since nearly half of us now get our news from Facebook and one in six people on the planet use it every day. Mixing together real and fake news makes Facebook even more dangerous, warns Galloway.

We greatly overestimate our ability to separate fact from fiction and Facebook is in no hurry to spend whatever’s necessary to weed out fake news, says Galloway.

“This abdication from social responsibility, enabling authoritarians and hostile actors to deftly use fake news, risks that the next big medium may, again, be cave walls.”

Along with Facebook, Galloway takes a hard look at Amazon, Apple and Google.

Amazon renders moot the living wage debate with its warehouse robots and cashier-less grab and go retail stores.

Apple has morphed into a luxury brand. “It may sell millions of iPods, iPhones, iWatches and Apple Watches but likely only one percent of the world can (rationally) afford them and that’s how Apple wants it,” says Galloway.

And while God may not answer your prayers, Google has all the answers. “Look at your recent Google search history: you reveal things to Google that you wouldn’t want anyone to know. We believe, naively, that nobody (but the Big Guy) can listen to our thoughts. But let’s be clear…Google too is listening.”

Galloway says we need to cast a more critical eye on the four tech titans as they fundamentally change how we live, work, shop and get along with each other.

“These firms are not concerned with the condition of our souls, will not take care of us in our old age, nor hold our hand,” says Galloway. “They are organizations that have aggregated enormous power. These companies avoid taxes, invade privacy, and destroy jobs to increase profits because they can.

“Are these entities the Four Horseman of god, love, sex and consumption? Or are they the Four Horseman of the apocalypse? The answer is yes to both questions.”

@jayrobb lives and works in Hamilton, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and does not get his news from Facebook.