Nourish: The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families by Reshma Shah and Brenda Davis (2020) – Book Review

Book Review by Cory Davis

Nourish
Nourish by Reshma Shah and Brenda Davis Book Cover

5/5

“Nourish It is packed with great information, meaningful dialogue, and practical tips in a well-structured fashion, filling a critical gap in the plant-based family literature”

This review may differ from my usual structure for reasons that will become clear shortly. First, I will introduce the authors, describe the purpose of the book, tell you what I loved about it, break it down and finally give a few quotes. I hope you enjoy this introduction to Brenda Davis and Reshma Shah here at Interest Peaks. For those of you who may not be familiar with them, I highly recommend you check these authors out on social media and online.

About the Authors

Brenda Davis, dietitian, author of a dozen books, is a pioneer in plant-based nutrition. I am incredibly privileged, grateful, and continually inspired by my always loving mother, Brenda Davis. My mother is the most pleasant kind of person. She is kind, warm, energetic, overwhelmingly positive, and always encouraging. She is a powerful speaker and masterful writer. Her words flow with passion, emotion, and a well-respected authority. If you have not already, I highly encourage you to check out her books, lectures, and other content available online.

Rebuild Your Body with Hall of Fame Dietitian Brenda Davis - Switch4Good
Brenda Davis, RD

Please check out Brenda Davis’ website at www.BrendaDavisRD.com for more.

Reshma Shah is a pediatrician with a Masters in Public Health. If I remember the story correctly, she met Brenda on an airplane. They immediately hit it off and this book was the result. It reminds me that beautiful things can be found in unexpected places. I am thrilled and excited by Reshma’s collaboration with Brenda. Their synergy flows through the writing as they articulate concepts and information in ways that resonate with the reader beyond expectation. I look forward to more from Reshma and thank her for the work she has done here.

Reshma Shah, MD, MPH

Please check out Reshma Shah’s website at www.ReshmaShahMD.com for more.

Purpose of “Nourish”

Nourish is for families. It provides clarity and relief to the question of how to raise a healthy plant-based family. It starts from square one – preconception. Then it carefully and articulately tours you through pregnancy, lactation, childhood and beyond. It provides practical tools and advice to plan and prepare healthy meals, and family eating activities.

This is the definitive guide for plant-based families. Much like “Becoming Vegetarian” was the much-needed definitive guide for those considering a vegetarian diet, Nourish is a modern and relevant guide designed for families considering healthier dietary choices or are moving toward a more plant-based diet.

What I Loved

The authors begin many sections with storytelling to provide context and relevance for the ensuing content. For example, they will tell the story of someone’s journey to understanding the importance of fat or iodine, and steps they took to address it. Or the true story about a four-year old daughter’s reaction to her parents deciding to try out a plant-based diet. I love this. It makes the information personal. It demonstrates why or how the forthcoming content will be practical to understand. They don’t need to tell you directly “this is important to know” as an authority. Rather the importance is realized through storytelling of regular people. It makes you want to know what is coming.

This book is a welcomed addition to the plant-based guidance literature. The first part provides general information about what a plant-based diet is and demonstrates that plant-based diets can achieve adequate and optimal nutrition. It addresses several misconceptions about plant-based diets, and omnivore diets. Such as how vegans get protein, is cow’s milk a necessary component of a healthy diet, and so forth.  

My favourite aspect of this book is the thread of compassion woven throughout it. They note that nutrition books, especially for families, should not solely focus on nutrition. Rather we need to consider compassion, resource allocation and the environment when making decisions around consumption as well. There are of many ways to be nutritionally fulfilled at an unjustifiable expense of the planet and well-being of others. It would be irresponsible for any health professional to promote diets that come with such hefty opportunity costs and negative impacts to humanity.

Nourish also does a great job at defining its terms. They define the term “plant-based” in a way that really resonates with me. Some vegan circles demonize outgroups while restricting membership to their ingroup. With an “your either with us or against us” mentality, they make the vegan community exclusive… while the societal norm today is focussing efforts on diversity and inclusion. There are many non-vegans who share the same values which serve as the foundation for veganism. Yet these allies are still outcasted by many vegan communities, contrary to their goals. Brenda and Reshma do a wonderful job here, defining plant-based diets along a spectrum that captures many people. Along this spectrum it promotes the idea that plant-based communities can be more inclusive and amicable to others who may share similar values such as compassion, environment, or health.

The Meat of the Matter: Breaking Down the Book

Nourish is broken down into four parts:

  1. Consideration
  2. Care
  3. Confidence
  4. Connection

The Introduction breaks down terminology around plant based diets and does a fabulous job of setting up the stage for what is to come, “from picky eaters to childhood obesity, disordered eating, we hope to show that how we feed our families may matter as much as what we feed our families”.

Consideration contains three chapters, Health, Home and Heart. These are great introductory chapters to the rest of the book and provides a rationale for why parents should consider a plant-based lifestyle for themselves and their families. This will capture your attention leaving you anxious to delve into the chapters to come.

Care is about nutrition and feeding the family. It breaks down the facts and gives sound advice about nutrition. It dispels myths and is full of tips on nutrients. It discusses what makes a diet healthy and guides you through pregnancy, lactation, childhood and adolescence.

Confidence takes you on a tour beyond nutrition of the body, delving into psychology and communication techniques. Confidence addresses family dynamics, picky eating, and supports a healthy, happy, inclusive dinner table.

Connection is the section you will keep open in your kitchen for days at a time. It provides resources, sound tips and advice on shopping, meal-planning, menu development, and of course… recipes! From Tofu Tikka Masala, pumpkin muffins, to peanut butter brownies, you can show your loved ones you care with the tasty treats and thoughtful dishes this section will teach you to make.

I really do love the structure of the book. The first section reels the reader in. It was riveting, covering topics that resonate with me in a way that only Reshma Shah and Brenda Davis can produce.

The authors are honest and genuine when they admit that not all plant-based diets are ealth promoting. A vegan diet does not necessarily promote health if it relies on mostly processed foods. You can be a junk-food vegan easily. Potato chips, deep fried veggie-meats, vegetable tempura, white bread, cookies, cakes and all kinds of foods that are vegan can mitigate the benefits of eating a whole food plant-based diet.

The section on feeding styles really peaked my interest. Parental feeding practices can have a significant impact on a child’s food preferences and consumption patterns.  I love the interdisciplinary approach here. They first cover the science of nutrition, then apply principles of psychology and family dynamics to it. This helps the reader form a much more level-headed and well-rounded perspective toward family eating. They provide excellent guidelines and tips for how to go about feeding the family. Tips like make meals a family event, pair familiar foods with unfamiliar foods, and be patient and calm introducing different foods to the family all are excellent additions to a parent’s toolbox.

The discussion on family meals really makes me appreciate my parents. My parents always made dinner time a family affair that we all looked forward to. Most importantly, it was time we could always count on to spend together, where stories were shared and relationship building occurred. The authors note here that some research suggests that eating meals as a family may have more of an impact on an adolescent’s positive outcomes than things we would more strongly associate with such as socioeconomic status, tutors, or church.

There are positive outcomes associated with family meals such as helping kids do better at school. For example, family meals facilitate conversation which can promote language development, literacy and future academic success. Family meals may come with a suite of other positive impacts such as health, helping you worry less about your teens, happier teens, happier parents, and it allows you to be more connected with your family. Of course not all families can eat meals together every day and the authors are very understanding and forgiving of that, providing tips and strategies to increase family meal opportunities and make the best of the opportunities you do have.

Nourish is packed with great information, meaningful dialogue, and practical tips in a well-structured fashion, filling a critical gap in the plant-based family literature.  

A Few Great Quotes

“Perhaps the most extraordinary of a plant-based approach to feeding our families is the realization that they are all connected – our health, the health of our planet, and compassion for all living beings…. health, compassion and sustainability are wrapped together in one beautiful package”

“Family meals are one of the most powerful tools that parents have in protecting and nurturing their children”.

“Many parents find themselves stuck on the words ‘appropriately planned’ and fear that such planning is beyond the reach of busy families with limited resources. We contend that all diets for children need to be appropriately planned, and while a plant-based diet for children may require some care and consideration, it is no more than any parent would give in feeding their child a balanced and appropriate diet.”

“Not only does diet play an essential role in our health but it also has the power to connect and serve as an expression of our culture and our values”

Closing Remarks

Nourish is a timely and welcomed  addition to the plant-based literature addressing an underrepresented topic. If you, or a family member has thought about leaning toward a more plant inclusive, or plant-based diet, then I highly urge you to pick up a copy of this book. If anything, the recipe section alone pays for itself, and the meaningful content will spur conversation and introspection about how we think about food together.

Love you Mom and Reshma! You are both heroes to me.  

“This is Marketing” By Seth Godin – Book Review: People Like Us Don’t Do Things Like Them

Book Reviewed by Cory Davis

This Is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn to See: Godin, Seth:  9780525540830: Books - Amazon.ca
This is Marketing By Seth Godin – Cover


This is a book review of Seth Godin’s This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See (2018), published by Portfolio/Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, USA.

5/5

This is Marketing does an effective job of addressing cultural challenges the marketing industry has faced for decades. It is a refreshing perspective that attempts to put the humanity back into marketing.

About the Author

Seth Godin image from Joi Ito, image retrieved from Wiki Commons and modified.

Seth Godin is a marketing guru who made the Guerrilla Marketing Hall of Fame, Direct Marketing Hall of Fame and the Marketing Hall of Fame. He has written 19 best-selling books and has given five TED Talks. He is the founder of the podcast Akimbo, and altMBA, a 30-day marketing workshop. In 1996, Godin and Mark Hurst founded Yoyodyne, which was purchased by Yahoo for $30 million dollars two years later. Godin then became Yahoo’s vice president of Direct Marketing. In 2006, he went on to found Squidoo, which within two years became one of the top 500 websites visited globally.

About the Book

“This is Marketing” attempts to change the culture of marketing and shift public perception about what marketers do. We have all had poor experiences with marketing. We have been victims of shady marketing tactics, bought items that were not as advertised, and have been bombarded with untrustworthy marketing content, especially online. This book guides marketers away from the crooked hype train of hacks, and get rich quick schemes enshrouded in false hope. “This is Marketing” is an organic approach that helps marketers leverage their operation’s core competencies to the smallest viable market who could benefit from them the most. This book is about creating change, serving people, and honest work. When you see that YouTube ad of a so-called self-made millionaire who claims to have the one trick that could make you, or anyone rich with the click of a few buttons, you know they did not read this book.

What It Promises The Reader

This book promises to give readers direction by working with you to help spread your ideas and innovations to create change in the world that you want to see.

How It Delivers On Its Promise

The book is broken down into 23 small, easy digestible chapters that provide high level overviews on topics such as identifying your target market (those who you intend to serve), how to engage them, and how to position yourself in the market with respect to your competition.

In the second chapter, he gives five steps to marketing. However this is not a step by step guide, just intended to provide direction.

Five steps of Marketing:

  1. Invest something that is worth producing. Invest in something meaningful to people, something that will help them. Have a powerful story, something that communicates why it is important, and why people should care. Have a contribution that is worth communicating as well. Do something for that cause and tell people about it.
  2. Design and build it out in such a way that a few people will benefit immensely from, that they will really care about. In other words, tailor your product to a very narrow audience. The more narrow the audience, the more personalized your product or service will be. The more personalized it is, the more effective it will be at addressing their unique problems. The broader the audience, the less effective it will be at addressing their unique problems.
  3. Build a story that aligns with the narrative of the tiniest group of people, the “smallest viable market”. Align your story to that narrowest of audiences. Don’t try to make it for everyone, because the more it is for everyone, the more is it personal to no one.
  4. Communicate to people about your product. Engage with your audience. You must put yourself out there, risk rejection, and use rejection to make a better product. You need the feedback to continually improve. Rejection is not a bad thing, it orientates you.
  5. Be present very regularly and be active to see the change you are trying to make, lead people and build confidence. You not only need to market your product, you need to market yourself. Engage with others and be a leader. To market yourself effectively, you need to be honest, authentic and genuine. You need to genuinely want to see the change you are trying to produce in this world, not just in your pockets. If your motives are sideways, hidden, or greedy, people will find out.

Favourite Part of the Book

My favourite part of the book is the author’s perspective. People like Seth do things like this because they want to create change. People like us do not do things like them. By them, I mean the people behind that YouTube advertisement trying to sell you a get-rich-quick scheme, or that this one ingredient will make you thin in no time. Rather than being driven by get-rich scheming, this book helps marketers stay grounded, by reassuring them that better business is done by a genuine desire to serve others and create a change for the better. It humbles us by reminding you that better is not always what you think it should be, but rather by what better means to your audience.

This is Marketing does an effective job of addressing cultural challenges the marketing industry has faced for decades. It is a refreshing perspective that attempts to put the humanity back into marketing. In the first chapter, Seth articulates this message.  He says that shameless marketers have hurt the rest of us by generating a stereotype in the public sphere through scamming, spamming, hustling and shady tactics such as fake reviews, and giving consumers unrealistic expectations of what their products can offer. Marketers today should not follow suite. Effective marketing requires you to understand the needs of consumers intimately and providing them with solutions. Don’t make consumers your victims, rather make them volunteers.

People like us do things this way, because we are genuinely trying to make the world a better place and doing our part to get there. People like us don’t do things like them, because those people are driven by greed, or other ulterior motives that are not in their audience’s best interest.

Some Favourite Quotes:

“The marketing that has suffused our entire lives is not the marketing that you want to do. The shortcuts using money to buy attention to sell average stuff to average people are an artifact of another time…”

“Marketers make change happen: from the smallest viable market, and by delivering anticipated, personal, and relevant messages that people actually want to get.”

“Empathy is at the heart of marketing”.

“When you know what you stand for, you don’t need to compete”. That if all you do is try to fill a gap in the market, you are “nothing but a commodity in the making”.

“Marketers don’t make average stuff for average people. Marketers make change. And they do it by normalizing new behaviours.”

“Advertising is unearned media. It is bought and paid for. And the people you are trying to reach know it. They’re suspicious. They’re inundated. They’re exhausted. You didn’t pay the recipient to run that ad, and yet you want the recipient to pay you with their attention. So you’re ignored”.

Pricing is a marketing tool, not simply a way to get money.”

“Cheap is another way to say scared”.

“Treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention”.

“What really matters is the quality of their story and the depth of their empathy and generosity”.

“Permission, attention, and enrollment drive commerce.”

“Everyone is famous to 1500 people”

“Just because you can market something doesn’t mean that you should”

Least favourite part of the book

There were areas of this book where I thought it was vague, or too high level to get enough direction from the message. For example, I really appreciate the sections that highlight the need to create and relieve tension in the market, however I did not immediately understand how to apply that concept. There were sections that were also too detailed, such as walking you through how to position yourself on a positioning map, which is very basic marketing curriculum.

Another criticism I have is that it sometimes feels more geared toward physical products rather than services. Since I am more interested in delivering services, it did not connect with me as deeply as I anticipated after reading the first couple chapters. Maybe this book is not for me, I thought. However, the book does incorporate services into it on occation and much of the theory could apply to both services and products. On the other hand, many case studies and examples were about products and the takeaways were product oriented. With some creativity, you can apply them to services.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed reading this book and recommend it to anyone interested to learn more about marketing, entrepreneurship, or those wanting create change in this world. If you are adverse to marketing, like I am, maybe it will help you open yourself to some marketers, those behind causes you believe in and create community around it.

Thank you so much for reading my review of This is Marketing by Seth Godin. I found this book very interesting. But, I am more interested to hear your thoughts and opinions. If you have any thoughts about marketing and this book, please share them in the comment section below. I always appreciate it when you do.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like or subscribe. You can also follow me on twitter @interestpeaks.

Health at Every Size by Lindo Bacon – Book Review

By Cory Davis

This is a book review for Lindo Bacon’s (formerly Linda Bacon) Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight (2010) published by BenBella Books Inc., Texas, United States.

Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight: Bacon, Linda:  9781935618256: Books - Amazon.ca

3/5

“A polarizing perspective about weight that aims to shatter diet culture and fat-shaming.”

About the Author

Lindo Bacon is a speaker, author, and professor. They hold a PhD in Physiology from the University of California and has graduate degrees in both psychology and exercise metabolism. Lindo has been a researcher and professor for over 20 years, teaching courses in social justice, health, and nutrition.

They have written several papers for publications such as the International Journal of Obesity, Nutritional Journal, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, and Appetite. Lindo has also authored three books: Health at Every Size, Body Respect, and Radical Belonging.

 About the Book

50+ Free Obese & Obesity Illustrations - Pixabay
Retrieved from Pixabay

Health at Every Size aims to shift society’s perception about weight. They claim that weight should not be the central focus around health. They urge health professionals to stop telling patients to lose weight, but rather focus on healthy living factors. This is not a diet or exercise book. Rather, it is a program based on a “clinically proven” government funded study. It addresses the stigmatization of fat, urging people to let go of the stereotypes we associate with obesity and weight. The author claims that genetics, rather than lifestyle is the main driver of weight-related disease, therefore we should not attack weight as the problem. The solution offered however, is similar to the advice you hear from many health professionals who address weight, to be more active and eat mostly whole plant-based foods. The difference being how they frame weight and obesity, and the sensitivity toward body image, self-esteem and fat-shaming.

What the Author Promises in the Book

Promise Icons - Download Free Vector Icons | Noun Project

They promise the reader that after completing this book you will be able to reset your fat meter to naturally reach your healthiest weight.

What I Liked About the Book

400+ Free Love Book & Love Images - Pixabay
Retrieved from Pixabay

The book is easy to read and is structured very well. The first part of the book establishes the theory or foundation behind the Health at Every Size program. The second part outlines the program itself. The third part is comprised of several letters addressed to various groups such as health professionals, those considering another diet and school administrators, among others.

The objection to diet culture and weight-shaming is welcomed. Fad diets and “dieting” are not the answer. These are temporary weight loss solutions that can be dangerous, especially when adopted over the long term. Better advice would be to adopt an active lifestyle complimented with a meal-planning regime that maximizes whole foods such as fruits, veggies, and legumes while minimizing processed foods – exactly what Bacon prescribes.

I appreciate the sensitivity toward those who have struggled with body image or feel discriminated against as a result of their weight. There are a range of healthy body sizes, where beauty, sexuality and self confidence should be normalized and celebrated. It is sad that we punish ourselves over a couple pounds of weight, establishing a standard of beauty that is unrealistic, and self-sabotaging. I sympathize with those who struggle with weight, as I too have been bullied, mistreated and shamed as a direct result of mine.

What I Dislike About the Book

Confused Hands Up - Free photo on Pixabay
Retrieved from Pixabay

I struggled with some of the messages. The back of the book attempts to address three “myths” and contrast them against “reality”. However, I am unconvinced by the analysis argued in the book.

The first myth is that fat kills. Lindo claims that on average, overweight people live longer than normal weight people. Even if true, some thinness can be a result of many different health conditions or lifestyle choices such as smoking, cancer, alcoholism, eating disorders, etc. Fat does kill and is clearly associated with a suite of lifestyle induced diseases. They say that genetics are a larger influence on these diseases than weight. Even if that is true, for those who are genetically predisposed to lifestyle related diseases, weight, physical activity and diet may be mitigating factors. It is common knowledge, with a myriad of clinical evidence, that “obesity is a highly and increasingly prevalent chronic condition associated with significant morbidity and mortality” (Haslam, 2005 as cited in Oreopoulos et al. 2008).

CDC Diagram showing medical complications related to obesity

The second myth is that if you lose weight you will live longer. Lindo claims that, no study has ever shown that weight loss prolongs life. Even if it is true that weight loss on average may not prolong life, it is true that weight loss in people with weight-related health conditions does. This is the same group that this book addresses. Several studies indicate that weight change in aging adults are associated with higher mortality. Yes, weight change can occur for many unhealthy reasons. However, this is not true for intentional weight loss as a result of weight-related health conditions. When you separate out the results and look at intentional weight loss for diabetics, or people with weight-related health conditions you will find reduced risk of all-cause mortality (Harrington, Gibson & Cottrell, 2009). These results were supported by further research time and time again. For example, JAMA Cardiology research reported that obesity was related to significant risk of cardiovascular morbidity, mortality and shorter lifespan when compared to people with normal BMI (Monaco, 2018).

The third myth is that anyone can lose weight if he or she tries. Lindo claims that your biology will make you regain weight you lose, even if you continue your diet and exercise regime. I may agree that not everyone can or should lose weight, but for those who are obese or over-weight, you can. Lindo agrees with me. Later in the book they say that you may be overweight because your natural, or “set-point” weight has been damaged and therefore increased. By resetting your set-point weight to a more “healthy” level, you can lose weight. So, they pretty much refute this claim themself.

Mixed messages at Forthampton © Philip Pankhurst cc-by-sa/2.0 :: Geograph  Britain and Ireland
Retrieved from Geograph

This leads me to my biggest criticism which is that there were many mixed messages. In one chapter they state that what you eat does not matter when it comes to weight. Then, they proceed to clarify that what you eat is very important, not only for your health, environment and morality, but to reset your set-point weight to a healthier level. They downplay the role of weight in an individual’s health to the point where it does not seem to matter at all, which is not what the science implies or the most credible health professionals say. As Dr. David Katz wrote (2018), “Overweight, then, is apt to take life from years; obesity is apt to take years from life as well. That this pair is a clear and present danger could scarcely be clearer, long neglected though it may be.”

There seems to be an understanding that there is a range of healthy body sizes that can vary from person to person or between cultures. But the claim that you can have health at any size is dangerous.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I found this book to bring a polarizing perspective about weight that aims to shatter diet culture and fat-shaming. I agree with the core recommendations, to be active and eat a whole foods diet based on mostly plants while being mindful of our self-esteem and weight-based discrimination. This is a profound message. However, the way they frame the argument bothers me. It is aggressive, authoritative, and polarizing, rather than conservative, curious, and diplomatic.

Thank you so much for reading this post. If you enjoyed it, please like and subscribe. You can also follow me on twitter @interestpeaks. Of course, I enjoyed this discussion, but am more curious to hear what your thoughts are. If you have any opinions, thoughts, ideas or feedback, please share them in the comment section below. I promise to read them all and am sure it will create interesting dialogue.

If this book interests you, please stay tuned for my next post which will breakdown the book by highlighting the key takeaways, and my thoughts about them.

References

Harrington, M., Gibson, S., & Cottrell, R. (2009). A review and meta-analysis of the effect of weight loss on all-cause mortality risk. Nutrition Research Reviews, 22(1), 93-108. doi:10.1017/S0954422409990035

Katz, D. (2018). The true paradox of obesity. LinkedIn. Retrieved from: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/true-paradox-obesity-david-l-katz-md-mph-facpm-facp-faclm/

Monaco, K. (2018). Shorter life, heart risk linked with excess weight. Medpage Today. Retrieved from: https://www.medpagetoday.com/endocrinology/obesity/71437?xid=nl_mpt_DHE_2018-03-01&eun=g436715d0r&pos=0&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily%20Headlines%202018-03-01&utm_term=Daily%20Headlines%20-%20Active%20User%20-%20180%20day

Oreopoulos, A., Padwal, R., Norris, C. M., Mullen, J. C., Pretorius, V., & Kalantar‐Zadeh, K. (2008;2012;). Effect of obesity on short‐ and Long‐term mortality postcoronary revascularization: A Meta‐analysis. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 16(2), 442-450. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.36

Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet is Unique – Book Review

Book Review by Cory Davis

This is a book review of author John Gribbin’s “Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet is Unique” (2011) published by John Wiley & Sons Inc. out of Hoboken, New Jersey, originally published by Penguin Books Ltd. In Great Britain.

4/5

“Alone in the Universe  will make for interesting conversations and leave you awake at night pondering our fragile existence and place in the cosmos.”

Alone in the Universe -- Why Our Planet Is Unique.jpg
Alone in the Universe by John Gribbin Book Cover

About the Author

John Gribbon is a visiting fellow in astronomy at the University of Sussex, UK with a PhD in Astrophysics, M.Sc. in Astronomy and B.Sc. in Physics. Notably, John Gribbin worked as a research student for Fred Hoyle, a famous scientist known for developing the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis and opposition of the big bang, in favour of the steady state model.

However, he is most well known for being a science communicator who wrote many books including “Before the Big Bang”, “In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality”, and “Richard Feynman: A Life of Science”.

What the Book is About

First and foremost, “Alone in the Universe” is not an argument that we are literally alone in the universe. It is an argument that we are alone as a technological civilization in the Milky Way Galaxy. It answers the Fermi Paradox, which is essentially, if technological civilizations are common, then “Where are they?”. Perhaps using Occam’s Razor, the most-simplest explanation is that technological civilizations are not common, and they are not here.

Along the same vein as “Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe” By Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee, this book explores the conditions and series of events that made complex life possible here on earth, and the many possible ways it could have gone sideways if it occurred slightly differently.

Indeed, the universe is a violent inhospitable place for life, and even more so for complex life. The series of events that led to the fragile state of conditions we currently inhabit were very unlikely. Earth could have easily turned out differently. If we ran the clock back and changed the initial conditions only slightly, we may not be here today to talk about it.

The book is structured into eight chapters. The first chapter felt like an argument that life is common. He does this throughout the book, giving the reader support for an opposing view, before arguing against it. The second chapter is about the Milky Way Galaxy and its habitability. He does go beyond the Milky Way at times, noting that not all galaxies are habitable. Just based on metallicity alone, we can conclude that most galaxies are not very accommodating to technological life. The third chapter talks about the stars and their influence on life in worlds that orbit them. The fourth chapter focusses on factors that influence the habitability of solar systems, such as orbits and the influence of large Jupiter-like planets in different locations within them. The fifth chapter is dedicated to the conditions of earth such as plate tectonics and how they influence habitability making comparisons to other planets such as Venus and Mars. The sixth and seventh chapters are dedicated to evolution, highlighting the fact that it is not goal-oriented (intelligent technological life is not a goal of evolution), rather it is a series of adaptations to changing environmental conditions, which vary over time differently in various locations on earth. Here, the author also highlights the several unlikely events throughout our evolutionary history that led to complex life. The last chapter focusses on us as a technological civilization, why it is a unique feature and the possibility of it occurring again.

All eight chapters support the final conclusion: that we are alone in the galaxy. Not that technological life never existed before in the galaxy, or that it won’t happen again sometime in the future. He is not arguing that we are alone in the universe. He is arguing that in the short sliver of time that we exist, it is highly improbable that another technological civilization inhabits the Milky Way at this particular moment.

What I Liked About the Book

Alone in the Universe communicates science in an easily digestible way. It outlines a suite of scientific information to provide context to the inferences used to establish the premises of the author’s argument.

The argument itself is thorough. From the chemical structure of the galaxy, planetary orbits, rotation, and tilt, to the evolutionary circumstances that resulted in our civilization, orientated in the vast expanse of time, it is clear to see that complex, technological life like ours is relatively rare.

There were many moments throughout the book where my mind was racing. Excited, I stayed up at night pondering our existence and what earth would be like if pivotal moments in our evolutionary or cosmic history went slightly different. This is why I gave this book such a high rating. It was fun and it engaged the reader, giving me lots to think about.

Whether you agree with the conclusion or not, that we are alone in the Milky Way Galaxy as a technological civilization, the argument itself makes for a fun thought experiment that will fuel interesting conversations on topic.

Alone in the Universe makes for an excellent addition to the Fermi-Paradox and Rare Earth Hypothesis compendium, putting forth an argument for why it may be the case that intelligent life in the universe is exceedingly rare.

What I Disliked About the Book

The argument itself was not summed up in an easily accessible way. After reading the book, I will have to go back through all my notes to summarize the argument. The end of the book does not do this for you, which was disappointing. After getting through the whole book, it just would have been really nice to sum it up in a one-or-two-page reflection piece to really hit the message home.  

The introduction was initially bland. It talked generally about the milky way, how big it is, how many stars there are and so forth. It talked about the observable universe and how many galaxies there are, how many light years accross it is, etc. He states that we can see a diameter of 27 light years or so, because the universe is about 13.8 billion light years old. I was getting bored because this is old news. However, those new to the topic, could find it to be a feature, rather than a bore.

As I kept reading though, I started to find gems of knowledge that were new to me. For example, did you know that the first direct evidence that planets form out of clouds of debris was around a pulsar? Pulsars form from stars much larger than the sun who go supernova. Some of these stars, if they are big enough, form black holes. But if not, they can form pulsars, neutron stars or possibly other exotic forms such as quark-stars. Apparently, some planets cannot survive a supernova, the event is much too violent. However, researchers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail of Penn State University found planets orbiting a pulsar that could not possibly have survived a supernova. Therefore, the planets were formed out of the material discharged from the supernova explosion. My mind is blown.

There were a couple times I was lost in the book, having to re-read paragraphs to try to understand what he was saying or why it supports his argument. This mostly occurred in the last few chapters, where the material became a little more complex.

The book is structured well, but it did not come together for me in the end.  My four main criticisms are a follows:

  1. I would have appreciated a diagram or summary of the argument. Each chapter was like a premise leading the reader toward a conclusion. The end of the book does not summarize the argument for you. You need to take notes and formulate his argument yourself.
  2. Some of the premises did not necessarily lead to the conclusion as there are still so many unknown variables. All in all, it was a strong argument, but the conclusion was extreme. I think a fairer conclusion would have been “therefore, the probability that more than one technological civilization exists in the Milky Way Galaxy at this precise moment in time is very low”, rather than “we are (authoritatively and definitively) alone in the Milky Way Galaxy”.
  3. The book was not written very purposefully. I understand that the purpose is to argue that we are alone in the galaxy, but why is this important? He indicates that the earth is fragile so we should probably take care of it, but is this why he wrote the book? That is not clear. In my opinion, the book should have had one final chapter, that sums up the argument and outlines why we should care. What is the agenda? Should we defund SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)? Should we save the planet? Does the conclusion that life is rare indicate some kind of greater responsibility for humanity? What is the point of this book and why is it important? I would have appreciated some ending that drove the message home.
  4. The conclusion is not that we are “Alone in the Universe”, it is that we are alone in the Milky Way Galaxy. He makes this clear when you read the book, but the cover is dishonest, like a catchy title to lure the reader in.

For the above four reasons, my rating was reduced from 5 stars to 4 stars.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed reading this book and recommend it to anyone curious about the subject, especially for those who hold opposing views. If anything, it will inform you of the other side to an argument that you may not have heard explained in depth before. Enter it with an open mind, make notes and develop a more substantiated opinion of the topic, even if you don’t reach the same conclusion. Alone in the Universe  will make for interesting conversations and leave you awake at night pondering our fragile existence and place in the cosmos.

If you are curious about life in the universe, and our place within it, then this is a must read. But this is not the only book I would recommend on the subject. Below are some books and audiobooks that I thoroughly enjoyed on the topic and would recommend to anyone who is interested in no particular order:

  1. Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee
  2. Lucky Planet by David Waltham
  3. The Eerie Silence by Paul Davies
  4. Aliens: The Worlds Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life by Jim Al-Khalili
  5. The Contact Paradox: Challenging Our Assumptions About the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
  6. The Copernican Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Possibilities by Caleb Scharf
  7. Goldilocks and the Water Bears by Louisa Preston
  8. Light of the Stars by Adam Frank
  9. Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence by Seth Shostak
  10. All These Worlds Are Yours: The Scientific Search for Extraterrestrial Life by John Willis
  11. Extraterrestrial Intelligence by Jean Heidmann

If you would like me to revisit any of these for a review or breakdown, please let me know in the comment section below.

Thank you so much for reading my review for Alone in the Universe by John Gribbin. I found this material super interesting. But I am more interested to hear your thoughts and opinions. If you have any thoughts about life in the universe, or comments about this book, please share them below. I promise to read them, and am sure they will make for interesting dialogue.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like or subscribe. You can also follow me on twitter @interestpeaks. Please stay tuned! In my next post, where I will break down the author’s argument for why we are alone in the Milky Way Galaxy.

Breakdown: How to be a Good Motivator – Highlights from “Bringing Out the Best in People” (1985) Ch. 12-14

If you are like me, you may never get a chance to read all the books you would like to. There is just not enough time in a single lifetime to absorb it all. That is why I wanted to breakdown “Bringing Out the Best in People” (1985) by Alan Loy McGinnis to share the key takeaways that I got out of it.

Image result for bringing out the best in people mcginnis

“Bringing Out the Best in People” (1985) is a guide to be a good motivator. It provides the reader with 12 principles to bring out the best in people through motivation. The 12 principles are as follows:

  1. Expect the best from people you lead
  2. Make a thorough study of the other person’s needs
  3. Establish high standards for excellence
  4. Create an environment where failure is not fatal
  5. If they are going anywhere near where you want to go, climb on other people’s bandwagons
  6. Employ models to encourage success
  7. Recognize and applaud achievement
  8. Employ a mixture of positive and negative reinforcement
  9. Appeal sparingly to the competitive urge
  10. Place a premium on collaboration
  11. Build into the group an allowance for storms
  12. Take steps to keep your own motivation

In this post, I will break down chapters 12-14. These chapters capture principles 11 and 12 to bring the best out of people. If you like it, please check out my previous post capturing chapters 1-11.

Chapter 12: How to deal with an abrasive troublemaker

This chapter highlights principle #11, build into the group an allowance for storms. Right off the bat, the term “troublemaker” should be avoided all together because it attacks another person’s character rather than addressing the problem – the behaviour. So in order to attack problems, rather than people, this chapter should be titled “How to deal with continual problematic behaviours”.

This chapter emphases how problematic behaviours can destroy team synergies and drain their enthusiasm. Unfortunately, too often we see these behaviours come from positions of authority such as supervisors, or managers. So as a leader who observes these behaviours, you need to act quickly. Your response should not be fire them first, then hire someone else later. If that is your philosophy, then you will be running from this problem your whole life. The best leaders will only replace an employee as a last-ditch effort after all other options have been exhausted. The cost of staff turnover financially, on morale, time and relationships is too high.

One option to manage problematic behaviours is to diffuse them through ventilation. Good leaders are prepared to absorb a heavy load of complaints. For your team to function smoothly, they need to vent all the junk out of their systems. You are the leader who needs to absorb it. So the point here is to build a corridor for others to steer their grievances through so that negativity does not infect the office. That corridor is your gentle, attentive ears. Don’t let the complaints bring down your enthusiasm – you are listening for a good cause – for the team.

For the continually observed problematic behaviours, here are seven pieces of advice to manage them:

  1. Allow some disruptive behaviour. Build into your team charter an acceptance of the storming phase, an allowance for temporary periods of insanity. We will all laugh about it later on.
  2. Uncover the underlying reasons for the behaviour. J.P. Morgan once said it bluntly, “There are two reasons why anyone does anything – the good reason, and the real reason.”
  3. Identify how harmful the problematic behaviour is. You may find out that the individual exhibiting the behaviour is loved and adored by his or her colleagues – for their honesty and bravery to state how they truly see things. Do not degrade him or her at the expense of your damaging your relationships with your team.
  4. Ask for help. This is straightforward, ask others for advice. Remember though, never attack the person – especially in front of others. Seek help about the problem. Maybe others have experience managing similar behaviours or have exhibited those behaviours themselves at some point.
  5.  Weigh the individual who is exhibiting problematic behaviour’s contribution to the team. It may be the case that their performance is incredible and outweighs the damage that they did. That does not mean that you should not address the behaviour, it just helps evaluate the situation.
  6. Appeal to the good side of the person exhibiting the behaviour. Remember, most of us have good intentions. Don’t assume the worst of the other person. You do not know their circumstances. If anything else, give them good intentions to live up to. Say, “I know you mean well, you are a good person. I noticed XY behaviours, that is not your usual self. I hope you are doing well. But if there is anything I could do to help out, even if it is just an ear to listen, I am here for you.”
  7. If the problematic behaviour is severely harmful, you may need to remove the person.

Chapter 13: The personality of the motivator

This chapter highlights principle #12, take steps to keep your own motivation high. This chapter is all about you as a motivator. It is difficult to be motivated by someone who is unmotivated themselves. McGinnis asserts that to lead people successfully, you need to understand what makes your team tick, and have a “spirit that spreads excitement and energy to those around you”. You cannot spread excitement and energy if you cannot take care of yourself. Don’t let anger, bitterness, resentment, exhaustion, or hatred dominate your soul. You need positivity to drive your motivation of others.

McGinnis provides five tips to keep yourself motivated to motivated others:

  1. Surround yourself with positive and successful people and minimize contact with those who exhaust you or bring you down.
  2. Be careful about what you let enter your mind. Any statistician or computer scientist will tell you: “garbage in – garbage out” or “your conclusions are only as good as the data you put in”.
  3. Take advantage of credible podcasts, audiobooks, and paper books. Or, as McGinnis put it, there is a “wealth of information on audio cassettes.”
  4. Go to conferences, seminars, lectures, or other networking events.
  5. Keep a journal. Record your leadership journey and reflect on them. Develop lessons learned and document your thoughts.

Chapter 14: Why Helping Others Can Become Life’s Greatest Joy

This chapter is supposed to inspire the reader to continue their efforts to motivate others. He notes the all-too-real experience we have, starting out on a mission to save the world – then end up just fighting to survive. Don’t let life bring you down. Remember to celebrate your wins – even small ones. Keep chipping away at your dreams and idealistic aspirations. Giving up now will mean you have wasted a lot of time for nothing. You may not see the change now, but big change is built upon an aggregate of small ones – keep making them.

Remember that motivating others is about seeing the best in them. Other people have potential that has yet to be acknowledged – and you are there to do that. It is very impactful for people. Try it. See if you can inspire someone today. Let them know that you genuinely believe in them and that you know they can and will do great things. You can change lives and inspire a better world because of it.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed my breakdown of Alan Loy McGinnis’ “Bringing Out the Best in People”. I loved this book. It challenged my behaviours and forced me to reflect on my personal experiences. I hope you got a lot out of it too. It was a pleasure for me to share these chapters with you and I look forward to next time.

If you enjoyed this read, please subscribe to my blog, give it a like or follow me on Twitter @interestpeaks. I found this content interesting. But I am more interested in what your thoughts, opinions or advice on motivation are. If you have any thoughts, ideas, or feedback, please share them in the comments section below. I would love to hear them.

“Sea in the Sky” by Jackson Musker Audible Original Review

5/5

“…gripping from beginning to end. “Sea in the Sky” is a rollercoaster of emotion. It starts out light-hearted and funny then descends into a depressing madness.”

Image result for Sea in the sky jackson musker
Retrieved from Audible.ca

This is a review of “Sea in the Sky” by Jackson Musker, an Audible Original. I don’t know what to call this. An audio-book, a story-based podcast, an audio-play? There is no narrator, it is not like a novel. It is purely voice actors playing out each scene with audio effects to portray movements, machinery, or other immersive effects.

I have been an Audible subscriber since 2011. I like to listen to audio books while I go for walks, hikes, jogs, or just before to bed. But my audible playlist is made up of only non-fiction books. Mostly science and social science stuff. I find that it is difficult to retain the information from science-heavy audio books though, which makes them hard to review. That is, until I found this audible original in their “Podcast” section. All the podcasts are free for audible subscribers.

I was blown away by the audio effects and professional voice actors. I truly felt like I was watching a movie, but in my own head. It engages the listener’s imagination this way. You don’t need the visuals to be entertained by this story – in fact, I think it may take away from the experience. It made me realize how powerful our imaginations are and that I should use mine more.

This is a story about Bianca and Tye. Two astronauts who head off to Enceladus, a moon that orbits Saturn. Enceladus is an interesting place. It is the sixth largest known moon in our solar system. Not only is the surface covered in ice, underneath that ice, Enceladus has a global ocean, and a rocky core. On October 3rd, 2019, Science Alert reported that organic compounds were pluming out of the icy surface. That does not mean that life exists on Enceladus. But it does mean it is geologically active and that there is interesting chemistry going on. It only entices our imagination about the possibility of life in our universe.

Image result for wiki enceladus
Enceladus, Moon of Saturn

We first meet Bianca and Tye when they arrive on the icy moon after a grueling three-year journey. Their interactions are funny, cute, and even touch on sensitive topics such as religion. Bianca, an atheist and Tye, an unorthodox Christian. Tye’s view is that God is the force that set the big bang into motion, some force outside the confines of our universe. There is some place, he says, outside of the universe where that force (or God) resides, where it all started, and when we die, we go back there. Bianca states that she only believes in what we can see, touch, study and infer with science. The rest of what is out there is just waiting to be discovered. But how can you believe in something that we have not yet discovered? – like some unidentified force outside the universe. It may be there, but belief is to be convinced of something. You cannot be convinced of something without good evidence.

I agree with them both in a sense. I am not sure there is a place outside the Universe, or a force that exists there. But I am convinced that it is a good possibility, that there could be an area (if you could call it that) between universes in the multiverse where natural forces operate. But I don’t understand why or how we would “go back there” to that area, and I don’t know why we would convolute the notion of God with a force that exists there. But it is an interesting dialogue, and I am glad they went no further into the subject than they did.

The purpose of their mission is to find life on the icy moon. I thought this was a little bit too unrealistic. There was such a push from home-base to find life – like if they didn’t find it, the entire mission would be a failure and would mean the end of space missions altogether. Literally, that was case. The politics were just hyper extreme in this sense. They did not have evidence of life on Enceladus prior to the mission, but somehow placed the success of the mission on their ability to find it. I think it should be successful either way, if the astronauts are able to return with good data. Biology is just one reason to investigate other worlds. There is so much more we could learn about its chemical composition, chemical processes, geological processes, etc. This part kind of threw me off-guard. But I guess it makes for some good story-telling.

I don’t want to reveal what happens in the end. Although I will say it was very suspenseful. Do they find life? Do they survive? What awaits in the deep oceans of Enceladus? Listen, and find out for yourself. If you are subscribed to Audible, its free! Nothing to lose if you try.

I found this Audible Original Podcast riveting. It was gripping from beginning to end. “Sea in the Sky” is a rollercoaster of emotion. It starts out light-hearted and funny then descends into a depressing madness. I highly recommend it.

The ending was good. I had to sit with it for a while and let it sink in. I was not sure how to feel. I guess it made me feel lost, hopeless, and craving for a more complete finish. It screams sequel to me. I desperately wanted one. But as I let it all sink in, I became more accepting of the finish.

I thought this Audible Original Podcast was great – 5/5. But I am more interested to hear your opinions of it. How did it make you feel? Did the ending work for you? Do you want more? Please let me know in the comments.

Thank you so much for reading this review. If you enjoyed it, please give it a like and subscribe.

Breakdown: How to be a Good Motivator – Highlights from “Bringing Out the Best in People” (1985) Ch. 9-11

If you are like me, you may never get a chance to read all the books you would like to. There is just not enough time in a single lifetime to absorb it all. That is why I wanted to breakdown “Bringing Out the Best in People” (1985) by Alan Loy McGinnis to share the key takeaways that I got out of it.

See the source image

“Bringing Out the Best in People” (1985) is a guide to be a good motivator. It provides the reader with 12 principles to bring out the best in people through motivation. The 12 principles are as follows:

  1. Expect the best from people you lead
  2. Make a thorough study of the other person’s needs
  3. Establish high standards for excellence
  4. Create an environment where failure is not fatal
  5. If they are going anywhere near where you want to go, climb on other people’s bandwagons
  6. Employ models to encourage success
  7. Recognize and applaud achievement
  8. Employ a mixture of positive and negative reinforcement
  9. Appeal sparingly to the competitive urge
  10. Place a premium on collaboration
  11. Build into the group an allowance for storms
  12. Take steps to keep your own motivation

In this post, I will break down chapters 9-11. These chapters capture principles 8-10 to bring the best out of people. If you like it, please check out my previous posts capturing chapters 1-8 and look out for another post where I will cover the last two principles.

Chapter 9: When to Praise and When to Reprimand

This chapter highlights principle #8, employ a mixture of positive and negative reinforcement. Here the author emphasizes the need to use more positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement, but there still needs to be elements of both.

The good person in us will cringe at the thought of negative reinforcement. We all had bad experiences with it. However, negative reinforcement does not have to be mean, aggressive or result in a loss of morale.

McGinnis offers the Scorn/Reinstruction Method of negative reinforcement as an example. Using this method, when you see something that was done wrong, say something like “Don’t do it that way, do it this way”. Then you can proceed to show them exactly how it is supposed to be done. It seems reasonable.

McGinnis offers several pieces of advice for giving negative reinforcement:

  1. Teach them to avoid disruptive behaviours. Don’t teach them to avoid you. You still need to be approachable, respectful, and tactful.
  2. Be timely and give negative reinforcement immediately after the bad behaviour. The longer you wait, the less effective the negative reinforcement will be at correcting the behaviour.
  3. Stop any negative reinforcement effects as soon as the poor behaviour stops. If you punish your child for 30 days for a bad behaviour, there is little incentive to change those behaviours quickly because there are still many days of punishment to go.
  4. If negative reinforcement does not work for undesirable behaviours, then use positive reinforcement for any desirable behaviours. Give positive reinforcement for anything other than the bad behaviour. Once the undesirable behavior stops, then begin to withdraw any additional positive reinforcement.

The last thing discussed in the chapter is the use of guilt as a motivator. There are two schools of thought along a spectrum. At the extremes, one perspective is that guilt is not a good motivator, and the other is that guilt is a good motivator. Both schools of thought have some criticisms. Guilt is a valid emotion for people to have. So, who are we to say it is wrong to feel? On the other hand, if you use guilt against people excessively it can result in disturbed relationships. The bottom line is that leaders should not be there to control people. What we need to do is objectively point out consequences of certain behaviours. It is up to the those you wish to motivate whether they will feel guilty about it.

Chapter 10: The Will to Win

This chapter highlights rule #9, appeal sparingly to the competitive urge. People love a challenge. McGinnis used the exact same example as in Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” to demonstrate this.

There was a series of mills all owned by the same company. One of the mills had very low productivity. When the boss from headquarters came to visit, he asked the manager about it. The manager said that he tried everything to get his staff to work harder and nothing worked. So, at the end of one team’s shift, he asked how many tonnes of steel they produced, they said 4. He took a piece of chalk and wrote 4 on the wall, big and clear where most will see. When the next shift arrived, they asked about the number 4. They were told it was how many tonnes of steel the last crew produced. At the end of their shift, 4 was rubbed off and replaced with a 6. The next day there was a 7, then 8. You get it. The boss gently provided the workers with an opportunity to compete, and they took it. That mill became one of the most productive.

The competition here was not forced, it was only gently encouraged. Healthy competition can boost morale, but remember not to create a competitive arena that accommodates unethical or mean-spirited behaviour.

Chapter 11: How to Get People to Cooperate with Each Other

Chapter 11 highlights rule #10, place a premium on collaboration. It emphasizes that people have a need to belong and are more attracted to high morale teams than even its leadership. So good leadership will go above and beyond to create a good, positive, enthusiastic, and collaborative atmosphere. This will facilitate solidarity and kinship, a sense of pride and loyalty shared by the group, or as the French would say esprit de Corps.

So how do you create esprit de corps? McGinnis provides four suggestions:

  1. Reward cooperation. Some organizations would rather reward individuals for their successes rather than high functioning teams. However, this creates incentives for individuals to exaggerate their successes and downplay their teammates successes. This may facilitate a mean-spirited competition resulting in poor morale and unethical behaviour.
  2. Assign responsibility for cooperation to the team as a whole rather than a project champion, team lead, or other individual member. This makes accountability everyone’s responsibility.
  3. Plan some occasions for the team to travel outside of the office together. When you place a team together outside of the office, an interesting thing happens. They tend become more creative, open to each others’ perspectives, build respect and form bonds with each other. It allows them to see each other as people, rather than just employees. So send them to a conference, resort or something like that to build team comradery.
  4. Do not undervalue good communication. Often times distance and petty arguments between teammates is caused by a misunderstanding or a lack of consideration for each other which can escalate rapidly into a massive grievance.

Conclusion

I hope you liked this breakdown of the key highlights from Alan Loy McGinnis’ “Bringing Out the Best in People”, chapters 9 –11. If you would like more tips on how to be a good motivator, look out for my future posts which will cover more of this material. Or better yet, buy his book!

If you enjoyed this read, please subscribe to my blog, give it a like or follow me on Twitter @interestpeaks. I found this content interesting. But I am more interested in what your thoughts, opinions or advice on motivation are. If you have any thoughts, ideas, or feedback, please share them in the comments section below. I would love to hear them.

Engaging the System: Tapping into Diversity

By Cory Davis

In a previous post, I discussed tips and tools for engaging teams. Now, I would like to discuss some tips and thoughts about how to engage the system at work.

As always, I want to give credit where it is due. This blog post is inspired by Bob Chartier’s “Handcrafted Leadership” (2015) about the art of facilitation and engagement. If you are interested in the tips and tools that I share with you here, please check out his book.

Engaging the System

What do I mean when I say “the System”? I mean everyone at your organization. Not just your team or department. The system refers to all available departments or employees. The idea of engaging the system is designed to tap into different perspectives from all available angles or viewpoints.

There is power in numbers and diversity. Interesting ideas, stories, and knowledge stored in the system can spur innovation and creative problem solving if you can dig it out. By opening yourself up to data burried in the system, you can get a broader range of perspectives to address challenges and tackle problems.

Bob Chartier gave an example that resonated with me, demonstrating the value of diversity in problem solving. The operations department at an energy company in northern Canada regularly incurred massive damages to its powerlines in one particular area due to snow piling up on the lines that underwent melting and freezing. This was very expensive for the company. Furthermore, it created a dangerous and harsh work environment for repair crews. One employee from the health and safety department shared a story about her previous job in Vietnam. She worked at a hospital where helicopters regularly caused harsh drafts, which caused problems for them. Would flying a helicopter to blow the snow off the powerlines right after it snowed help? Yes, it would… and it saved the company a fortune.

The point here is to engage the entire company, community, or organization. However, engaging such a large audience can be tricky. Without a carefully designed approach handy, it can become a daunting task. There are too many large meetings designed around a problem, issue or task that result in no tangible deliverables.

That is why I wanted to share two facilitation tools from Bob Chartier’s “Handcrafted Leadership” to engage the system:

1. The Open Space

This is not your traditionally structured company meeting, with a power-point, strict agenda and formal seating. It is designed around the idea of a “Town Hall”, where everyone’s voice will be heard. The Open House is a themed meeting. It could be about a policy, new idea, or a problem that needs to be solved.

Design the meeting space to be in circles around the center of the room where your facilitator will be at the beginning. Have everyone introduce themselves and state what they think should be on the agenda. The boss will not create the agenda, the particpants will.

Once the agenda is created, post each agenda item around the conference room with an attendee, perhaps someone who came up with it. Then participants will be split into “pods” of 3-5 people who can wander freely to talk about the agenda items together. Each pod will generate ideas, recommendations or solutions for each agenda item. Give them a template to document them. You dont need to limit participation to employees, you can also invite partners or other stakeholders as well.

2. The World Café

This is a fairly common tool with lots of material online about it. Unlike the Open Space which is generative (creating ideas, solutions, etc.), the World Café is responsive. It is designed to elicit reactions from participants to a speaker’s presentation, new ideas, policies, challenges, a presentation, or new information. It is also a good chance to spur innovation and share knowledge, that you can put into action.

The World Café consists of three elements:

  1. The presentation or talk. This will provide the audience with information.
  2. The Conversation. Get everyone talking about the presentation. It will consist of a host at each table to faciliate a conversation between 3-4 people. Set a time limit for each group, then get them to switch tables about 3-4 times. Have a different theme for each round of conversations. For example, the first round can just debrief the presentation. The second round could be about ideas and questions. The third round could try to uncover the deepest unanswered questions.
  3. The Response. Questions that result from the conversation will be gathered and the speaker or other audience members can answer them in the format of a talk show.

This is a great tool to engage an audience after a presentation. We are all sick of sitting through a presentation to only have a few questions answered before particpants have a chance to discuss them or let the material sink in. The audience members will generate much higher quality questions after they have conversations about it.

Conclusion

The above are just two facilitation tools you can use to engage the system. If you are ot familiar with facilitation tools like the ones mentioned here, please check out the plethora of free facilitation resources online, or better yet, read Bob Chartier’s “Handcrafted Leadership”. One resource that I love found free online is the Institute for Innovation and Improvement’s Facilitator Toolkit.

This post was intended to create a dialogue about engaging the system. There is so much to be gained by opening up to the diverse perspectives deep within the system that can enable us to attack problems, or generate ideas from a wide range of angles. With the right approach, you can engage the system in an organized, effective and time-efficient way.

Thank you so much for visiting my blog and reading my post. If you enjoyed it, please subscribe, give it a like, or follow me on Twitter @interestpeaks.

I found this topic interesting. However, I would be much more interested to hear your thoughts, opinions, ideas, questions, or criticisms. If you would like to share, please do so in the comment section below. I promise to read all comments you post here.

Breakdown: How to be a Good Motivator – Highlights from “Bringing Out the Best in People” (1985) Ch. 5-8

If you are like me, you may never get a chance to read all the books you would like to. There is just not enough time in a single lifetime to absorb it all. That is why I wanted to breakdown “Bringing Out the Best in People” (1985) by Alan Loy McGinnis to share the key takeaways that I got out of it.

See the source image

“Bringing Out the Best in People” (1985) is a guide to be a good motivator. It provides the reader with 12 principles to bring out the best in people through motivation. The 12 principles are as follows:

  1. Expect the best from people you lead
  2. Make a thorough study of the other person’s needs
  3. Establish high standards for excellence
  4. Create an environment where failure is not fatal
  5. If they are going anywhere near where you want to go, climb on other people’s bandwagons
  6. Employ models to encourage success
  7. Recognize and applaud achievement
  8. Employ a mixture of positive and negative reinforcement
  9. Appeal sparingly to the competitive urge
  10. Place a premium on collaboration
  11. Build into the group an allowance for storms
  12. Take steps to keep your own motivation

In this post, I will break down chapters 5-8. These chapters capture principles 4-7 to bring the best out of people. If you like it, please check out my previous post capturing chapters 1-4 and look out for future posts where I will share highlights from later chapters.

Chapter 5: Management of Failure

This chapter highlights principle #4, create an environment where failure is not fatal. As motivators, we need to help the people we motivate manage their failures, and as leaders we need to approach failures creatively. Failure is an important learning opportunity and can be used as a tool for innovation.

The main theme of this chapter is to anticipate and expect failure, so you and your organization is prepared for it. It also notes that as motivators, we need to learn from our own mistakes also and be open and honest about them. Let others see your mistakes. Richard J. Needham, late columnist for the Globe and Mail said it succinctly, “Strong people make as many and as ghastly mistakes as weak people. The difference is that strong people admit them, laugh at them, and learn from them. That is how they become strong.”

What I thought was missed in this chapter is the power of recognizing mistakes of others as a learning opportunity for you and the organization. Mistakes may stem from problems within the system. It may be an opportunity to improve processes, procedures, and leadership. By turning a mistake from an individual learning opportunity to a systems learning opportunity, we have more corridors to accommodate it. By not personalizing the mistake, and instead capturing it under a broader umbrella of responsibility, we make it more comfortable for employees to make them. The mistakes are not always solely their own, the team can recognize errors and identify if there are changes that could be made to reduce or learn from them.

The trick here is to be able to address and correct errors without harming the person who made them resulting in a loss of their enthusiasm. Don’t let failures deter staff. Major success often comes after long stings of major failure. Look at Abraham Lincoln’s track record before his presidency.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.” For this reason, you should probably reprimand teams who never make mistakes – they are probably playing it way too safe.

Chapter 6: Building an Inner Drive

This chapter highlights principle #5, if they are going anywhere near where you want to go, jump on their bandwagon. The main purpose of this chapter is to drill into your head that the best way to give advice to those you want to motivate is to find out their wants and needs, then give them advice to achieve it. Remember, manipulation is convincing people to do things against their own interests. Manipulation is a red flag for poor leadership. As motivators, we need to understand the interests of others.

McGinnis points out here that a real test on the effectiveness of your efforts, is how much people continue to stay motivated when you are absent. They could behave as if they are motivated when you are there, but as soon as you leave become complacent. To get them to stay motivated when you are gone, help them develop personal goals that are SMART (SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). These goals need to satisfy their interests, dreams, and aspirations. Then the motivator will help them create a plan to reach those goals and help them follow it. Do everything you can do to help them achieve their goals. This is “hopping on their bandwagon.”

What you should not do is plant an idea in their head, then convince them that the idea was theirs in the first place. This is a manipulation tactic that often backfires. So, don’t approach people with a view that you know what that person should be then change them to be that. Clarify what they want by asking how they want to change, what makes them happy and how they wish to modify their behaviour. Then set goals together.

Another sharp point made here is that employees’ goals and values need to align with the organization. For example, I would not recommend that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) hire carnivores who actively protest against plant-based diets. They are probably not a good fit.

As much as you need to establish a fit between employees and the organization, you as a leader needs to have clear goals and objectives too. People want leaders with clear objectives, but you need to be consistent. People who waiver on values and objectives are often seen as weak or unstable. This becomes particularly dangerous when you change your values and objectives in such a way that people can no longer be on your bandwagon. But we know that it is okay to change your beliefs, it is human and shows that you can learn and grow as a person without blindly holding onto beliefs that are irrational. That is the foundation of science, as new information comes in, new understandings emerge that force us to let go of the old ones. So, the author clarifies that we need to build into conversations some room for others to change their minds and to say “no”. To avoid manipulation, don’t lock them into a position that they cannot change from.

Also highlighted in this chapter is to not let people believe that they are failures because they failed. Tomas Edison had the right mindset when he said, ““I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Chapter 7: The Power of the Success Story

Chapter 7 highlights principle #6, employ models that encourage success. The purpose is to get the reader to realize the power of story telling. Success stories are motivating because they touch the hearts and minds of people and as a result can change their attitudes and perspectives.

Here, you should not simply use stories that you find compelling. People are motivated in different ways. You should not use the success story of Donald Trump to motivate a democrat or use stories of war to motivate a pacifist.

Here, it is important that you know those who you want to motivate. Understand their values, goals, and aspirations. Then pick stories that you think will tug at their heart strings.

Chapter 8: The Secret of Parlaying Small Successes into Larger Gains

This Chapter highlights principle # 7, recognize and applaud achievement. Here the author notes the all-too-often complaint from employees: “The boss never gives me feedback, except when something goes wrong”. Remember, as motivators we want to recognize the good side of people and build on that. If we are only recognizing when they make mistakes, we are focussing on their bad sides.

The advice in this chapter is based off BF Skinner’s seminal work in psychology about positive and negative reinforcement.  It is clear that positive reinforcement, or rewarding good behaviour is a much more effective tool for changing behaviours than negative reinforcement or punishing bad behaviour. So, the art of praise is an important skill for any leader.

The art of praise works best if you reinforce specific behaviours. This is not saying “I expect great things from you”. This is saying “Wow, I overheard your call with that client and you demonstrated the kind of customer service excellence we like to show off to the world”.

The author gives a tool here called one-minute praisings, where you take regular breaks to catch employees doing something right or exceptional and give them compliments. Everyone is starving for appreciation. So, when someone comes along to genuinely acknowledge our good side, we will follow them enthusiastically. Employees are more motivated when they know that they are doing things right, so create systems that regularly identify wins, reinforcing that your people are winners and then celebrate those wins.

To master the art of praise, McGinnis provides four suggestions:

  1. Give praise publicly as one-on-ones are less effective. People like it when nice things are said about them to other people. For example, it feels really nice when your partner says something very nice about you to their friends.
  2. Seize the moment to celebrate every success. Successes are an excuse for celebration, and celebration supports morale and a positive atmosphere.
  3. Write your compliment down in a hand-written letter. 
  4. Be very specific about the compliment you give. Identify exactly why you appreciate what they did and how they did it.

Here the author also notes that too much reinforcement with things like pay incentives and gifts can be dangerous. You don’t want those you motivate to become more motivated by material rewards than they are by their values and goals. Don’t lose sight of the importance of your mission and purpose as a tool for motivation. People can turn into “reinforcement junkies” who must have some material reward available to put in hard work. Furthermore, too much praise can become meaningless. Don’t praise for the sake of praise, this is not genuine. People will recognize it and it will become less effective.

As leaders we need to observe improvements in those we motivate. If bad habits have changed into good ones, we need to acknowledge them for that. It is extraordinarily demoralizing to change your behaviours at great effort and/or personal expense, then see it go unnoticed by your leadership.

There is this idea that by celebrating success, you produce overconfident employees who think they are better than others. McGinnis argues that this is not the case. It is a mistake for leadership to think that they need to “peg employees down a notch”. William Somerset Maugham, a famous English playwright and novelist once noted, “The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egotistical and self-complacent is erroneous; on the contrary, it makes them for the most part humble, tolerant, and firm. Failure makes people bitter and cruel.”

Conclusion

I hope you liked this breakdown of the key highlights from Alan Loy McGinnis’ “Bringing Out the Best in People”, chapters 5 –8. If you would like more tips on how to be a good motivator, look out for my future posts which will cover more of this material. Or better yet, buy his book.

If you enjoyed this read, please subscribe to my blog, give it a like or follow me on Twitter @interestpeaks. I found this content interesting. But I am more interested in what your thoughts, opinions or advice on motivation are. If you have any thoughts, ideas, or feedback, please share them in the comments section below. I would love to hear them.

Breakdown: How to be a Good Motivator – Highlights from “Bringing Out the Best in People” (1985) Ch. 1-4

If you are like me, you may never get a chance to read all the books you would like to. There is just not enough time in a single lifetime to absorb it all. That is why I wanted to breakdown “Bringing Out the Best in People” (1985) by Alan Loy McGinnis to share the key takeaways that I got out of it.

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“Bringing Out the Best in People” (1985) is a guide to be a good motivator. It provides the reader with 12 principles to bring out the best in people through motivation. The 12 principles are as follows:

  1. Expect the best from people you lead
  2. Make a thorough study of the other person’s needs
  3. Establish high standards for excellence
  4. Create an environment where failure is not fatal
  5. If they are going anywhere near where you want to go, climb on other people’s bandwagons
  6. Employ models to encourage success
  7. Recognize and applaud achievement
  8. Employ a mixture of positive and negative reinforcement
  9. Appeal sparingly to the competitive urge
  10. Place a premium on collaboration
  11. Build into the group an allowance for storms
  12. Take steps to keep your own motivation

In this post, I will break down the first 4 chapters. The first chapter is dedicated to “The Psychology of Motivation”, which was not explained academically but rather in plain, every day english. Chapters 2-4 cover the first three principles to bring out the best in people. If you like it, please look out for future posts where I will share highlights from other chapters.

Chapter 1: The Psychology of Motivation

This chapter highlights the notion that motivation is not always internally sourced. There are all kinds of external motivators that influences one’s drive. There is a need for inspiration. Have you ever thought of someone as being lazy, lacking motivation? It could be that they just have not been sufficiently motivated by any leadership, that nobody has acknowledged their potential and put in the effort to use it. Your employees don’t want to feel unengaged. They want leaders who can teach them to enjoy their work.

Some people can confuse motivation for manipulation. Manipulation is persuading someone to behave in a way that supports your best interests, not theirs. Whereas motivation is where you identify compatible interests and goals then develop a partnership to achieve them.

The famous poet Goethe once noted that “the greatest genius will not be worth much if he pretends to draw exclusively from his own resources”. What he is trying to do here is warn you not to fail to achieve great things because you failed to inspire others. This was an impactful statement for me. It highlights that there is power in relationships.

Chapter 2: Expecting the Best

This chapter is dedicated the first principle to bring the best out of people: expect the best out of the people you lead. It highlights that if you set the bar low, the people you lead will meet that expectation, but if you set the bar high – to greatness – people will tend to put in great efforts to live up to that.

Not only should you set the bar high for things like productivity, but you should also expect that others have the best of intentions. If you treat people like they have good intentions, you will get good things out of them. This chapter encourages the reader to see the good side of people, picking out the best in them and building on that. To do so, you need a genuine desire to help others.

This is in contrast to the authoritative policing style boss who always looks for the worst in people. It makes people defensive, protective and forces them to close the door to their inner potential. If you make people feel defensive and productive, they won’t be confident enough to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and become the best they can be.

So, to bring out the best in people, you need to set up high expectations. Recall that Eminem song “The Way I Am”. In the chorus he rhymes “I am whatever you say I am, if I wasn’t, then why would you say I am”. This lyric gives insight into the human psyche, that we are moulded by others’ expectations of us to an extent.

This is summed up in what some call “The Pygmalion Effect”. It is derived from the George Bernard Shaw play “Pygmalion” where a professor helps a woman become an elegant lady. He does this by always treating her like one and the result was that she lived up to those expectations.

Goethe also sums it up succinctly: “Treat a man as he appears to be, and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he already were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be”.

Everyone has the desire to do great things and to be somebody. The goal for you as a leader or motivator is to tap into that drive by showing them that you believe in them. If you show that you believe in them, they will try very hard to live up to those expectations.

Chapter 3: A Tailor-Made Plan of Motivation

This chapter is dedicated to principle #2, to make a thorough study of the other person’s needs. To be a motivator, you first need to understand what the person you are trying to motivate wants. They may not know this themselves, so you need to be patient. You may not get it out of them in the first conversation. If you don’t know what someone wants, then how can you motivate them to attain it? Remember, if you motivate others to do what you want, against their own interest then it is manipulation.  

Motivation is not some form of hype. Good motivators make motivational plans tailored to individuals they are trying to motivate. To do this effectively, you need to understand their beliefs, aspirations, and what they love (and don’t love). You need to understand their system of needs and desires. McGinnis says it well “People are driven by a bundle of interests. So, save yourself time and frustration by carefully appealing to their interests.”

The real key to this chapter is to tailor your leadership to the individual. For example, if someone is a pacifist, don’t motivate them using military code or stories about war. George Bernard Shaw said it succinctly “The only person who behaves sensibly is my tailor. He makes new measurements every time he sees me. All the rest go on with the old measurements

McGinnis gives two reasons why you should seriously study those you want to motivate:

  1. It gives you powerful data to inform your motivational plan
  2. It is a compliment to those you are trying to motivate. You are not only studying them, but you are also building a relationship with them and showing them genuine interest in them as individuals. Remember Bob Chartier’s note from “Handcrafted Leadership” that shows the association between relationships, possibilities, and action.

Some leaders will lead with the mindset of “follow me, I am the strongest! I know more than all of you.”. But the best leaders lead others by first saying “tell me about yourself”. They know that if they listen long enough, their people will explain how to motivate them.

Chapter 4: A Commitment to Excellence

This chapter is dedicated to principle # 3, to establish high standards of excellence. It highlights that you don’t have to sacrifice positivity and encouragement to be hard on standards. The best companies out there encourage and accommodate employees’ individuality while enforcing standards.

Being tough on standards does not mean that you have to be an oppressive leader. Being tough on standards simply means that you care. Standards are born to uphold excellence and the well-being of the organization as well as the employees within it. They are meant to act in the best interest of those invested in the company. So, if you are not tough on standards, you are not supporting the employees or the organization.

So how do you reprimand employees who are not meeting the standards? McGinnis provides four pieces of advice:

  1. Do it immediately. The longer you wait, the less impactful the reprimand will be. Don’t wait for a performance review, do it right away.
  2. Before you reprimand, confirm all the facts about what happened. You need to ensure that your data is accurate. Refrain from accusatory statements and blame.
  3. Be specific. Once you have all the facts, be very specific about what went wrong. Criticize behaviour, not the person or their motives.
  4. Do not hesitate to show your feelings. McGinnis states here to show your feelings of anger, annoyance, and frustration. However, please be mindful not to dramatize those emotions. Do not sacrifice your emotionally intelligent demeaner and high morale in your office for the sake of a reprimand. If you can refrain from being angry or harming your relationship with your colleagues, then don’t.

Remember that there is immense power in a challenge. People are not inspired when they are not expected to do much. People are inspired by a challenge. William James put it bluntly, “need and struggle are what excite and motivate us”.

There is also power in a cause. People can be motivated if leaders can offer a challenge and a cause. The cause gives meaning, a deeper level of motivation driven by the want to do good in this world.

Remember, that your expectations need to be realistic. It can be demoralizing to reprimand someone for not upholding standards that are unrealistic.

Conclusion

I hope you liked this breakdown of the key highlights from Alan Loy McGinnis’ “Bringing Out the Best in People”, chapters 1 – 4. If you would like more tips on how to be a good motivator, look out for my future posts which will cover more of this material. Or better yet, buy his book.

If you enjoyed this read, please subscribe to my blog, give it a like or follow me on Twitter @interestpeaks. I found this content interesting. But I am more interested in what your thoughts, opinions or advice on motivation are. If you have any thoughts, ideas, or feedback, please share them in the comments section below. I would love to hear them.