book review

Scarcity; Why Having Too Little Means So Much

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a book review. Probably because I have a 3 1/2 year old and a 6-month old, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for reading (for pleasure, anyway). And writing open letters has kept my blogging brain busy.

Luckily we managed to sneak away for a week in Mexico recently, and as usual a vacation offered up the chance to catch up on the reading list. First up, Scarcity; Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir.

If you’re only interested in the “read or don’t read” commentary, this one is a must read. Part behavioural economics, part cognitive psychology and all useful, I found it to be a compelling read filled with insightful commentary on the human condition and the pervasiveness (and consequences!) of a scarcity mindset.

From time management to finances, depression to poverty, this book takes a wide ranging look at why having too little means so much, for organizations and for individuals. The authors don’t only point out the impacts of scarcity (particularly on our cognitive bandwidth), but offer up useful and practical tips to work within it. Why are we so much more productive as a deadline is looming? Why does poverty persist? Why are sugar cane farmers in India smarter after the harvest than before? The emerging science of scarcity explains all of these phenomena (and more), and the authors, through a combination of stories and experiments, do an excellent job of conveying this to the reader.

So grab a copy and find some time in your scarcity-filled day to read it!
Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much

The End of Growth

It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a book on here. Probably because I don’t have a helluva lot of time for reading these days.

I’m about half way through “The End of Growth” by Jeff Rubin, former chief economist at CIBC and author of “Why your world is about to get a whole lot smaller”, and interested enough to blog about it prior to finishing it. He’s painting a pretty dire picture of the state of the world’s economy, with very compelling arguments. The combinations of triple digit prices on oil, the quadrupling of coal prices in recent years, combined with a general anti-nuclear stance around the world (particularly after the Fukushima incident), are flatlining growth in Europe and North America. Add to this mix a voracious appetite from China and India for fossil fuels, and it’s pretty apparent that the era of cheap energy is over.

And without cheap energy, our current system of globalization falls apart. It no longer makes sense to build cheap widgets in China, if the fuel for the boat costs more than the cargo is worth.

Why are we drilling in the arctic? Levelling the boreal forest in northern Alberta and boiling sand to extract bitumen? Because “conventional oil” (the kind that erupts out of a hole in the ground in Texas) is basically tapped out. As oil companies run out of cheap oil, we have to turn to oil that’s harder and harder to find, extract, refine and ship. Which means it’s never going to be cheaper. The price will fluctuate of course, but the days of using cheap energy to shock our economies out of recession are over.

So if growth is dependant on cheap energy (which Jeff makes a pretty clear argument for), and we no longer have access to cheap energy (also pretty evident)….it’s pretty safe to assume that no-growth or very slow growth is our new reality.

There are some pretty big consequences for society, if that’s indeed the new reality. From sovereign debt loads to youth unemployment, to the performance of my RRSP…a world with no growth looks very different than the one we currently inhabit, the one that’s been propped up by cheap energy for the last 200 years. Of course, we know that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) doesn’t influence the happiness and satisfaction of society…so maybe a “no-growth” economy might actually do us some good? I’m pretty sure that’s where the book’s headed.

Either way, it’s looking like it might be time to lock down some more grease suppliers for the ol’ veggie truck

A New Year’s Goal: Focus on Lifeworth

Full disclosure: The author’s of this book are respectively my Dad (Dana) and uncle (Hal). They published it about a year ago, and it’s been selling like hot-cakes ever since. And no, I don’t get a commission. Although maybe I should?

Buzz Bishop just wrote a post about setting a New Year’s Goal, instead of a resolution. It makes a lot of sense, and fits with my strengths-based approach to life. There’s always going to be some negative stuff in our life that we want to change (the normal focus of New Year’s resolutions…losing weight this year anyone?). Focusing on it doesn’t necessarily make it go away. Setting some positive intentions and working towards some goals is often a much better use of our time and energy.

Lifeworth Cover

If you haven’t read Lifeworth: Finding Fulfillment beyond Networth yet, it’s probably the perfect way to kick-start a 2013 goal setting session.

If you’re anything like me, you sometimes find yourself trapped on a bit of a hamster wheel, always trying to grow your “networth”, and forgetting all about your “lifeworth”.  You figure that one day, someday, you’ll be happy, relaxed and fulfilled. You just have to work a little harder, make a little more money, pay off the mortgage….

Of course, we never get there. We constantly compare what we have with everyone around us, or ads on the TV, and so we rush out to buy the newest thing, thinking that it’ll be the final and missing piece to the void in our life, a void built by an endless fixation on materialism in our culture.

Thankfully, Dana and Hal set out to find people living for a purpose, and with passion. People like Alan Hobson, who survived cancer and climbed everest. People like John Davidson, who pushed his son in a wheelchair across Ontario to raise money for Duschenes Muscular Dystrophy. People like Katy Hutchinson, who has turned her husband’s murder into a gift of forgiveness and love unlike anything you’ll read. People who weren’t content to ride the “eat, sleep, work” merry-go-round their whole life.

If you’ve ever asked yourself “is this all there is?” or “am I living the life I want to live?”, then this book definitely needs to be on your reading list.

And for 2013, try and focus on what makes your life worth living.  Hint: it’s probably not an extra couple of hours at the office, or a 2% gain in your stock portfolio. 

UnMarketing. Book recommendation #2.

Happy long weekend everyone! Given my recent post “Worried about Walmart“, I thought I’d toss out a really great book that probably every small business person should read. Or anyone engaged in trying to “market” products and services to other people. It’s called UnMarketing, written by Scott Stratten.  His blog here.

A few thoughts:

A) It’s written in plain language with easy to understand examples.

B) His ideas are pretty practical and do challenge some of the myths and status quo approaches around advertising and marketing.

C) It’s pretty funny. Always nice in a book about marketing.

D) It just came out in paperback, and there’s a kindle version as well.

I read some reviews online at Amazon, just to make sure that I wasn’t feeding you guys a line of crap because I happened to enjoy the book. Of the 58 reviews, 47 were 5 stars…so other people agree with me. Worth your time.

He does tend to glorify Twitter a bit, and seasoned marketing professionals who already engage authentically with clients won’t find it as useful as the relative newcomer. That aside, it’s a great book  for small business owners wanting to embrace some social and digital media, and rethink the practice of buying print/tv advertising designed to interrupt the consumer at whatever it is they were doing (like reading or watching TV!).

Seriously, I’m now paying for TV shows via iTunes (or watching them for free on the internet a few days after they run), simply to avoid the advertising. I’m catching the news on Twitter and Facebook instead of reading the paper and flipping through pages of useless advertising. Time for business to rethink marketing. Time to UnMarket.

Nuclear Energy. Urbanization. GMO. All good, according to…

Stewart Brand, who in the late 1960’s started the Whole Earth Catalogue (definitely a hippy rag). If you haven’t read his book Whole Earth Discipline yet, it’s on my must read list (which probably has fewer than 20 books on it…so you know it must be good!).

This is the first of my “recommended reads” blog posts. I find myself frequently sharing with friends and family what I’ve been reading, so I thought that you might enjoy my thoughts as well.

Brand shakes up many enviro-myths with his pragmatic approach to the environmental problems the world faces. Very convincing, very well researched and grounded in convincing facts and interviews with leading experts from a variety of fields…Brand lays out a clear path to a more sustainable future.

It’s not often that you see Paul Hawken (another great author) giving out his highest compliment to a book, the fact that it “changed his mind”.

“Stewart Brand defines iconoclastic, and has now raised the bar with the most important work of his lifetime, likely one of the most original and important books of the century. As the title connotes, the writing is about disciplined thinking. Shibboleths, ideological cant, and green fetishes are put to the side with the clarity and expertise gained by years of research and forethought, a mindbending exploration of what humankind can and must do to retain the mantle of civilization. The highest compliment one can give a book is ‘it changed my mind.’ It changed mine and I am grateful.”           –Paul Hawken

It certainly changed my mind about a lot of environmental dogma’s (and environmentalists, more on that later!), and hopefully you find it equally enjoyable and enlightening.

At the very least, watch this TED Talk.