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Common Ground
Common Ground
by Justin Trudeau
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.38
3 used & new from CDN$ 18.00

32 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A genuinely nice guy, and a champion of everyday people, Oct. 20 2014
This review is from: Common Ground (Hardcover)
According to the website Threehundredeight, the Liberals have been ahead in the polls every single month since Justin Trudeau was elected leader in April 2013. The Harper Conservatives have been 2nd in every single poll, and the NDP has been 3rd in every single poll. So in the upcoming election Canadians will have a choice between the Trudeau Liberals and the Harper Conservatives.

But who exactly is Justin Trudeau? Most Canadians are aware that he is the eldest son of Pierre Trudeau, judged by Canadians as the best prime minister since 1968, according to a September 2012 poll by Angus Reid (according to the same poll, Canadians judge Stephen Harper to be the worst prime minister since 1968).

But to what extent does Justin follow in his illustrious father’s footsteps? Common Ground gives us a better understanding of how he continues his father’s legacy, and how he is different.

The Harper Conservatives would have Canadians believe that Justin Trudeau is weak and effeminate (despite the fact that he is a boxer and former snowboard instructor); that he is an intellectual lightweight (despite the fact that he has two university degrees); that he does not understand the concerns of ordinary Canadians (despite the fact that he is a married father of three, who worked as a teacher); and perhaps most damning of all, that he is a Quebecer (despite the fact that he also lived for many years in both Ontario and British Columbia).

So Common Ground successfully puts all of these myths to rest. Though this is not a book about specific policies, the reader does get a good idea of Mr. Trudeau’s background, principles, and overall worldview. What emerges is a portrait of a genuinely nice guy, and a champion of everyday people, sort of halfway between his father and, perhaps surprisingly, Jean Chretien.

“For diversity to work, people have to be free. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was my father’s way of ensuring that it would be impossible for any group of Canadians to use the government to unduly restrict basic freedoms for any other group of Canadians. His core value was classically liberal in this sense. It is a value I share, and believe in equally deeply.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms became the vehicle for an unprecedented expansion of individual freedom in Canada. It has been used to strike down arbitrary laws that restricted Canadians’ choices in the most private and intimate aspects of our lives. Thanks to the Charter, Canadians are no longer discriminated against in their workplaces because of their sexual orientation, nor are they prevented from marrying the person they love just because they each happen to be of the same sex. Because of the Charter, women have gained the right to control their reproductive health.”

“The most valuable part of my childhood trips with my father was the chance to watch how he made decisions. He was always asking questions and challenging the people around him about their opinions. He would rarely discuss his own views until everyone else had had their say, which was in contrast with his public image as an almost autocratic decision maker. Any decision made by my father was the result of a process that involved many voices, and which sometimes had taken weeks or months. This decision-making model has come to inform my own leadership style.”

“I spent my childhood in Ottawa but I grew up in Montreal. Throughout my life I had spoken English and French interchangeably with my family. I was at ease with the fluidity of my French and English dual identity in Ottawa. With this grounding, I began my studies at College Jean de Brebeuf. It had been my father’s school, known for high academic achievement, and I landed there in the midst of French-English political turmoil. Taken together, the abrupt new demands on my academic abilities and the strong linguistic and cultural undercurrents among students and faculty gave me a sudden new perspective on things.”

“What is the meaning of life? How do we build a better society? What is standing in the way of social justice? During my undergraduate years I was as curious about these questions as any other student, but I was always suspicious of cultish, reductionist movements. Whenever a classmate or friend tried to convince me that the answer to life’s big questions or major political issues could be derived from the Communist Manifesto or Atlas Shrugged or some other single-minded philosophy, I grew wary. One of the lessons of life I learned from my father was that the world is too complicated to be stuffed into a single overarching ideology.”

On the question of a potential merger between the Liberals and the NDP, “there were good arguments on both sides, but in the end I concluded that my disagreement with the NDP over some critically important substantive matters was simply too profound for a merger ever to work, at least for me. There were fundamental economic policy areas (trade, foreign investment, resource development) about which I thought the NDP was deeply wrong. In fact, I think that the NDP’s predisposition is to be suspicious of growth and economic success. Liberals understand that economic growth is the foundation for all that we want to achieve in areas of social policy.”

“I made it clear in my campaign that the Liberal Party needs to be a liberal party. By that I meant that the core values of liberalism – equality of economic opportunity and diversity of thought and belief, which I see as the building blocks of individual freedom, fairness and social justice – ought to be the cornerstones of the Liberal Party and its policies. I said that we needed to be a party that stood up for people’s right to have a real and fair chance at success, regardless whether they were born rich or poor, where they come from, or what, if any, faith they professed.”

If I have one minor criticism of Common Ground, it is in Justin Trudeau’s confidence that common ground can in fact be found on all issues. On the issue of resource development, for example, the problem is not that there has been resource development, but rather that the Harper Conservatives have put ALL of Canada’s eggs in one basket, namely the tar sands of Alberta. This short-sighted perspective has privileged the 10% of Canadians who live in Alberta, at the expense of the 90% of Canadians who live in the other provinces, as well as all future generations who will be living with the consequences of a polluted natural environment and catastrophic climate change. So Justin should read Naomi Klein’s new book to get up to speed on this.

Other than on this point, having read Common Ground it is clear to me that Justin Trudeau will be vastly superior to Stephen Harper as prime minister, and I can hardly wait to vote!

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
by Naomi Klein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.16
5 used & new from CDN$ 16.50

30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sobering, enlightening and hopeful read, Sept. 16 2014
Naomi Klein is arguably Canada's best-known public intellectual. In 2001, following the release of her global bestseller No Logo, the Times of London suggested that she was the most influential person in the world under the age of 35. Since then she has released a second #1 New York Times bestseller, The Shock Doctrine.

Her third major work, This Changes Everything, is arguably even deeper and more insightful than her two previous books, and deals with the most pressing challenge of our era: worldwide climate chaos.

There are of course no quick fixes, but despite the gravity of the situation, she presents numerous interesting facts and promising avenues:

"One of the people I met on this journey is Henry Red Cloud, a Lakota educator who trains young Native people to become solar engineers. He tells his students that there are times when we must accept small steps forward - and there are other times when you need to 'run like a buffalo.' Now is one of those times when we must run."

"After the 2008 collapse of Wall Street and in the midst of layers of ecological crises, free market fundamentalists should be exiled to irrelevant status. They are saved from this ignominious fate by the likes of billionaires Charles and David Koch, owners of the diversified dirty energy giant Koch Industries. Their climate-change counter-movements are collectively pulling in more than $900 million per year for work on a variety of right-wing causes."

"Not only do fossil fuel companies receive $775 billion to $1 trillion in annual global subsidies, but they pay nothing for the privilege of treating our shared atmosphere as a free waste dump. In order to cope with these distortions (which the WTO has made no attempt to correct), governments need to take a range of aggressive steps - from price guarantees to straight subsidies - so that green energy has a fair shot at competing. We know from experience that this works: Denmark has among the most successful renewable energy programs in the world, with 40 percent of its electricity coming from renewables."

"This does not mean that the private sector should be excluded from a transition to renewables: solar and wind companies are already bringing clean energy to many millions of consumers around the world, including through innovative models that allow customers to avoid the upfront costs of purchasing their own rooftop panels" (e.g. SolarCity).

"From a technical perspective, it is entirely possible to rapidly switch our energy systems to 100 percent renewables. In 2009, Mark J. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, and Mark A. Delucci, a research scientist, authored a groundbreaking, detailed roadmap for how 100 percent of the world's energy, for all purposes, could be supplied by wind, water and solar resources, by as early as 2030" (Scientific American, November 2009).

"If industrial policy were brought into line with climate science, the supply of energy through wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy would generate huge numbers of jobs in every country - in manufacturing, construction, installation, maintenance and operation."

"The rapid rise of renewables in Germany has occurred within the context of a sweeping, national feed-in tariff program that includes a mix of incentives designed to ensure that anyone who wants to get into renewable power generation can do so in a way that is simple, stable, and profitable. This has decentralized not just electrical power, but also political power and wealth. Over all, there are now 1.4 million photovoltaic installations in Germany."

This Changes Everything is a sobering, enlightening and hopeful read. If I have one minor criticism of the book, it is with the chapter "No Messiahs: The Green Billionaires Won't Save Us." Naomi makes the point compellingly that the world's billionaires, as listed by Forbes magazine and Bloomberg Billionaires, are often more part of the problem than part of the solution, most obvious in the cases of Charles and David Koch, and Paul Singer. However, there are other billionaires who in my opinion are clearly part of the solution, such as Tom Steyer and perhaps most brilliantly Elon Musk. If the climate crisis is going to be resolved, it will certainly require some powerful allies, and Barack Obama, Julian Castro and Elon Musk are among them.

Naomi Klein was kind enough to send me a complimentary copy of No Logo just before it was released. I was more than happy to pay for this superb and thought-provoking book. Five stars!

Contagious: Why Things Catch On
Contagious: Why Things Catch On
by Jonah Berger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
44 used & new from CDN$ 12.16

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great advice to help any product or idea become Contagious, March 31 2013
Jonah Berger is a professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Daniel Gilbert, professor at Harvard, has said that Dr. Berger knows more about what makes information go viral than anyone else in the world.

Dr. Berger observes that “word of mouth is not just frequent, it’s also important. The things others tell us, e-mail us, and text us have a significant impact on what we think, read, buy and do. We try websites our neighbors recommend, read books our relatives praise, and vote for candidates our friends endorse. Word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions.

“Word of mouth is more effective than traditional advertising for two key reasons. First, it’s more persuasive. Our friends tend to tell it to us straight. Their objectivity, coupled with their candidness, make us much more likely to trust, listen to, and believe our friends.

Second, word of mouth is more targeted. It is naturally directed to an interested audience. No wonder customers referred by their friends spend more, shop faster and are more profitable overall.

What percent of word of mouth do you think happens online? In other words, what percent of chatter happens over social media, blogs, e-mail, and chat rooms? If you’re like most people, you probably guessed something around 50 or 60 percent.

The actual number is 7 percent. Research by the Keller Fay Group finds that only 7 percent of word of mouth happens online.

Most people are extremely surprised when they hear that number. People do spend a good bit of time online. But we forget that people also spend a lot of time offline. And that creates a lot more time for offline conversations.

We also tend to overestimate online word of mouth because it’s easier to see. Social media sites provide a handy record of all the clips, comments and other content we share online. But we don’t think as much about all the offline conversations we had over that same time period because we can’t easily see them.

So the first issue with all the hype around social media is that people tend to ignore the importance of offline word of mouth, even though offline discussions are more prevalent, and potentially even more impactful, than online ones.

The second issue is that Facebook and Twitter are technologies, not strategies. Word-of-mouth marketing is effective only if people actually talk. Public health officials can tweet daily bulletins about safe sex, but if no one passes them along, the campaign will fail. Just putting up a Facebook page or tweeting doesn’t mean anyone will notice or spread the word. Fifty percent of YouTube videos have fewer than 500 views. Only one-third of 1 percent get more than 1 million.“

“After analyzing hundreds of contagious messages, products and ideas, Dr. Berger noticed the same six ingredients or principles were often at work.

Principle 1: Social Currency

How does it make people LOOK to talk about a product or idea? Just like the clothes we wear and the cars we drive, what we talk about influences how others see us. It’s social currency. So to get people talking we need to craft messages (and content) that help people achieve these desired impressions (i.e provide them with OUTER-DIRECTED EMOTIONAL BENEFITS).

Give people a way to look good while promoting your product or ideas along the way.

There are 3 ways to do this:

a) Find inner remarkability

Snapple discovered unused real estate under the caps of their bottles (“owned” media). The marketing team at Snapple came up with a list of amazing real facts and put them under the caps (e.g. a ball of glass will bounce higher than a ball of rubber). These facts naturally generated discussion, made people look smart or interesting to their friends, and made them talk about where they found out this amazing information. Under a bottle cap. But not just any bottle cap – a Snapple bottle cap.

Many of the most successful videos shared on YouTube fall into this “amazing” category, for example Evian Roller Babies or Dove’s Evolution.

b) Leverage game mechanics

Frequent flier programs and other loyalty programs are examples of leveraging game mechanics. For example, when you are informed that you need only a certain number of additional points to get a reward. This kind of message often adds incremental consumption.

One way game mechanics motivate is internally. We all enjoy ACHIEVING things. Tangible evidence of our progress makes us feel good. Whether it is more points in a game or a better title in the workplace. Being a 3-star general is more emotionally gratifying than being a 2-star general, both internally and externally. A pope is better than a cardinal, which is better than an archbishop. A prime minister is better than a minister.

So game mechanics are not only gratifying internally, they are also gratifying externally. They encourage interpersonal comparison. Someone feels like a winner – and is recognized as a winner – because they have a BMW rather than a Volkswagen.

People don’t just care about how they are doing, they care about how they are doing RELATIVE TO OTHERS. This is especially true of extroverted people with outer-directed values.

Just like many other animals, people care about hierarchy. People love to brag about their golf handicap, their kids’ accomplishments (which are by proxy their own), and their Aeroplan elite status.

Leveraging game mechanics means quantifying performance. Some domains like golf handicaps have built-in metrics. People can easily see how they are doing and compare themselves with others. The status metrics should be visible for maximum effect.

For example different colored tickets for season ticket holders.

Foursquare is a master of leveraging game mechanics. Check into five different airports and get a Jetsetter badge. Not only are these badges posted on users’ Foursquare accounts, but they are also displayed prominently on users’ Facebook accounts.

For anyone who thinks they’ve evolved beyond Boy Scouts, think again!

Foursquare has made it a status symbol to be a fixture at the local bar. And not only do these badges promote the users, they promote the Foursquare brand.

Online leaderboards make it a status symbol to spend your life playing videogames.

Burberry created a website called “Art of the Trench”, which is a montage of people around the world wearing Burberry. Some are famous people shot by top photographers, but individuals can also submit their own photos which may be accepted, thus becoming part of this elite group, and promoting Burberry at the same time. And you can be sure that people whose photos make the cut will forward them to all of their friends…

c) Make people feel like insiders

Use perceived scarcity and exclusivity to make people feel like insiders.

Scarcity is about how much of something is offered. Scarce things are less available because of high demand, LTOs (limited time offers), etc. Think Cadbury Easter Eggs, or McRibs at McDonald's.

As Dr. Robert Cialdini demonstrates in his seminal book Influence, limited availability makes us feel like we have to act now.

Exclusivity is also about availability, but in a different way. Exclusive things are available only to people who meet particular criteria. It can be about knowing certain people, or being connected with people who do. It is often “by invitation only.”

If something is difficult to obtain, many people assume that it must be worth the effort. If something is sold out, the assumption is that it is POPULAR, that many other people like it, and so it must have QUALITY. People evaluate cookbooks more favourably when they are in limited supply, and find cookies tastier when they are scarce. Cool brands are often cooler when they can only be found in one place (e.g. originally Desigual jeans could only be found in Barcelona).

If people get something not everyone else has, or get it FIRST, it makes them feel special, unique, and grants them STATUS.

Think of the people who get the newest iPhone model, and spend the next few months ostentatiously displaying it at meetings and telling everyone they know that they have it.

The moral? People don’t need to be paid to be motivated. Managers often default to monetary incentives when trying to motivate employees. But that’s the wrong way to think about it. Lots of people will refer a friend if you pay them $100 to do so. But people are HAPPY to talk about companies and products they like. Billions of people do it for free every day.

Principle 2: Triggers

How do we REMIND people to talk about (and share) our products and ideas? Triggers are STIMULI that prompt people to think about related things. Peanut butter reminds us of jelly, and the word “dog” reminds us of “cat”. People often talk about whatever most easily comes to mind, so the more often people think about a product or idea, the more often it will be talked about. We need to design products and ideas that are frequently triggered by the environment in which the target audience frequently finds itself. TOP OF MIND LEADS TO TIP OF TONGUE.

Why does it matter if particular thoughts or ideas are top of mind? Because ACCESSIBLE thoughts and ideas lead to ACTION.
Back in mid-1997, the candy company Mars noticed an unexpected sales uptick in sales of its Mars bar. The company was surprised because it hadn’t changed its marketing in any way. What had happened?

NASA had happened. Specifically, NASA’s pathfinder mission to MARS. This had made the idea of “Mars” top of mind and on the tip of everyone’s tongue, triggering the sales of Mars bars. Far from an obvious link!

So being top-of-mind means being accessible to not only the conscious mind, but even more importantly, the unconscious mind.

Dr. Berger cites an example also mentioned by Dr. Leonard Mlodinow in his insightful book Subliminal:

"In a study on wine sales, four French and four German wines, matched for price and dryness, were placed on the shelves of a supermarket in England. French and German music were played on alternate days, from the top shelf of the display. On days when the French music played, 77 percent of the wine purchased was French, while on the days the German music played, 73 percent of the wine purchased was German." The vast majority of customers stated that the music had not triggered their choice, though it clearly had."

Dr. Berger describes one of his own experiments to identify the most effective triggers:

“One group of students saw the slogan ‘live the healthy way, eat five fruits and veggies a day’. Another group saw ‘Each and every dining-hall tray needs five fruits and veggies a day’. The students lived on campus, and ate in dining halls that used trays.

Our students didn’t care for the tray slogan. They called it corny and rated it as less than half as attractive as the more generic ‘live healthy’ slogan.

But when it came to actual behavior, the results were striking. Students who had been shown the generic ‘live healthy’ slogan didn’t change their eating habits. But students who had seen the ‘tray’ slogan ate 25 percent more fruits and vegetables as a result. The trigger worked.”

Dr. Berger goes on to show that people who vote at polls located in churches tend to vote more negatively against abortion or gay marriage; people who vote in a school tend to vote more favorably for educational initiatives. Different places where people vote unconsciously trigger different unconscious frames and voting behaviors.

So rather than just going for a catchy message, consider the context. Think about whether the message will be triggered by the everyday environments of the target audience. A strong trigger can be much more effective than a catchy slogan.

The Budweiser ‘Wassup’ campaign is a brilliant example of using the context. ‘Wassup’ was an everyday expression among the target audience of young men. And anytime they heard it, they were unconsciously reminded of Budweiser.

People experience different triggers based on the daypart or time of the year. One study showed that people were much more likely to think about products associated with the color orange just before Halloween, because of all the Halloween decorations in the environment. But as soon as this holiday is over, these triggers disappear.

Dr. Berger points out that if a stimulus can trigger many different actions, it is less effective. For example, the color red is a trigger for thoughts of Coca-Cola, but also for many other thoughts. Nonetheless, as Martin Lindstrom points out in his book Buyology, Coca-Cola makes excellent use of its brand colour and other triggers such as the shape of the bottle. He gives the example of American Idol:

"When asked by a fellow judge if he liked a contestant's song... Simon commented, `How much I love Coca-Cola!' and then took a sip... The three judges all keep cups of America's most iconic soft drink in front of them, and both the judges and the contestants sit on chairs or couches with rounded contours specifically designed to look like a bottle of Coca-Cola. Before and after their auditions, contestants enter a room whose walls are painted a chirpy, unmistakable Coca-Cola red. Whether through semi-subtle imagery or traditional advertising spots, Coca-Cola is present approximately 60 percent of the time on American Idol."

Triggers and cues lead people to talk, choose and use. Social currency gets people talking, but Triggers keep them talking.
Top of mind means tip of tongue.

Principle 3: Emotion

Blending an iPhone is surprising. A potential tax hike is infuriating. Emotional things get shared. So rather than harping on function, we need to focus on feelings.

A study Dr. Berger conducted on the most shared articles from the New York Times found that more interesting articles were 25 percent more likely to be shared, and more useful articles were 30 percent more likely to be shared. But it turned out that science articles were also more likely to be shared, and after further investigation, Dr. Berger found it was because they inspired the emotion of AWE.

According to psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt, awe is the sense of wonder and amazement that occurs when someone is inspired by great knowledge, beauty, sublimity, or might. Think of the first time you saw Google Earth in action. Or the first time you heard about quantum mechanics.

So would any type of emotional content be more likely to be shared? No. In fact, sadness had the opposite effect.

Articles that are highly physiologically arousing – those that inspire awe, excitement, or amusement, but also those that inspire anger or anxiety – are more likely to be shared. Articles with a low emotional charge, whether positive (contentment) or negative (sadness), are less likely to be shared.

Marketing messages tend to focus on information. But many times information is not enough, because it does not have an emotional charge. Rather than harping on features or facts, we need to focus on feelings; the underlying emotions that motivate people to action.

Dr. Daniel Kahneman emphasizes the centrality of emotions in his important book Thinking Fast and Slow:

"The dominance of conclusions over `arguments' is most pronounced where emotions are involved. The psychologist Paul Slovic has proposed an `affect heuristic' in which people let their likes and dislikes determine their beliefs about the world. In the context of attitudes, System 2 is more of an apologist for the emotions of System 1 than a critic of those emotions - an endorser rather than an enforcer. Its search for information and arguments is mostly constrained to information that is consistent with existing beliefs, not with an intention to examine them." (cf. Dr. Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell).

When trying to use emotions to drive sharing, remember to pick ones that kindle the fire: select high-arousal emotions that drive people to action.

On the positive side, excite people or inspire them by showing how they can make a difference. On the negative side, make people mad, not sad. Make sure the drowning polar bear story gets them fired up.

Simply adding more arousal to a story or ad can have a big impact on people’s willingness to share it. More anger or more humor both lead to more sharing.

BMW effectively kindled fear and anxiety in a 2001 campaign. It created a series of short Internet films entitled The Hire.

The movies were riddled with kidnappings, FBI raids, and near-death experiences. The clips so highly aroused viewers that the series racked up more than 11 million views within four months. Over the same period, BMW sales increased 12 percent.

One way to generate word of mouth is to find people when they are already fired up. Exciting game shows or anxiety-inducing crime dramas like CSI are more likely to get people aroused than documentaries about historical figures. So there are media buying implications.

The same idea holds for online content. Certain websites, news articles or YouTube videos evoke more arousal than others.

Ad timing also matters. A specific scene in a show may be more activating than others. In crime shows, for example, the anxiety often peaks somewhere in the middle. In game shows excitement is often highest when people are about to find out how much they’ve won. We may end up talking more about ads that are placed close to these exciting moments.

Emotions drive people to action. They make us laugh, shout and cry, and they make us talk, share and buy.

Principle 4: Public

Can people see when others are using our product or engaging in our desired behavior? The famous phrase “Monkey See, Monkey Do” captures more than just the human tendency to imitate. It also tells us that it’s hard to copy something you can’t see.

Making things more observable makes them easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to be perceived as Popular (which is one of the 5 key components of brand equity). It contributes to their perceived Presence, thus building their top-of-mind Availability.

In his great book Buyology, Martin Lindstrom explains how the discovery of mirror neurons in the 1990s has revolutionized psychology. He quotes a professor at the University of California: "What DNA is for biology, the Mirror Neuron is for psychology."

Mirror neurons are neurons that empathetically "mirror" the feelings that other people around us are having - when we see someone eating a slice of pizza in person or even on TV, the same areas of our brains light up as if WE were eating the pizza. Similarly, our mirror neurons are responsible for us unconsciously mimicking the actions of people around us - yawning, running our hands through our hair, you name it. As Dr. Benjamin K. Bergen explains in his book Louder than Words, when we see someone doing something, part of our understanding involves spontanenously simulating in our unconscious minds what doing it must feel like.

"When other people whisper, we tend to lower our own voices. When we're around an older person, we're prone to walking more slowly." The discovery of mirror neurons has proved that "Monkey see, monkey do" is true in an extremely strong sense.

If you’re like most people, you probably follow a time-tested rule of thumb: look for a restaurant full of people. If lots of people are eating there, it’s probably good. The default position for most people most of the time, is to do what others are seen to be doing (cf. Mark Earls’ book Herd). And this often means what you and most other people have been doing in the past (cf. Neale Martin’s book Habit).

People imitate, in part, because others’ choices provide information. And to resolve any uncertainty we may have, we often look to what other people are doing and follow that. Psychologists call this idea “social proof”. Dr. Robert Cialdini has an excellent chapter on it in his book “Influence.”

We need to design products that advertise themselves. We need to create behavioral residue that sticks around even after people have used our products. We need to make the private public. If something is built to show, it’s built to grow.

Principle 5: Practical Value

How can we craft content that is useful? People like to help others, so if our products or ideas will save time, improve health or save money, they’ll spread the word. We need to make our message stand out. We need to highlight the incredible value of what we offer. And we need to package our knowledge and expertise so that people can easily pass it on.

Useful things are important. People don’t just value useful information, they share it. Word of mouth from our friends and family members helps us sift through the 3000 marketing messages to which we are exposed each day, to identify what is really useful. And just look at Wikipedia, or TripAdvisor, or at the how-to videos on YouTube.

If Social Currency is about information senders and how sharing makes them look, Practical Value is mostly about the information receiver. It’s about saving people time or money, or helping them have good experiences. It even reflects positively on the sharer, providing a bit of Social Currency. But at its core, sharing practical value is about helping others. The Emotions principle noted that when we care, we share. But the reverse is also true: Sharing is Caring.

Vanguard, the firm that manages my retirement plan, sent me an e-mail asking if I’d like to receive its monthly newsletter, MoneyWhys. Like most people, I try to avoid signing up for new mailing lists, but this one actually seemed useful. Last-minute tax tips, responses to common questions about investing, etc.

I don’t read every e-mail Vanguard sends, but I end up forwarding many of the ones I do read to people who I think will find them useful. Vanguard nicely packages its expertise into a short, tight bundle of useful information, and the practical value makes me pass it along. And along the way, I’m spreading the word about Vanguard and its investment expertise.

A cosmetic manufacturer makes a helpful iPhone application for business travelers. In addition to providing local weather information, it also provides expert skin care advice that is tailored to those local weather conditions. This practical, valuable information is not only useful, it also demonstrates the company’s expertise in this domain.

You might think that content that has a broader audience is more likely to be shared. In fact, narrower content may actually be more likely to be shared, because it reminds people of a specific family member or friend – it is RELEVANT to that person, it is “for people like them.”

Principle 6: Stories

What broader narrative can we wrap our idea in? People don’t just share information, they tell stories. Just like the Trojan Horse, stories are vessels that carry morals, lessons and other messages. So we need to build our own Trojan Horses, embedding our products and ideas in stories that people want to tell (e.g. Oreos tweeting that they could be dunked in the dark during the first minutes of the Super Bowl blackout). It’s often about being OPPORTUNIST and SURFING ON THE STORIES IN THE CULTURE, on what’s happening RIGHT NOW (the Harlem Shake, goats bleating like singers, etc.). Ideally we want to make our message so integral to the narrative that people can’t tell the story without it.

In his excellent book Tell to Win, Peter Guber makes the same point with Machiavellian glee: "Like the Trojan Horse, purposeful stories are a delivery system in disguise. They cleverly contain information, ideas, emotional prompts and value propositions that the teller wants to sneak inside the listener's heart and mind. Thanks to their magical construction and appeal, stories emotionally transport the audience so they don't even realize they're receiving a hidden message. They only know after the story is told that they've heard it and felt the teller's call to action."

People don’t like to seem like walking advertisements. The Subway sandwich chain offers seven subs with less than six grams of fat. But no one is going to walk up to a friend and just tell that information.

Contrast that with the Jared story. Jared Fogel lost 245 pounds eating Subway sandwiches. After Jared ballooned to 425 pounds in college, he decided to take action. He started a “Subway diet”: almost every day he ate a footlong veggie sub for lunch and a six-inch turkey sub for dinner. After 3 months of this self-imposed regimen, he had lost almost 100 pounds.

But he didn’t stop there. Soon his pants size had dropped from an enormous 60 inches to a normal 34-inch waist. He lost all that weight and had Subway to thank.

The Jared story is so entertaining that people bring it up even when they’re not talking about weight loss. The amount of weight he lost is impressive, but even more astonishing is the fact that he lost it eating Subway sandwiches. A guy loses 245 pounds eating fast food? The summary alone is enough to draw people in.

The story gets shared for many reasons. It’s remarkable (Social Currency), evokes surprise and Amazement (Emotion), and provides useful information about healthy fast food (Practical Value).

People don’t talk about Jared because they want to help Subway, but Subway still benefits because it is part of the narrative. Listeners learn about Jared, but they also learn about Subway. They learn that 1) while Subway may seem like fast food, it actually offers a number of healthy options; 2) So healthy that someone could lose weight while eating them; 3) A lot of weight. 4) Someone could eat mostly Subway sandwiches for 3 months and still come back for more. So the food must be pretty tasty. Listeners could learn all this about Subway, even though people tell the story because of Jared.

And that is the magic of stories. Information travels under the guise of what seems like idle chatter.

So, Dr. Berger summarizes, build a Social Currency-laden, Triggered, Emotional, Public, Practically Valuable Trojan Horse, but don’t forget to hide your message inside. Make sure your desired information is so embedded into the plot that people can’t tell the story without it.

This book is full of great examples and useful advice to make your brand story Contagious.

Along with Ed Keller and Brad Fay’s excellent Face-to-Facebook, it is one of the best books on Word-of-Mouth Marketing. Highly recommended!

The Purchase
The Purchase
by Linda Spalding
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
19 used & new from CDN$ 2.63

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enthralling story, with impeccable writing, Oct. 5 2012
This review is from: The Purchase (Hardcover)
Linda Spalding is a writer based in Toronto. The Purchase is the story of a Quaker family that settles in Virginia in 1798.

Though the Quakers were abolitionist - opposed to slavery - through an inadvertent, almost delirious purchase, Daniel Dickinson finds himself the owner of a young slave boy, Onesimus.

This is an exceptionally well-crafted novel, and the writing style is very evocative of the period and authentic in its details: historical fiction at its very best.

It is often hard for us to understand today the theme of "man against nature", and how unforgiving the American wilderness was before it was settled. Throughout this great novel, there is a constant sense of how difficult the circumstances of day-to-day life were during this period.

There is also a very finely drawn portrait of the ubiquity of Christian belief at the time. Though Daniel owns a copy of the Aeneid, a biblical interpretation of the world is omnipresent. There may be differences between denominations in their interpretation of the bible, but there is universal acknowledgement that biblical quotes explain everything of consequence in the world, including an unbreakable natural law.

The reality of slavery is conveyed without exaggeration, but with brutal, heart-breaking honesty.

Early in the novel there is a gripping scene in which Onesimus breaks his leg, and Mary, the elder daughter of the family runs desperately to seek assistance at the nearest farm. She has taken the lot of this slave boy to heart, and we sense her desperation as she worries about him, and her strong sense of relief when she is able to help him. She genuinely regards him as a human being, whereas for others he is essentially an animal to be worked, like an ox or a horse.

Linda Spalding has done an absolutely brilliant job of creating an enthralling story, with impeccable writing, page after page.

A truly great novel, 5 stars!

Siege 13
Siege 13
by Tamas Dobozy
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.57
13 used & new from CDN$ 3.42

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant and fascinating treatment of dark subject matter, Oct. 2 2012
This review is from: Siege 13 (Paperback)
Tamas Dobozy is a writer based in Kitchener, Ontario. Siege 13 is a collection of stories that revolve around the direct and indirect impact of the siege of Budapest in 1944, one of the bloodiest and most drawn-out battles of World War II, during which approximately 80 percent of the city was destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of people were killed, taken prisoner, starved, raped or tortured.

Dobozy is a superb writer, and while some critics have compared him to Nobokov, personally I found his style a mix of understated Hemingway with a hint of darkly absurd Kafka.

In one story Dobozy describes life at the Budapest Zoo during the siege:

"Unlike many of the other attendants, Sandor and Jozsef did not have families, and so they saw no reason to go home from the zoo except to risk dying in the streets, or being bombed out of their tiny apartments, or starving to death in the cellars that had been converted into bomb shelters. When the zebras were found slaughtered in their pens, large strips of meat carved hastily from their shoulders and flanks and bellies no doubt by starving citizens, the two men fed what was left to the lion and moved into the vacated stalls, Sandor ranting about how the zebras should still be alive and it was the looters who should have been fed to the lion."

From the mundane to the extreme, despite their dark subject matter every story is fascinating to read, offering a portrayal of the futility of people trying to cope under horrifying conditions.


The Sweet Girl
The Sweet Girl
by Annabel Lyon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
19 used & new from CDN$ 1.73

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read about the ambivalent heritage of ancient Greece, Sept. 23 2012
This review is from: The Sweet Girl (Hardcover)
Annabel Lyon is a writer based in Vancouver. The Sweet Girl is in many ways a complement of her earlier novel, The Golden Mean, which was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

Both novels feature the great philosopher Aristotle, who has had a lasting impact on the way we conceive of philosophy, politics and science.

Whereas in the Golden Mean the focus was on Aristotle in his role as mentor to Alexander the Great, in the Sweet Girl the focus is on Aristotle in his role as father to his daughter Pythias.

In his glowing review of the Sweet Girl in the National Post, Jeet Heer observed that:

"As against more flamboyantly poetic and debonair sages such as Plato or Nietzsche, Aristotle was a stolid and unsexy proto-scientist, a collector of facts, a dissector of data, a taxonomist happy to subdivide the world into neat categories."

And while Aristotle's categorization has been foundational to modern science, there has been a dark side of this categorization, which is still present in our collective unconscious and social codes: either you were a free man (more rational, in the public world, civilized, Greek), or you were "Other" (more emotional, in the household, a woman, a slave, a foreigner).

What is enriching about Lyon's treatment, is that she is sensitive to this ambivalent heritage of ancient Greece and its most towering figures. Pythias, arguably as intelligent as Aristotle himself, is limited not by actual biology - the reality of being female - but rather of her biological classification as female, as "Other".

Brilliant as she is, rather than considering herself a victim, her eventful life is a shining challenge to her father's outdated biology.

A great read!

Our Daily Bread
Our Daily Bread
by Lauren B Davis
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.99
13 used & new from CDN$ 2.20

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A searing novel not to be missed, Sept. 14 2012
This review is from: Our Daily Bread (Paperback)
Lauren Davis is a writer born in Montreal, now living in Princeton, New Jersey. Our Daily Bread is a gripping novel inspired by the true story of the Goler clan of Nova Scotia.

It is a shocking and appalling story of torture, incest and abuse, all the more disturbing when you realize that these events actually took place, over many years and even generations, in supposedly civilized Canada (cf. On South Mountain: The Dark Secrets of the Goler Clan by David Cruise & Alison Griffiths).

Lauren Davis' fictionalized account presents the sordid situation, and asks the unavoidable question - how could this happen?

The answers are complex. As the brilliant social psychologist Henri Tajfel demonstrated, categorizing someone as "Other" has a profound impact on how they are perceived, how you interact with them, and ultimately how they perceive themselves and their opportunities - or lack thereof - in life.

The stage is set when the self-righteous people of Gideon ostracize the Erskine Clan, as ignorant, mountain-dwelling hillbillies.

Occasionally someone from the mountain dreams of escaping this isolation for a better life, but in cult-like fashion they have been indoctrinated by their elders that "Erskines don't talk, and Erskines don't leave." Despite the absence of physical bars, the mountain is a virtually unbreachable psychological prison.

Davis' writing is compelling, and the situation is dire. But perhaps most importantly, Our Daily Bread recounts some deep and disturbing truths about the human condition. As she quotes from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, "Hain't we got all the fools in town on our side? And hain't that a big enough majority in any town?"

Our Daily Bread is a searing novel not to be missed.

The Imposter Bride: A Novel
The Imposter Bride: A Novel
by Nancy Richler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
22 used & new from CDN$ 2.14

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling and touching story, Sept. 13 2012
Nancy Richler is a writer based in Montreal, and The Imposter Bride is the story of a young woman, Lily Azerov, who flees to Montreal from a devastated postwar Europe. Canada is not yet accepting Jewish refugees, so Lily immigrates on the pretext that she is engaged to be married to a Canadian. Sol has agreed to marry her, sight unseen, for a fee. However:

"When he saw the bride, he recoiled. Damaged goods. That's what he saw. A broken life, a frightened woman, a marriage that would bind him - however briefly - to grief. Let someone else marry her, he decided on the spot. He would never deny the widows and the orphans of the world. But neither, it turned out, did he want to have to marry them."

Lily is not what he had expected, so he leaves her high and dry. Fortunately his brother Nathan Kramer decides to marry her on the spot. But, it turns out that:

"Lily Azerov Kramer. She was not who she said she was.

No one really is, I suppose, but Lily's deception was more literal than most. Her name before... she'd left it there, in that beaten village where the first Lily had died, freeing, among other things, an identity card to replace the one she'd discarded, an identity that could propel a future if someone would just step into it.

Someone would, of course. The village was in Poland, 1944. Nothing went unused."

Lily has a child with Nathan, but with no explanation, suddenly disappears.

As she ages, Ruth, their daughter, is driven to understand the truth about her mother, about where she went, and where she came from.

A compelling and touching story.

by Kim Thuy
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.68
22 used & new from CDN$ 1.75

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A poetic meditation on the ever-changing human condition, Sept. 12 2012
This review is from: Ru (Paperback)
Kim Thuy is a writer based in Montreal. Ru, her first novel, won the Governor General's Literary Award in its original French.

Ru is an autobiographical novel that recounts the author's flight as a refugee from Vietnam to Quebec as a young girl, and the culture shocks she experiences as she adjusts to her new homeland.

It is somewhat misleading to label this book a novel, because it is really halfway between a novel - a sustained linear narrative - and poetry - a collection of insightful, finely-crafted and evocative images.

This beautiful book - the hardcover edition is as attractive physically as is the writing - opens with the explanation that "In French, ru means a small stream and, figuratively, a flow, a discharge - of tears, of blood, of money. In Vietnamese, ru means a lullaby, to lull."

And this double-meaning is in fact very appropriate for this book which flows between cultures, between times, between emotions.

The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus observed that "you cannot step in the same river twice" - in other words, there is no being, only becoming - a sentiment conveyed perfectly in this volume.

Thuy recounts the flow from a family life of privilege in Saigon to misery as refugees, the harbinger of impending change sensed by her mother:

"My mother waged her first battles later, without sorrow. She went to work for the first time at the age of thirty-four, first as a cleaning lady, then at jobs in plants, factories, restaurants. Before, in the life that she had lost, she was the eldest daughter of her prefect father. All she did was settle arguments between the French-food chef and the Vietnamese-food chef in the family courtyard (...)

However, far from us blood still flowed and bombs still fell, so she taught my brothers and me to get down on our knees like the servants. Every day, she made me wash four tiles on the floor and clean twenty sprouted beans by removing their roots one by one. She was preparing us for the collapse. She was right to do so, because very soon we no longer had a floor beneath our feet."

Ru is a beautiful, poetic meditation on the ever-changing human condition.

419: A Novel
419: A Novel
by Will Ferguson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.06
36 used & new from CDN$ 1.64

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing novel that builds to an enthralling conclusion, Sept. 11 2012
This review is from: 419: A Novel (Hardcover)
Will Ferguson is a Canadian writer based in Calgary, who is best known for his works of humour and his travel writing. In his novel 419, he undertakes what is arguably a more ambitious task, and succeeds brilliantly.

419 opens with a winter car crash just outside Calgary. A cold evening in one of the coldest countries in the world. The story continues in the hot sands of Nigeria. In the past, it might have been said that this cannot be the same story.

But in fact, 419 is in many ways a meditation on the nature of globalization. The story traces the path of Laura, as she investigates the untimely and suspicious death of her father, an investigation that leads her to the opposite end of the world.

This is not the Disney version of globalization, `It's a small world after all', much less Coca-Cola's `I'd like to teach the world to sing.' It is the version of globalization in which Nigeria is just as connected to Calgary as it is to Africa - by oil, by money, by the Internet. And rather than a rising tide lifting all boats, it is a race to the bottom in which desperate people take desperate measures, and organized crime has global reach and deadly consequences.

419 follows the apparently disconnected paths of Laura, Winston, Amina and Nnambi, to reveal that they are in fact connected. In this the book may remind some readers of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's film Babel, especially since Ferguson is a master of description, and 419 has a very cinematographic feel to it.

Ferguson's keen powers of observation, honed in his travels around the world, serve him well, and 419 is an intriguing novel that builds to an enthralling conclusion. Recommended!

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