Want to be a lifelong reader? Start young, psychologists say . . . .

Historians have long referred to the advent of widespread reading in the Western world as the crucible of so much of contemporary culture.

In a September 19th article in “The Atlantic” magazine (shared by psychologist, Adam Grant, in a recent newsletter), journalist Joe Pinsker suggests that people only “become lifelong readers” if four criteria are met.

It isn’t enough to fill our homes with books, he says. Instead, we must integrate them into our daily lives:

(1) Kids need to see their parents or guardians reading regularly. (It remains true that “Children learn what they live.”)

(2) Parents or guardians and children should discuss books during meals or car rides.

(3) Families should visit libraries and bookstores together.

(4) Books should be given as gifts.

As Pinsker observes, reading has been linked to “good academic and professional outcomes,” when we have the motivation to do it regularly.
Statistics south of the border are sobering. The National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) found in a 2012 survey that 23 percent of American adults were “light” readers (reading 1-5 titles/year). Ten percent were “moderate” readers (reading 6-11 titles/year), 13 percent were “frequent” readers (reading 12 to 49 titles/year) and only five percent were “avid” readers (reading 50+ books/year).

In Canada, reading print books was the seventh most popular daily activity for respondents (at 16%), following shopping (35%), dining out (26%), and exercise (20%). Respondents were more likely to read weekly than daily. And in that weekly activity, 43% preferred print books, while 25% read ebooks and 15% listened to audiobooks (Booknetcanada.ca).

Seventy eight percent of Canadians said that they had read or listened to at least one book during the past 12 months. At least one local writer in my writers’ circle reports reading as many as 50+ books per year.

Although reading has historically been a mainstay of cultural transmission (e.g. in the 1830s onward, Victorian novelist Charles Dickens published his novels in serial format in newspapers that were devoured by readers). But in the late 20th century, reading was undermined by the advent of television and, subsequently, the internet.

Statistics also show that urban dwellers read more than country dwellers; that affluence corresponds to increased reading, as does race. For instance, in the US, white adults read more than African Americans, who read more than Asian, who read more than Hispanic people. But that pattern Pinsker rightly says may only reflect educational differences between races and classes.

More interesting still, Pinsker cites Daniel Willingham (psychology professor at the U of Virginia) in his book, Raising Kids Who Read, as observing that there are three variables that influence children’s capacities to become lifelong readers:

(1) A child needs to be a “fluent decoder,” smoothly passing from words on a page to images in his or her mind. Reading must involve wordplay, and early on, children must learn the sounds of speech (an awareness of which has caused some expectant parents to read to babies, in-utero).

(2) Children benefit from having received a “wide-ranging background knowledge about the world,” so that they already know fundamentals of culture and society as contexts for what they read. 

(3) Finally, children need to be motivated by developing a positive attitude toward reading and a positive self-image as a reader.

Correlated to reading for both Americans and Canadians alike is not only academic success but also emotional well-being.

So, what’s not to like about reading?

Whether it’s Harry Potter or Jacques Derrida, we all know intuitively that reading builds the foundation of our communities: consider the importance of the government-funded, program-rich, public library system in Canada. And yet it pales in comparison to the sophistication of European libraries.

The recent American college admissions’ scandal involving Hollywood actors (Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, amongst others) demonstrates the anxiety some parents face when they realize that they have not instilled in their children a love of reading and therefore the capacity to perform well academically.

Reading widely throughout life is a fundamental practice of lifelong learning that holds us all in good stead, whatever our age and wherever we live.

And now it’s your turn: how often do you read? And would you consider yourself a “lifelong reader” and learner?  

Please weigh in; I’d be delighted to hear from you.

On closing the gender gap: how can women rise as board chairs, members and entrepreneurs? A special report . . . .

A special report on women and boards in Saskatchewan: community leaders weigh in . . .

The importance of increasing the participation of women in entrepreneurship and business continues to be much discussed in the media and at public events. Ten days ago, Saskatoon’s networking event, “Shaken with a Twist,” featured the testimonies of award-winning entrepreneur, Rachel Mielke (Hillberg & Berk); and CEO of Women Entrepreneurs of SK (WESK), Prabha Mitchell.

The next day, WESK announced a 12-member Saskatchewan Advisory Committee to close the gender entrepreneurship gap in SK. The gap is that gender parity in the business community is only growing at three-tenths of a percent (3/10%) annually. At that rate, it will take 180 years for women to achieve equality in business with men in Saskatchewan.

Why should entrepreneurs care? Mitchell observes that women contribute “$148 billion to the Canadian economy [2011] and that advancing gender equality has the potential to add another $150 B to $420 B to the economy by 2026.” Therefore, this is not only an issue of supporting women entrepreneurs to achieve gender equity, but “is part of a strong economic policy” (September 13, 2019).

Both purposes should matter a great deal to Saskatchewan’s entrepreneurial community. How can we possibly think of entrepreneurial success without redressing the fundamental inequalities that persist in our community?

The Directors Education Program (DEP), offered in Saskatchewan by the Edwards School of Business (U of S, and affiliated with the Institute of Corporate directors and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management), is working to diversify the economic and business landscape, including by accrediting and welcoming more women not only to the boardroom, but to the director’s chairs of those boardrooms.

Graduates in recent years have included Christine Hrudka, Julie Ann Wriston and Monica Kreuger.

The Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority (SREDA) reported on September 17th that “half of the country’s sectors currently fall short of meeting the goal of women achieving 30% representation around board tables—a goal set by the Federal Government for 2019. Much work remains to be done to reach that goal.”

Saskatoon currently performs better than the national level, since many organizations meet that 30% threshold: more than one-third of board positions and approximately one-quarter of board chairs in local organizations are held by women. But statistically, women comprise 50.6% of Saskatoon’s population is women (2016 CMA Census). So, a gap in representation persists. And we shouldn’t be measuring ourselves against lower, national statistics, or (as Seth Godin says) we will race to the bottom.

The Federal Government installed (in 2015) a “comply-or-explain” rule, whereby publicly traded companies must list how many women sit on boards and in executive positions. Prior to this, statistics showed that 60% of Canada’s publicly traded boards had at least one woman member but a full 40% did not. The compliance rule has helped to grow those statistics, since, by 2018, only 7.5% of boards had no female representation.

SREDA rightly summarizes, however, that “although governments, businesses and postsecondary institutions are already taking steps toward building a more inclusive society, discussions around gender equality serve as a reminder of the much-needed work that lies ahead.”

Fed-Ex Canada President, Lisa Lisson, wrote last year for the CBC that that most of the men who occupy boardrooms in the country don’t recognize the problem. They are ignorant to the realities that women on boards “outperform their rivals, deliver higher returns and are more aggressive about taking initiative and refusing to accept poor company performance” (March 8, 2018; https://www.cbc.ca/news/opinion/womenon-boards-1.4566959 ).

Women contribute to a “greater collective intelligence” on boards, but statistics show that “women remain underrepresented at every level and progress is stalling, even though there’s no shortage of initiatives to retain and promote more of them” (March 8, 2018).

Lisson wrote in frustration that what’s needed is some actual strategies to get more women on boards: “We need a concerted, multi-pronged effort to promote change.”

She suggested the following strategies:

  • Companies hiring women and boards choosing members should “exercise more imagination when considering the candidates”: let women lead business areas where they have no previous experience, because they have other assets and will grow into the position (e.g. Lisson was earlier made VP of Sales at FedEx with no sales experience and sat on the HR committee of SickKids Foundation without any training in that area. She rose to later become, respectively, president of the company; and chair of the HR committee.)

Women represent a huge talent pool of qualified women from which to choose—”an embarrassment of riches.” So, introduce limited terms for members, Lisson argues, to make room for more women.

  •  While mentorship is important for women’s advancement, at higher levels, sponsorship is “more important” and largely overlooked. It consists of “someone at a senior level who expands the perception of what their protégé can do, and recommends them for key assignments . . . Sponsorship is more important for women than mentorship, because it means that [women] have any ally to help [get] up the corporate ladder.”
  •  Women need to be more proactive, not just about bettering their careers, but about “identifying companies that interest them, reaching out to board chairs, heads of nomination committees and taking board training courses.” Women must keep knocking at these old boys’ clubs, if the doors are ever to open, she writes.
  •  Lisson stresses that hands-on strategies matter because we don’t need more studies on why having more women on boards is important, but we need “an attitude shift that is ultimately about good business practice.”

And now it’s your turn. How do you notice women’s underrepresentation in your industry? What steps are you taking to close that gap?

Please write in; I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Why entrepreneurship is not like a “9- 5 Job” . . . with Michael Katz and Seth Godin

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Saskatchewan-based entrepreneur who writes for a living, must be in want of good clients.” (My apologies to Jane Austen, who would, I might add, understand the theme of today’s blog posting.)

By “good clients,” I mean clients who understand that entrepreneur’s value and so do not “nickel and dime” them over fees. Clients who are willing to pay freelancers’ project fees and not to insist on a (low) hourly rate.

Often in Saskatchewan and other Prairie locales, prospects simply don’t “get” this. They think that because Uncle Bob will “do this for free,” that freelancers should work for cheap—hourly rates of cheap, in fact.

North American enewsletter expert Michael Katz addressed this perennial disconnect in a recent blog posting. A veteran in his field with 25 years of experience as a solopreneur, an innovative thinker with two degrees, who is based in economically vibrant Massachusetts, Katz still finds prospects who want to know his hourly rate as a copywriter.

Katz responded to one such prospect recently, saying, “I don’t have an hourly rate for anything; I price by the project.”

The prospect commented that “hourly pricing seems fair.”

Katz thought: “What’s fair got to do with it?”

The prospect said “he wanted to understand the effort involved.”

Katz thought: “Does it matter to you how many hours Bruce Springsteen practices before you pay for a concert ticket? . . . . Does it matter to you how many miles the apple you’re eating travelled before you took a bite?”

Katz observes that “People who get paid for how hard and how long they work are called employees.”

By contrast, he asserts: “People who get paid for the value they provide are called entrepreneurs, owners and artists.”

Entrepreneurs, who invest years of (ongoing) training, education, acquire and maintain professional association memberships, receive mentoring, network strategically, keep our own books, and so on, are not employees.

But the disconnect persists. And in economically challenged regions and times, those who refuse to recognize the difference between employees and entrepreneurs don’t hesitate to get louder and more insistent.

In my work as an entrepreneur and with stars like Michael Katz, we are not merely employees, because we are more committed to what we do than a 9-5 worker has scope to be. We bring more expertise, emotional energy, thoughtfulness, risk-taking and many longer hours, committing deeply and leaving nothing in reserve. These qualities, by the way, are what marketing guru Seth Godin uses to define the “linchpin”—the worker who resembles an entrepreneur in his/her commitment to their work.

Godin, whose 2011 book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable, was an groundbreaking bestseller (and the subject of several postings in this very blog), recently suggested that linchpins and entrepreneurs would be better understood if prospects, clients or customers could see us at work: “When we see passionate people at work (at a chess tournament, a brainstorming session, writing a play or counselling), we have trouble imagining doing it for six hours in a row, never mind eight.” . . . Or 10 or 12, as in the entrepreneur’s case.

Maybe what local entrepreneurs need to do is to upload online, time-lapse videos of us doing just that work . . . Except that resistant, low-paying prospects couldn’t bear or bother to watch them.

Entrepreneurs like me use our project fees to pay our staff (who are the employees); the excellent sub-contractor whose specialist knowledge of SEO, for instance, raised consumer response to the latest project; the professional membership whose connections allowed for our deeper understanding of the industry that shaped our work. We entrepreneurs work late into the night (and early in the morning) to maintain such things as proper books, even to advocate for fairer government policy . . .

But yes, as the nay-saying prospect counters, entrepreneurship is still a choice.

A choice that Godin describes as that “to go all in, to make a ruckus,” to change the game for the clients for whom we work. And to do so, daily.

While it’s a blessing to have that choice, often the alternative (for a writer like me, the race to the bottom of low-paying, repetitive tasks, as a “cog in the wheel,” 9-5 employee) is no alternative at all.

So the next time you hear a prospect complaining about an entrepreneur’s “high” fees, or feel tempted to raise an eyebrow when you’re quoted such a fee yourself, consider that what’s at stake is not how you measure “how hard or long” entrepreneurs work; or your assumptions of what constitutes “fair” pay.

Entrepreneurship is not like a 9-5 job. It’s a way of life.

And now it’s your turn: Do you recognize that entrepreneurship is not like a 9-5 job? Would you consider paying a sustainable fee to an entrepreneur in your community, who is passionate about what s/he does?

Please write in on my “contact” page; I’d be delighted to extend this conversation.

How can we grow small business in Saskatchewan? A panel of small biz specialists weighs in, on “Civically Speaking”

This evening fellow entrepreneurs Monica Kreuger, Ashleigh Mattern and I went live on CFCR (90.5 FM) to discuss how to grow and improve small businesses in Saskatchewan.  As the “small business panel,” we were hosted again this quarter by the ridiculously talented, fabulously well-read and always illuminating, Lenore Swystun.

Here’s the link:

I was pleased and privileged to discuss small business issues in Saskatchewan with the fabulously talented Lenore…

Posted by Storytelling Communications on Wednesday, August 28, 2019

What is mentorship really about? Victoria Black weighs in . . . .

Wise leaders over the years have said that we all need mentors throughout all of the seasons of our lives. As we prepare for a new program year, who is your mentor and whom will you mentor, as you face the joys and challenges ahead?

In the past, these “dog days” of summer have often been filled with nostalgia, as colleagues, friends and I have regretted the shortening of daylight hours and the cooler weather that usher in autumn.

But this year, thanks to my deferring my holidays until August, and especially thanks to participating in a detailed mentorly conversation with Monica Kreuger, Elaine Mantyka and Donna Sealy, I am anticipating another year with enthusiasm and opportunity.  Do you have such folk to facilitate your entrepreneurial journey?

. . . Which brings me to today’s blog topic—Mentorship: When were you last in a mentoring relationship? Did the relationship benefit both you and your mentor/protege? Did you understand your role as a mentor/protégé and his/hers, as well?

In a recent TEDTalk, University of Texas academic Victoria Black spoke of finding a huge imbalance between the number of publications that consider the role of the mentor and the number that consider the role of the protégé. Articles and books were four times more likely to discuss the mentor’s role, than the protégé’s, even if the stated purpose of those publications was to serve the needs of the protégé.

Black suggested that both parties need to be very conscious and purposeful in the ways they relate, meet and work with each other. She recommended—and the best time to start is early on—that protégés consider three components of their relationships:

(1) Commitment—Is the protégé (reasonably) prompt in responses, mentally attuned and proactive in how s/he engages with his/her mentor? And does the mentor do likewise?

(2) Reciprocity—As part of understanding that mentorship works in two directions, does the protégé add to his/her mentor’s knowledge and strengths?

(3) Vulnerability— Protégés often struggle to change their actions and attitudes, but if they aim to be open in their approach by sharing vulnerabilities, they can alter the course of their lives as well as their mentors’!

Since 2014, I have worked with a genius mentor, Monica Kreuger (Chief Visionary Officer of the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship), through the Raj Manek Mentorship Program. In our monthly meetings on strategy, I have experienced firsthand how committed, open to sharing and to vulnerability that Monica is. I strive to be the same, even if my entrepreneurial resources (as a business writer) are in an earlier stage of development. We share an important, ongoing conversation, without an explicit beginning or ending. There’s no issue or question too small or too large to bring to the conversation. Such support is a God-send.

One of the benefits (and blessings) of working with Monica is that she never views the differences between mentor and protégé negatively and encourages all protégés to reach higher and act more boldly than feels comfortable—especially when it’s easier to “hide” due to our fears.

This is the journey of mentorship; it is indispensable to many kinds of growth, including the entrepreneurial kind.

And now it’s your turn: Do you agree with Black’s comments on the responsibilities of protégés in mentorship? What can you share about your experiences in either role (or both)? Please feel welcome to write in: I’d be delighted to extend this conversation!