Canada’s can-do attitude begins by encouraging students

“As a boy growing up in Brantford, Ont., I knew that anyone could make it in Canada just by believing in themselves. I tied up my skates every day and practised relentlessly.” Wayne Gretzky

Contributed to The Globe and Mail

Every great country has a national mantra. The American Dream stipulates that anyone, no matter what their background, can be a success if they work hard enough. Canada has no equivalent catchphrase, but the can-do values of hard work and perseverance have been a staple of our country for centuries.

Canadians value determination and those who succeed. Immigrants choose this country as their home because they know they will be afforded every opportunity in life, no matter what their circumstances. As a boy growing up in Brantford, Ont., I knew that anyone could make it in Canada just by believing in themselves. I tied up my skates every day and practised relentlessly.

That’s why it was disappointing to read Margaret Wente’s recent column(“Why grit is highly overrated”) arguing that some hard-working students should not be given the chance to overcome their difficult circumstances.

Ms. Wente advocated that schools focus more on stimulating the “brightest” students, while also doing a better job of ensuring that disadvantaged students can “read and add” and become good citizens. This was based on new research showing that “grit” is largely a hereditary trait, not something that can be learned.

It is my fundamental conviction that perseverance is a key to success in school, work, and life in general – and I’m living proof. That’s why I was honoured to be inducted into the Horatio Alger Association of Canada as a member in 2003. This association believes that hard work, determination and honesty can conquer all obstacles.

We provide 85 annual scholarships of up to $10,000 to high-school students who have overcome adversity while demonstrating strong character, a good academic record and a desire to contribute to society. The scholarships are fully financed by association members, a group of successful Canadians and Americans who have overcome their own adversities.

Our 2016 scholarship recipients prove that grit is anything but overrated. Their average annual family income is $20,042. One-fifth of the recipients experienced death of a parent or guardian; 12 per cent experienced incarceration of a parent or guardian; 42 per cent experienced abandonment; 14 per cent have been in foster care; 28 per cent have experienced some form of abuse; 20 per cent struggle with physical or mental disabilities. Three-quarters of them work during the school year to help their families. And yet, they continue to push forward and work for a better future for themselves.

The association received thousands of applications for these scholarships – each representing a determined student who would be left behind if perseverance were devalued by society. Thankfully, groups such as the Horatio Alger Association of Canada continue to encourage students who demonstrate true “grit” and show them that their efforts are not in vain.

Ms. Wente may not be the ballet dancer her six-year-old self dreamed of. But there is no doubt that her successful career as a journalist is the result of a persistent drive for excellence in her early life.

To suggest that some may not be worthy of this same opportunity, and that unless they are born with these traits there is no point in trying, is beneath anyone who believes in equality of opportunity for all.


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The Secret To Creativity:

Become An Intellectual Middleman

The most creative people combine old ideas in new ways. Here’s how to get better at mixing things up.

In Charles Duhigg’s new book on productivity, Smarter Faster Better, he devotes a chapter to how innovation happens. The answer? Generally not as lightning out of the blue.

One analysis of scientific papers found that the most creative ideas contained deeply conventional ideas, but also combined things in ways that they hadn’t been combined before.

One of the researchers on that project, Northwestern University professor Brian Uzzi, told Duhigg, “A lot of the people we think of as exceptionally creative are essentially intellectual middlemen.” That is, “They’ve learned how to transfer knowledge between different industries or groups. They’ve seen a lot of different people attack the same problems in different settings, and so they know which kinds of ideas are more likely to work.”

So how do you become an intellectual middleman?


“People become creative brokers,” Duhigg writes, “when they learn to pay attention to how things make them react and feel.” You are a human being, and your emotions and experiences can provide fodder for doing old things in new ways. He attributes the creative hit theme song from Frozen, “Let It Go,” in part to songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez’s experience of feeling judged at times, and not thinking she should apologize for not being perfect. As Frozen writer Jennifer Lee told Duhigg, “‘Let It Go’ made Elsa feel like one of us.”

Keep a journal. Take notes. Get your head out of your phone. All of these increase awareness of the world and yourself. When you find yourself reacting to different things in the same way, take notice. There may be something there.


You can’t combine ideas from disparate fields if you’re not cognizant of disparate fields, or even of distant branches of your own industry. “Large fields tend to have different communities, even though they’re part of the same field,” Uzzi told me in an interview.

“These sub-communities rarely ever cross talk.” So go figure out what’s going on elsewhere. Follow experts in other fields on Twitter. Buy new-to-you magazines in an airport bookstore if you’ve got time to kill. Go to the library and pick up books in a section you don’t normally browse. Attend a new conference and see what you find most interesting, or attend a new-to-you track of a conference you already frequent. While you’re in a town on business, take a quick swing through a museum that’s a bit out of the box for you. You never know where interesting ideas will come from.


This is harder than it sounds. The modern world is good at putting us in little bubbles. We naturally seek out kindred spirits, and even if we pride ourselves on achieving some metrics of diversity (friends and colleagues from various racial groups) we can miss others.

New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote that he and others had been blindsided by the alienation that white, working-class Donald Trump supporters felt. “We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough,” he writes. “For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I’m going to report accurately on this country.” You have to consciously put yourself in places you would not normally go, and seek out conversations you would not normally have, including with people who disagree with you.

“It’s really about maintaining diverse relationships,” Uzzi told me, with a focus on the relationship part. “To be creative with someone you really have to trust them,” he says, and “the people most unlike us are the people we have the hardest time trusting.” Figure that part out, though, and you can become a much in-demand intellectual middleman.


Unfortunately, simply stringing together concepts from disparate fields will not guarantee good ideas. You’re just as likely to get what sounds like a bad improv sketch. (“What if we played basketball underwater?”) But creativity is also a numbers game. Next Galaxy CEO Mary Spio writes in her book It’s Not Rocket Science: 7 Game-Changing Traits for Uncommon Success, that “the more possibilities you imagine and the more knowledge and experience you gain through following your curiosity, the larger your information database and the greater your chances of connecting never-before-connected dots.”

Ideas tend to multiply, and if you come up with a lot of combinations, eventually there will be some decent ones in there.


#UnherdPro #Blog #Motivation #Think #Unherd #Design #Creative

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The Power And Problem Of Grit

APR 5, 2016

Before she was a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Angela Duckworth was a middle school math teacher. As a rookie teacher, she was surprised when she calculated grades. Some of her sharpest students weren’t doing so well, while others who struggled through each lesson were getting A’s.



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Smells like Team Spirit

“What these two lack in physical stature, they more than make up for with heart and sheer willingness to fight for each other and the team.” That was my first media mention as a full senior rugby player but it didn’t make me worry about my height, instead it became my goal to fulfill.

We can all name exceptional individuals in rugby and other sports. They stand out in our minds and we celebrate and remember their achievements with great fondness. But look closely at those winners and it becomes clear that it’s actually the team around them that made things possible. This is the type of team I developed my fighting spirit with.

Who’s got your back?

The best and most successful teams have to have an amazing work ethic and spirit, they have to be willing to fight for each other and have each other’s backs both on and off the field.

Exceptional players like Dan Carter can only excel with a strong team behind them.

Exceptional players like Dan Carter can only excel with a strong team behind them.

We’ve all seen in the stadium (or in the movies!) how when a team is down and almost out the coach or captain makes a rousing speech. All of a sudden the team performs miracles and we celebrate and remember the speech. But what we sometimes fail to notice is that often while the speech is happening, all the players are looking each other in the eyes…and that is where the secret to the real power lies.

“The coach may have a game plan but he needs to know what to say to draw out the most important element of that plan – team spirit, a belief and trust running throughout the whole squad that each player will give everything to make that plan a success.”

A team spirit he’s seen in the training camps and practice games, a team spirit he’s seen in the blazing summer heat, freezing cold winter evenings and in the pouring rain, a team spirit that remains strong even with the knowledge that not everyone is going to make it through to the final selection.  None of this stops all the players pulling relentlessly in the same direction and striving to achieve a common goal.

So how does this team spirit develop?

Great team spirit doesn’t just happen and every team has to work at it and players have to take the time out and spend it together both on and off the field. They have to train hard and play hard but also have a lot of fun together and it’s those moments the best teams think back on and which give them that extra bit of energy, pace and fight they need in those times of real adversity.

Learning how to build strong team spirit at a young age has been invaluable in later life.

Learning how to build strong team spirit at a young age has been invaluable in later life.

Life-long lessons

“My school and club teams were never the greatest – we often had players who didn’t have much experience but we always managed to exceed expectations because we took the time to build a team spirit that we could rely upon in the hardest of times.”

These learnings from playing rugby have had a tremendous impact on the way I see the world and the values I bring to it, and this is especially obvious in the corporate world. I would encourage anyone who has the chance to get involved in rugby, whether that be through playing, organizing, encouraging your kids, or just simply watching, I would highly recommend this. The benefits and positive impact it can have on your life is more than worth it.

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There Is More To Life Than What We Have Been Told. Think For Yourself

The media loves to tell us what to believe, what to think, what to feel and what to desire. School measures our success not by our ability to think for ourselves, innovate and bring forth new ideas, but by our ability to memorize and regurgitate the same old information on paper.

We are trained not to have independently thinking minds and feeling hearts, because we are easier to manage that way. But is it really our purpose to be managed by the upper echelons of a hierarchy that is feeding on inequality and the destruction of our home planet?

We are so much more than that.

Think For Yourself is a movement dedicated to restore humanity’s faith in its own potential, intelligence, heart and capacity to be sovereign.

“When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons.” ― Anaïs Nin

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Life ‘Unplugged’ – why technology is clouding our perception of beauty

Philosophers argue that beauty is essential to life itself, a value so dear to humans that it can overcome evils. But what if I told you that by going about your daily routines, you’re greatly diminishing your chance to harness the power of beauty?

What if by each email you send, app you download, and screen you touch, you’re making your life less beautiful?

“I’m realizing every day that sometimes the most beautiful things in life can’t be downloaded.”

Challenge yourself to find beauty in real life experiences beyond screens.

Challenge yourself to find beauty in real life experiences beyond screens.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ that it is completely unique to the individual. But what if we have it all wrong and beauty isn’t in the eye of the beholder?

“What if our perception of beauty is actually a response to natural selection – something pre-wired in our minds through centuries of Darwinian adaptations?”

In his TED talk entitled, ‘A Darwinian Theory of Beauty,’ Denis Dutton argues just that. After interviewing people all across the globe about their tastes in art, he found that perceptions of beauty transcend international borders. In almost every instance, people were drawn to images of natural landscapes over cityscapes, and generally preferred nature-themed paintings to any other subject.

Beautiful things transcend language and culture.

Beautiful things transcend language and culture.

“Consider briefly…the magnetic pull of beautiful landscapes. People in very different cultures all over the world tend to like a particular kind of landscape…that just happens to be similar to the savannas where we evolved. This landscape shows up today on calendars, on postcards, and in the design of golf courses and public parks.”

These pristine, ancient landscapes were considered most beautiful even by cultures who had never seen them before.

“Human beings everywhere find beauty in the natural – in the environments from which humans evolved.”

Find beauty in your own strength.

Find beauty in your own strength.

After listening to Dutton’s TED talk, I began to reflect on my own perceptions of beauty. As a city dweller, I rarely have the opportunity to spend time in beautiful natural landscapes – but as a Reebok employee, I do find myself reverting back to a more primal existence, one more closely linked to the humanity so highly revered by Dutton’s interviewees. At Reebok, we are encouraged to take an hour of our day to head to a boxing or Les Mills class, to yoga or to Reebok’s very own CrossFit Gym, RCF1, to do workouts grounded in functional movements using minimalistic equipment.

“Could it be that taking a step back from technology is the answer to bringing more beauty into our lives?”

I’ve certainly found that at the very least, this is true in my work outs. There’s something about jumping and running and sweating – picking up a barbell twice your weight, the sound of gloves against a heavy bag or your feet hitting the pavement, that awakens the same sense of beauty that I believe Dutton’s subjects felt from viewing these nature scenes.

“We think we need watches, and apps, fancy weight machines and treadmills, but all that these things really do is remove the natural, and thus the beautiful, from our workouts.”

Listen to your body and focus on your breath – no technology needed.

Listen to your body and focus on your breath – no technology needed.

By tracking every calorie, pacing around to hit our daily step goals and relying on a monitor to tell us when something is hard – we forget that our bodies, and what they can do, are amazing, beautiful, and natural.

And who’s to say that seeking the ‘natural’ should stop at our workouts? What about seeking out the honest and natural in the foods we eat? Research says that by eliminating added sugars in our diet, cravings subside and natural foods begin to taste sweet and delicious. And who decided that our work lives should be constantly ‘plugged in’? We’ve become conditioned to believe that shooting off an email to someone across a cube wall is normal.

“We’ve been overtaken by routine and overrun with choice – and it’s diminishing our human spirit.”

I’m not saying it’s necessary or realistic to go back to the pre-historic era, or ditch technology and innovation. That’s ridiculous. But maybe the key to finding beauty in our lives, and in the positive feelings it elicits, is a lot easier than we think… It’s in a face-to-face conversation, a wholesome meal, or even at the bottom of a push-up.

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Endless streams of creativity and…


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What makes good design?


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