The Power of Why

Amanda Lang’s book launch last evening was a great success. Held in the CBC’s Barbara Frum Atrium on Front Street, it attracted a high-profile crowd of 150. There were politicians such as Paul Martin Jr. and Frank McKenna, authors Allan Fotheringham and Michael Bryant, and CBC colleagues News Editor-in-Chief Jennifer McGuire and Kevin O’Leary, Lang’s partner on The Lang & O’Leary Exchange. In addition, there were numerous friends and family members including her mother Adrian, step-father Donald Macdonald, and various siblings and offspring.

The book, The Power of Why (HarperCollins) is about innovation, how it happens, and how we can nurture more of it. I can recommend this book as readable and authoritative in the style of Malcolm Gladwell. There is a well-explained thesis supported by interviews and studies that make for a compelling argument. The title points to a major driver of innovation, curiosity. Kids have it naturally and we can encourage them to keep asking why, or we can educate that wonderment out of them. Too often, the latter happens.

Among the real life examples from Lang’s research is an excellent case study how Canadian Tire set out to reinvent itself. A few CEOs ago, Canadian Tire decided to go after female shoppers, arguing that they made the buying decisons and too few of them shopped at Canadian Tire. Trouble was, the new merchandising methods attracted too few women and drove away the men. The study wasn’t just about getting men back in the store, it was about Who Are Men and What Do They Want. As an author in 2001 of a book about Canadian Tire and its controlling shareholder, Martha Billes (Can’t Buy Me Love), I still follow the company closely but had been unaware of the lengths the company went to with this work and the conclusions they reached.

But this is not just a business book, it’s a book for everyone interested in helping people fulfil themselves or find a new way of thinking. Lang points to Quest University in Squamish, British Columbia, as a template for the future of education. There, the point of classes is not content, but learning how to ask questions. Students take one subject at a time so they can focus rather than spread themselves too thinly over a busy curriculum.

But the rest of us can change our ways, too. The good news is that we’re not thinking like little kids, despite how well they ask questions. Instead, as adults we’re able to think about how we think. “Self-awareness is the adult trait that elevates curiosity to a new place, where it’s not just fun but powerful because it fuels not only engagement and interest, but also actual, implementable innovation,” writes Lang.

This an important book that, unlike most similar works these days, actually provides a workable prescription. That’s the real power of why.

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