Todd Hirsch, the well-respected Chief Economist at ATB Financial, released his latest book, Spiders in Space: Successfully Adapting to Unwanted Change, in May of 2017. He co-authored the book with Rob Roach, Director of Insight at ATB Financial. On March 22, 2017, I had the opportunity to attend a lunch event where Todd was speaking, and bought a copy of his book before the official launch.
Although I hadn’t read Todd’s earlier books, I find him to be a highly informed, engaging, and effective public speaker. You will always have some moments in his presentations that stimulate deeper thought, and others that make you crack a smile or chuckle. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that I like Todd, or at least that I like his style of presenting information. I was therefore excited to start reading his latest book.
Based on the title of this book, you might assume at first glance that it is science fiction. Spiders in Space however (just like Todd’s earlier book “The Boiling Frog Dilemma”), is a typical example of how something seemingly un-economic
related can spark his brain into using it as a strong analogy. The premise of the book is drawn from two experiments that NASA and the International Space Agency conducted by literally taking spiders into space.
Web-weaving spiders need gravity to construct the frame of their webs. So, the question to be answered by the two experiments was, could spiders adapt to spin webs in a zero-gravity environment? The answer is yes, but it required some time for the spiders to fully adapt to their new environment. Todd and Robb use this as an analogy for when major changes occur in our daily lives, and this analogy serves as the web (pun intended) that holds the book together. And, just like a web, the book doesn’t follow a single linear argument. Rather, in Part One it brings in strands of thought from fifteen proudly Canadian stories that illustrate the impact of unwanted change. Part Two distills some axioms (or universal truths) from those stories.
Part One – Spiders in Space Stories
It’s been said that “variety is the spice of life”, and that certainly contributes to making this book an enjoyable read. A few of the included stories are from:
- Michelle Salt, who survived a major motorcycle accident, and is now a Paralympic snowboarder.
- CKUA Radio, a station which lost most of its government funding, but after changing its focus and funding model, is thriving as a local radio station.
- Tracie Nielson, who was advised to euthanize an aggressive dog, but instead built a business that helps train dogs with behavioural issues.
The other stories include events like the change in the Canadian winery industry, people like Dave Williams (our famous Canadian astronaut), how a refuge from the Russians during World War II built a life in Canada, the impact of the decline in value of the loonie, and many more. Regardless of your background, there is a great deal to learn from each of these stories, and one or more will be of particular interest to you.
Part Two – Unleashing Your Inner MacGyver
Part Two begins with a preconditioning activity that will help you when unwanted change inevitably does arrive. It then builds from the fifteen stories to distill twelve truths we can learn from successful adapters. According to the authors, successful adapters:
- Know their core story
- Seek help and take it
- Are really, really, really hard workers
- Are mentally tough
- Are passionate
- Have realistic faith
- Embrace risk
- Are leaders
- Are open-minded
- Harness tension
- Are entrepreneurs
In terms of language and style, Spiders in Space is very accessible for almost any audience. It is written at a level a junior high student could easily understand, yet thorough enough that the adult reader stays engaged. It is also peppered throughout with various phrases I like to call “quotable quotes”, such as:
- “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage” by Anais Nin
- “I get by with a little help from my friends” from The Beatles song “With a Little Help from my Friends”
- “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up” by Babe Ruth
- “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work” by Thomas Edison
Spiders in Space is a fitting tribute to Canada’s 150th year celebration, with its fifteen inspiring Canadian stories each representing a decade of our collective existence. If you’re an entrepreneur or manager of a business in Canada, or anywhere in the world for that matter, you will benefit from reading this book. The fifteen stories and twelve insights present the content of the book in easy-to-digest chunks. There’s nothing new here, but the way the information is packaged makes it both an enjoyable read, and a timely reminder that unwanted change is inevitable. The book leaves you with the question: How will you cope with that change when it comes?
Thank you, Todd, for signing my copy and for giving me some helpful tips as I currently deal with my own experience of of unwanted change. If you would like to win a copy of Spiders in Space, head to our Facebook Page to enter in our limited-time draw. Also, please take a moment to sign up for our email list.