An autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account ofhimself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.”
Michael was banned from his high school reunion for “the balloon incident”, was sued by one of his Law School lecturers for defamation, gave himself a concussion digging a hole as a labourer, was fired on his first shift as a garage attendant and has held a number of jobs where he had little or no impact.
Luckily, there’s also been some upside. He is the author of a number of successful books including the best seller ‘Do More Great Work: stop the busywork and start the work that matters’. He is also the founder and Senior Partner of Box of Crayons, and was the first Canadian Coach of the Year and a Rhodes Scholar.
Before Box of Crayons, he was the first employee for what is now the world’s largest independent innovation agency, and while most of what he invented never saw the light of day, he did have a hand in Pizza Hut’s stuffed crust pizza. He has also spent time as a change management consultant where he batted about average for the industry for really successful change projects – 10% or so. His only lasting impact in this role was writing the global vision for GlaxoSmithKline, something that has lasted more than a decade even though it took almost no time at all to create.
Box of Crayons is a company that helps organizations around the world do less Good Work and more Great Work. They have particular expertise with organizations in the financial, professional service, pharmaceutical and consumer goods market sectors, and particular success with organizations with engaged but overwhelmed employees. Box of Crayons’ premier product is the Coaching for Great Work program which gives time-stretched managers and leaders practical coaching skills that stick. It is delivered by a global cadre of program leaders.
Michael created The Eight Irresistible Principles of Fun, a short internet movie seen by millions, and some other movies seen by a lot fewer people (The 5 ¾ Questions You’ve Been Avoiding, Great Work Alchemy and 11 Words for 2011).
Michael speaks regularly to audiences around the world. Highlights include speaking at Google, the HRPA and SHRM conferences, the Rural Women of Manitoba conference and anywhere that’s vaguely warm during wintertime in Toronto, his home.
What are you working on right now?
I’m partnering with Seth Godin to publish a new book. It’s 55 cool/smart/funky people (such as WDS speakers Danielle LaPorte, Pam Slim and Chris Guillebeau) writing on their take on how to do Great Work. What’s really cool is this: the book will sell for $25, and $20 of each sale will go to Malaria No More to buy two mosquito nets for Africa. September 6th is the pub date…
What does your typical day look like?
I don’t have many of those. But I’m often delivering a workshop or something in front of a crowd, being sucked into email and the like or, on sweet and wonderful days, absorbed in my latest Great Work project.
3 trends that excite you?
Valuing content trending to valuing experience.
Winter trending to summer.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The general theory is rapid prototyping. What that means in practice is: pen and paper and quickly sketching and reworking ideas, until they’re as simple as possible (but no simpler).
What inspires you?
10 years ago I defined a mission for myself: Infect a billion people with the possibility virus. That’s still a powerful reminder for me.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
So hard to pick just one…
A subtle mistake (and I’ve made plenty of unsubtle ones) is to work with people who are just OK. With our interconnected world, you should be able to find people who amaze you. Work with them.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A general one is this: content is now ubiquitous and that makes it worthless. Design and making things beautiful is where value gets added. So whatever you’re working on – how can you bake in design to make it elegant.
What do you read every day, and why?
Jessica Hagy’s ThisIsIndexed.com – she captures the glory and absurdity of everyday life on an index card.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?
Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. Not only does it help you connect to science, but more importantly it remind you 1. we live in an amazing time and 2. it’s amazing that we’re alive.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
My bedside table lamp.
What’s been a secret of your success?
I’m good at figuring out what the rules are in a system – and then finding a way to break them that isn’t too weird/alienating. Being different but not too different.
Who are your heroes?
My Dad, for his integrity and general goodness.
Guy Laliberte of Cirque du Soleil for blending wild creativity with wild commerciality.
Eddie Izzard for how he steps out the edge of what’s possible for himself and the audience all the time.
Muhammad Yunus for serving the bottom billion.
Damon Albarn of Gorillaz for how he’s reinvented himself and how he collaborates.
Bob Dylan for his focus on endless innovation.
Linus Torvalds the father of Linux, for a commitment to open and free.
James Schamus, CEO of Focus Features, for exploring the edges and for espousing “moderate weirdness.”