A Dragon’s Persuasion: Book Review

January 25, 2012 4:30 pm
Arlene Dickinson

Back in November, Arlene Dickinson was in Ottawa to launch her new book, Persuasion: A New Approach to Changing Minds. Although I unfortunately missed the book signing event, I did rush out to buy a copy and devoured each page.

A mother of four who values family above all else, Dickinson is better known as the CEO of Venture Communications and is the only female entrepreneur on CBC’s Dragon’s Den. It is in this role of co-host that she has won over many Canadians who now revere her as a business icon and a national treasure.

The book explores Arlene’s theory that success is a direct result of your ability to persuade an audience, whoever that may be. Despite her lack of formal education, the evidence throughout the publication is tangible and convincing because it is based on her own life, business experiences and overall success, which certainly speaks for itself. Arlene embodies motivation and perseverance. At the age of thirty-one, she was newly divorced, battling for custody of her children while living on her father’s couch. One year later she was a partner at Venture Communications, one of Canada’s most successful marketing and communications firms.

Book Cover

Dickinson advocates authenticity and integrity, whether you are a homemaker or a CEO, and shows how principled persuasion can help get you where you want to be in your professional and personal life. She admits that her unwillingness to stray from her core values may translate into some lost opportunities to make more money, but is proud that the success she does relish has been achieved honestly and without compromising her integrity.

The first part of the book is based in common sense theories and the advice seems somewhat self-evident to any reader who respects basic ethics. However, as you progress into the second half, this female dragon shares concrete tips and methods to: approach an employer about a raise or promotion; pique the interest of prospective business investors; seize the possibilities put before you; learn from your mistakes; and, achieve success.

My favourite parts of the book were Arlene’s personal experiences (she shares many); especially her father’s teachings recounted through the narrative, referred to as ‘commercials’. For instance, he reminds her to appreciate where she is at any given moment instead of always having her mind set on the future. A profound teaching imparted during their move from South Africa to Canada when she was only three years old. Clearly these nuggets of wisdom were well-integrated into her intellectual makeup and have contributed to her own prosperity.

Dickinson advocates authenticity and integrity.

Despite the book’s lack of ground-breaking revelations, what makes Arlene Dickinson’s approach to business attractive is her belief that as in business, so in life. There exists no false front when it comes to Arlene and she advocates the same authenticity for her readers.  Many lessons in the book are those we could benefit to learn as individual parts of a societal whole, such as reciprocity. Meaning, you must not solely focus on what you have to gain from any given situation, but instead should present an argument in a way that proves advantageous to others. Other teachings are as simple as listening to (and truly hearing) what people have to say and using each encounter as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Overall, Persuasion is an inspiring book that will teach you that success in business is within your reach because it has so much to do with common sense. Dickinson’s writing and tone are familiar and comfortable and deliver a clear message to her readers: your dreams are within your grasp if you can master the art of principled persuasion. We are all capable of that.

Persuasion: A New Approach to Changing Minds, Dickinson, Arlene, Collins. 2011.

Adrienne Clarkson: Room for All of Us

January 10, 2012 9:29 am
room for all of us

In her latest book, Room for all of Us, Canada’s former Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, shares her poignant views on immigration, displacement and belonging. The novel follows the lives of ten extraordinary individuals, revealing some of the most harrowing experiences in their journey to get to Canada.  The book shares their arrival and ultimately their success. An immigrant herself, Clarkson provides encouraging and optimistic stories of struggle and survival from the perspective of some remarkable people who have come to transform our nation despite their hardships. Room for All of Us is an intimate and insightful narrative, reflective of Canada’s rich immigration past and present.

Adrienne Clarkson. Photo: Calgary Herald

Recently I had the chance to sit down with Ms. Clarkson and discuss the motivation behind her work. When asked what inspired her to write a novel about the Canadian immigration experience from the perspective of others, Ms. Clarkson revealed two specific reasons for writing Room for all of Us. First, after writing her autobiography, many people approached the author about the extraordinary nature of her life story. “I thought right away, well no, it’s not that extraordinary but there are people who have had the most extraordinary experiences in our country and I wanted to tell some of them!” she claims. Seeing as Clarkson knew most of the people already, she decided to put together a collective of the most unusual and inspiring tales from some of these remarkable individuals.  Moreover, Clarkson felt identification with these people, that on many levels they were not only just like her but their lives somehow overlapped.

The second inspiration for her book came out of her identification with loss, shock and brutality. As Clarkson points out, “I lived through a war, where we lived we were afraid. All of those were common things I really understood.”  She goes on to note that without the stories of people’s struggles it is hard to understand the peace of Canada, which we are so fortunate to have. What’s more, with so many overlapping immigrant experiences, there is a sense of commonality between the people that help shape and transform the Canadian landscape. When asked why she chose the specific group of individuals who appear in her book, Clarkson didn’t hesitate and responded: “as you know I’ve had a long career in television, then I did a lot of public service, then I was Governor General so I wanted to cover certain events in the world that had brought us immigrants, but these people all had to be living.” Essentially, her book details specific world events that brought people to the Canadian shores.

“I wanted the readers to feel as if I was telling them a story.”

Throughout the book, the author makes references to various tragic events, including the Holocaust, the Vietnam War and the Exodus from East Africa. When asked about these, Clarkson points out that these events were especially important not only in transforming the world but shaping Canada as a nation.  She states,  “at one point, I said to myself, ‘well I have got to cover this’ because I noticed how they (immigrant communities) are adding so much to our Canadian communities.” More importantly, however is the fact that each of these individuals comes out of a situation where Canada has had some sort of involvement, as a result, the author’s main goal was to try and “show the human side of each of these altercations.”

Although the book does a great job in providing a comprehensive sample of individuals from varying backgrounds, I wanted to know who was missing from the narrative. Clarkson felt that there were many voices she could have included, for example survivors of the Rwanda genocide, but she “wanted to make the book very readable to people, something that you could pick up and you would understand.” What she really wanted was for her readers to feel as though she was “telling you their story.” She is adamant about the fact that the book is not a history book, or an academic look at immigration but rather it is about an extraordinary group of people and “how they opened their lives to me (Clarkson) and I was able to tell their story.” And that certainly comes across in the book.

Room for All of Us is available at all major bookstores across Canada.

Recent Posts