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 Today, a special guest blog – a biographical piece from Rupinder Gill,

Author of On the Outside Looking Indian

If you had told me five years ago that I would write a book about my life, I would have called you crazy. I’ve always wanted to write but never had the desire to make the story my own. It may sound surprising from a memoirist, but I don’t really love talking about myself. Contrary to the new social norm of displaying sonograms on Facebook or parading every part of your personal life on reality TV, I’ve always felt inclined to keep things to myself.

So how did it happen, you ask? Well, I was minding my own business one day when a horned-figure appeared and told me I could be both immortal AND Mrs. Ryan Gosling in exchange for a single memoir so…wait, I realize that may have been a dream and that I should definitely cancel that invitation I sent to People magazine.

Actually, it all started with a suggestion from a friend. I was having dinner my friend Hannah one night when I told her I was going to learn how to swim. At the age of 30, I couldn’t swim. To say that Indians aren’t contenders in the international swimming scene is putting it mildly. Indians don’t swim. They don’t have cottages, they don’t go on cruises and they are rarely seen basking in the sun at the beach. Indian girls especially don’t swim because only a fool would think that learning a life-saving skill was more important than keeping your body hidden forever. I didn’t take swimming lessons as a kid (save for some grade-school gym class lessons where I was the only one who didn’t learn). In fact, I didn’t take any lessons as a kid.  But as an adult, I was free to learn whatever I pleased so I vowed to finally become a swimmer. While I was at it, I became overly ambitious and decided to tackle other things that I wish had been a part of my youth.

“You should write about that,” Hannah said when I told her of my pledge.

“Really?” I said, unconvinced of the idea. “I can’t imagine that would be very interesting to people.”

This was the same sentiment I echoed when I met with the man who would later become my agent, and ultimately convince me to share my story.  As I continued with my year of taking dance and tennis lessons, attending summer camp and regaining the optimism and playfulness of youth, I weighed the pros and cons and finally agreed to give writing a shot.

I had trepidation through the whole process; Indian ladies might learn to swim but they certainly don’t write books about their lives. The two activities share a lot of similarities.  Both prospects are scary for a number of reasons—one requires you to wear a bathing suit but the other requires you to lay bare your emotions. You fear ridicule and failure in both, but hope the satisfaction of achieving a goal will be the enduring result.  And both require a giant leap of faith. If I could jump into that pool, I realized could take the bigger leap and tell my story at the same time.

After the book was released, I had a few points where I wished it would all go away. But then I started meeting people whose childhoods had been similar to mine, or who learned something about a childhood so different from their own and I remembered what I loved about books. Whether it’s a memoir about a woman reliving her youth or an epic tale of a man vs. a whale, they give us the ability to feel understood or understand the world outside of our own. It’s why I’ve been a lifelong reader and now, a writer. So welcome to my world and please excuse me, as I’m about to jump into someone else’s.

Interested readers can see a trailer/interview with Rupinder here:  

Special thanks for Rupinder Gill for her participation and to our friends at Random House Canada for facilitating the blog.


In honour of the International Indian Film Academy Awards taking place in Toronto from June 23 to 25, we’re highlighting Indian authors of fiction and non-fiction on our blog. Check out more from the series here:

Interested readers can also head on over to our Celebrate India Boutique.
Published in Non-Fiction
Friday, 17 June 2011 05:36

Memorable Fathers in Fiction

Maybe he's handy around the house, or maybe he's more the artistic type. He's probably not quite as hilarious as he thinks he is (it's a known fact that dad jokes are not funny.) But no matter what his quirks, Dad is a child's first hero and role model, so we thought we would celebrate some of our favourite fathers in fiction and literature.


To Kill a Mockingbird
His moral strength, his compassion, his sense of fairness, and his love for his children continue to earn Atticus Finch the most votes for Best Father Ever.


The Road
The unnamed father and son in this book undergo unimaginable hardship in a post-apocalyptic landscape. But despite the horrors around them, the father's honour and decency of character and his fierce love for his son is a remarkable portrayal of fatherhood.


Little House on the Prairie
In Laura Ingalls Wilder's books about life in 1870's Wisconsin, Charles Ingalls (or "Pa") is a dad who knew the importance of a work-life balance. He worked hard to eke out a living, but the books also show us a father who loved to tease his girls, and cherished the simple joys of a family that loved each other.


Silas Marner
Silas Marner is an embittered, miserly weaver whose life undergoes a remarkable transformation when he ends up adopting a 2-year-old infant that he names Eppie. True, Silas is not Eppie's biological father, but Eliot's novel features one of the most loving father-daughter bonds found in literature. 

Published in Fiction

An appropriate description of Shilpi Gowda’s debut novel, Secret Daughter, would be “phenomenon”.  It's a Heather's Pick that is still selling strong—you can see what our chief booklover thought of it here, and see her in conversation with Shilpi here.

 A runaway success, Secret Daughter tells the story of an Indian girl, Asha, a daughter who was taken by her mother to an orphanage just after birth so that she wouldn’t be killed as her sister had been.  Asha is adopted by a biracial couple and taken to California, but becomes fascinated by India as she grows up, curious about her father’s family and her birth parents, whom she’s never met. Her mother is afraid that she’ll lose her daughter to India and fights Asha’s curiosity.

Eventually Asha wins an internship in India and meets her father’s family, exotic to her western eyes, but nevertheless, she feels at home. In researching women and children in the slums of Mumbai and in visiting the orphanage she came from, Asha realizes how hard it must have been for her birth mother to give her up and how hard it was for her adoptive mother to let her go.

This is a fabulously interwoven story of two mothers and their daughter and their joys and sorrows. It’s an emotional read and one which rings true from every angle.

Recently, our Facebook Fans had the opportunity to pose questions to Shilpi: here are some of those questions and Shilpi’s answers.

Indigo Fiction Blog:  What was your inspiration to write Secret Daughter, and is it based on your own life experiences?

Shilpi Gowda: The inspiration for this story came from a summer in university I spent as a volunteer at an orphanage in India. I grew quite attached to some of the children I met there, and in the years since, I often wondered what happened to them, particularly the girls who faced cultural discrimination. I wanted to write a story about one of those little girls having a chance at a different life. I was intrigued by the idea of the dual worlds of this little girl—the one she was born into and the one she ends up living out. From there, I crafted the rest of the story and characters, more from imagination and research than personal experience.

IFB:  What will your next book be about, and will it be a sequel?

SG: I’m working on another novel at the moment, and while it’s not a sequel, it touches on some of the same themes from Secret Daughter—identity, culture and family, and it takes place both in India and North America.

IFB:  Why did you choose the ending for the story you did?

SG: When I first started writing the story, I knew that I wanted it to culminate in something other than Asha and Kavita meeting face-to-face.  The relationship between these two characters is at the heart of the story; it is the vehicle through which each struggles with loss, longing, love, and their own identity. Asha and Kavita are both searching for some understanding of themselves in relation to the other and, perhaps paradoxically, I didn’t think the best way for each to achieve their personal growth was to meet each other. I wanted the characters and the reader to feel some satisfaction and peace at the end of the story, without making the events predictable, unrealistic or too neat. I wrote several different endings before landing on the one that best captured the feeling of bittersweet authenticity I wanted.

IFB:  Did you know the raw emotion this novel would invoke in so many people?

SG: One of the most rewarding things to have come from publishing this novel is hearing from readers who’ve been moved by this story: women who’ve suffered infertility, men who appreciate their wives more, and particularly young women adopted from India who’ve told me they now feel at peace with their personal history. That’s something I never could have imagined, sitting alone in a room writing, and the best thing a writer could hope for.

IFB:  I enjoyed learning about India, but at times I found it shocking. Was this your intention for those of us who have never been there?

SG: India is a vast and fascinating country. I could never hope to capture all of its beauty and darkness, but I tried to show a little of what makes it so complex. An issue like gender discrimination is not as simple as it seems. On the one hand, baby girls are disproportionately killed to the point where there is an imbalance in the birth rates. On the other hand, India elected a woman Prime Minister earlier than many other countries, and matriarchs play a very big role in many families. I tried to portray my understanding of India to the best of my ability—to show its greatness, without neglecting its faults.

Thanks very much to Shilpi Gowda for participating, and to our friends at Harper Collins for facilitating the interview.


In honour of the International Indian Film Academy Awards taking place in Toronto from June 23 to 25, we’re highlighting Indian authors of fiction and non-fiction on our blog. Check out more from the series here:

Interested readers can also head on over to our Celebrate India Boutique.
Published in Fiction
Thursday, 16 June 2011 17:21

Q&A With Jennifer Haigh, author of Faith

Jennifer Haigh is the award-winning, bestselling author of Mrs. Kimble, Baker Towers, and The Condition. Her newest book, Faith, tells the story of Sheila McGann, the sister of a Boston priest accused of committing the ultimate breach of trust. Sheila sets out to defend her brother against the accusations, and in the process uncovers long-held family secrets and faces difficult truths.

Indigo Fiction Blog: Your most recent book, Faith, deals with a priest who is accused of  child abuse. What prompted you to tackle this subject?

Jennifer Haigh: Like a lot of writers, I write to make sense of the world, which sometimes means writing about things that disturb me. I moved to Boston from Iowa in 2002, just as the city was reeling from revelations that Catholic priests had molested children, and that the Archdiocese had covered up the abuse. Like everybody else, I was horrified. I was raised in a Catholic family, spent twelve years in parochial schools and had extremely fond memories of my interactions with Catholic clergy. It’s no exaggeration to say that nuns and priests were the heroes of my childhood.  As I read about what had happened in Boston, I found it impossible to square it with those tender memories of my Catholic childhood.  Faith was my attempt to explain the inexplicable, to understand what I couldn’t make sense of in any other way.

IFB: Why did you decide to tell the story from the point of view of the priest’s sister?

JH: I found Sheila’s voice by accident. I’d never written a novel in the first person. I’d always considered it too limiting:  in my experience, it’s rare for any one character to know all the interesting parts of a story. But when I began reading about priests suspected of abusing children, I was struck by how difficult it is to get to the bottom of the story. There are never any witnesses. The only people who know the truth of the story are the priest and the child, and often neither will talk about it.  The rest of us can only speculate about what went on behind closed doors. That’s exactly what Sheila does in Faith. She’s neither a devout Catholic nor an atheist. Instead she is a seeker, a person who’s still figuring out what to believe.

IFB: Your characters are so vivid. Does your story develop from a plot idea or from character development?

JH: Character always comes first.  I never consciously invent plot; I just get to know the characters well enough that I can predict how they would behave in a particular situation. Then it’s just a question of letting them react to each other, much as people do in real life.  

IFB: What authors influence your writing? What are you reading right now?

JH: I’m constantly discovering new books to admire, but there are certain writers I keep going back to:  Richard Yates, William Styron, William Faulkner, Muriel Spark, Alice Munro. I’ve just gotten my hands on an advance copy of Russell Banks’s new novel, Lost Memory of Skin. I can’t put it down!

IFB: What are you working on next?

JH: A collection of stories set in Bakerton, the western Pennsylvania coal town where my second novel, Baker Towers, takes place. A few of the characters from Baker Towers will actually reappear:  Miss Peale, the schoolmistress; Joyce Novak and her mysterious younger brother Sandy, who runs away to California. For years readers have been asking me what became of Sandy Novak. This new book will finally answer that question.

Thanks to Jennifer Haigh for taking the time to answer our questions, and thanks to HarperCollins Canada for arranging the interview.

Published in Fiction

Recently something happened to me with a novel that hasn’t happened in a long time—I started it on Friday night and finished it on Sunday morning( and I’ve got a baby in the house).  I can’t remember the last time that happened.  That book was Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers.

Admittedly, it’s right in my wheelhouse—a funny, dark, story-driven literary western, one that functions as a classic western, but also a character study that explores sibling bonds and the consequences of violence. It also successfully negotiates that tightrope walk of being dark and funny—sometimes simultaneously.  All the trappings are present; there are gunfights, gundowns, holdups, brothels, Indians, and another element: humour.

Charlie and Eli Sisters are gunmen for hire, sent by the mysterious Commodore to assassinate one Hermann Kermit Warm and liberate the secret of his gold claim. The story unfolds like a road journey, with each brother changing and learning more about the other as the action progresses.

Patrick DeWitt is already getting compared to Cormac McCarthy, which seems a lazy comparison to me. I love the work of McCarthy, but he has virtually no sense of humour (outside of Suttree, McCarthy’s joke quota seems to be about one joke per book, at maximum), and DeWitt has humour in spades.  If this novel has a spiritual cousin, it’s Portis’s True Grit (or maybe Franklin’s Smonk, which takes the same unflinching gaze at violence, but with a gleeful vulgarity that doesn’t seem to interest DeWitt).

Check out the trailer here: 

I recently got the chance to ask Patrick about The Sisters Brothers.  Here is that interview:

Indigo Fiction Blog: As the sibling bond between Charlie and Eli is so central to this novel, I have to ask – do you have any brothers?

Patrick DeWitt: I have an older and a younger brother. My relationship with my siblings is a far cry from the Sisters brothers’, obviously, but it was the moment I realized Eli and Charlie should be relatives and not just co-workers that the novel came into focus for me.

IFB: What was your inspiration for this novel? Do you have any favourite westerns in literature or on film?

PD: It started as a lark, evolved into a short story, devolved to a humbling migraine, then obstinately, rudely proclaimed itself a novel. I actually haven’t read many Western novels, but some of my favorite Western/Western-adjacent films would be: McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the spaghetti Westerns, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

IFB: Have any readers given you grief for being so hard on faithful old Tub?  

PD: Yes they have, and I sympathize. Those scenes were difficult to write. There was some comparatively mild horse abuse in my first book as well, so the equestrian crowd are out for blood. It’s interesting (at least to me) to note that far more readers have expressed displeasure at the treatment of animals in the book than the treatment of human beings, who are butchered randomly throughout.

IFB: What inspired you to call out the events of the 'intermissions' separately?

PD: They both sidestep the story, really, and calling them intermissions was an effective way to point this out to the reader.

IFB: Without going into spoiler territory, Hermann Kermit Warm's gold panning method: it being a method for finding gold that I'd never heard of, I wondered initially if Charlie and Eli were being conned.  Was this a hard piece to execute?

PD: It was difficult to make the process seem plausible, definitely, because Warm’s method is an impossibility. There are certain parts of the book that are like an ornate house of cards, and once I erected them I backed away slowly...

IFB: What were the most fun, or the hardest, sections to write?  

PD: I had the most fun with the section where Hermann Kermit Warm tells his back story to Eli. I wound up cutting fifteen or twenty pages of this -- it went on and on. The most difficult section was probably where Charlie tells Eli how Eli got his freckles. It’s a straightforward conversation but there was a lot riding on it, and it was hard to get the language to sit properly. And I kept getting choked up, which is something of a momentum killer.

IFB: What are you working on right now?

PD: I’m working on another novel. It’s about a crooked investment advisor who expatriates to France rather than go to prison. Half the book will be about his assimilation into a foreign country, with no friends and considerably less money, and the other half will be his looking back at the span of his life, from a childhood in a tenement slum to his rise to the top of the economic food chain in Manhattan. 


 Photo Credit:  Danny Palmerlee

Published in Fiction
Monday, 13 June 2011 19:23

The Greater Journey

From my colleague, Michael Nicholson:

A new book by David McCullough is cause for celebration. He is the recipient of Pulitzer Prizes for both Truman and John Adams. In this newly published masterwork, he tells the eventful story of American migrations to Paris beginning in the 1830s. This migration included such characters as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, Samuel Morse, Mary Cassatt, and John Singer Sargent, as well as doctors, writers, artists and architects who made extended and repeated trips to the City of Light at a time when historic advancements were being made in the arts and sciences.

The Greater Journey is magnificent in every respect. David McCullough is a glorious writer who is able to dramatize whole periods of history with narrative power while painting intimate pictures of the participants with empathy and humanity. Beautifully and generously illustrated with historic photographs, maps and paintings this book will provide inspiration and joy to generations of readers.

Published in Non-Fiction
Monday, 13 June 2011 19:18

The Garden of Beasts

I’ve recommended Erik Larson to readers who love reading rich history, where the sense of period, people and place is vivid and full, as with a great novel. Larson’s earlier work, The Devil in the White City, meticulously captured Chicago as it built its 1893 World’s Fair and cleared the stage to announce itself as a great American modern city, with gleaming ambitious architecture, built by strong men of vision and resource, but hiding a sinister citizen with only murder in mind.

In this new work we have Larson’s same compelling gift for period: Berlin 1933—as Hitler strengthens his power. The story is guided by a family of Americans abroad, that of ambassador William E. Dodd (entrusted by FDR to evaluate the men that comprise the new German power). Dodd arrives nostalgic for the Germany of his university days, and appears at first too small a man caught in too big a time. With him is his daughter Martha, wild and irreverent, polyamourously drawn to the handsome uniforms and renewed purpose.

Because we all know how Berlin ends, in another’s hand, this story could be dull. Larson instead shows how it starts, when it was less clear to all just how much hate swelled such pride. He recreates Berlin and shows us the ever-darkening incidents as they appeared to those who lived them, such as those too naïve to recognise their meaning, who thought largely of how bright was the weather then, how nice to walk in a city with such beautiful parks, with window flowerboxes everywhere. We see as well how Berlin appeared to others who could see horror emerging from the handsome uniforms, those who resolved to fight the Reich from the beginning.

Published in Non-Fiction
Thursday, 09 June 2011 18:17

#YA Saves: Do Not Fear the Darkness

This past weekend, the Walk Street Journal published Meghan Cox Gurdon’s Darkness Too Visible, in which the author discussed her outrage at the dark themes in YA. The article inspired a flurry of blog posts defending Teen lit, as well as a twitter conversation, #YASaves. Chandra Rooney has already explained this in her excellent blog post yesterday, Books Are Dangerous, so I point you there for more details.

In conversation with Chandra and two of my other teen lit-reading colleagues, one of the themes that came up for us was not only what we read as teens, but why. One of my friends said (and I have her permission to quote her here) that when she thinks back to her teen reading, "it was such a private experience. I read alone and I didn’t know anyone who read the same books as me. The books were an escape.”

This resonates with me because I think that one of the amazing things about the dynamic and interesting choices that are available for readers of teen lit is that we can find the book that we need to read. Whether it is a book about a love triangle between a vampire and a werewolf, a dystopian world where teens compete in the Hunger Games, or the more challenging and close-to-home issues of rape and addiction, these books are there to hopefully help us find our own way to listen to our own stories.

Someone once asked me whether I thought that we find books that we need at a particular point—or is it that the books we need find us?

I think that it is a mixture of both. #YASaves because as a teen (at least it was for me), it is the first time that you can understand what is really going on around the world and within. There are a lot of emotions to process and finding the right books can help you cope. Finding those private moments of reading might be an escape, but it probably also helped my friend with whatever questions she had growing up.

There wasn’t a lot of YA out there when I was a teen. Once I hit thirteen, I had already read Cynthia Voigt, Judy Blume and Paul Zindel.  (Judy Blume, by the way, is till one of the most banned authors in the U.S. She talks about it here.)

For me, as a teen, it was the big questions about religion and the fundamental importance of human rights. I read V.C. Andrews and Christopher Pike, but I also read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmade’s Tale and S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and the poetry of Leonard Cohen. I am sincerely thankful that at nineteen my friend gave me a copy of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon—a book that literally inspired me to study Medieval History, mythology (and probably why I now call my cat Merlin).

One of the books that was mentioned in the WSJ article is Lauren Myracle’s Shine. Ironically, I just finished it a week ago. The night I closed the book, I couldn’t sleep because my mind so buzzed about it. What was the last book you felt totally buzzed about? Where your mind, fingers and heart pulsed together in excitement over the themes, the characters and the story you’d just finished reading? That is what finishing this book was like for me.

Myracle not only creates a tragic setting—a small, poor Southern U.S. town reminiscent of our challenging contemporary economic climate—but also a really challenging story about a young man who is beaten because he’s gay and his traumatized friend who is bound and determined to figure out what happened. This book doesn’t just tackle homophobia and abuse, it also discusses the systemic nature of hate in society and how challenging it is to confront this issue when everyone around you perpetuates the same world view. The resolution is not what you expect and it isn’t simply resolved. Like life, it is complicated, dark and murky. It may begin with darkness, but Shine is more about the willingness to look at something differently, and to be brave enough to take a step out of the darkness and find the light within.

Books that are dark are always about finding the light.

As Leonard Cohen says in his song, “Anthem”:  “There is a crack in everything/ That's how the light gets in.”

Published in Teen
Tuesday, 07 June 2011 17:52

Lost and Re-found: Great Food Classics

I love stories and I firmly believe that every recipe and every piece of food has a great story behind it. Don't believe me? Next time you're grocery shopping, look at the cart ahead in the checkout line. Cheerios, jalapeno poppers, strawberry jello. Now, tell me that isn't a story.

Food isn't just fuel or fodder. It's a language and world unto itself. It's present at every celebration, every hallmark; intertwined and steeped into our memories. But I'm not alone in my passion and quest for great food. We cooks are an endlessly curious sort. Separated by time, space, language and culture, but united by one voracious appetite. So I was thrilled that Penguin Books created a gorgeous line of culinary classics. Spanning 400 years, this eclectic collection (Isabella Beeton, Alice B. Toklas, Elizabeth David, among others) does some creative editing and puts some lost gems back in the spotlight.

But wait. Not content to give these iconic reads a quick typesetting wash and rinse, Penguin asked their wunderkind designer, Coralie Bickford-Smith, to re-imagine and redesign them. She did, inspired by historical china patterns. Middle Eastern fritware for Claudia Roden; Sèvres porcelain for Brillat-Savarin; Brislington blue-and-white earthenware for Samuel Pepys. The result? A visually dazzling and playful interpretation of each book, compete with an adorable penguin logo, knife and fork at the ready.

Clever, collectible and perfectly curated, these pocket-sized literary jewels belong in every aspiring cook's library. My one small caveat is that this series leans heavily into British and European culinary history. It’s less a complaint and more a nudge to Penguin US and Penguin Canada. I’d love to see another North American OR ethnic series, but for now I’ll happily settle in with these.

Published in Lifestyle
Tuesday, 07 June 2011 17:00

A New And Better Theory

Our theories exist to make our lives better. They exist to simplify a complex world and make it easier to act effectively. Yet, sometimes, our theories make our lives worse. Sometimes, our theories produce results exactly the opposite of those we intended.

Take peptic ulcer surgery. For many decades, the prevailing theory held that peptic ulcers were caused by excess stomach acid.  Hence, the treatment was a bland diet and antacids to reduce stomach acid. Unfortunately, the treatment wasn’t particularly successful and for many patients, the ulcers just got worse to the point that surgery was prescribed to cut out the most ulcerated portions of the patients’ stomachs. A highly invasive procedure, this permanently damaged the patient’s stomach. And guess what? It didn’t solve the problem.
The real problem was the theory, not the therapy. By and large, peptic ulcer surgery was performed professionally, by caring and attentive doctors. However, their chance of success was minimal. Peptic ulcers are actually caused by h.pylori, a bacterium that does not respond in any favorable way to bland diets, antacids or surgery.  

Fortunately for peptic ulcer sufferers, a pair of Australian scientists, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren saw something others didn’t. Marshall and Warren had to overcome an almost impregnable wall of expert resistance to prove that ulcers were actually bacterial and could be treated with antibiotics. After years of frustration, Marshall went so far as to consume h. pylori, which, as he predicted, caused him to develop peptic ulcers. He then cured the ulcers with the use of antibiotics.  In due course, the medical world stopped slicing up patients’ stomachs and instead gave them antibiotics—and Marshall and Warren won the Nobel Prize, a full 21 years after Marshall’s h. pylori ingestion. They had finally defeated a dangerous theory and replaced it with an effective one.

The theory behind our current executive compensation system also falls into the dangerous theory category. Since 1976, the business world has embraced the idea that stock-based compensation aligns the interests of shareholders and management—and like antacid, more of it is better than less of it.  Sadly, it is a deeply flawed theory.  Stock-based compensation generates an incentive for CEOs to focus their attention on manipulating investor expectations—and with them the stock price—rather than on building the real business.  As long as CEOs can produce swings in expectations, they can create lots of value from their stock-based compensation.  A downdraft in stock price followed by a restoration to its prior value does nothing for shareholders but can result in healthy stock-based compensation gains to CEO stock awards made at the bottom.

Of course, not all CEOs succumb to the temptations of stock manipulation over business building.  But sadly, the data are pretty clear—many do.  And the result has been that executives are doing just great, while shareholders are doing worse—earning lower returns and enduring higher volatility to get them. In addition, the focus on expectations manipulation saps the authenticity out of the professional lives of CEOs and with it a considerable amount of their moral fiber.  None of this is good for shareholders, as their executives spend their time trying to please an expectations market that can’t be satiated.

Business needs a better theory—and fortunately it can borrow a well-tested one. The NFL figured out long ago that to enable its real market—playing the game on the field—to prosper, it needed to enforce a strict separation between it and its associated expectations market—betting on NFL football games. Nobody in any way associated with the real game—players, coaches or managers—is allowed to play in the expectations game.  That keeps the real game authentic, which has helped the NFL become America’s most successful sports league, with some very happy, and very wealthy, owners.

Business can learn a big lesson from NFL football: Sequester the expectations game from the real game and the real game gets a chance to prosper; intermingle them and the expectations game has the capacity to irreparably harm the real game.

In “Fixing the Game,” I show how our current theory of stock-based compensation and shareholder-value maximization is damaging capitalism and how an alternative theory has the capacity to restore executive authenticity and protect the best of capitalism. Like peptic ulcer surgery, our current theory is doing real harm. It’s past time to adopt a new and better theory.


Roger Martin has served as Dean of the Rotman School of Management since September 1, 1998. He writes extensively on design and is a regular columnist for’s Innovation and Design Channel. He is also a regular contributor to Washington Post’s On Leadership blog and to Financial Times’ Judgment Call column. He has published several books, including: The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage (2009), The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking (2007), The Responsibility Virus: How Control Freaks, Shrinking Violets-and The Rest Of Us-Can Harness The Power Of True Partnership (2002), The Future of the MBA: Designing the Thinker of the Future, (with Mihnea Moldoveanu, 2008) and Dia-Minds (with Moldoveanu, 2010).

Published in From the Authors
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