Alan Middleton, PhD.

“At this time when humanity faces so many challenges: climate; use and abuse of technology in all areas from communication to gene manipulation; re-emergence  of unthinking tribalism and political discord, citizens, thinkers and researchers in all disciplines need a wake up call to question how they see the world. Tom Beakbane’s work sets us in the right direction. An important contribution to society’s needed bottom up thinking and action.”

Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Marketing, Schulich School of Business, and Executive Director Schulich Executive Education Centre (SEEC) – 2001-2020

When I sent a draft manuscript of How to Understand Everything to Alan Middleton I was hoping he would glance through it and provide a short, polite blurb for the back cover. He is a sought after consultant, speaker and author and so I never imagined he would make time to read the book with its many complex and challenging ideas.

For me Alan is an almost mythical figure. I first heard his name after arriving in Canada in 1980 as a junior member of the marketing department at Pepsi-Cola. Whenever we ran into a difficult decision about J. Walter Thompson’s advertising recommendations my bosses would say, “We need to consult Alan” and would stop the meeting. By that time Alan was building another agency called Enterprise. After work I would hear stories about Alan’s obsession with work and how after dining with clients he had returned to his office after midnight to find the large plate glass door locked. Stop him it did not. The door shattered.

Few, if any, have done more to educate business people in Canada about marketing and branding. He was a key part of the team that built the Schulich School of Business at York University into one of the foremost business schools in the world as well as educating many executives at the Schulich Executive Education Centre (SEEC). His contributions have been recognized with awards including: in 2015 he was awarded the International Association of Business Communicators Toronto Communicator of the Year award; in 2012 he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Award for services to literacy; in 2012 he was awarded the Association of Canadian Advertisers ACA Gold Medal; and in 2005 he was inducted into the Canadian Marketing Hall of Legends in the Mentor category.

I was afraid parts of my book that are damning of aspects of the educational system would irritate him, but no, his prime concern is building resilience in new generations of executives. During this COVID crisis he sees worryingly high levels of employee turnover of young recruits who join the branches and call centres in Canada’s big banks. Over 40% don’t make it past 6 months. Our views are aligned. He is writing a book on mentorship and asked if he could quote my book.

He sent me these comments, making it evident that he had read every word of the book:

• A weighty tome! Well done, very impressive…. and very important.
• I had not heard of the concept of Consilience before but like the concept and how you have tackled it.
• Historical perspective going back over human history is that knowledge seems to advance from general thinking/study eras to specialization eras then back to general then specific. In the West you are right, the recent period has been specific and has suffered from lack of general thinking across the silos of specialization. Time for consilience.
• Also the bottom up concept I find has particular merit in contemporary organizational thinking and design as well as providing cues and clues to discovery. Instincts and Investigation must work together.
• There is, not surprisingly a Western cultural bias: the perspectives on behaviour, culture and philosophy do not always work with the philosophy and perspective of Chinese, Indian, and many indigenous groups and their history – not a problem, might just be worth noting somewhere.
• I found the early chapters a little too oriented to your marketing/sales career – it may send the reader in a too limited direction. As the writing gets into its major themes it is great: the topic is too important to be limited to the small world of marketing.

Alan did not write the above with a view that it would become public, however they are insightful words that I took into account while polishing the manuscript.

Thank you Alan!