Sunday, 13 January 2019

Unchain your brain?

Photo from Francis Frith

I would imagine a New Year's resolution to work less, or at least work more productively when you're sitting at your desk, and unchain yourself from the desk(top) now and again, is a popular one this year.

There's even a movement, with the clever title Wednesday Offternoon , led by psychologists and behaviour change experts, to encourage companies to give their staff an afternoon off mid-week. It's not the full four-day week, but a step in the direction of increasing productivity and happiness in the workplace, and decreasing stress.

An admirable idea, but the cynical part of me suggests that the "free" afternoon will be used catching up on all the dreary bureaucratic must-dos that overwhelm the 21st century workplace, with its obsession with form-filling, controls, assessments and so on.

But looking around at semi-rural Germany, where I live, in some ways the glorious "Wednesday early-closing" days that I remember from my early childhood have never really gone away. There are shops in our town who still have early closing on Wednesdays. Many have a lunch break - which can be up to two hours - and it's not so very long ago that almost every retail establishment closed its doors at 13:00 sharp on Saturdays. Schools still finish at lunchtime, and the majority of workers seem to knock off on Fridays at mid-day, judging by the state of the roads at this time. 

Is this a quaint leftover from the past, a stubbornly analogue way of working that doesn't quite fit in the 24/7 always-on digital world?

Or have the Germans maybe known all along that efficiency only comes from giving it a rest now and again?  

Monday, 7 January 2019

The constancy of change

Just before Christmas, I commented on a post by Paul Feldwick, of The Anatomy of Humbug fame.  He'd compared two quotes about young people and advertising, over four decades apart:

Audiences these days, especially younger millennials, are super adept at seeing through cheap efforts to sell to them. If brands want to engage they need to be authentic and subtle.
Andrew Mole writing in Campaign Sept 2016
The under-30 generation loathes sham and hypocrisy... ‘tell it like it is’ is the touchstone.... more wit, honesty, verve, self-deprecation and irreverence.
Lee Adler writing in Business Horizons, February 1970

Can you spot the difference?

As I was in the midst of the annual deluge of innovation and trend reports, almost all of which start with some commentary about the "pace of change," I asked Paul whether he knew of any quotes from way back then about the extraordinary pace of change. He pointed me in the direction of this:

Whang! Bang! Clangety-clang! Talk about the tempo of today - John Smith knows it well. Day after day it whirs continuously in his brain, his blood, his very soul.

You can read the rest of A.B. Carson's 1928 description of an ad-man here.

There's a certain amount of arrogance in thinking that we live in times of greater change than ever before. But even the ancient Greeks knew that the only constant in life is change. I should think John Smith and his colleagues back in 1928 believed that the the electric, jazz world of the 1920s was "peak change" or whatever expression they used. 

As I read yet again about autonomous this or that, gameifying whatever, cryptocurrencies, smart cities, extended reality, voice technology, facial recognition, artificial intelligence and all the rest, the real world outside continues to confound the shiny new world of the future where everything works on demand. 

Maybe it's a fall of snow that makes everything grind to a halt. Maybe it's artificial stupidity instead of artificial intelligence. Things don't work, things get broken, unpredictable stuff happens.

Annoying, yes, but charming too, in the way that perfection lacks soul.

OK, time to scurry off to catch that train.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Safety and Style

I've said before that the trick to a successful brand often lies in a paradox - either resolving it or celebrating it.

For my first post this year, here's another first: "A beanie that's as safe as a helmet."

Antiordinary is a helmet for skiers and snowboarders which is soft and flexible (and looks to all extents and purposes like a woolly hat) but which hardens on impact. This is achieved via use of non-Newtonian materials (I had to check that one, but it's liquids that don't obey the usual viscosity rules, such as quicksand, ketchup or do-it-yourself cornflour slime), which is a good association for the brand name.

The helmet is the brainchild of 3 jolly-looking Aussie guys, who use words like "rad" and "shredding" on the website, but assure us that the helmet, once launched (via Crowdfunder) will get all the usual required safety certification.

All of this leads neatly into the paradox this solves: safety and style in one, conforming in a non-conformist way - what could be more perfect for the young target market?

And why stop at ski-ing? I am sure there are helmet opportunities to be had far and wide.