Insights of the week – 41st week 2020

The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has just announced that his country is committing to a net-zero emissions status by 2060. I think it would be the understatement of the week to say that this is a big deal. So I wrote a short article on who the winners and losers are here.

Wassily Kandinsky: Yellow-Red-Blue (1925)
Wassily Kandinsky: Yellow-Red-Blue (1925)

Hi all, this week I talk about focus and deep work, put forward some of my thoughts on the future of retail, and I talk about whether or not “performative environmentalism” is important. I hope you enjoy, and that you find this valuable.

I’m looking for feedback at the moment on the format of these posts. Let me know if you think that a weekly longer article is valuable, or whether 3-4 shorter articles published throughout the week would be more useful.

As always, please remember to like the post on LinkedIn, and have a nice week.


Most Interesting Subjects of the Week

Deep Work and Reading Deeply

A book that I’ve come across repeatedly in self improvement blogs and forums is Deep Work by Cal Newport. The book garners a cult like following from some readers, and having read it, it is easy to see why. In the book, Cal Newport explains issues with today’s attention economy, why doing more isn’t better, and how to fix issues with our attention. The crux of the issue is that Deep Work, focusing on one task or problem to solve for an extended period of time, is the only way to build skills and do what other people haven’t been able to do. In a world of alerts and notifications, it is easy to fall into a rhythm that contains no deep work, and to make reference to a related idea, no flow.

This article explains the core ideas within deep work, and relates it to spending time disconnected from our phones and the internet, as well as talking about busyness as a form of laziness. That is, doing what pops up in front of you is easy, but spending time thinking about the right thing to do is hard. The concept of the ability to perform deep work as a being similar to a muscle is linked to the core ideas of Reader Come Home by Maryanne Wolf: when we spend time flitting between devices and skim reading, we get really good at surface level thinking, but at the cost of deeper thinking and deeper reading. This change is visible in the brain, and has worrying implications for the future of cognition and thinking.

How can you apply this knowledge? You can try to disconnect. I know that it is scary to disconnect, worried about missing something, but the benefits outweigh the costs (for most people). Alternatively, you could try to use signals to separate light and deep thinking by using one device for browsing and scrolling, and another only for working and thinking. Finally, find out more by reading Deep Work or Reader Come Home.

The Future of Retail

Following reading a couple of HBR articles on the future of retail while preparing for an interview with Javelin Group (retail consulting), I thought about a couple of ways in which retail could change beyond what we are currently imagining. One of the HBR articles talks about what robots are currently doing in retail, and what they will do in the future: tasks like cleaning, carrying, helping customers find products in store, inventory scanning, and restocking. The other HBR article talks about how AR is redefining retail, helping people to try on clothes, jewelry, and makeup from the comfort of their home, and even playing with the idea of buying digital goods from luxury retailers.

What neither of the article mention, however, is the spread of surveillance capitalism from online to in-store. Social media uses data from what you like and what your gender is to how long you look at individual posts to judge what adverts to sell you. Retailers could very feasibly do the same thing. They could use camera tracking to record what you look at in the store but don’t buy, and use that information to inform marketing attempts and targeted discounts. The retailers could know what you were tempted to buy, but managed to put back, what your kids want but you refused to buy, and what you might want to buy next week.

While all of this information might seem useful, and even beneficial, it can also be harmful – selling people products they can’t afford or are unhealthy for them. Surveillance capitalism needs to be watched, so keep an eye on what data you are giving away and to who.

Performative Environmentalism

Performative environmentalism consists of a variety of activities that individuals do to help the environment, such as driving and flying less, taking shorter showers, buying local, and cutting meat consumption. Unfortunately, these activities are destined to be performative because of the miniscule effect that they have on the environment. The fact is, to have any meaningful effect, changes need to be made at corporate and governmental levels.

But that doesn’t mean that performative environmentalism is pointless. As this article in the Atlantic points out, macro changes are built on micro changes – changes in government policy are more palatable when individual behaviour is already changing. Additionally, while a change in individual behaviour might not have an effect on carbon emissions, individual behaviors have an effect on other people’s behaviours. For me, this is one of the reasons that I am vegan; I know that by myself I’m not creating huge change, but I also know that if I can show my friends how easy and tasty it can be to be vegan, then maybe they’ll start to choose veggie/vegan options and eat less meat. It’s the same with flight shaming – while flying less yourself won’t have a huge effect, shaming other people for flying more will have a large overall effect.

So, just because your actions are, in the scale of things, meaningless, doesn’t mean that we should stop making an effort. In fact, because of the influence that your actions have on the actions of others, make sure you talk about what you are doing for the environment, and it might just be the straw that makes someone buy a metal straw.

Long Reads

A Sherlock Holmes expert dies in a Holmesian style mystery. Can Trump pay his enormous debt? And grapefruit is even weirder than you might have thought because of its drug interactions.

If you’ve enjoyed this week’s publication, make sure to like it on LinkedIn or Facebook, let me know what you think about this week’s topics, and let me know what you find interesting at, or on LinkedIn.

Thanks for reading,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s