Go Outside, and Learn Yourself some Art – 45th week of 2020

No matter who you work for, your company probably exists online. This provides a huge number of benefits – including reaching many more customers than you could before – but also challenges. For a brand to matter in the age of online, it must have an online presence that people pay attention to. As we know, what people pay attention to online changes rapidly – most “trending topics” on twitter last less than 15 minutes.

This has had an effect on the value of brands in the last couple of decades. Before 2010, consumer brands rarely entered and left Interbrand’s top 10 Global Brands, but in the time since 2010 and now, over half the brands in the top 10 have changed. So what are the secrets to building a digital brand that lasts?

This HBR article has a couple of solutions. Covering Fortnight, Magic the Gathering, Marvel, Apple, LEGO and Nest, the article explains how the MACE framework can help brands to achieve and maintain relevance. MACE stands for Mastery, Accessibility, Cadence, and Ensnarement. To understand more about how to use these elements, check out the original article on HBR.

Morning everyone. As the UK slides into lockdown, the US has been liberated from Trump – Biden has won the election and will become President-Elect Biden in the next two weeks.

This week I talk about why it is so important to go outside, especially when the weather is bad and we aren’t seeing friends as often. The dual Covid/mental health crisis is a real threat, and knowing how to deal with these issues proactively is a necessity. I also talk about the emergence of “zoom towns” and about STEM education, and what it lacks.

I hope you enjoy this week’s insights. If you do, consider signing up to my mailing list to get updates when I publish, rather than relying on the LinkedIn algorithm to bring you here.

Have a nice week!

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Insights of the Week

Go Outside

Go outside. Seriously. Every day. If you haven’t been outside yet today, take your next coffee/tea break standing outside your front door. This week I discovered the nordic concept of Friluftsliv from various articles in the Seattle Times and National Geographic. Friluftsliv is the concept of spending time in the open-aired outside, no matter the weather. As many nordic people say, there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.

As we enter a darker period of the year, and many of us aren’t able to see friends or family because of isolation and lockdowns, spending time outdoors is increasingly important. Regular time outdoors, whether walking, running, or cross-country skiing, has been linked to improved mental health in depression and anxiety. Admittedly, there are some issues with the ideas of spend time outside even if it is cold and dark – quality warm clothing isn’t cheap, and it isn’t always safe for people to be outside when it’s dark. But there is another, different, reason to go outside, other than your mental health, and it has an interesting cognitive origin.

Have you ever realised how long the day feels when you are travelling? Or how short it feels when you are in one place the whole day? There is a cognitive reason for that. The part of the brain that “experiences” time is the same location that tracks our position in space and helps us to navigate from A to B – our hippocampus. The fact is that we are actually really bad at perceiving time without help. Sometimes it is hard to know whether 10 minutes or an hour has gone by. So our hippocampus helps out, tracking information about how our surroundings change and using that to guess how time passes.

The implication of this is that if our surroundings change a lot, say you are travelling for a day, the day feels very long. The inverse, if you stay in one place the whole day, the day feels super short. As many of us don’t have other places to be other than in our apartments/rooms at the moment, it is more important than ever that we go outside and go places, so that it doesn’t feel like the day just disappears.

At the moment I’ve been going for a walk every morning for 20-40 minutes. As tempting as it is to make “effective” use of the time by listening to a podcast or something, I enjoy the walk more when I’m just focussing on walking, and I find that I notice so much more of my environment if I don’t have my headphones in. If you have been feeling down, or feeling like lockdown is going to be wasted time, go for a walk. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t getting something “productive” done, a walk exists for its own sake. And remember, you don’t need a reason to go for a walk. You can go for a walk because you wanted to go for a walk.

Zoom Towns

As “work from home” becomes “work from anywhere”, people are changing how they live. Already, rent in zone 1 properties in London (Central London) have fallen over 10%, and the rent for a studio apartment in San Francisco has fallen over 30%. After all, two of the big reasons people move to cities – the culture/nightlife and being close to work – are no longer important. Covid means that the nightlife isn’t the same, and if you aren’t going into the office then being physically proximate to it is irrelevant.

So where are people moving? In the US, many people are moving to towns near tourist attractions or national parks, creating “Zoom Towns“. A boom town is “a town that has grown very rapidly as a result of sudden prosperity” according to dictionary.com. By comparison, a Zoom Town is somewhere that people are moving to where they can make use of the nearby activities and resources, and can afford somewhere nice to live.

For a lot of people, that second part is very important – on the same wage, you can afford a much higher quality of life outside a city than in the city. For the same amount that I am paying in rent for one half of a two bed apartment in South London, I could afford a four bed house in North Wales.

You might initially think that people moving to the countryside is a good thing for these smaller, more rural towns. After all, the translocated employees are bringing money into the towns, and probably buying/renting better houses than the average for that town, given their city wages. But according to a study from August, these changes are creating problems such as a lack of affordable housing, congestion, and increasing cost of living – problems that are normally associated with urban areas rather than small towns.

I don’t think these problems will just disappear after we find a vaccine. The shift to work from anywhere is here to stay, and the ways in which small towns set themselves up for success in this new market will dictate whether or not they can reap the benefits of an increased, wealthier population, or whether they struggle and the influx just leads to income inequality in the town.

I was going to write a final paragraph on what these Zoom Towns could do to prepare themselves for this new market, but I’d rather hear what you have to say. Treat it as case practice if you are applying to/working in consulting, or as a creative exercise if you aren’t. I’m excited to see what ideas you have in the comments of the LinkedIn post.

STE(A)M Education

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, created in 2001 by the US National Science Foundation. It wasn’t until 2005, however, that STEM started to become as important as it is now, following the publication of reports such as Rising Above the Gathering Storm in 2005 which made two points. First, it emphasised the links between prosperity in a nation, the ability to innovate to address social problems, and the presence knowledge intensive science/technology dependent jobs. Second, it pointed out that US students were falling behind on STEM subjects, with dire consequences predicted for the nation in the long run.

And so began the investment in STEM education, readying the young populace for STEM employment. It seems like a flawless system – put more money into STEM education and the populace will be more educated. But in many places the increase in investment in STEM has come at a cost to HASS – Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. As well as in funding, the social perception has become that HASS subjects are easier and less useful than STEM subjects. Other than this problematic perception, this myopic view of education is could lead to issues in our workplaces in the future.

To develop a complete mind: Study the science of artStudy the art of science. Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.

Leonardo da Vinci

Given that the original reason for focussing on STEM was to use innovation to solve social problems, it is a bit weird that no part of STEM addresses innovation or creativity. Creativity is seen as the other, part of HASS, while STEM is about rules and methods. But if we look at Nobel Laureates in the Sciences from its start in 1901 to the present, we find that these people are significantly more likely to engage in the arts as adults than their peers (Members of the Royal Society). In fact, many of the Laureates and their biographers comment on how the arts helped with their scientific pursuits. If this is correct, why has art been missing from STEM for so long?

Enter STEAM – STEM but with Arts. As well as the standard benefits of STEM, STEAM promises to equip children with the tools to apply STEM knowledge in creative ways. I think that this is core to preparing the workforce of the future. Increasingly, purely knowledge based jobs, without any judgement, creativity or innovativity, can be offloaded to simple algorithms. The jobs of tomorrow don’t exist today, and we don’t really know what they’ll look like. What we do know, is that knowing things isn’t enough – to be secure in your job you must remain innovative, so why not build a creative aspect into STEM which hopes to prepare children for work?

Beyond preparing children for the workplace of the future, I think emphasising the importance of art by placing it in the acronym alongside the rest of STEM will encourage children to build a relationship with the arts that they will carry into their future. Participation in the arts in later life has been “linked to lower levels of mental distress and higher levels of life satisfaction.” So teaching children a program that includes and emphasises the arts might actually prepare them for a more fulfilling life, as well as one that is better prepared for an innovative career.

Long reads

This is the story of a hiker who went by the name Mostly Harmless, and how he mysteriously died. This is why Google’s new logos suck. And this is a neat article for thinking about the long term, and how long it actually is.

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