xrematon

September 18, 2017

A duo of posts on physiological introspection – Part II

In the second part of these two posts on health/science books I have recently read, I will focus on Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee.  I was particularly interested in getting to grips with this book as there is lots of chatter about genes. I have become aware of the fact that it is all too easy to merrily throw on some bullet points about genome testing, personalised health plans and diets etc, but what does this actually mean?

In reading Gene, I was struck by the fact that in order to understand how our thinking about genes has developed over time, we need to go back and look at how science explains differences between and among ourselves and also other living organisms. Perhaps, therefore not surprisingly, we spend some time with Darwin, as well as looking back at Greek philosophers/scientists, whose perspectives were always, surprisingly insightful/provocative, despite they effectively ‘knew’ less than we do now.

There was a section on the interest in eugenics in the US in the 1920s. Reading this made me realise how, when we look back in time, we often make simplistic assumptions about what ideas to associate with particular eras. Eugenics – that was obviously the handiwork of those nasty Nazis – well, not just them it seems. A number of medical professionals and politicians in the US were determined to stop ‘bad heredity’ and to set up ‘eugenic sterilizations of the feeble-minded’. In 1927, the state of Indiana passed a law to sterilize ‘confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists’ and other states followed with even stricter laws to sterilize men and women judged to be genetically inferior. This preoccupation with the right heredity was reflected in popular culture at the time, for example, by the late 1920’s, premarital genetic-fitness tests were being widely advertised to the American public. However, it is important to remember DNA testing, as we know it, had not yet been uncovered. Instead, they consisted of assessments of family histories to pick up on incidences of mental retardation, epilepsy, deafness, dwarfism, blindness etc.

It was not until the 1950’s that the chemical structure of the gene was uncovered. I find it fascinating that so much had already happened, eg laws instituted, as described above, around a part of ourselves – the genome – which we had not really ‘seen’ as such and did not know really how it worked. As a child of the modern era, I have the naïve and simplistic assumption that we know everything before we decide to ‘use’ it!

Reading Gene made me realise that there in fact is much more uncertainty around the impact genes have than perhaps comes across in popular media and culture. One aspect to this is that there still seems to be much life in the nature versus nurture debate. This is down to the fairly new area within gene studies of epigenetics. As explained here, “Epigenetics is essentially additional information layered on top of the sequence of letters (strings of molecules called A, C, G, and T) that makes up DNA. If you consider a DNA sequence as the text of an instruction manual that explains how to make a human body, epigenetics is as if someone’s taken a pack of highlighters and used different colours to mark up different parts of the text in different ways. For example, someone might use a pink highlighter to mark parts of the text that need to be read the most carefully, and a blue highlighter to mark parts that aren’t as important….But the really interesting thing about epigenetics is that the marks aren’t fixed in the same way the DNA sequence is: some of them can change throughout your lifetime, and in response to outside influences. Some can even be inherited, just like some highlighting still shows up when text is photocopied.” So it seems looking at what it’s in your genome will only tell you so much; the messiness of real life has an important impact.

Another angle is the fact that only about 1 percent of our genome encodes proteins. The rest is DNA dark matter. It is still incompletely understood, but some of it involves regulation of the genome itself. As a reviewer observed, “Ironically, the more we study the genome, the more “the gene” recedes. … Some scientists are even moving away from the gene as a physical thing. They think of it as a “higher-order concept” or a “framework” that shifts with the needs of the cell. The old genome was a linear set of instructions, interspersed with junk; the new genome is a dynamic, three-dimensional body. The gene is not a Platonic ideal. It is a human idea, ever changing and always rooted in time and place.”

It makes me wonder what Gene – An Intimate History would include if it was written a hundred years from now?

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May 17, 2017

Homo Deus

Filed under: Business,Futures,Innovation,Technology,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 9:32 pm
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In an earlier post, I gave some thoughts on Yuval Noah Harari’s first book Sapiens. Though I don’t normally like to read books by the same author, preferring to endlessly taste the new and different, I had the opportunity to get to grips with his follow-up tome, Homo Deus, as I received it as a gift.

As with Sapiens, it is an intoxicating read, with grand sweeping ideas set to make you think differently and challenge your assumptions about how you think things are progressing. In Homo Deus, the Big Idea is that now Man has learnt how to conquer famine and horrible diseases that used to wipe out whole populations, he can think about higher objectives. We can focus on achieving immortality and eternal happiness, making use of the latest technological innovations to reach this goal. Our brains and bodies will be re-engineered by algorithms with those controlling these algorithms becoming the elite and the rest rendered useless from a societal perspective.

Harari puts forward all too convincing evidence and examples of how the steps leading to this are already taking place. Whilst I agree with his prognosis of increasing and insidious inequality spreading beyond basic wealth status to social mental and physical wellbeing, I am not so convinced that the conversion to a technologically determined utopia (for some) will be that straightforward.

These ideas make sense when taking a macro, more ‘godlike’ top down perspective, but less so when going bottom up and thinking about how individuals think and act. For a start, people have become more wary about how their personal data is used. 84% of US consumers are worried about the security of their personally identifiable information.

And there are signs that people simply can’t bothered to keep collecting personal data if it is left up to them. Research among those who have invested in wearables, still very much at the early adopter stage, reveals that barely a third of them continue to gather information about personal performance. This is surprising low for what would otherwise be assumed to be the keenest part of the market.

In addition, I am not sure that people will necessarily be that keen on options which have been designed as perfect for them. Instead, realistically, they are more likely to go to opt for what is most satisfying. Food is the most obvious example here. Though vitamin pills have been around for a long time, we still bother to prepare food. Soylent is still has pretty niche appeal, despite its recent efforts to go mainstream. And I haven’t even touched upon resistance to genetically modified and other forms of manipulated food.

My final quick challenge is about something completely different and only an aside, albeit an interesting one. In chapter one, Harari uses lawns as a way to illustrate how many of our preferences and aspirations connect back to earlier dynamics in society, though we are often now oblivious. Lawns were the preserve of the rich and thus associated with political power.

But I would argue that the ‘smart set’ are now increasingly opting for astro turf.  In fact, this is actually another demonstration of how the elite are using better technology to improve their lives. But it could be done better: surely the super elite would have grass personalised to match their wellbeing needs, being in the right shade and right texture to deliver optimal stress release. Perhaps I should try that on Kickstarter…..

April 18, 2017

When something goes wrong at work, what happens?

The answer to this question is explored in Matthew Syed’s book, Black Box Thinking, which proposes that we could benefit from embracing our mistakes and learning from them in order to improve our performance. As with many of these books, the ideas they put forward are, on the surface, very compelling. Who could argue with the need for pompous senior health care professionals to accept they make errors, that hierarchy can be challenged, and the system reformed to ensure that people do not die from what are avoidable mistakes? The airline industry has shown that it is possible.

This is all well and good, but there is more to say about the process behind which we make decisions. Just pick up something by Malcolm Gladwell for instance. In Blink, as well as Outliers, we are introduced to people who are altogether brilliant at knowing what to do: they can make amazing snap decisions better than others who might spend hours on analysis and evaluation; and it’s often because they have in fact spent thousands of hours becoming expert in the area. That to me sounds a bit like what you want from a senior surgeon. So, it seems that it’s acceptable to work something out super quickly and trust your instincts, except for when it goes wrong. The key learning that comes out sounds surprisingly moral: avoid complacency and hubris.

But let’s go back to question in the title to this post: what happens if things go wrong at work. In my area of consumer trends and insight, I am not sure! This is both in terms of knowing whether things do go wrong or not, and if they do, what the implications are. Unlike in surgery or aviation, when a mistake can lead to the loss of human life, in marketing, the consequences are less clear cut.

Though it might be possible to argue that product sales or the loss of a client account are indicative, the more significant issue is that there is a lack of a clearly agreed metric or consensus over how such evaluations are to take place, let alone an obvious path or process for acknowledging these situations and actively learning from them. To be fair, I have known some agencies that carry out review sessions after big pitches or projects in order dissect what worked well and what didn’t. However, this is rarely consistently done, even within the same place, more often than not it is at the whim of how agency culture and priorities ebb and flow over time.

But the space where there is some energy and debate as to what is the right thing to do in marketing is not quite around learning from mistakes, but another form of improvement/trying to make things better: innovation. In a piece on Branding Strategy Insider, Geoffrey Colon argues that the challenge in marketing lies not so much in accepting that mistakes represent learning opportunities, but in being ready to have an open mind as to whether ideas might come from.

Teams of “experts and insiders” can be marketing’s worst enemy. Because they believe there is only one approach to finding a solution, they tend not to accept outlying ideas. When marketing teams represent a cross section of disciplines, the problems are quickly solved and the solutions are often applicable to other areas of business as well. One reason industries are being overthrown is that they don’t allow outsiders into their inner circle to provide new ways of thinking.

It seems the challenge for marketers lies not so much in removing the boundaries of hierarchy, but those of subject matter and discipline. But, at the end of the day, it is still about humility and being ready to accept that you don’t have all the answers – even if we can’t be too sure when it’s not right!

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January 14, 2017

Putting big money in the little things that make a difference

Filed under: Business,Consumer Trends,Innovation,Marketing,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 4:28 pm
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I have had the opportunity to do a number of projects in areas different to my usual diet of FMCG-relevant global consumer perspectives. Health, and in particular cancer, have been the object of my intense focus over the recent months.

Whilst I have realised that there is a vast amount to learn in these fields, it is also possible to find some familiar principles. One of these is acknowledging the importance of the customer perspective, whether a ‘bog standard’ consumer or a patient. The reason this is so striking in medicine and the more clinical side of healthcare is that traditionally the clinical perspective is the one that dominates and drives how things are done. Whilst this ensures that the patient has the greatest chance of getting better in one sense, it does not necessarily mean that the patient experience is the best. For example, recent surveys found that patients treated by London hospitals reported poorer experiences compared with those treated by hospitals in other English regions, despite the fact that London houses many of the top centres for cancer with world leading experts and cutting edge equipment.

However, there are signs that there is growing recognition of the need to factor in more of the non-clinical angles to being a patient.

  • There is important policy support. The latest cancer strategy included a commitment to ensuring that ‘every person with cancer has access to the elements of a Recovery Package by 2020’. The Recovery Package is part of an overall support and self-management package for people affected by cancer and includes a Holistic Needs Assessment which encourages healthcare professionals to understand how patients are feeling not just physically, but also emotionally and what’s behind this.
  • It is possible find examples of small tweaks to process, ‘little things that make a difference’, which are being instituted and at very little or no additional cost. The North Shore–LIJ Cancer Institute, one of the largest providers of cancer care in the New York metropolitan area, gives radiation patients and family members tours of the treatment rooms in advance to help address fears about going through the daunting and unknown experience of radiotherapy.
  • There also examples of where things were done differently, even though this did have major cost implications. The new cancer centre at Guys Hospital was built using input from a panel of cancer patients with the result that it houses the first radiotherapy machines in Europe above ground, despite the fact this was significantly more expensive. This means that patients will not receive their radiotherapy treatment in a windowless bunker below ground level, as usually happens, but be in more positive environment for what is already an unpleasant experience. Likewise, in the US, health care provider Bellin designed a freestanding facility for cancer, locating it off a major highway several miles from the hospital. This centre houses all oncology and administrative staff members and provides comprehensive and coordinated care. The facility not only makes it easier to deliver efficient service, but also offers a more calming experience for patients with easy parking; specific design codes of soft colours, natural materials and lots of natural light with a garden visible from the infusion room. Without patient input, Bellin would have followed a consultant’s recommendation to simply add a more ‘impersonal’ cancer wing to its hospital.

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Let us hope that, despite the uncertain economic climate, these important principles continue to be practised and do not return to be empty statements of intent.

December 15, 2016

The new Design Museum – photo essay

Filed under: Innovation,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 7:45 pm
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Something visual for a change….

This week I had the opportunity to pay a visit to the Design Museum, moved from its old site in London Bridge to a newly refitted building off High Street Kensington.

The building is nestled alongside Holland Park and set a bit of a way back from the bustle of the street. The museum is also close to the block of luxury flats which were developed simultaneously and formed part of the same property deal (more detail on this, and about the architects, can be found here.)

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The most striking feature about the building is the huge (some might say over-sized) atrium into which one walks on entering.

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The atrium certainly creates a lovely airiness, but it also means that everything else is either squatting in underground bunker floors or squeezed off at the edges. As an example of the latter, let’s take the cafe, often an important part of the museum experience – a place to sit, rest weary legs and chat after gazing at an endless vista of intriguing displays. In the Design Museum, the cafe is not more than a glorified small alcove off to one side of this atrium. It has no access to daylight (there are no windows) and, even though I visited at a non-peak time (early-ish morning midweek), it was already very full.

However, I did enjoy spying other elements of interest in the building, such as the spiralling beams coming off the triangular skylights…

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…as well as the concrete pillar stretching up one side.

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As my visit had no ambitions beyond getting an impression of the museum, I did not explore the exhibits in any detail. but here are some that caught my attention.

Firstly, one almost de rigeur for a design museum – a vase made by 3D printing – surprisingly light.

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Secondly, the more ‘off the wall’ item – a jacket woven from human hair – which I found personally so repulsive that I couldn’t to be near it any longer than was required to take this picture.

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Thirdly, a rather random, whimsical offering – a close-up from a kitchen mock-up constructed entirely out of wood.

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My final image are the water jets you come across as you walk back to join Kensington High Street. I am sure they will be a great hit with children on hot summer days, though I don’t think you will find me coming back to appreciate them. I would rather spent the time admiring the rural aesthetics of my garden.

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July 1, 2016

Disrupt Yourself

Filed under: Business,Coaching,Innovation,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 9:48 pm
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Disrupt yourself

I have some confessions to make: in my first year of work, I often went to the library as an important way to get information and new ideas; and on one occasion I had to catch a late afternoon flight from Paris to take a VHS tape of an ad mock-up to the co-ordinating agency in London as the last Fedex delivery had been missed. There was no other way to get the creative work over. This was an analogue world and created tasks that now seem more than faintly ridiculous.

So it was with interest that I picked up my latest ‘worthy tome’ (part of my ongoing effort to broaden my reading matter beyond ‘story books’) had the catchy title of “Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work – Disrupt Yourself” by Whitney Johnson.

Sadly, the book disappointed. Though my opening anecdotes highlights I am only too deeply aware of the changing context in which we lead our working lives, none of this came through. It was a rather one-dimensional self-help book giving lots on the ‘how’ to bring changing into one’s professional life, but with little sense of the burning platform of ‘why’. To me, it would have been more compelling to also highlight the risk of redundancy of opting for stasis and certainty.

The introduction presents an interesting challenge – that of applying what is traditionally regarded as a business concept – the S curve – to individual experience. I have already read a book which used this ‘conceit’ of using business practices for personal problems to good effect (futures techniques to navigate personal life choices).  In ‘Disrupt Yourself’, there was less of a single-minded approach and more of a ‘pick and mix’ one to referencing examples/analogies from the business world as well as individual experiences. This links to another shortcoming – it suggests that personal disruption is more relevant for the more entrepreneurial, ie those who naturally conflate their professional development with the development of a business. What of those who those who aim to operate within the system? Or are they just redundant anyway?!

In a similar vein, I also would have liked examples of people who tried to change and it didn’t work; is disruption really for everyone? And what about negotiating forced disruption that is thrust upon you rather than proactively seeking it? Clearly, the latter sounds ‘better’ (more aspirational/what we know we should be doing), but there may be valuing in taking a softer approach to help others cope with unsought change.

Finally, I would like to highlight the connection between ‘Disrupt Yourself and another book I recently read about growth mind sets. Both present the importance and value to be gained from challenging oneself to continue to learn and make progress, but there are interesting differences of approach. Whilst the Dweck book is a eulogy to redefining failure as an important to step to improvement, Johnson gives more space to acknowledging how rubbish failure can actually feel in reality and that it can be worthwhile accepting this. In the chapter entitled ‘Give Failure Its Due’, she writes, “When I fail, I am mortified, but I am also heartbroken. I have envisioned a future in which I would achieve a goal, and perhaps be hailed as the conquering hero. And then I didn’t and I wasn’t. I have learnt it is important to grieve….We often think of loss of a marriage or a loved one, but there is also the loss we feel when a professional dream – even a small one – is dashed.” Thoughtful and though-provoking.

As a floating freelancer who has never bothered to set up their own company, I constantly need to reinvent myself as I chase after the latest opportunity/hot prospect, whether it is a project about shopper trends, international development or cancer care. Disrupt myself – indeed I must.

May 25, 2016

The Big Shop

Time for me to be ‘untrendy’. When we hear about how grocery shopping habits are changing, it’s all about ‘a little and often’ and how we are falling out of love with the big weekly shop.

Well, I would like to tell you about a recent visit I made to a new supermarket that is not all about convenience trips, but somewhere very big (80, 000 sq foot). It’s the Sainsbury’s store at Westwood Cross in Thanet, which opened in November 2014. As I have explored in other posts, Thanet is more worthy of exploration and evaluation than you might at first think on encountering a part of the country which is flat till it reaches the muddy grey sea and populated by people who are older and/or less affluent than their other Kentish peers.

Sainsbury land

I have been meaning to check out this Sainsbury’s for some time now as its arrival was heralded with much fanfare (it would create jobs, require changing the local road system, be the epitome of the latest and best in sustainable design etc). I found this nice leaflet online which helps to give a sense of how the store was a big deal. Note in particular the community initiatives – which I assume were meant to help make the new supermarket be part of the local scene, rather than to create a scene. But I must confess I am little underwhelmed by the employment of just one local construction management trainee and the donation of soil to a local campsite to help construct a new golf course!

Going inside the store itself was sadly also rather underwhelming. Walking through the threshold with a sense of great anticipation, past the plug-ins for electric vehicles (setting false expectations for something quite different), it was still a Sainsbury’s.

Sainsbury car park

This meant nice enough clothes and household goods, and nice food, but failing to give the impression of an emporium teeming with a rich abundance of exciting items. The aisles were very wide – not doubt good for avoiding trolley crashes – but it compounded the sense of emptiness you get from looking at shelves which could be fuller.

Sainsbury inside

However, it was not a fruitless journey as I did manage to find an item I had never come across before and wasn’t even looking for: giant couscous. Have you ever tried it? NB not worth the trip to Westcross!

April 22, 2016

Quantified me

Google searches 2015

The above image gives you an insight in the minds of a nation – what are the people of the UK uncertain about and interested in? (I have picked the graphs that intrigued me – there were obviously lots on sport and celebrities!)

I can also get an insight into myself, all without having to join the club of those armed with some kind of wearable device. There are lots of organisations with whom I interact doing all the data collection already. Let’s see what I can uncover…

Firstly, back to Google. It is possible to obtain information about your account, including how you use the panoply of different Google applications. As I have the function which tracks location switched off and don’t really use YouTube, the main aspect of my use I can analyse is standard web searching. As the below screen grab shows, I have notched up an impressive number of searches over the past 10 years (though actually, as I have no point of comparison, I can’t tell if this above or below the ‘average’).

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I am not so impressed with the fact that Wikipedia comes up highest in the list of my top search clicks. Perhaps I can at least be proud of the fact that it isn’t facebook and that the other sites listed are more respectable!

Next – money. I recently received an annual statement from my credit card provider, which included some charts breaking down my expenditure each month and by category.

Credit card statement

Well, this is superficially interesting, but rather frustrating once I start looking into the data further. What was going on that meant I spent so much in June? A large amount of spending in November makes sense as there are birthdays and Christmas presents to buy. And the breakdown by category is also rather limited. As I shop online for groceries, that explains why a large slice is for supermarkets, but what about the big area of ‘other spend’? Hmm, not sure I shall bother to look at this in the future again.

Third and finally, Amazon. We all are only too aware of the fact that Amazon is keeping track of what we buy as recommendations pop up based on our purchasing history. But, I wondered, is there is more on my quantified self beyond this? Not really. All I could uncovered was the ability to look through my previous orders, admittedly going back more than 10 years.

Amazon orders 2005

This did reveal the extent to which I have increased my shopping through Amazon. In 2005, I placed a mere three orders! A decade later, I made 101 purchases and this year is set to be even more of a bumper harvest for Amazon. By March, I had already made 55 orders. Hope Jeff Bezos is rubbing his hands!

February 21, 2016

Eating across the generations

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Demographics,Innovation,Marketing — by xrematon @ 9:10 pm
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I stirred my spoon disconsolately, looking at the concoction in the bowl in front of me: prawns in miso broth with udon noodles and some slices of red pepper for add of extra colour. This meal had been a special request from my children and as I sat forlornly, thinking how I would have prefer something nice and creamy or at least properly spice-y and sleek with oil, it made me realise how taste preferences and eating habits vary across generations, even within a family unit.

In a way, the fact my children asked for Japanese broth is because I have been a victim of my own success. Some time ago, I made a New Year’s Resolution to try a new recipe each week and this commitment has seen me diversify well beyond meat and two veg. It has led to children who may ask for globe artichokes – I got very excited one season about trying as many different vegetables as possible – as well as for things I really don’t like – such as the prawns still swimming around sadly in the miso broth. They’re too much like chopped up fingers or earthworms in my opinion.

My children’s generation will have grown with parents who like to invest time and effort in food; parents who themselves grew up during a period when food went from being not much more than fuel into a massive industry which itself fuels many different forms of media and entertainment. We remember the Angel Delight and Findus Krispy Pancakes we ate in our youth and now aspire for something different for our own children.

Cut beyond the middle-class snobbishness about processed food and there are more interesting implications to consider for the food industry of these aspirations to eat well. Take lunchboxes for example: no longer will they simply contain sliced white bread with cheese spread, a packet of crisps, a bit of fruit and a Penguin. Sandwiches are more of a rare sighting these days – in their place come wraps, oatcakes, bread sticks and many other delights. Whereas I grew up thinking the most important thing in a packed lunch was bread spread with something, this expectation is no longer there and the habit to spread is fading. Tellingly, sales of traditional sliced bread are on the decline in the UK, as they are too for dairy spreads.

There is an interesting dynamic going on with the generation in between my own and that of my children – those that are young adults now – Millennials I suppose. This group is also ‘into’ food – but with more style than substance. And it can lead to some rather paradoxical outcomes. A survey in the US found that 50% of Millennials refer to themselves as “foodies,” but 60% of those self-identified foodies still visit fast-food restaurants at least once a week (compared with 48 percent for older adults).

There are also more serious implications about this gap between passion and cooking ability: it doesn’t come cheap. Research, this time from the UK, found that 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK spend more on food than any other age group because they know so little about cooking and had a greater outlay due to eating out more. There is something to be said for bog standard home cooking.

Perhaps later once everyone else has happily finished off their prawns, I could sneakily do myself some fried eggs.

Japanese broth

November 14, 2015

Sapiens

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Innovation,Marketing — by xrematon @ 8:55 pm
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I’ve recently had the opportunity to read Sapiens. It’s one of those books that academics, whose specialist subjects may be referenced, get rather sniffy about as Sapiens doesn’t bother getting the details right in the pursuit of a good story. Like Jared Diamond’s efforts, it’s a book that proposes a theory of everything, which is terribly seductive and hard to resist.

Now, as I am not an expert in any of the areas covered in the book, I was all too happy to be swept along. Even though the little details might not always be right, for me that doesn’t matter. What I appreciate is the ideas that challenge existing preconceptions or reframe familiar events into something more interesting. I’ll talk through a couple.

The author, Harari, puts forward the idea that living as a hunter gatherer might actually have been not so bad. This is down to having a wholesome (lots of fresh stuff) and varied diet (you eat whatever was in season that you could find around you), the relatively short working week (there was no office to go to, not even any crops or livestock to look after, let alone a house to keep clean), and few infectious diseases (people did not live close to animals, which are often a source of disease, and there were no big group settlements, which would facilitate the spread of germs).

Whilst I do not wish to propose that my lifestyle is genuinely comparable to that of a hunter gatherer, there are parallels: as a freelancer, my working week can be short (sometimes at least), I have time to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, and I am at relatively low risk of catching infectious diseases as I work at home alone with no commute on crowded public transport. Not sure about the foraging bit – see image below for what I managed to find in the garden this morning – and I don’t think hunting through the fridge to see if there are good leftovers to convert into a tasty lunch really counts!

Hunter gatherer in Nov

Another idea which captured my imagination is the idea that “money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised”. Whilst we are still smarting from the near collapse of the global financial system, it is worth going back to the most fundamental ideas which make it hold together. Harari writes: “Why do I believe in the cowry shell or gold coin or dollar bill? Because my neighbours believe in them. And my neighbours believe in them because I believe in them.” Simple but quite scary in a way.

The final observation I would like to touch on is how Harari reframes the importance of the Age of Enlightenment to be not so much about great discoveries, but about recognising, accepting and acting on ignorance.

“The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions. Premodern traditions of knowledge such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism asserted that everything that is important to know about the world is already known [via the gods and their writings/stories].”

Working in the marketing industry which tends to get rather obsessed with the idea of creativity, it’s quite refreshing to think about the power of ignorance. Ignorance – perhaps the less glam side to curiosity – is actually very useful for making progress on ideas that change the world. But you don’t often hear ‘I don’t know’. In a world of Big Data, it’s more often the case ‘I know too much’. But do we?

 

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