July 5, 2020

A life without PowerPoint

Filed under: Business,Innovation,Marketing,Technology,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 11:43 am
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PowerPoint – love it or loathe? I’m not sure where I sit here, probably, boringly, on the fence.

But what I can tell you is there are some workplaces where using PowerPoint is the norm; and that also there are also some places where PowerPoint is a rarely clicked application on the desk top.

Experiencing the latter made me realise there are ‘unintended’ consequences of working predominantly in PowerPoint compared to predominantly not.

A very simple one is time. I personally find creating content in PowerPoint takes up a lot of time. To create visually engaging material, you have to effectively map out each slide in turn to work out where each point will be made, and how to place the supporting evidence in such a way that it reinforces what is being said but does not clutter the side. And if someone decides the point needs to be expanded or compressed, that can effectively mean starting from scratch as the content has to be re-organised and restructured on the slides differently.

Obviously, creating a visually engaging slide which consists of just one tasteful, atmospheric and evocative image would perhaps take not so long, but which type of image is appropriate and evocative in the right way is incredibly subjective. And actually, finding a good image (without copyright constraints) can be surprisingly time-consuming.

My next consequence is about telling the story. A Powerpoint, to be read solo, can often leave the reader audience short changed. Powerpoint, through its structure of separate slides, can seem like it is just a succession of points but it is hard to know how to interpret their integrated meaning – in essence, what to make of all this ‘stuff’? In fact, it could be argued that a PowerPoint is invalid unless presented with a presenter.

But it isn’t the case that points presented in Word are ‘faultless’. In Word, the succession of points happens smoothly and seamlessly, which means that the author can potentially manipulate the reader with their seductive flow, points building on points, with the connections and implications all carefully spun through. It is harder to see beyond what the author has intended in Word; we are at their mercy and easily seduced.

In my new Powerpoint-lite work world, it is even the case that seminars and conferences can take place without the usual reliance on slides and decks. People just stand up and talk, not even with notes sometimes, just a person in front of other people, saying the things that they know are important and people looking at the speaker and listening to them. In fact, the only time in this Powerpoint-lite world that I have come across glitzy slides is when consultants, the merchants of spin, have taken to the stage to sell and show off, not to share and inform.

And perhaps therein lies the clue as to the difference: my Powerpoint-lite world is far from consultancy and spin; it is the world of pensions where points needs to be carefully thought through and making the wrong choice can have consequences.


June 5, 2020

Lockdown unleashed – a day trip to the seaside

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 7:46 pm
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A photo essay this time. Nothing subtle – the title says it all.


Why a photo of driving on the M25? Because it was actually really exciting to be able to get in the car and drive to somewhere further away than the supermarket. Think air conditioning, listening to music together as a family, a sense of freedom and escape, heading out for an adventure….

And this was our destination – the sea, the sea! We deliberately picked the Thanet coast as it tends to get fewer crowds than some of the other seasides within ‘daytrip-reach’ of Londoners. And as you can see, it wasn’t too difficult to maintain social distancing, so no problem hunting for crabs, watching the waves creep in closer as the tide rose, lying on (or rather in) the hot sand, and cooling down in the chilly water. There was even a place open where we could get ice creams and, even better, the chocolate flavours hadn’t run out. All in all I must confess that it didn’t feel ‘different’ – pandemic panic and paranoia a distant dream.


The only oddity was the car park at the cargo ferry terminal – normally empty – but, as you can see, teeming with cars. Mysterious but probably a function of the fact that no one is really buying cars, so that they have ended stuck in limbo, effectively having their own seaside break.


We returned to our local landscape of leaves.

May 17, 2020

Carpe diem under duress

For a considerable part of my professional career, I worked for an organisation that aimed to help clients unlock growth. A large part of this involved thinking about being dealing with change: anticipating it, responding to it and shaping it. In those projects, a lot of energy would focus on the ‘what’ (how should we innovate; what new direction should we take to survive or thrive in the future environment; what new products or services will best meet these new needs?). In the current pandemic, there is a lot of change going on but it is not really quite the same as those snazzy and exciting consultancy projects. Now it is all too clear what is needed (more hand sanitiser, more PPE, more testing kits, more resource to get things where they should be when freedom of movement is compromised, ways to keep people happy and secure at home etc).

There are endless stories appearing of how brands and businesses are responding to the need to support the Covid 19 effort. I don’t want to list them all here but it’s interesting to see the nitty gritty details behind these glowing stories of corporate resourcefulness. Beer producer Brewdog was one of the first to ‘pivot’ (note also the new vocab we are deploying in these testing times) its operations from drinks to hand sanitiser. A blog post provides a revealing insight into what’s actually involved. ‘Due to demand, there is a real shortage of suitable types of packaging so you will need to get creative here. So far we have filled 50ml glass bottles, 100ml glass bottles, 100ml plastic bottles, 200ml plastic bottles and larger containers too. We have even filled some 110ml mini beer bottles when no other type of packaging was available.’

And here is an example of a more straightforward ‘I see a gap in the market – ‘let’s go for it’ response. Supplydrop was ‘created to supply you with everything you might want/need to thrive under lockdown.’ It has a growing range of packages, from the pamper kit, the germ killer kit, the birthday kit and the survival kit.

In my household, we have our example of flexible thinking and making do. We were due to go on holiday to Cyprus. Instead, we went there ‘at home’. For two days, we drew and cut out local birds, dotted them around the house in various locations representing different habitats, and then rounded it off with a local meal, complete with Greek salad, fresh hummus, pitta bread and halloumi, all serenaded by Greek music and under a blue sky. Almost as good as the real thing – at least we didn’t have to negotiate Stansted airport to get there!

April 12, 2020

Welcome to my world – sort of

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 6:51 pm
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I write these words after two weeks of lockdown (well, I must confess that I have lost track of time and can’t distinguish between the different stages of quarantining we have been asked to comply with).

What I do know is that everyone is now a ‘home body’ and obsessing about domestics, which feels a bit like the lifestyle I have been following during my years as a freelancer.

Yes, that means ‘drip working’ on and off through out the day with little sense of when work stops and the rest of life starts. Domestic life intrudes noisily and unremittingly, especially when the rest of the family is at home. You realise that getting up before everyone is the way forward, to be sure of a few hours of quiet before the fun starts; and then burning the candle at the other end as the TV is finally off and the distracting debris of the day cleared away. And then comes the slight light headedness as a result of creeping lack of sleep.

Yes, that means too much focus on food (see image of more recent long term meal plan, now necessary as a way of trying to make it all last long enough till the next Ocado delivery is due), doling out snacks to keep family quiet and busy, trying to avoid reliance on peanut butter and  toast as the default meal option, repeatedly checking of cupboards to check what supplies are left, trying to work out what will run out first and thus ‘spreading the risk’ through diversification of consumption of items.

Menu planning

But it is also very very different.

Most importantly is the sense of fear and commitment to living like this. It is not a choice; it is an order and it is the very least we can do.

And that we are all in this – I am at home but so is everyone else and we are thinking about how to stay together apart. Finding new ways to feel like we are still in touch and share thoughts and experiences. I have never felt less isolated, which is important as it could get tougher.

March 14, 2020

Getting up close and personal to a real brand story

As everyone in marketing knows, these days it’s all about developing brand stories and brands with genuine purpose and strong heritage. It’s not clear that it has to be completely ‘real’ – it just has to satisfy our current craving to buy something more meaningful. And some brands have got really good at it – think about the old stalwarts Ben & Jerry or innocent, both of which started small, but have since been bought up and mass produced, whilst still riding on their credentials of being a bit more ‘indie’ than say, Heinz.

On a holiday to Ecuador last year, I had the opportunity to visit a small-scale artisanal chocolate production site. It was really low key but let me show you the end product so that we are clear the brand could genuinely hold its head up high in terms of visual and taste appeal – you will have to trust me on the latter!


I actually really like the down-to-earth more crafty and ‘ethnic’ look to the packaging. In the UK, we don’t really see that kind of thing in chocolate. Instead, the visual codes tend to be more refined and upmarket in non-mass market chocolate – recall the minimalist matt black and white of Hotel Chocolat, the more ornate gold, greens and pinks of Prestat or the more decorative Divine.

Being on site at Mashpi meant that I was able to see for myself how the on-pack and website claims were fulfilled in reality. Walking through the plantation we were shown plants that naturally protect the cocoa plants from pesticides and whose leaves fertilise the crop. There was also a resident goat as it turns out their manure is particularly effective.

Mashpi also grows many of the ingredients it uses to create the additional flavour variations. We were shown ginger plants, the inside of the cocoa bean whose pulp is boiled up with sugar to create a kind of jam filling as well as fragrant cardamom.

The actual manufacturing process was a quixotic combination of low-tech basic stages, such as spreading out the beans to dry and then effectively baking them, to the parts which need to comply with health and safety requirements. The latter meant the use of shiny steel equipment seemly very out of place in the midst of this rainforest environment.

Let me end with an image of the actual reason we went to visit Mashpi (coming across a chocolate production site was an unexpected happy bonus!): we were there to see a very reclusive forest bird. The owners of Mashpi have managed to sort of tame this bird to come out more into the open in response to calls and offerings of grubs and other insects. Meet the ant pitta.


February 15, 2020

Canary Wharf – my work home for a year

When you commute somewhere, it is all too easy for the routine to take over and you become blind to what you see every day around. Just over half way in to a year long contract, I have realised that it was time for me to look up and remember to actively see the place I take many hours travelling to and many hours present at. The buildings are most just glassy or else stony pastiche.


Please note the green spaces include fake grass. Does it still ‘count’ as a green space then, I wonder?


So Canary Wharf – what is there? I must confess that I don’t think I will be particularly complimentary. My overall impression is that it is rather shiny and soulless, with a focus on making money and spending money.

Its redeeming features are the elements that stand out as being uncharacteristic of the place. These include certain pieces of art that are dotted around the area. My favourite is the statue below. I like it because it is imperfect; if it is wasn’t made of bronze, I would describe it as a bit shabby; and I still haven’t worked out whether the gesture of the statue is one of joy (thanking the heavens for their happiness) or of utter desperation (calling upon the heavens for support and consolation).


The other parts I enjoy being in are at the edges – where real life and real London creep it. This comes through most strongly once at the river when the forces of nature do their thing: the tides expose unseemly muddy flats and cormorants pose and stretch to dry their wings at their own chosen spot.


I did wonder whether I was being rather harsh and bringing in ‘history’ would make me feel there is more character and depth to the place. Whilst it is certainly true that acknowledging Canary Wharf’s earlier activity in trade adds more colour to the picture, I am not sure it really changes the dynamics. This trading – as it does today – is about wealth, greed and exploitation of global resources. There was lots of trade in slaves, sugar, tobacco and drug smuggling. Hmmm. Like today, Canary Wharf was the place which could show off ground-breaking / landmark developments – for example, the first ever tunnel under a navigable river and the world largest ship built in the 19th century.

Luckily (and perhaps somewhat ironically) the place where I work is one concerned with supporting those on low to middle incomes and where the principle of paternalism (not relying on consumer choice) reigns supreme.

January 12, 2020

The shortest day

A long endless tunnel of dark – curtains not ever needing to be drawn, a house blanketed from the inside all day, getting to work lit by the neon of artificial bulbs, waiting on a damp chill platform, staring in the darkness for the welcome fugginess of the train, arriving at work in the dawn but disappearing straightaway into a hermetically sealed modern building during the hours of natural daylight, so that, when released, the world is still not there but all is sealed in black with fake brightness to guide only but not to reveal.


Well, there is another way. On the actual shortest day of the year, I escaped the routine of work and spent a day out in Portsmouth, and thus was better able to appreciate, even savour, the fragile and vulnerable light of this time of year. The day began with a sunrise on the beach…

…and was then followed by a ‘full English’ with a suitable English entertainment: watching hardy middle-aged folk go for a swim in the foaming waves, a fair few with bare skin. Bracing and bold.


Next was distraction and diversion in the form of a visit to the Mary Rose museum. My top highlight were the boxes from the officers and gentleman on the ship – as ever – history is often easiest understood through the relics left from those wealthy enough to both afford to have their own possessions and be able to keep them relatively safe. These boxes contained the expected items of clothing and shoes, as well as more personal items reflecting that individual’s background and culture (a book, a icon from Italy, the latest gadgets, such as a candle snuffer, and more). The most entertaining item was the a pepper grinder complete with a supply of peppercorns – spices were a luxury then and therefore worth keeping as a secret stash! I can empathise with that gentleman from 500 years ago – I too have my secret stash of special chocolate.


Walking out in the daylight once more brought with it the opportunity to admire the shining white powers and pillars that form part of Portsmouth’s distinctive skyline (!).

The day was closed with a trip up the Spinnaker Tower. For such a fake construction, it was surprisingly entertaining thanks to the views across, down, and even inside (of watching people respond to the glass panel on the floor in the viewing area).

And, for once, an early sunset was perfect timing – to provide an atmospheric background to our afternoon tea.


The shortest day in fact turned out to be one of the ‘best’.

December 14, 2019

Polishing up my perspective on Poland

Over the past year, I have had the privilege to be involved in a deeply fascinating pan-European project with the objective of thinking about the future of the postal sector in 2030. I was working as a part of the team from a German foresight agency and participated by attending three workshops in Paris, Bonn and Warsaw.

The project was so interesting across a whole variety of dimensions: experiencing cultural differences in discussion and social dialogue between countries and generations; different attitudes towards worker rights and protection; the manifold challenges of working with translators; understanding the importance of universal service obligations (all you folk living out in the sticks be thankful for this).

And though I work on what are ostensibly ‘international projects’ as I need to investigate, explore and explain the difference between attitudes and behaviours across different markets, such projects are vicarious. I do not live the differences. Here I did – to a certain extent.

It was only to a certain extent as a number of the aspects of my experience at the workshops did not vary hugely across markets. We stayed in large hotels catering to business travellers and which therefore tended to offer identikit services and products. Take, for example, the buffets of breakfast food from everywhere: some eggs things, some sausage meat things, some cold meats, some bakery and other bread bits, fruit and cereals. Likewise for the lunches, though there were some intriguing local stand-outs of varying appeal. We were in Bonn at the start of October and every single meal (bar breakfast) included the seasonal offering of pumpkin in some form or other (soup, in ravioli, in stew etc), whilst in France, there were macaroons (better) and in Poland, well, it was lots of beetroot (fine but not in excess).

But perhaps the most interesting learning was a realisation that Poland, beyond the beetroot and the rather extraordinary socio-realist architecture, is really going places. I am so used to thinking about Europe as a mature market with very slow growth and that all the whizzy GDP growth rates belong to BRICS, CIVETS and their ilk. Well, it seems that Poland is not hitting double digit growth but certainly compared to other large EU markets, it is operating in a different gear.

The trigger moment was moment was during a presentation midst workshop, when as has been customary for each of the host countries, there is a chance to show off about how brilliant their postal business is. To be honest, it’s most often about how they are managing the commonly felt challenge of mail volumes falling off a cliff whilst trying to snatch up as much as they can of the growing but much more competitive parcels business. However, in Poland, there were pronouncements about doubling revenues and huge growth in activity. To make clear how extraordinary this is, a recent annual report from Royal Mail can only talk about small incremental gains of revenue rarely in double digits.

Yes, it seems that, now I have opened my eyes to it, that Poland is the tiger of Europe. Output growth reached 4.6 percent last year, compared with 2.5 percent for the European Union as a whole, unemployment has dropped to a record low of 4.4 percent. Many other EU states would envy this performance. Poland has reaped the fruits of opening up and liberalising its economy, as well as benefiting from its particular attributes of a large educated population (admittedly somewhat depleted by all those who disappeared off to the UK – probably on their way back now) and its location as being the first EU country Asia encounters as it moves West, and more.

However, some have concerns that this has come at a hidden cost and does not represent sustainable growth or wealth creation. In an interview in October last year, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki commented, ‘We have sold pretty much all of our economy. Money is being sucked out of the country, “transferred every year in the form of dividends or interest on capital, interest on loans, deposits and current accounts.”

From now on, I shall make sure that I stay up to date with the next stage in Poland’s development.

PS Did I forget to mention the dumplings?!

Image result for polish dumplings

November 21, 2019


What am I playing at here? Well, I just wanted to make the point that opting for more experiential consumption (e) actually often ends up equalling material consumption magnified (mc2).

The event which brought this home was when I was on holiday in Ecuador and we were visiting a reserve which had set up a (very popular) bird feeder.


We had arrived early and got our fill of taking pictures. Then came a battalion of Japanese tourists who were clearly photographers in a different league. It is appropriate to use military vocabulary as these individuals were in full camouflage gear and burdened with bulky backpacks. It turns out these contained a quite extraordinary complement of photographic equipment: endless very very long telescopic lenses, stands, digital display units and other items I cannot name.

IMG_3344 - Copy

These were clearly individuals who had achieved a comfortable level of affluence. They were now ‘doing experiences’ but doing so had clearly triggered a whole new set of purchasing – material consumption magnified.

In my own household I have noticed a similar trend. After careful deliberation, we have made a conscious choice to funnel our spending into good holidays and less on ‘stuff’ (accepting we have to drive old bangers and cope with unglamorous bathrooms as a result). However, we still seem to have been keeping Amazon in business, ordering at least six binoculars (upgrades, replacements), telescopes, boots, performance clothing etc. But it has produced good memories, which is the key thing behind experiences.

October 20, 2019

Stone Age – 5 star living with all mod cons?

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Innovation,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 1:40 pm
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On a recent holiday to Orkney, I had the opportunity to visit many unexpectedly fascinating Neolithic sites. I am not sure I had much of an opinion about this period in human history beyond a vague inkling that these ‘less civilised’ lifestyles might score higher in terms of overall well being than the settled agriculture communities that came afterwards: lots of fresh air, not too much proximity to lots of other people (reducing the risk of contagious diseases and unsanitary living conditions), and a wide variety of fresh food in one’s diet.

Here, in these Orcadian sites, I realised that there was more to the Stone Age than my simplistic assumptions laid out above. Though homes were not spacious, they seemed snug and secure, including a kind of enclosure for bedding, as well as a sort of ‘chill pool’ to keep fish and seafood caught in the surrounding wasters fresh till the moment of consumption. Ikea might not have existed but these homes had the equivalent of the ubiquitous Billy book case – a spacious stone (of course!) dresser.


As with all things Neolithic, no one is quite sure what the purpose of this object was but it seems fair game to think it was an all-purpose useful storage device situated in the main living area. Everyone should have one.

My favourite Stone Age ‘feature’ was the sauna. I have to admit that, once again, officially there is no agreed use for this stone-lined ‘pit’ approx. 1-2m wide and 1.5m deep, but one suggestion is that it could have been a sauna: the pit would have been filled with water and then heated up by putting in hot stones from a fire. Others suggestions include a kind of laundrette – far less exciting – that doesn’t get my vote. (Alright, I know the photo below doesn’t look like much!).


If I had to become a survivalist, I might opt for following the Neolithic lifestyles as practised in Orkey, complete with mod cons of course!

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