Age 46? The joy of life begins now (says the Economist)

The Economist is one of those magazines where, you just hate to throw it out because, every page you turn, you risk finding yet another interesting article.  In terminology that should be rolling off marketers’ lips, that would mean “high quality content.” Here is an issue (December 18-31, 2010) where the cover itself caught my eye (since I just happen to be 46 years old), “The Joy of Growing Old — or why life begins at 46.”

I suppose that a good number of you, readers, following this blog might be my peers; thus, I felt inclined to share this cover for you… Here is a link to the article, “The U-Bend of Life,” just in case you felt like reading it!  (Apparently, this is not new news.  The Daily Telegraph reported the same conclusion in 2008 based on a Lifesworth survey, suggesting that life begins at 46, too!).  In any event, the article makes for (yet another) good read.

Economist The Joy of Growing Old Dec 2010
Economist – The Joy of Growing Old, starts at 46 years old (Dec 2010)

Permanent Changes arising from the Economic Crisis

Changes? What Changes?
Change InvertedThe ongoing worldwide economic crisis has created many obvious changes in behaviour, mostly focused on the effects of reduced funds. Whether it is the fear that makes a salaried person “tighten” his or her budget or someone who actually has less money coming in (for example, an entrepreneur struggling to make ends meet or, worse yet, someone who has been fired), there is less money floating around. However, given human nature, once the world’s economies recover and businesses reignite, with fuller employment, most of these shifts in behaviour will inevitably revert back in pavlovian style to the habits of the past.

The question that interests me most, however, for this post is which of the changes will be permanent. The profound changes in culture and the creation of related new processes are what will cause the change to stick. Many of the changes pre-date the recession, at least in their origin. The recession has also provoked new business models and practices. Among the lingering changes in behaviour, clearly, from a corporate standpoint, managers who have never had to face such difficult times will have plentiful learnings which should augur well for being better prepared in future downturns. A perfect example is how management at internet companies have managed this crisis much better since getting their proverbial fingers burned in bursting of the internet bubble in 2000-2001.

I will present below which four major changes I believe will have staying power, at least in the much of the developed world.

Durable Sustainable Development Effects

Instant Sustainable Development

As the need to green has invaded mass media, I have three thoughts here about the more lasting cultural shifts: (1) There is clearly a move away from heavy consumption of fossil fuels (SUVs and cars in general), creating new habits such as walking to work or taking public transport which may, in turn, help justify and finance more public transport development. (2) Purchasing “green” for the long term should have, by definition, a long tail. An example is the purchase of long lasting LED lights whose benefits of durability and low energy consumption are slowly gaining traction, even if they present a higher upfront cost. (3) Attention to reducing water consumption has meant walking away from bottled water (at restaurants as well as at home) and perhaps showering a little quicker and, perhaps, less frequently… On average, every minute under the shower represents 2 gallons or 7 1/2 litres. (Find out how much water you use daily with this handy USGS calculator here). There’s a continuing business opportunity for the water filter companies, although it is not so good for the shower gel business.

ChangeGoods that are good for you and the end of consumerism
I would argue that, for an ever growing part of the population, there is going to be a true and lasting trend away from hyper consumerism. Ownership is not all it is be cracked up to be. Beyond the worry of reduced finances, the issue of buying and owning goods is one of quality of life: people will come to the realisation that owning too much is actually a burden, a headache, often times actually creating additional embedded costs and hassles; and, it certainly does not lead to greater happiness.

Someone who owns more than two homes knows what I am talking about: each home creates multiples of paperwork, presumably having to adjust to different rules and regulations. Just making sure that each house is stocked with the basics, much less complete dinner settings, etc. is quite the ongoing exercise. If you are someone who owns a super expensive car, you know that investing in spare parts and getting little scratch marks fixed is a hassle — especially as you roam away from the local dealership. Finding “protected” parking when you decide to take your jazzy car for a ride in town is an extra constraint. Of course, having too much of anything means that you need to have the space to store it… extra hassle and expenses. One of the more potent trends that plays to avoiding owning yet another holiday house: swapping homes (whether for the holidays or not). Here’s a plug for a friend’s initiative, Geenee, which allows for a swap with the “world’s best.”

Slow FoodOn another level, eating at home as opposed to going out to the restaurant will create a new culture of homecooking, with a sharper attention to the ingredients (not just their cost). There has apparently been tremendous growth in cooking school enrollments. And, in a similar vein, there is also the notion of SLOW FOOD*, as promoted diligently and valiantly in the US by Alice Waters (check out her restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley CA where they serve only in-season fruit and vegetables).

So, the lasting trend here is a move away from amassing goods that crimp my space, burden my mind and waste resources. Instead, people w
ill focus on goods that bring mental freedom, physical health and, hopefully, a smile to the face. As the literature and media coverage latches on to this trend, I see this trend going mainstream even in the rich circles. Recommended reading: The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and The Art of Simpe Food by Alice Waters.

Buy Local
Buy Fresh Buy Local LabelThere are two driving forces to buy local: “sustainable development” and latent protectionism. If you buy locally produced goods, the concept is that the items didn’t use as many resources travelling from faraway lands, and at the same time that you are supporting your local community. There are two sBuy Local Posterubplots to this trend: the potential revival of the feelgood effect of buying from a local shopkeeper who knows you (even by name!), and greater attention to the content (“made in” labels) and ingredients (“made of”). In economic tough times, this may be a counter-intuitive trend in that mom & pop stores have a hard time competing on price. Nonetheless, I would look for this “Buy Local” trend to prosper on the other side of the recession.

How Well do You ShareSharing, renting and leasing versus buying

There are certainly economic reasons for not being able to buy something and, to the extent the item you are looking to buy is for limited use (e.g. a new dress for a party, a bigger car for a 2 week family holiday…), the option of sharing, renting or leasing becomes more inviting. Sharing & renting may also be collateral plays on the reduced need/desire to buy and own (point 2 above) as the need to preserve and store the item(s) is less onerous. Sharing & renting also pander well to the green conscience. With this burgeoning trend, there are many new offers that have cropped up. I cite a few of the more interesting ones that I have come across:
  • Zipcar: a for-profit, membership-based carsharing company providing automobile rental to its members, billable by the hour or day.
  • ArtRentandlease.com: providing “rotating monthly rental packages, Fine Art Leases and direct sales… Individual prices start at just $20 per month, including eco-friendly Green Art.”
  • Avelle, or BagBorrowSteal: Rent by the week, the month or for as long as you’d like top fashion brand names for jewelry, handbags, sunglasses, watches, etc. “There’s never a late fee.” You don’t have to be a member, but if you are, the prices are better.
  • Babyplays: A membership-based online toy rental site. About time kids’ closets stopped bursting with just-opened, barely used toys, no?
Craigslist, Olx and eBay are the leading internet plays on the circulation of second-hand goods (and services). With Craigslist and Olx, there is the local play as well.

Underpinning virtually all these structural changes in behaviour are (1) the internet and (2) sustainable development.

I wrote a while back about how inter-related I felt web 2.0 and sustainable development are (read here), and when you overlay the evident economic benefits, I can only reinforce how this crisis will accelerate the changes and how, coming out on the other end, we will all be that much more on the web, taking advantage of new behaviours and goods & services, indeed creating a kind of new ‘unpop’ eco-culture.

*Slow Food, a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization, was borne out of the anti-fast food movement in France in 1989 and is headquartered in Bra, Italy. Slow Food stands against “the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. To do that, Slow Food brings together pleasure and responsibility, and makes them inseparable.” The organisation boasts over 100,000 members in 132 countries.

Did you ever consider…

Below is a collection of random thoughts. Some are my own, others come from various emails in circulation. Scroll down and peruse. And if you feel so inclined, add to the fray!

Have you ever considered why it is that we write Anno Domini (A.D.) in Latin for the “modern era” and when it comes to the “olden times“, we write the term Before Christ (B.C.) in plain old English.

Can you cry or sweat under water?

Shouldn’t the O in XO (kiss & hug) be related to the O that is love in tennis scoring?

Why do you have to ‘put your two cents in’… but it’s only a ‘penny for your thoughts’? Where’s that extra penny going to?

If money doesn’t grow on trees then why do banks have branches?
Chiffre Number 7 Seven


What did the number 7 ever do that it needed to be crossed (in mainland Europe)? If it’s because the number one has a pedastal, then what’s so great about number 1?

How important does a person have to be before they are considered assassinated instead of just murdered?


How is that if a murderer gets life, a mass murderer gets multiple life sentences, but a person who kills millions of people just gets house arrest (Pol Pot)?

Why are you IN a movie, but you’re ON TV?

Why is ‘bra’ singular and ‘panties’ plural?

Why do toasters always have a setting that burns the toast to a horrible crisp, which no decent human being would eat?

If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons?

Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog’s face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him for a car ride, he sticks his head out the window?

Women suffer more nightmares than Men, new study shows

Painting of Woman sleeping with dreamsA study out of the University of the West of England in Bristol, tracking 193 women and men over 5 years, found that women suffer more nightmares than men. Moreover, the research determines that men and women have dreams of a different nature, too. A small article from the Daily Telegraph (“Women suffer more nightmares than men“) wrote, “[W]hen asked to record their most recent dream, 19% of male students reported having a nightmare compared with 34% of women.” Overall, that seems to me like quite a high level of nightmares. Jennifer Parker, a psychology lecturer at the University, said “I believe these results show women carry over their waking concerns into their dream life more so than men do.” I have a couple of comments to add, based on my own unscientific observations that are rife with generalisations (and where the word ‘women’ could equally be written as ‘those having feminine characteristics’): 1/ As Parker suggests, I would agree that women develop stronger emotional connections with their waking concerns which provides fertile grounds for a sub-conscious negative reveil during the dreams. 2/ In my experience, women tend to live their dreams more vividly and to recall them more frequently. I, as a sample of one male, rarely recall my dreams, nor give much credence to the stories brought up when I do remember them.


Meanwhile, as I found in this ABC report which is much longer and more articulate about the topic than the Telegraph report, I was interested by the notion, you are what you dream. Rosalind Cartwright, dream research and chairman of psychology at Rush University Medical Center, says many of these variables are easy to understand. “They are the ones you might imagine, anything that makes for distress and disadvantage,” she said. “These include low income, unemployment and other factors.”

And, as the ABC article continues, “…past research reveals some surprises. A July 2001 study by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, suggested that Republicans are nearly three times as likely as Democrats to experience nightmares when they dream.

‘Half of the dreams of Republicans in my study were classified as nightmares, compared to only about 18 percent of the dreams of Democrats,’ said lead study author Kelly Bulkeley in a university-issued press release. ‘My speculation is that people on the right are very attuned to the dangers in the world, and they’re seeking ways to defend themselves against those threats.'”
In any event, beyond nightmares and political affiliations, I assume that women may also have a different relationship with dreams in general and, by extension, with sleep. Beauty sleep is, with dreams included, for an inside-outside beauty.


Cricket as Life – Howzat for a Philosophy

Cricket as Life – A philosophy to follow

Playing Cricket

Considering the space that sports has taken in my life, I can hardly help thinking that sports are, at the same time, a part of my life as well as a microcosm of life itself. I have written on several occasions in the past on how one can draw [management] lessons from sports, for example with rugby and rowing… There is no doubt that sports participate in the development, among other things, of leadership skills and life skills (e.g. learning to win and lose graciously). Sports have been an integral part of my experience and formation. Physical and emotional scars, tears and elation, friends and enemies mark my portfolio of memories.

Recently, reflecting back on my days (10 years) at boarding school in England, I was pondering what cricket had brought to my life. Cricket outside England and the former colonies does not bowl over many people and I do not have regular occasion to talk about the subject in my sphere of friends. Mentioning cricket is more likely to provoke a long off, sound like a silly slip of the tongue, leave a pit in the gully. They just don’t get the point; you don’t have a third leg to stand on.

I remember reading a wonderful article about how countries that play cricket go to war less often; at least, cricket was a pacifying activity, capable of aiding diplomatic relations. The point of the article was that cricketers were inculcated with a certain sense of civility and that, in competing against one another, there is an overall sense of fair play that reigns — otherwise the epithet, “that’s just not cricket” is voiced. Of course, all the cited countries in the article were colonies of the English. There remains the fact that, unlike England’s other colonies, the USA did not see fit to pick up cricket. In its stead, the Americans cultivated baseball. Here is a crooked timber blog taking a look on that subject. If I can retrace that article, I will gladly post.

Meanwhile, I was reflecting how a 5-day [cricket] test match was a condensed version of life. If you play a full 5-day test, it is quite the journey. As the title of the contest suggests, it is a test of your endurance and concentration. There are a four cycles as you bat first, field, bat again and field again (in life, there are four broad cycles: baby, teenager, adult and you’re looking good, son). You pass multiple moments being in, being out. If you mess up the first time, you generally have the chance to make up for it in the second innings. But if you score well in the first innings, people will be gunning for you in the second at-bat. More often than not, you come out with a draw, but the superior point is to appreciate the journey, to take away the positive moments, learn from the mistakes. Like most of life, cricket is not exactly wonderful television material (although the success of reality shows is throwing doubt on my assumption). Like in life, it is the collection of small moments that give the most meaning to the event.

Oval Cricket GroundAs Voltaire said, one should cultivate one’s garden. In cricket, during a 5-day match, you certainly want to have a good grounds keeper and a beautiful green square. Over the five days, the wicket gets worn down and the bounces keep you on your toes. You cannot be dulled into routine, for you will surely pay the price. And, as I found in this thoughtfulmood blog, you need to take every ball at face value, because each ball has an independence from the prior deliveries and needs to be played accordingly.

While recognizing that a cricket match need not necessarily last 5 days to accommodate my machinations, I just wanted to use this space to reminisce about the days I played cricket. For the record, I played wicket keeper and was a very mediocre batsman. But, I remember well my cricketing days. My last official game was playing as an old boy at my prep school (now the defunct Old Malthouse School, replete with VIP site on Facebook) and I remember how we achieved a tie (exactly the same score after 20 overs). The last time I faced a ball, without pads I might add, was on a dusty field outside of Delhi where barefooted boys were having the equivalent of a pickup game. I faced one ball and bowled a couple of balls (which caused considerable aches for the following days). They showed great grace in allowing me to relive my younger days.

Howzat CricketLike many of the eccentric games that I have had the occasion to play (and still do), including Real Tennis, Eton Fives, Field Game, Wall Game, the game of cricket has enriched my memories. To a certain degree, cricket represents the closest I came to doing far niente (not one of my strengths) in sports. Howzat?

If you like this topic, you might want to read on… Here’s another philosophical post on Life is Cricket from Kevin Rodrigues in Mumbai. And you can get a Life Is Cricket t-shirt here.

Otherwise, the name of the game is to make sure you live your life and are able to say at the end: that’s cricket.

Finding a CRM Voice – The Right Values, Meaning & Frequency

Customizing your Real Message & Finding a CRM Voice?

As I mentioned in the prior post, I believe that the consumer world is in the midst of a true paradigm shift. In these dire economic times, there is a huge likelihood that the ongoing increase in the share of time and mind of the Internet is going to accelerate. The consumer will turn to the Internet even more because it offers useful new tools and services that cater specifically to the needs of people living in harder times. (Read here for more about why the crisis will push up Internet use).

The question now becomes how brands and companies want to take advantage of this. What posture will companies take to reach out to the consumer who is decidedly cautious, if not nervous about his or her future? The company that speaks to me in a way that makes sense is a good starting point. For example, if a company (ex Harrods) checks out my dopplr and see that I am going to travel to London on such and such a date, then drops me a pertinent offer for that date, would that not be a great idea? The chances are that I would be more than willing to view their mail (if they only they could make their creative a little more classy, too).

CRM Graphic Description

There has been much written about CRM (for basics, see marketingteacher.com), as in Customer Relationship Management. But, except for a couple of rare exceptions, I as a consumer have not been “feeling the love” from any particular brand or companies. It is not like I am not present on the Internet, or do not own any loyalty cards, or do not shop frequently at certain stores. There is certainly plenty of data on me out there to mine. At this point, for most companies, the mining has been, at best, superficial. There are some companies who have cottoned on to the idea of email campaigns as a cheap way to bolster traffic — to the web site if not the store. But that’s about it. But, I am looking for more. Companies need to tap into the data (which I volunteer) and capture my attention by knowing more about who I am.

Once companies have mastered dynamic customer knowledge (i.e. created a way to keep an up to date database), the question will then become to what extent (quantity and quality) the brand is communicating with its customers? There is a real risk that a deluge of irrelevant email campaigns will completely shut down the effectiveness of the email channel — broadening the definition of spam, increasing people’s intolerance to emails and making them opt out systematically or just delete with increasing revulsion on reception. If the average rate of opening an email drops down below the 2% level — a barometer for so many formerly traditional media campaigns — you may end up pissing more customers off in the process. While companies are still saving on the postal cost and on the CO2 with emails, they will be shooting themselves in the foot if they overdo it.

There is a golden opportunity to use the ‘net as a marketing tool. There are two important points. First, don’t abuse the opportunity out of laziness. Pouring out unpersonalized, non-customized emails is not the right answer; like cutting down rainforests, it is a very short-sighted approach. Second, mind the data (think “Mind the Gap” as they say in London’s tube stations). What is needed is to craft meaningful messages (in line with the brand’s values), with a customization that reflects some of the unique elements of the receiver.

Customize with Ease CRM

This all leads me to the main point: Brands endeavouring on CRM programs need to reflect carefully to find their CRM VOICE. There are three core ingredients to creating a CRM Voice. (1) A CRM Voice first means being getting in touch with the brand’s DNA, its core values. How is each communication refurbishing the identity of the brand and reinforcing the customer’s affinity with the brand. (2) It means knowing how to create messages that are relevant to the brand and to the receiving client. Does the brand have an interest in me? Does it know me (without the overtones of Big Brother). Does it know how to surprise me? To wow me? (3) Finally, it means getting the frequency right, knowing how often that person needs or wants to be contacted — including all the different channels of communication (TV included). A well-adapted, customized message becomes part of a well-oiled service.

LoveMarks Graph

In summary, brands need to find their CRM Voice: a Customized Real Message that is aligned with the brand’s core values. Brands that are high in love (lovemarks *****) and respect have a potentially greater starting point. But, every customer is looking for meaning and, in today’s difficult economic times, they will be more than likely spending more time online. I will be keen to see which brands or companies come through this vortex smelling like roses — for the times they are a changing, and I believe a paradigm shift is well underway. Which companies are going to capitalize intelligently on the accelerated shift in time on online that is bound to accompany this worldwide crisis? If you do what you always did, you may no longer get what you always got.

This Crisis will bring a Paradigm Shift on the Internet

Crisis, What Crisis? Bring forth the Internet

As we spin into the depths of this worldwide economic crisis, the opportunity for companies to move to more Crisis in Chinese Charactersefficient, effective and measurable marketing activities online seems perfectly obvious, if not natural. The time has never been more appropriate for companies to ramp up online activity because their consumer will be increasingly on the other end waiting for them. I identify below five main reasons why the consumer will be more than ever present on the Internet specifically because of the economic downturn.

(1) In this period of crisis, there is a very real likelihood that people will spend even more time online in the near-term because the web will offer a cheaper alternative way to spend time (watch YouTube or Daily Motion videos) and find entertainment (on a myriad game sites) than, say, going out to dinner in a restaurant or going to the flicks. Rather than going outside to buy a newspaper, free subscriptions will bring people online (or the news will be downloaded to their mobile phone). Doing banking/finances on line (a cost benefit for the embattled banks to save on bank tellers), paying your paperless bills (save on postal costs) and other administrative tasks will bring people to their computer.

(2) The internet is the most expedient way to do networking — especially important for those people without a job (linkedin, monster, etc.). The Millennials will need to have the “older” generations on board to hire them, but in general, the custom of business networking on line is beginning to build already. This notion reinforces a tenet I have long held which is that your presence online will become your most effective CV or resumé (see here for a prior post).

(3) There are plenty of new applications and sites that now make searching for a bargain substantially easier, specifically the price comparison machines, such as Kelkoo, PriceGrabber, Shopzilla… And this point goes beyond the notion that you can get better information from internet sites (and peer-to-peer reviews, etc.)

(4) In times when travel may be too expensive, there are now many virtual ways just to stay in touch with your friends and family (skype for face to face, facebook for group hugs or twitter, jaiku for group pecks). Essentially, the internet social media networks are intrinsically designed for harder economic times. Not all of them will survive, of course, but each will be forced to carve out its niche, its purpose and the likelihood is that the economic crisis will bring much needed acuity to each social media network’s positioning.

(5) And, finally, the truth is that items sold on line will be cheaper in fact and in perception. When you add the cost of getting in your car (time is money…), consuming fuel with the risk of traffic infractions to go to the brick & mortar (only to find a less informed salesperson) the chances are that the consumer is in effect going to find the Internet a cheaper way to consume. With people and companies forced to work harder and longer hours to survive, time for personal shopping will decline ipso facto. Retirees who have already shown a propensity to hit the ‘net, will do so even more (note to self: big business in keyboards will large keys). Driving to the store hardly eases with age. And, lest we forget that, with driving, there is the added nuisance of polluting the environment. Clearly, on the supply side, more and more companies will move to e-commerce platforms (expensive as they may be initially) because they offer a higher margin business model once the critical mass is reached. Moreover, having one’s own e-commerce site is a useful counter force for the brand/company against a distribution network whose strength in the balance of power has become hard to manage.

Vortex Internet

With the backdrop of the demographic and sociological surge of online traffic, plus the terrific growth numbers in developing countries, it all makes me believe that we are truly in the vortex of the paradigm shift. Beyond the crisis, we will come out different, truly changed in our behaviour and, specifically, our relationship with the Internet. With the oft mentioned Chinese expression (pictogram above), in times of crisis, yes there is danger and great opportunities. The danger lies in the fact that the crisis may be worse than expected and certainly the Internet will not solve everything. And the Internet has its own dangers in terms of potentially dehumanizing relationships or rendering us captive to the 17″ screen…  That said, nonetheless, it is worth noting that since the Internet and the e-companies have already experienced their own bubble-bursting and crisis, they have created more durable models, filled with more substantial content and purpose.  In the process, Internet companies are (perhaps inherently less fat and) potentially more resistant to the current crisis than many brick & mortar brethren.

All the same, the economic crisis presents a golden opportunity for the Internet. How to play it? That will be the subject of another post. 

UPDATE FEB 8, 2009: I found this article written by Le Monde on Jan 30, 2009, showing that clearly this idea above is gaining traction in France:  La Recession accélère la rupture entre le virtuel et le réel.

Categorising my personal emails

Mail - EnvelopesI receive, I would estimate, about 35 non-work related more or less ‘old fashioned’ messages a day via the multiple communications services to which I am subscribed: hotmail, gmail, Facebook, Linkedin, etc. When taken alongside the 100+ mails received daily at work, I would say that such a volume is basically average for a professional. A few folks I know in the high tech industry (e.g. at Google or Facebook) suffer numbers more like 250+.

La Poste - Mail BoxA couple of comments here. First, the volume of these non-work mails is wholly manageable, if it were not for the time I like to take to reply to as many as I do. Secondly, the communications on Facebook remain surprisingly personal and, if not personal, opted in (via a membership in a group, etc., that I have chosen). Whether it’s a poke, some shared application or just a Facebook mail, the sender of the mail is someone with whom I accepted to be in contact, and by and large, there is a form of respect that seems to have settled in. And, whether the message is short and sharp or long and detailed, it is a message I typically enjoy opening. Thirdly, my regular post mail has been on the decline (thankfully we are not on any wasteful mailing lists). Having opted in for electronic versions for as many statements and bills as possible, the volume of CO2-related mail has dropped considerably.

On another level, when I take a step back and evaluate these 35 non-work communications, I feel like they fall into four categories.

Turtle Love - Making Love in a Garden(1) There are the sole-destination personal messages coming from people in and out of my life, dotted around the world. (2) There are the humourous messages, jokes of one or other colour (and often accompanied by cartoons or photos). Then, (3) there are the meaningful messages, for example, compassionate mails that spread humanitarian messages or soulful powerpoint slides shows (.pps). These last two categories of messages, which are more or less revisited “chain letters,” are collected and passed along to you as part of a group, selected perhaps for a specific or common value, but otherwise just part of a “forward to” group. Have you noticed that both the humourous and meaningful messages often contain a visual component? And, (4) finally of course, there is the beloved spam, spam, spam, eggs & spam and its small cousin Opted-in Newsletters/Mailings that get through the spam filter.

Meaningful Relationship Cartoon

Based on this classification, I have to say that I understand why I enjoy my early morning hours delving into my message boxes. Three of the four categories are bound to be enjoyable. Whether humourous or “meaningful” — when added to the personal — the vast majority of the mails I receive are in fact laden with some emotion, although the jokes category can sometimes be a little irksome. Who is to say that the virtual is by definition cold and impersonal. Nonsense! There is a warm and fuzzy world out there!

One of the key lessons is in how you “train” or manage your contacts and the messages you send and receive. If you like the jokes from someone, then by all means, reply back and join in the foray. If you don’t like them, you can ask the person not to be sent jokes in the future. Alternatively, according to the sender, you can just delete them as they arrive.

What it comes down to, in my mind, is that along with My MSN and netvibes, my worldwide web interface is actually becoming ever more personalized. Social media is feeling like personal media. The jokes bring good cheer. The meaningful messages bring sense and/or purpose. The early morning (when I tend to my personal mails) becomes a moment of virtual emotion and reflection. And I have ever less tolerance for mail that is not on target or on message. This leads me to the question of how brands will truly insert themselves into my world without offending my karma and/or busting my bubble?

On a related topic, I enjoyed this post by Mitch Joel entitled “Intimacy 2.0“. What is true about the post I have done today is that I have relegated the content to largely 1.0 type communications: the email. But, just like letters of yore, each communication has its place and the “old fashioned” one-to-one communication in emails has its place and affords the opportunity for deeper conversations than might otherwise occur in a public domain. It is meet and right that the scale of intimacy in the communications should go from light and fluffy to profound and pensive. The essential point is being ready and able to join in those conversations, to take the time to write back to the people who mean something to you, to participate and engage in the subjects that are important to you. And, returning to the point of how brands are going to “engage” in these conversations, I can anticipate that new marketers in the future should be vetted for their online presence and ability to participate in online conversations. Your presence online will indeed become your best CV.

All in all, aside from the personal mail that somehow gets mistakenly caught up in the spam filter (which is almost as irritating as seeing a spare parking space in front of your doorstep after you circled for too long and parked very far away), my morning’s experience on the computer is generally a moment of bonheur.

How about your experience? Do you agree with the categories? How can brands “interrupt” this tranquil, personal moment?

Obamania Worldwide – The Dreams & The Reality

OBAMANIA & OTHER REFLECTIONS ON A SUNDAY MORNING

Barack & Michelle ObamaThe effect of the Obama victory overseas has been impressive. Much like the initial outpouring after September 11th, 2001, since November 5th, 2008, I have come across a newfound sense of support for the US from many different corners of the world, and the support is quite similar in intensity. For most foreigners with whom I speak, the sentiment goes along the lines: You, Americans (at least on the coasts), faced with the biggest worldwide economic crisis in a century, 2 long unfinished wars, an Osama Bin Laden still on the lam, the prospect of ecological disasters and the risk of more voter scandals (untested new urns), overcame the urge for a recidivist reactionary vote, to adopt and hail its base values by electing Obama.

What is driving this support around the world for Obama? In part, I detect an enormous feeling of hope, like the release of a good dream.Dream He represents hope that change is truly going to come. What is said can be done. That diversity is not just a buzz word. I also detect that many are putting their hopes on the shoulders of Americans to rebolster the world, a world that is increasingly rocky. Beyond the economic crisis and environmental concerns, the Western world is worried by the deeper, structural issues including the rise of China, the Russian renaissance, the continuing splintering of nationalities and ethnicities as well as the omen of global terrorism. I don’t mean to have visions of grandeur for the Americans, but we all need to dream and many people seem to have tied up their dreams with Obamania. Aside from the 66.7 million American voters, Muslim communities around the world, the African community (well beyond Kenya), even a town in Japan have identified or associated themselves with Obama. And in the “If the World Could Vote” site, 87.3% of the nearly 900,000 people (up from the 49,000 I wrote about in my September post) casting their online selection for Obama.

Few would doubt that Obama’s plate is eminently full. As a black Parisian radiologist, Maxim, said to me, “it is a poisoned gift.”

For Obama and the Americans, all the real work is now ahead and it will be important to observe (a) the level and effectiveness in the bipartisanship — I have been positively impressed by the effect of President Sarkozy had in bringing in several valuable Socialists into his government; and (b) how Obama manages against the oh-so-high expectations. If the Democratic party were to get a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate (3 seats still undecided) and with the strong House representation (between 255-259 seats), there is a chance that Obama will be able to put through a good portion of his vision. But, what happens systematically — it seems no matter the president, the party or the country — is that there is a boomerang effect some 12-18 months after induction into office. The dissatisfied electorate then “punishes” the standing leader, curbs his or her power and the result is a near lame-duck experience for the remaining years. I have started to think that this is just a natural cycle in democracy. More likely than not, an external and/or unexpected event will likely occur that will unbalance the apple cart and, whether or not his policies have had time to work, will have a material impact on his presidency. It does seem ironic that an unexpected event will be likely. But, this, too, seems to be a part of the natural cycle.

Four More Reflections

As I ponder this Sunday morning, there are four more things I would like to say about the past couple of weeks.

China Flag1/ Don’t you find it symbolic that the Chinese bailout plan at $586B is just below the US one in size ($700B)? Although, compared to its GDP (China’s is estimated at US$3-4 trillion versus $14 trillion for the US), the Chinese effort is far more seismic. You get the feeling that the turning point is around the corner. The burgeoning question for me is how will we, Americans, manage to alter our mania for consumption, so much a fibre of today’s US society?


Speed Limit = 50 mph 2/ Forty’s are in. Obama, at 47 years old, joins a healthy stable of “forty-something” leaders. Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili is the youngest I could find at 41 years old. Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev and Sweden’s PM Fredrik Reinfeldt are 43. Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko, Ireland’s Brian Cohen and Spain’s Jose Luis Zapatero are 48. Canada’s Stephen Harper is 49. I am sure that I have missed out a few others — but these are all (with the exception of Harper) leaders born in the 1960s. [Note, among other notables, that Sarkozy (53), Merkel (54), and Putin (56) are, with the majority of other leaders, in their 50s.]

3/ Seeing that Obama is a Web 2.0 President-elect (he has his own Twitter, MyBarackObama blog, YouTube, etc), how far can he be a Sustainable Development-President as well? See here for a prior post on the relatedness of web 2.0 and sustainable development. Certainly, this article by Thomas Claburn at InformationWeek
would seem to back up the possible correlation. ADDED 22 NOVEMBER: I was turned on to this NY Times article, “Generation O get its hopes up” (Nov 7) after publishing this post. Obama communicated in a way that “spoke” to people. As the article writes, “Government under Mr. Obama, they believe, would value personal disclosure and transparency in the mode of social-networking sites. Teamwork would be in fashion, along with a strict meritocracy.”

4/ Did you realize that within two days of each other, Obama won the US Presidency, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won the Paris Masters 2008 and was crowned #1 for France, while Lewis Hamilton became the youngest ever Formula 1 Champion? As both Hamilton and Tsonga are 23 1/2 years old, Obama at 47 is exactly double their age. And all three of them are métise (specifically a black father and a white mother). Rather remarkable, no?

Your thoughts?

Global Gender Gap 2008 Report – Who’s on Top?

The World Economic Forum have just released the results of the Global Gender Gap Report 2008.

Yin & YangThere are a few suprising facets to this WEF report, now in its third year, authored by Ricardo Hausmann, Director, Centre for International Development, Harvard University, Laura Tyson, Professor at University of California, Berkeley, and Saadia Zahidi from the WEF.  First, what strikes me is the tremendous dynamism in the results — from one year to another a country can change by more than 30 places (as France did jumping from 51st to 15th).  Secondly, the list of sponsoring companies for the research includes a number of banks, consultancies and a car company hardly known for women’s equality as well as the employment services company MANPOWER.

Gender Gap
Those quibbles aside, the research shows that there is a “…a strong correlation between competitiveness and the gender gap scores.”  And the report indicates once again the strength of the equality movement in Scandinavia, with Norway coming out on top this year ahead of its neighbouring Scandinavian countries.   Here is the list of the top 10 for 2008.  Noteworthy for being absent from the top 10 (I should say again) are the United Kingdom (13th) and the United States (27th, behind Cuba) which scores highest in “economic participation and opportunity.”  And, fairly astonishing for being in the top 10 are the Philippines and Latvia.  The report voluntarily overweights the importance of having female leadership — as a way of providing visible role models (which clearly boosted the Philippines).  How much credit for France’s rise goes to Ségolène Royal (and Carla Bruni)?.  A

Global Gender Gap Index

Rank 2008
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Country

Norway
Finland
Sweden
Iceland
N. Zealand
Philippines
Denmark
Ireland
Netherlands
Latvia

Score*

0.824
0.820
0.814
0.800
0.786
0.757
0.754
0.752
0.740
0.740

Rank 2007
2
3
1
4
5
6
8
9
12
13
*0 to 1 scale: 0=inequality, 1=equality

The report establishes the following “top line” numbers, indicating that on balance things are tending to get better, although there were nearly twice as many countries where the gap was widening in 2008 versus 2007 as opposed to the prior year.  The big conclusions of the report are that the world has again shown progress in closing the gaps in economic, political and education; however, it has actually lost ground on the health gaps.

Gender Gap 2008 Report

The criteria for selection are worth citing:
Male & Female Signs“The Report examines four critical areas of inequality between men and women:
1. Economic participation and opportunity – outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment
2. Educational attainment – outcomes on access to basic and higher level education
3. Political empowerment – outcomes on representation in decision-making structures
4. Health and survival – outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio”

Meanwhile, tailing off the bottom of the list are a host of countries without need for comment: Saudi Arabia, Chad and YemenIndia (113rd) landed basically on par with Iran (116th).  Japan wallowing in at 98th is a blemish…especially when you find higher up Mongolia (40th), Kyrgyz Republic (41st) and Russia (42nd).  Italy lies at 68th, not exactly brilliant.  Meanwhile, I thought Turkey (123rd) might have ranked higher.

Here is the writeup from the BBC and from TIME (with a good and lively analysis).  If nothing else, the research and report allow for some debate and exposure to this very important issue.