On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I visited The Grove — a rather celebrated shopping center, replete with Apple Store and Nike Running store among others. In any event, at the center, there is a fancy fountain that is musically coordinated. Playing with Vine, I managed to cut an almost seamless video… with a great degree of luck. Hope you’ll enjoy!
We are in changing times (once again) and I must say that the picture reminds me of the grey and rainy may day (ie. help!) we are having in London (au Secours #RadioLondres), on this Monday, May 7, 2012.
As of today, we now have:
- Hollande in France, voted in by 51.7%
- Samaris of the New Democracy party in Greece with 18.9% vote, introducing a very new form of democracy
- Putin of United Russia with 64% of the vote as the returning President in Russia, ushering back in an echo of Russian democracy
- …not to mention the weekend’s local/regional elections in the UK, Germany and Italy, where the incumbents were regularly whipped or wiped out of office.
A major year for elections
These elections alone have been rather momentous. And, ahead, there are many more parliamentary and presidential elections to which to look forward including Egypt in end of May, India (in July) and USA (in November)… [You can view the entire list of elections in the world in this Wikipedia entry.]
It was a busy week of voting for me, too. I voted in the mayoral election in London as well as the Presidential election in France (via “procuration”). I will also cast my vote in the US elections.
For what purpose?
But, with all these elections, it leads me to pose two questions:
- how much do people expect the world to change thanks to politicians?
- how much productivity is negatively impacted in a country during the year of elections?
The political cycle
The problem with democratically elected officials is that, by definition, they must over promise to get elected. Yet, with clockwork predictability, unexpected events occur and plans are derailed. By mid term, the electorate systematically becomes impatient and sanctions their elected leader, making the last half of the term a lame duck. The arc of democracy consists of high expectations and dashed hopes. Would that we all got down to the business of taking responsibility for ourselves rather than waiting for Godot.
I came across this Dutch presentation courtesy of a post at Molenaar Online Marketing. It is a slideshare presentation with the feature message that Marketing is D.E.A.D. With my particular passion for the Grateful Dead, I found the link far too curious not to pursue. Of course, since I do not speak Dutch, I had to make do with some approximations for the surrounding commentary. Nonetheless, the main message is quite tight. [Today’s conventional] marketing is:
Here is the slideshare presentation link for those of you who spreken Nederlands. It comes with lots of powerful images and a YouTube Video (in English, so all is not lost if you speak just English, like me).
And, with broad artistic license, here is a reworked quote from a classic Dead tune:
“Listen to the client sing sweet songs, to rock my brand…”
“If I were a rich man? Tweedle idle dyddle doo…” is a wonderful song and could probably be singled out as the common person’s most regular dream. But, little does one truly wonder about the plight of the rich. To begin with, there is the difficulty of sorting out the difference between a friend who likes you or likes you for your money? And then there is the question of what’s an excessively rich man (or woman) to do with the wads of extra money? This question came up in a conversation I had last week with a long-time friend in England. Clearly, as far as I am concerned, this is a theoretical debate; but a few privileged others have actually to put their money where their mouth is.
So how does one spend one’s excess cash usefully? The crux of the question, inevitably, comes down to what is “useful”? If many billionaires have generally had a zero or two snipped off their personal fortune over the last 18 months, most of the Madoff-exempted billionaires still have plenty left to fritter away. The same question could be asked of governments which, while not having necessarily “idle” cash at hand, have been faced with the question of how to stimulate growth (i.e. to use taxpayer cash to create value). Some governments – like some individuals – strike it rich for just being in the right place (at the right time)… such as countries sitting on top of oil fields or an internet entrepreneur whose company is bought out at the height of the bubble. Value is not systematically reproducible.
So, the question is posed: what to do with that excess money?
Here are just a few ideas for governments or fantastically wealthy individuals:
• Invite the Rolling Stones to play at your birthday party
• Buy a $5000,000 wristwatch that needs to be have full-scale maintenance every 4-5 years at a cost of several thousand dollars and takes three months
• Build a fantasy Palm-shaped island city from scratch on water
• Go to war
• Dig a [big] hole
If consumerism and, more significantly, the capitalist model are to be sustainable, the creation of wealth would need to enable further wealth creation in a virtuous circle. And, if society – or a specific civilization — is to benefit longer term, the greater common good must be kept in mind in the way that the money is spent. In order to evaluate the benefit to society, I feel that the best way to define the value of the material and non-material gains is by the amount of positive energy created.
I share with you some of the thoughts we had regarding how the ultra wealthy might choose to go about spending their money and welcome your participation.
Keep it under the mattress… courtesy of a belief that “the world is falling to bits and I don’t trust anyone or anything.” In my opinion, this is the worst possible solution – and likely self-fulfilling. The cash collects dust and naturally devalues over time. No use to anybody. Plus, I simply have a more positive outlook on life.
Invest in typical financial publicly traded instruments, such as stocks & bonds. If this investment helps nourish the capital markets, the gains are essentially cosmetic (almost psychological). The real opportunity to add value is when the money is directed as additional capital to an entrepreneur to help him/her invest, i.e. making the money accessible for the companies to invest. Otherwise, if the money is just poured into the stock market (to make stock prices go higher), the gain to society is only marginal, since the capital has already been raised/issued. Nonetheless, it would be hard to deny that higher stock prices do create ‘positive energy.’
Create a new business. Assuming that the experience earned during the wealth creation can be passed on to some effect, this is a most reasonable option. The employment of people and ancillary activities has a solid knock-on effect.
Donate to charities. If the hurdle of finding an efficient charitable organization can be overcome, the choice of the most beneficial charity for society is entirely discretionary. We identified the epic and valuable work of Greg Mortensen, who has created some 60 schools in the impoverished Afghanistan/Pakistan region, because the creation of schools helps to bring up the rear end of society…which can possibly help improve overall conditions, stimulate wealth creation and, along the way, possibly even diminish the negative forces of war.
Dig holes. If the economic stimulus of war is well documented, Keynsian style “stimulus packages” have, as yet, unproven long-term benefits. Taking the metaphor of digging holes to mean infrastructure building, one can make a solid argument for positive energy creation. Communication and travel via the improved infrastructure will most likely have a longer-term benefit, providing the resources are budgeted and managed efficiently. Keynesian “holes” are required activity to be stimulated/paid for by government when consumers become too frightened to spend and end up putting money into risk-free assets, such as government bonds, gold, savings accounts, etc. In other words, if savings rates go up too high (typically this has not been the problem in the US) and spending stops, the economy nosedives. The real problem lies, as now, when governments keep on printing money, paying for holes to be dug to prime the next consumer boom, only to need more debt to be printed to overcome the next bust… “That’s where we are now,” as my good friend said. “Sooner or later the alcoholic needs to stop drinking to save himself – but the cold turkey is painful and electorates don’t like pain.”
Live life to the fullest, in the most decadent version of carpe diem. Buy and experience the biggest, best of everything. The value (energy) creation is rather restricted in its reach.
Notwithstanding the fact that this is clearly no real concern of mine, I think that dreaming of having this problem is in itself, creating a positive energy for me. I love Dubai and the scale of its ambitions, even if the varnish may have come off rather dramatically recently. I have always been more Beatles than Stones, but one has to accept that Mick is hanging on and puts on a good show, so therein lies a strong energy. And, insofar as digging holes is done to improve transportation and communication, this too creates positive energy. So, the bottom line is that the first two options received a thumbs down (unless you invest in a specific company), while the next three received the thumbs up. As for the throwaway sixth option, it is hard to fault at least some full on living in the present. However, the chances of veering into committing one or more of the deadly sins would seem to warrant, ultimately, the thumbs down.
If you were excessively wealthy, how would you spend your money? Your thoughts?
I had my first ‘motorcycle taxi’ ride last Friday. It turned out to be a classic experience of getting to the airport JIT (just in time). My flight was at 4:15pm and I left my meeting at the MEDA headquarters at 2:30pm. According to the driver, we would arrive within 25 minutes, no sweat.
My first thought about the Motorcycle-taxi regards the very different experience of getting “into” the motorcycle taxi, this being my first such taxi ride. The first point is that my driver, David, felt the need to shake my hand. A personal touch. The next challenge was the suitcase which was apparently much bigger than expected. However, after some stretching of the veritably industrial elastic bands, the suitcase was cabled on to the back of the bike. Then, with hairnet to boot, I slipped on the second helmet. The final ritual involved the alcoholic gel for the hands before putting on the provided gloves. Only fitting, I thought, before you split your legs and sit behind a total stranger. All aboard, we went off with a relaxed feeling – I was, indeed, very confident that we would make it in time. So confident, in fact, that I decided to make a quick stopover at my home – basically on the way to the Roissy (CDG) airport, some 30 kilometres north of Paris.
Having arrived at our home, I scrambled up and down and was back on the saddle at 2:45pm. A little tight, but we should get to the airport at 3:10pm at the latest assured David, my friendly driver. As it turned out, as we arrived at the first entrance to the péripherique (Paris’ ring road), we found the on-ramp blocked off, causing general mass confusion of honking, a lot of frustrated drivers and a quite unexpected traffic jam. We diverted to the next entrance, not without jumping a few curbs. Same problem. The entrance was again blocked. By the time we arrived at the third entrance, my heart had taken on a noticeably less consistent beat. We asked the policeman, who was nonchalantly shooing us off the on-ramp, how many of the entrances might be closed off. “Presidential Procession” was the surly explanation, accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders.
After the fourth ‘diversion,’ we wiggled and ziggled and finally found a route onto the A1 toward the airport via St Denis. At last, we experienced some free sailing. We arrived at terminal 2A at 3:18pm. Pretty good, I thought, but later than I would have wanted and less than an hour before the international flight was to take off. Catastrophe struck as I found out that the right terminal was actually 2E. Fortunately for me, David was still re-arranging his bike for his next trip. Putting the helmet back on, without hairnet this time, and jamming the suitcase between us, we zipped over to the E terminal, which, if you don’t know CDG, is a good kilometre away. Imagine my horror, when I discovered that the real right terminal was 2F, some 500 metres away by foot. The sprint was on. I arrived at the check-in counter to hear “sorry, sir, the flight is closed for check-in.” To my good fortune – and thanks to the electronic new age – I had pre-checked in and had a boarding pass. The woman accepted my situation (and my C2000 card) and I was able to go through the final formalities to board the plane. Hurray.
Anyway, the motorcycle taxi definitely saved me… I cannot imagine what might have happened had I been in a classic car taxi. It was worth it all the way. Anyone else want to share a Moto-Taxi experience? Zip on over here and tell us.
As I wrote in a prior post, I was highly disappointed after being called only a “reasonable geek” in a rather comprehensive (if marginally outdated) Geek Test at InnerGeek. As much as I am a reasonable geek and am thirsty for all new technologies, it is this context within which I write about what I see in the West as a burgeoning trend of humanisation (a follow-up to Bruce Springstein’s 1992 Human Touch album!).
In the latest of my simple segmentations, I have determined that there were two types of people. There are those that subscribe to new technologies and those that don’t. However, in the those-that-don’t camp, I have my eyes on the far end of the spectrum, on those that reject outright new technologies with an ever growing fervency toward another paradigm. In this group, I see an emphasis on the human factor with a mix of a rejection of the new technologies, nostalgia for the “way it was” as well as an appreciation of the local tastes and habits. People that might simply enjoy sitting in a comfortable chair (as in the one pictured below). It’s why there are over 8 million hits in the Google search for “plain simple.”
Three examples or thoughts that presumably resonate for people in this camp:
1/ Anti-Facebook movement. The email recalcitrants (i.e. those that think emails are a nuisance) and the existence of the hoards of anti-Facebook groups and blogs (eg on Facebook itself, I Hate Facebook, ClickZ, Lonely Schnozz, Hatebook at Blorge…) are probable offshoots of the “I want to remain human” trend. Notwithstanding the issue of privacy and the complications of the professional/private interface, I understand people’s rejection of Facebook as an inhuman interface that devalues the notion of “friend.” Fair point. With tip of hat to Greg for this anti Facebook video using Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the Fire.”
2/ Nostalgia for the past. There was a recent demonstration (Feb 17 2008) in Paris in favour of the old French Franc and a rejection of the euro (see here on Daily Motion). There is a sense of retroactivity in this call for a return to the currency of yore. Obviously, behind this sentiment, there is also a sense of anti-globalism, much less a sense of anti-Europe–the demonstrators seemed to be blaming the euro on today’s ailing economy in France.
3/ In the face of every stronger globalisation, including the homogenisation of the brand offer and the delocalisation of jobs, there is a need to “find oneself.” In the panoply of media and confusion, people need help in identifying and defining themselves. For getting lost in the surfeit of brands, the overabundance of information and the chase for time, people need to “find” themselves and, I believe, people are only to happy to re-invest in local tastes and traditions.
People are beginning to get fed up with technology all over the place. Our society, it would seem according to some, is dying. The death of privacy (or O’Reilly’s Database Nation) with phones and bluetooth ear plugs everywhere; the death of interaction with portable video and music players (not to say only iPods); the death of depth (Google searches in the place of library research); the death of memory (palm pilots for all your lists of things to do); and, last but not least, the death of freedom with the RIM (if not RIP) Blackberry (or assault with Blackberry as in Naomi Campbell’s case).
Of course, one of the more literal results of this “humanisation” trend has been the “FREE HUG” campaign, where in various cities around the world, utter strangers stand in the street to give out free hugs to anyone accepting it.
Another of the trends that is borne of this “human touch” phenomenon includes the desire to have “local stores,” where you can be recognised and tended to by the friendly local shop keeper. I hear more and more people who live in major metropolitan centres complaining – especially in the more expensive locati
ons – about the disappearance of the local trade and the predominance of cold financial institutions and high end retail shops (jewellery, leather goods, etc.). In other words, the character of the neighbourhood is being effaced and replaced by “suits” on the one hand and rich shoppers and/or tourists, on the other. For those living in those “high end” spots, they are having to do their daily convenience shopping further afield.
Real estate prices in metropolitan centres are escalating out of hand. Places that come to mind include the Champs Elysées in Paris, 5th Ave in NYC, the Causeway Bay in Hong Kong or even the main carfree strip in Gstaad. I have read a few articles discussing the overloading on the Champs Elysées of restaurants, car dealerships and apparel stores, and the disappearance of the local commerce (and, good news, potentially the McDonald’s too). Apparel stores currently occupy 39% of the space on the Champs Elysées. This article refers to soaring rents on the Champs.
Another trend is the return of the Cabaret form of entertainment, borne of the 19th century bohemian Montmartre neighbourhood in Paris. A recent TIME magazine article “Come to the Cabaret,” talks about how today’s geopolitical climate has created the right conditions for the revival of the Cabaret genre (see the wikipedia list of Cabarets available in Paris). Just as Internet surfers are more than willing to accept the low-grade quality of films on YouTube (as long as the content is great), it appears that there is a rejection of the super-polished Broadway productions, the post-production immaculate Hollywood films, and the plastic iPod universe. No wonder people are still inclined to go see a musician in concert where error and spontaneity remain possible, even desirable. Independent films will also continue to find their audience, as low budget production has its charm.
Finally, I read about Britain’s recent efforts to define “Britishness.” The International Herald Tribune wrote a front page article on the topic, “Searching for a definition of Britishness: Fine, but “no motto, please.” I view this initiative as a direct corollary of the search for the human touch because the pleasure of the human touch is in re-finding your own humanity and defining thus your identity. The need to define your nationality and/or your identity, is a form of reaction to globalisation. That said, the debate to find a national motto is perhaps the effect of national marketing on steroids. Meanwhile, in a world where nationalism is brewing in more or less virulent manner in various countries (Russia, Germany, Serbia…), I find the search for Britishness as perfectly suitable. Of course, saving the Queen, the British Pound the stiff upper lip, as well as living on an island will all help to reinforce the British you know what (although it clearly doesn’t help the English rugby team these days).
What does all this mean? A few thoughts from a personal marketing point of view:
- No wonder people are looking for authenticity and transparency (thanks in part to the opportunity that the internet provides). Within the context of a search for humanity sprouts the extra valuation of traits such as generosity.
- The return of the fountain pen. Write personal notes by hand. Check here for a nifty little touch: Lettres d’amour fragranced pens… putting the romance into handwriting. These pens are being sold at postal offices across France.
- Create or participate in old-fashioned “Salons” (in the 18th century sense) to discuss and debate face-to-face on topics other than your children’s school, or your work trials and tribulations…
- Support initiatives that favour local flavour and traditions.
- Get to know your community when you are creating a company.
- And, if you are in the field of new technologies, continue to ramp up the personalization, and invest in creating the experience. One good examples is the Adidas Techno-Palace store in Paris (photo right) where you can simulate running conditions to make the perfectly fitted shoe.
Do you have any other examples of initiatives and projects that support this notion of a return to the human touch?
Today is the birthday of three women : my marvellous mother Morsan, my wonderful wife Yendi and my fellow blogger, Sarah Hague at St Bloggie de Riviere.
And for the mother in you all, many happy returns. May today be a perfect day for you!