Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Dark Knight of the Dark Night

Everything, it seems to me, is all about exchange. As kids we used to swap (a form of exchange or barter) comic books. Those in most demand were usually Superman editions, with Batman a close second. Green Lantern and The Flash were also popular but never quite had the value of the 'big' two.

Batman And Gotham Are Alright Tonight : Makeshift Studios 2013

On one famous occasion, let's call it legendary, I promoted a particular DC Comic, a Superman title which had the superhero battling Lex Luther for supremacy. Luther, however, had managed to get his grubby hands on some
Kryptonite and, for once, had the upper hand - could this be the end for Superman, aka Clark Kent...

I hyped this comic to try and attract as much interest and hence value as possible (hype : a form of advertising or promotion of a product or service). I spread a rumour that the Superman comic, I had in my possession, held the key to the secrets of life and the universe - I sort of mimicked Utopia* before it was ever conceived or shown on television. The hype brought a great deal of interest from other kids in the neighbourhood and at school. This put me in a strong position, I had managed to generate demand while the supply was low forcing my asking price up.

To be frank with you I was always a Dark Knight guy, I always preferred Batman and one of the bidders had a particular edition I was desperate to get my hands on, so I made the deal with Alex. For my DC Superman edition he gave me three Supermans, THE Batman title I wanted, a Green Lantern and The Flash. It was a black ball of a deal, I had become the Gordon Gekko of the Ganja Academy (Grange Academy - my old school).

Now let's consider this, remember also that Superman was top currency for this particular comic book market that we all operated in. So, while Batman wasn't bad and Green Lantern and The Flash were of lesser value per unit, the capture of three Superman titles in one closure was sheer brilliance. If there had been such a thing, I would have been a comic books trader for Goldman Sachs.

What we were actually doing was exchange, and exchange is all about people with products and services to sell interacting with people looking to buy products and services. Once, of course, you have buyers and sellers you have a market which, in turn generates demand and supply. The higher the demand and the lower the supply the greater the price, or the lower the demand and the higher the supply the less value the product or service has.

All things being pretty much equal, sellers look for an edge and this is where the water turns dark. To grab the cut edge of an advantage from competitors sellers employ marketing, which is really all about making people aware of the unique selling point of the unit being sold. Branded goods, slogans - just do it, the power of dreams, - and advertising are all designed to provide an advantage to the said product or service.

What we have is a layering effect, a matrix of economic variables, needs, wants and desires underpinning exchange. Exchange giving rise to buyers and sellers, demand and supply, markets, brands, slogans, advertising. You could add other cut across generators of interest like corporate social responsibility and trends, perhaps even graffadi and/or guerilla marketing, dare I say it : hype?

At the pinnacle of this economic interconnectedness, of course, we find our fascinating friend risk.

The guy who bought the comic book from me for, I have to confess, a grossly overinflated price - helped by hype and rumours - also bought risk. The risk that the comic didn't meet his expectations -  the expectation that great secrets were contained within its pages.  It is a bit like buying a bunch of shares at a certain price in the expectation that the price will go up and you can sell at a profit.  Of course, there is no guarantee that the price will increase, things can go wrong, so you always put yourself at risk.

Risk, in turn, is an amazing concept which drives super-complicated financial vehicles like derivatives and a whole array of gambling models - insurance companies (and presumably reinsurance firms), are really nothing but super sophisticated betting shops!  They work out the odds in their favour and you place your bet.

A few weeks later I caught sight of Alex approaching me. I panicked, tried to escape, but too late he had seen me.

Hi! He called out. I smiled in a sort of feeling-very-guilty kind of rigid grimace.

You were right, he nodded.
The coded messages in that comic book are amazing.
Coded messages? I sounded vague.
The secrets of life and the universe!

I wanted to tell him right there and then I had made the whole thing up to 'cheat' him out of his currency, but I couldn't stop him talking about the comic book, the symbols in the artwork and coded messages in the text.

He had, he told me as he walked off and winked, discovered all the truths he had ever wanted to know.
You have? I frowned and watched him go...
Yes, he called back, and they were all in that comic you sold me!

They were!?

*Utopia is a Channel Four TV series where a group of geeky Graphic comic book collectors come into possession of a particular edition which is supposed to have coded messages in the text.  This leads to the collectors being hunted by a ruthless, sinister gang for the secrets of the comic.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

No Sleep Till FUTURE

No Sleep Till Future : Makeshift Studios 2013
Five minutes into the future. Packed like angry bears in a barrel of wasps, we are on a subway train from King's Cross St Pancras to Vauxhall, London. Between a forest of bodies, I see a woman on a seat at the other side of the carriage locked into her own technological bubble.

The scene is pure cyberpunk. In a crowded carriage hurtling along beneath the streets of London she has her netbook open on her lap, her earphones clamped to the side of her head, watching and listening to the webinar of a work colleague from New York. In the palm of her hand she has her 4th generation smartphone face up, periodically receiving and replying to texts. The subway carriage her popped-up temporary office space.

Before we met her she had enjoyed a coffee at Starbucks on St Pancras International concourse, paying for her latte, and by default, her momentary office cubicle, with her smartphone via near field communications technology.

I call her W
orker 'A' - sounds like a vaguely sinister and dark portrayal of a character from a Franz Kafka story, or an obscure track from a Daft Punk album (for the record Daft Punk are Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo and Thomas Bangalter).

As she interacts, immediately and efficiently, with the world, I am deep in thought about how we are evolving and how this evolution, economically, socially and politically is driven by technological progress.

What I want to understand is how these evolutionary forces gathering speed will develop into 'the future' rushing toward us.

Travelling at high speed through the long dark tunnels toward our destinations is, I think, a pretty neat metaphor for looking ahead.

"Authority is questioned routinely" Bruce Tulgan, founder and chairman of Rainmaker Thinking inc, explains. "Research is quick and easy. Anyone can get published. We try to filter through the endless tidal wave of information coming at us from an infinite number of sources all day, everyday. Nothing remains cutting edge for very long. Meanwhile the pace of everything continues to accelerate. A year is long term, and five years is just a hallucination."

I love the irony in Tulgan's retro poke at the 1960's drug culture while charting the mind-blowing speed of our contemporaneous evolution.

Technology, in fact, has created, and is creating, a new working universe which is obliterating boundaries between work and leisure, changing where, when, how we work and the very nature of the jobs we will do or not do in the future.

Our world is altering, changing and morphing into something we cannot 100% predict, but already, as we know, the old certainties, traditional jobs and industries are being jettisoned. A new employment cosmos is beginning to take shape where pension rights, hours of work, and other benefits like holiday and sick pay are no longer a given.

The internet and the way we interconnect, consume and spend has underpinned decline in some quarters as demand has shifted. The music industry is a good example - who would have thought that HMV would have been brought to its knees by the humble laptop. People no longer browse the aisles of records stores checking out the latest vinyl albums and singles, but sit at home and download music for pennies as if their frontal lobotomies depended on it.

High street shops have similarly been deserted by consumers as they check out dress sizes in the cyber corridors of digital superstores.

"A few writers, such as Robert Reich and Jeremy Rifkin, have addressed the change, but the media and Wall Street and government agencies still look for 'recovery'", Dr Jan Hively tells me perplexed by the inability of the ruling set to keep up. "It's like the story of 'The Emperor without Clothes,' those who have been laid off by dying industries or lost business because of dwindling consumer capacity know that the canary has stopped singing*, but systems shaped by a jobs-based economy, such as education, have not yet acknowledged the change.  As a result, adjunct professors live in poverty while the union protects high paid university profs from having to teach evenings or weekends, when adult students are available for classes.  How can we encourage broad recognition about the need for managing the societal transition away from jobs?"

*Reference to 'the canary has stopped singing' relates to the one time practice of miners taking these birds into the mine with them.  If dangerous gases like methane or carbon monoxide were present, the canary would die - hence stop singing - and this would warn the miners they were in danger. 

Sunday, 23 June 2013

So Long William Emery Bridges

Could this be chaos theory?

"Chaos is the primal state of pure energy for every true new beginning" (William Bridges)

When a butterfly flaps its wings in an Amazonian rainforest, or so the chaos theory goes, it marks the beginnings of a hurricane miles away in the Caribbean or Louisiana. A hurricane that will follow in the flapping insect's wake a few weeks later and maybe thousands of miles from its origin.

Don't you think there is more than a little part of human interconnectedness in that statement, especially with the ascent of cyber-globalisation? Somebody writes something and it ripples and resonates across the USA, Europe, Asia.

William Bridges' work was a little like chaos theory. His insights helped inform and shape contemporary thinking, his words echoing in the minds of students, researchers and journalists down the years.
"I have looked through the chapters of the third edition of "Managing Transitions" published in 2009, and considered what he said about the three major stages of: 1) Ending, losing, letting go 2) the neutral zone 3) the new beginning" Dr Jan Hively muses over the work of William Bridges . "Over the last 20 years...individuals who have gone through the process of losing their jobs have been guided through these three stages of transition by life coaches using Bridges' material. However, our society as a whole has not acknowledged "The End of Jobs"..... the scope of social and economic impacts brought by technological change. Bridges' process described in 'Managing Transitions" can be applied to "The End of Jobs.""

An email I received this week from Susan Bridges informed me of the untimely death of William Bridges. It seemed strange, coming as it did, directly after a blog - Message in the Data - where I had quoted Dr Jan Hively who had revisited William Bridges work in her paper Adapting To The End Of Jobs (With An Emphasis On Productive Aging).

The man who wrote Transitions : Making Sense of Life's Changes (an influential book that altered the way people thought about and approached change) sadly died on February 17, 2013 from complications of Lewy Body disease.

I believe William Bridges was writing way ahead of his time, with Transitions and with Jobshift : How To Prosper In A Workplace Without Jobs.

He gave us some wonderful insights into change and how it impacts each and every one of us. His work, also has significant relevance in the modern era where the rate of technological advance, changing demographic patterns, global financial change, emerging nations and cyber-globalisation is taking us rapidly forward.

Bridges believed that while change was locked into the situation, transitions were psychological. He also thought, as Dr Hively outlined above, that change was experienced in three stages.

In 1994 he published the mind-altering Jobshift, a book which prophesied the end of jobs. His insights were nailed on as he predicted the end of middle-management which Dr Hively touched on, 20 years later, in her paper.

For me Jobshift was a route marker on my own journey to understanding the world in terms of work, why we do it and what its meaning is within the overarching panoply of human existence. Bridges is a name that constantly recurs on that journey, and anyone remotely interested in the human condition would be well advised to put William Bridges on their reading list.

William Bridges, born in Boston in 1933, died in Larkspur, California. He obtained a BA in English from Harvard, his MA in American History from Columbia and his PhD in American Civilisation from Brown. He is survived by his wife Susan Bridges, his daughters Anne Gavin, Sarah and Margaret Bridges.

William Bridges flapped his wings, we can still feel the hurricane...

Coming Soon : No Sleep Till Future

Recommended :


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Random Acts of Kindness On A Glasgow Street (1.6 Million Nights at a Marriot Hotel)

The metaphor seemed a good one.

The economic crisis of 2008 was the greenback landscape for a great, modern, holy war between the high priests and priestesses of Wall Street, The City of London, the global economy and the tented heretics of reform. The great cathedrals of finance were under attack. The houses of the Archbishops of Goldman Sachs,UBS, J.P.Morgan Stanley, Lloyds TSB, Lehman Brothers, HBOS, Northern Rock, HSBC and RBS.

Tribes clashing on the 'warfield' of monetary righteousness, their banners euro blue, cash green and saintly gold flapping in the breeze. Each calling the other infidel, locked in the first financial crusade of the 21st century.

Capitalismo : Makeshift Studios 2013
The train was heading for Central Station, Glasgow, returning north from Southampton. I spent four happy years at the University of Glasgow, hanging around the local bookshops and bars on Byers Road, it would be good to be back home.

I was pouring over research, notes and interview quotes for a piece I was writing on Occupy.

I highlight 'Henry Waxman' in pale blue marker pen, the colour of Manchester City football tops, and then type onto my laptop.

Head of Lehman Brothers, Dick Fuld, had his salary and bonuses questioned by Henry Waxman, Republican, 30th district of California, at a House of Representatives' Committee On Oversight and Government Reform, October 6, 2008.

"Your company is now bankrupt, our economy is in crisis, but you get to keep $480million (£276million)?" Waxman said perplexed.

At Glasgow Central station I cross the concourse and take the side entrance out onto Union Street.

Waiting for a break in the traffic I walk toward Gordon Street, where I approach a woman and ask for directions to The Tinderbox Cafe on Ingram Street.

The woman looks up at me and nods thoughtfully.

"Aye, ah ken where ye mean, Merchant City, aye" She stares ahead. "C'moan, I'll show you."

I follow, we exchange pleasantries, speak about how bitterly cold it is for this time of year, and I remember what a beautiful city this is.

"I have a meeting and I am late," I hurriedly explain. "This is really good of you."
"It's no far," she reassures me. "Near tae a Tesco...Tesco Express ah think it is."

As we cross Buchanan Street to Royal Exchange Square, the woman halts by a homeless man, his red, frozen hands wrapped around an empty, paper Starbucks cup ( I always find it ironic that the receptacle of choice is always a Starbucks cup! It kind of symbolises a surreal world).

I move to walk on, but notice that the woman has stopped, and is stooping toward the man, placing two pound coins in his cup and talking to him.

"God bless ye darling," He says, and I pick out the features of his well-defined face. Thin, angular, mid-twentyish, the tortured lines of an extremly difficult life already etched around his eyes and across his brow.

"You look frozen," She frowns.
"I've been oot aw night," the young man replies.
"Couldn't you get into a hostel?" I offer feebly.
"They're all full," He looks up at me and shrugs, "There is a recession on."
'Yes, but this is 2013', I catch myself thinking.

It's then the woman removes her gloves, pulls them off determinedly and gives them to the homeless man.

"Aw naw missus" the young man protests.
"Ah've goat children," she says simply. "It could be anyone of us, besides, ah've goat plenty mair pairs at home".

The gloves look tight, but the man manages to force his frozen hands into them.

"Aw, that's really good of you. I am on the hoosing list, bit that could take weeks, months..." he adds preoccupied with the gloves.
"That's a lot of cold nights in the open." The woman confides as we start to walk again. "Ah would have given him mair but ah lost ma job in April and, well, things are tight."

We parted by The Tinderbox Cafe, I thanked her, she turned and walked back the way she came.

Later, working on my laptop, I realised I didn't have the woman's name. I sighed, googled the Marriot Hotel on Westminster Road Bridge, London, and discovered that a room for one night will cost £166.

Dick Fuld's $480 million (£276 million), I roughly calculate, would have bought the homeless man 4,500 years at the Marriot Hotel, or 1.6 million nights. At a nice little bed and breakfast just south of Fort William, the frozen man would have had a roof over his head for 30,000 years...

With Dick Fuld's salary and bonus, our friend could have bought 35 million copies of Ryu Murakami's novel Audition, or 138, 693, 467 McDonald's Happy Meals.

I could imagine the young homeless man, bleary-eyed, his hair sticky and shining, mulling over the menu above the head of the gaily coloured server, his baseball cap adorned with three shiny stars.

"Erm...right, can I have 138 million, 693 thousand, and 467 Happy Meals please"
"Coming right up sir!" The server would smile his teeth whiter than white and sparkling.

The homeless man would rub his gloved hands together and think 'I'm really lovin' it'.

Arms full of Happy Meals, he might have had the afterthought, 'With Fuld's cash I could have bought 1.5 million prints of Philip Jacques de Loutherbourg's painting Battle Between Richard 1 Lionheart 1157-99 and Saladin 1137-93.'

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Message In The Data

The message, I believe, is always in the data. Sure, you have to look closely, and if you listen hard enough you will hear it shout out.

Makes 'the data' sound like a little furry creature who frequents Parisian nightclubs, enjoys a glass of Remy Martin, tries to impress ladies with his street dance and plays Linkin Park's Meteora very loud indeed!!

Empty Construction Site

Data is very important information which helps us track down and analyse our rapidly changing world, and all the patterns and trends emerging from innovation and altered ways of doing. It informs us of our transforming/morphing lives and helps us make sense of, what I like to call, the re-evolution of our contemporary world - socially, economically and politically.

Revisiting William Bridges' 'The End of Jobs' article - first published in Fortune magazine on September 19, 1994 - Dr Jan Hively directs our attention to the fact that :

"(Today), 50% of working Americans are working for income in other ways than in traditional jobs. Current work models include freelance workers, consultants, contingency workers, independent contractors and temps." (Adapting to the End of Jobs (with an Emphasis on Productive Aging), Dr Jan Hively, 2013).

But what does the above actually mean for real time America and the rest of the world?

Well, in one of the most advanced nations on Earth, half the workforce are no longer protected by traditional contracts of employment.  Agreements, once designed to give guarantees of hours of work and protections to the employee, are being replaced by watered down versions with no financial cover for holidays or sickness or extended employment rights. So, what's changed?

"Bridges predicted that labor saving technologies would end up eliminating full-time employees who fulfill strictly prescribed duties for unvarying pay during regular hours" Dr Hively explains. "He saw that traditional jobs are rigid solutions to an elastic problem in a fast-moving economy. Employers focused on cutting costs are not going to hire full-time employees if they can't keep them busy full-time. And they already have laid off most of the middle managers who acted as employee supervisors."

But it's not just middle-management that is feeling the pinch. Those who once worked massive production lines are also witnessing technological advance rendering them redundant.

Across the pond, the UK is facing equally rapid and life-altering labour market change.  British trade unions are actively calling for so-called 'zero hours' contracts to be made illegal.

Since 2008, data shows that 'jobs' where workers have little or no employment rights in respect of regular income or guarantees of weekly hours have doubled. In this situation the employee has to sit around without pay until the employer phones to offer work.

Predominantly found in the retail and hospitality industry, zero hours practice has hopped across the divide and been found alive and well and thriving in the public sector. The NHS (National Health Service) has witnessed a 25% increase in employees working to the uneven rhythm of zero hours contracts.

Critics say that this system of operating working relationships leads to exploitation and poverty and leaves employees at risk of bullying and harassment.

What we do and how we work is inextricably linked to who we are and how we live as people. Work gives people 'value', it affords them a lifestyle, often makes life meaningful, it is, for the vast majority of us, a really significant elephant in the room of our existence.  Our sanity and the quality of our lives shared with loved ones and family and friends, are related to what we do and how we do it.

Revisiting William Bridges can never be wrong, and though he was writing 20 years ago, as Dr Hively has shown, his work still resonates in the 21st century.

When Lehman Brothers collapsed at 1.45 am on September 15, 2008, triggering the biggest financial crisis since 1929, the human cost was, at least, 26,000 staff (employed by the company worldwide).  As we know, globally, many, many more have since lost their jobs related to the financial crisis.

I believe, that significant moment changed the social, political and economic axis of the world forever. Admittedly, it was changing anyway, but it speeded the process up.

This, for me, is the 're-evolution' that we are now starting to live through. The 2008 crash, tied in with other forces of change such as technology, demographic trends, emerging economies, cyber globalisation and urbanisation ( it is predicted that by 2050 around 70% of us will live in cities and towns), will change, alter and transform the way we work, and subsequently, understand and live our lives.

Why it is happening right now, just look at the data!

(I would like to express my gratitude to Dr Jan Hively for allowing me to quote from her paper 'Adapting to the End of Jobs(with an Emphasis on Productive Aging)')

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

A Zero History Of The WORLD

How far have we come?  Well, we can communicate with almost anyone, anywhere, in the world as we journey. Smartphones, laptops and tablets have taken us out into the great wide yonder of the cyberspace universe, where we can browse endless information and make contact with the rest of the planet. An incredible social media mash up. 

Amazing to think that we can do all this as we walk down Oxford Street, sit in Starbucks on Broadway or travel to Newcastle from Edinburgh on a high speed East Coast train.

Sergio, Kangaroo and Rabbit By The Light Of A Blue Moon - Makeshift Studios 2013

All of which impacts with the way we live our lives and work. Forces for good? I certainly hope so.

Let me take you back to July 2011, I was working on a story for the financial section of The Mail On Sunday - a UK national with a circulation of around 6 million.

The idea of social media and how we interconnect has always fascinated me and had me thinking that these clusters of 'connectedness' (for want of a better word - and please have teeth firmly in mouth before attempting to repeat) are like villages, or little towns or even giant cities.  Each with its own 'population' of followers.

Social media, of course, is a way by which people can stay in touch, excellent for those who live some distance apart from family and friends. Also brilliant for linking people with similar interests, pastimes, hobbies and/or resonating business interests.

Working on the 'social' media story I had discovered a US - based company who found celebrities with city-sized followings and paid them handsomely to advertise products on behalf of multi-nationals. This particular business was built around Twitter and celebrities were paid per tweet for advertising branded products to their fanbase.  But, and here's the trick, the celebs didn't even have to write the tweet!

How it worked was amazingly simple. The company (based in Beverley Hills) would engage a celebrity, say Snoop Dogg (3.6 million followers in 2011) or Kim Kardashian ( 8 million in 2011), pay him/her several thousand dollars to use his/her Twitter account and then write tweets on behalf of the brand.  These tweets would then be sent to the celebrity's followers to endorse products. The tweets were written by the company's copywriters but styled to fit the persona of the selected celebrity. 

All the celebs had to do was sit in their backyard sunbathing and drinking cocktails while their fame sold the goods of selected brands, and pushed large sums of cash into their bank accounts - happy days.

In truth, this was really no different to a celebrity appearing in a television commercial, or ad campaign, but people seemed genuinely shocked that 'social' media was being used to exploit the general public in this way.

Maybe we all just thought, naively as it turns out, that this type of social media (in this case Twitter) would only be used for the betterment and interconnectedness of humankind, and not incorporated into a capital generating innovation...yeah right...

What next? Fictitious superheroes specially designed and trendy enough to attract millions of followers.  These comic book characters could then tweet thinly veiled brand endorsements to their fanbase. 

Actually, this would be an economically more viable solution for selling products to large numbers of people.  No self-obsessed celebs to cater for or pay exorbitant amounts of cash for sitting in the sunshine.  Just Superblondehairguy or girl, drawn to the ideals of perfection (never aging - Superman's hair is still blue-black, no grey - nor ever needing any plastics, botox or flamethrower treatments to recapture that youthful sparkle).  Maybe, SBHG/G, could even release a music single, generate interest...  

I like the cyberpunk angle to this.   Mmmmm....anyone got Richard Branson's phone number?  Anyone?

(Anyone, wishing a copy of the original Mail On Sunday article please let me know and I will send you the link - you will see my email address at the top right hand corner of this page.)

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Blue Sky, Orange Glowing Sun, Wispy, White, Puffy Clouds and the Death Of Main Street (The Idea Of Crossed Destinies?)

Sandwiched between the sky and the land is technology...
Looking out on Main Street From abandoned retail outlet

Above us, the blue sky, orange, glowing sun and wispy, white, puffy clouds, beneath us and surrounding us the blacktop, concrete and glass structures, with the shimmering sea in the distance beyond the city.

In-betweeners (people) hurry past clutching smartphones, some have them pressed against their ear, private conversations shared among the millions sliding past on either side. In cafes, in restaurants, in supermarkets someone is calling out their private business. I don't care if Dave has arrived and wants to take you for a round of golf, YOU pick up the kids!

If we are discrete in public - text if necessary, but don't shout out your business to the world - the smartphone can be a great asset. Laptops, tablets, palmtops, smartphones mean that we can work as we travel which can be advantageous if we have deadlines to meet and some distance to travel to our next assignment, seminar or conference. We can send email, keyboard reports, surf research, write blogs and speak with colleagues as we journey - none of the above advised if you are driving.

In busy, hectic lives we can even go shopping online so that we don't miss that birthday or anniversary.

Most of us use these devices as we journey through our lives in our little bubbles of influence. What we don't experience or witness is how all these things we do and carry out, intersect and interact with others.

Because between the blue sky, orange, glowing sun and wispy, white, puffy clouds, and the blacktop, concrete and glass structures, the shimmering sea in the distance beyond the city, is the death of Main Street. All our actions impacting on other people's lives, and they on ours, as we journey.

In May this year Joshua Bamfield,   director of the Centre for Retail Research, was warning that technology will bring about the demise of the High Street.

Bamfield is the author of the report : 'Retail Futures 2018'.

According to the Retail Futures report, the share of consumer spending in High Street stores is expected to drop to 40.2% by 2014, while bedroom, online consumerism is expected to rise from 12.7% in 2012 to 21.5% by 2018. Major UK store, John Lewis, revealed in January this year that their online sales had increased by 40% in the last twelve months.

Jana Fronzeck an intern with Forrester, a global research and advisory firm, revealed that the US online retail market is expected to reach $262 billion (£169 billion, €198 billion) in 2013, with Europe forecast to reach $166 billion (£107 billion, € 125 billion) worth of online sales in the same year.

Deserted Index Store

For those working in the Main Street retail sector this will mean job losses and redundancies.

The Retail Futures report predicts a loss of 316,000 retail jobs (in the UK alone) in the next five years with pharmacies, health and beauty retailers, shops specialising in books, stationery and music on the front line of closures.

One, need only flick through the rapidly expanding list of Main Street abandonments to realise how entenched this changing landscape has become.

In 2013, even the cutely innovative Brandspace group, a major supplier of temporary space and pop up shops, went bust!

Add, Blockbuster, Ethel Austin, HMV (ICONIC with capital letters - so long nipper), Comet, Jessops, JJB Sports, Clinton Cards, Mothercare - Australia, Virgin megastores - France, FNAC, Italy...

All of the above, of course, has huge implications for the work people do, as technology changes the way we carry out tasks, as well as where and when we work.  In short, our working lives, and what we will experience as our working lives, will be changed and altered as our working landscapes are technologically transformed.

A giant rubber and latex puppet of Sir Alan Sugar is wheeled onto the stage of history : Shop're fired!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Just Doing It : Our Working Lives And The Interconnectedness Of The Everyday/The Adverts, Dan Weiden And The Mormons.

There is something exciting and 'interconnected' about researching and writing a story. All the time, at the back of your mind, there are little connections being made with every piece of information found, other ideas you have had, knowledge you may have, and the tale you seek to tell.

Echocomics - Makeshift Studios 2012

In 2006 I interviewed T.V. Smith, a one time pop star in the punk era.  The story was pegged to commemorate 30 years since the emergence of this musical genre. Smith, whose real name is Tim, was a dream to interview. He was the founder of a band called The Adverts, which included a woman bass player called Gaye Advert (real name Gaye Black). Tim eventually married Gaye and after a relatively short career with the band, two albums and seven singles including two top 40 hits, T.V. Smith left to pursue a solo career.

The Adverts are, perhaps, best known for their single Gary Gilmore's Eyes, released in August 1977 and based on the notorious American criminal. It peaked at number 18 in the charts some eight months after Gilmore had been executed for murder.

If Gary Gilmore's notoriety inspired T.V. Smith and his band, The Adverts, we also find him (Gilmore) behind a $ multi-million campaign which has, at some point, touched us all.

"The 'Just Do it' Nike slogan is originally attributed to Dan Weiden, who is said to have come up with the idea at an ad agency meeting in 1988.

Weiden, of slick ad firm Weiden and Kennedy, in turn, has claimed he was inspired by double murderer Gary Gilmore. Gilmore, who was shot by firing squad on January 17, 1977, for two murders he committed in Utah, is reported to have said 'let's do it' when asked if he had any last words.

It seems weird that the last words of an executed murderer should be re-interpreted to spearhead the ad campaign of a leading sports brand, but that is how magpie global economics can be. The final words of a killer incorporated into one of the most iconic slogans on the planet. A powerful in-your-face and 'classic' three-word line responsible for shifting millions of Nike units every year." (Excerpt from Rush Hour : When I Grow Up...)

Art steals, once again, from real life to feed the machine. The life and death of a Utah double murderer inspires the creative juices of two innovators for financial ends.

For Smith and Weiden the idea for hit record and expensive ad campaign respectively, both of which made serious money for the men, and the companies they represented, came from one source.

And, yet, there is another line to this story.

Gilmore's crimes, or, at least, those for which he was executed, were committed in Utah, and Utah, of course, is the recognised spiritual home of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The Mormons arrived in Utah from Illinois and before that Missouri and Ohio as they trekked across the United States looking for a safe haven for their religion...but then, that's another story.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Like Scenes From A Ryu Murakami Novel

I am toying about using the above as the title for one of the sections of Rush Hour.

Do you know Ryu Murakami? Excellent Japanese novelist, writer, and author of Audition (made into a film) and Popular Hits of the Showa Era (flimed as Karaoke Terror).

I have the feeling that Rush Hour is a bit like writing a Ryu Murakami novel, labyrinthine, looking beneath the soul of life and the economics of the daily grind. Stories of the street, the grimy realities of what is, rather than romanticised notions of what could be, if that makes sense. Exciting, powerful and quirky. Cultish, stylish with a twist of the macabre...I am talking, of course, about Ryu Murakami's novels and not Rush Hour...though, you never know...

You Say The Most Wonderful Things Darling. (Makeshift Studios, 2013)


As well as recommending Ryu Murakami (one of my favourite writers)
I want to also recommend a couple of great fellow blogs :

Sunday, 2 June 2013

If On A Starry Spring Night, A Traveller (Crossed Destinies) - apologies to Italo Calvino

This Life by Andrea 'Style 1' Antoni

Author's note : I am fascinated by people and the world, how it is operated and organised, these are powerful driving forces to me and my writing. I love to hear people's stories and the story below is true, it did happen to me. I have changed a few details to protect the guilty, but this is the story as it was told to me, and I offer it as an example of how intertwined our work can be with our lives and who we are as people. Michael (not his real name) was 63, did love his work and did not mention retirement once when we spoke. I also wrote this is in the existential style of Italo Calvino, so you might find it interesting - life and work are interlinked and these generate who we are.

It seemed like I had been driving the motorway for two weeks, never mind two and a bit hours. Rain battered the windscreen and I was beginning to feel weary. I decided to pull in at the next motorway services, because, as I had noted on the one mile sign, they have a Costa coffee shop, and they, after all, were 'Saving the world from mediocre coffee'.

Friday evening, and the place was packed, so I picked up an americano and managed to find a seat toward the rear of the Costa. I sat adjacent to a small, casually dressed, but smart, man with a white bushy Albert Einstein moustache. I complained about the weather to him as I took my seat and he told me his life story.

He was intrigued by my accent and couldn't place it. He asked me where I was from, and when I told him we discovered that part of our journey through life was shared. We had both lived, at one time, in the same small town, just outside Edinburgh.

Michael, rippled his moustache with his fingers, lifted his coffee and came and joined me at my tiny, wobbling table.

He is, he told me, a civil engineer and although he originates from Manchester, his working life has involved endless travel across the UK.

As a young man, he admitted, he married far too early, kids came along and he felt obliged to work long hours, often away from home for days or weeks at a time, to look after his family. He worked hard and he also liked to play hard and party. Young love soon faded, buried under the vicissitudes of the realities of existence and keeping a home together.

'The problem was' he sighed. 'I always wanted to go out with my friends, and she always wanted to go out with her friends and we eventually drifted apart.'

He sat for a moment, relaxed back into his chair and studied me...

...You wait for the next part of the story, catch your breath, wonder about what Michael will tell me next. Someone calls from the kitchen, you answer, momentarily turning from your monitor to call back...

'My work took me to Edinburgh' he started up again, and just as suddenly paused. His words hung in the air for what seemed an eternity. 'My work took me to Edinburgh', he repeated. 'That's when I met her'.

She was Italian, dark, mysterious, a nurse, and he soon found himself setting up home with her in a small town just outside Edinburgh. Out of sequence he then told me that he was 63 and smiled, his white teeth contrasting with his ruddy face, but, all the while, his eyes harboured pain.

They lived together for 12 years and though he was still travelling to work and would often be away from home doing the job he loved, they were happy and, he thought, contented.

On his 44th birthday he was offered a job with a firm down south, it was a better position than he had and the money was better. This, for him, was where he always wanted to be workwise, but taking it would necessitate a move back to Manchester.

He straightened, looked about himself... sipped his coffee, rippled his moustache in that well practised way.

...You wonder about rising to make a cup of tea, you have biscuits, Hob-Nobs, you purchased earlier from Tesco and the thought of them is tempting. You hear your partner's/husband's/wife's cell phone chime and it reminds you how embarassing their ring tones are...

His Italian beauty, however, would not return south with him. She had an ailing mother and she could never leave her alone in Edinburgh.

Michael moved back to Manchester and though he still worked hard, there were no longer any parties, but lonely nights at home watching mundane TV game shows and soaps, or evenings spent hunched over a beer in the local boozer watching football.

One year after returning to Manchester he ran into his wife at Piccadilly train station. He was heading south to Kent to work for a few weeks and she was travelling to visit her sister in Crewe. They chatted and discovered they were both on their own. It had been around 14 years since they had split, but they were still married.

Michael had never divorced his wife, nor she him and amazingly they decided to give things another go.

I would love to tell you that in the space of a 45 minute train ride (Manchester Piccadilly to Crewe) they had fallen into each others arms again, but while they did decide they should date, there were further phone calls and meetings before they set up home again.

The kids both gave their blessing to the reunion, and though friends and family said it would never last, second time around has covered 18 years so far.

He leans in toward me across the small table we are seated at, and tells me there are few days go by when he doesn't think of the Italian girl he left behind in that small town just outside Edinburgh and wonders 'what if....?

He drains his coffee and gathers his small black case and umbrella.

....You imagine him picking up flowers at M & S on the way out to take home to his second time around wife, perhaps even a box of chocolates from W H Smith placed under his arm. You hear the rain tap at the window behind you and the wind rise in the darkness beyond...

Michael says it has been nice meeting me, we shake hands, and I wonder if he realises he has just given me his life story. He pauses and nods and once again studies me for a few seconds before turning and leaving and, he doesn't stop to pick up flowers or chocolates.

Later, in the car park I pause to reflect on the meeting. The sky looks dark and brooding and the first lonely stars have started to fill the heavens, well, after all that's their job. Have you ever stopped to think what would happen if the stars overslept? Or, if the moon forgot to go to work? What if...?

The wind is rising and I still have a journey ahead of me physically and metaphorically.

Spread the word, work is about people...and maybe the moon, the stars and the sun....