Archive for November, 2009

The return of rhetoric

Emily Pitts writes:

King’s Place in London held an elegant discussion last week on the art of rhetoric, led by Tony Benn, Simon Schama, Polly Toynbee, Geoffrey Robertson and curated by English PEN. The panel examined whether a speech is made great by careful use of rhetorical techniques, or whether the art in fact lies in choosing the right point in time for the speech to occur.

Three of the four panellists argued against the power of rhetoric, stating instead that dramatic speeches occur at dramatic points in history. The moment, they said, defines the language, rather than the other way around.

Simon Schama dissented. He argued that Obama is the best modern-day example we have of an artful rhetorician, citing the use of iambic pentameter in his inaugural speech; “I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors”, and his skilful use of the plural personal pronoun; We can do it, Yes we can”. There has of course, been much written on Obama’s exemplary use of rhetoric – take a look at Max Atkinson’s blog for in-depth analysis.

During the course of the discussion, various other politicians came under scrutiny. It was suggested that the restraint of Gordon Brown’s language contributes to the perception of him as an inaccessible personality. Similarly, the “everyday Joe” language of Nick Griffin and his active oratory in local communities could be a significant factor in his success. Tony Blair was touted as the inventor of the ‘verbless sentence’ – a rather brazen grammatical omission – which allowed him to offer a promise without ever, in fact, making an actual commitment. “Our education system – a beacon to the world” is one example.

It is clear that artfully constructed language can be hugely powerful, especially when the point in history is hungry for words that can lead and provide strength. But more recently, blogging and instant communications seems to have had a ‘content over form’ effect on language – just getting the message “out there” has often become good enough.

However, with high-profile figures such as Obama leading the way, I suspect we may see a reversal of that trend over the next few years. We could see a return to more traditional values of well constructed and stylistically sophisticated language, both spoken and published. In the UK, the possible introduction of US-style televised political debates might raise the game for politicians and the language they use. It may not be Cicero, but the art of the spoken word could be about to resume an important place in public life.

The image is from Allan McDougall’s blog, and is used with thanks.

30 November 2009 at 2:56 pm Leave a comment

Building for better cancer care

(c) James Brittain

Alex Oliver writes:

On Wednesday evening, I had the privilege of presenting the findings from our recent study on the effect of the built environment on young cancer patients to more than a hundred people  from health, media and building sectors, at the Saatchi Gallery in London.  We recently completed this work on behalf of the Teenage Cancer Trust and its sponsors from the building, design and architectural communities.

We found that design plays an integral role in helping young people fight cancer by providing a non-institutionalised medical environment within the National Health Service.  Design works hand in hand with staff, equipment and the culture of the units by providing more comfort and greater control, which in turn contribute to maintaining ‘normality’.  For teenagers this is very important; those who recover are able more quickly to pick up their lives again; those who  don’t can manage their lives for as long as possible.

One quote from the research exemplified the approach for me:

“The first thing you noticed was the mirror and the lights – you wouldn’t get that in a normal ward so it just tells you straight away that it’s a little bit different”.

The findings will be used by the Teenage Cancer Trust and its sponsors to develop  support for these services, and for their overall approach – demonstrating clear value both from the perspectives of the users of the service,  and in terms of improving health outcomes, since more positive patients are more likely to engage with treatment, and comply with it.

There’s more information in the flyer which was produced for the launch – click on the link here for a pdf: TeenageCancerTrust_twopager

The picture of the Teenage Cancer Trust’s ‘Skylab’ unit in Cardiff is by the specialist design photographer James Brittain, and it is used with thanks. It comes from Architeria. Building Design’s bdonline service had a brief news story about the launch of the research.

27 November 2009 at 4:29 pm 2 comments

After Copenhagen

Emily Pitts writes:

As the lights begin to fade on 2009, thought turns to the New Year and what hope we might have for progress on climate change in 2010. And sound the bells; it looks like hopes should be pretty high. Global commitments to climate change (that were due to take place at the Copenhagen talks in December) are now taking place early next year in Mexico, and the UK’s much-publicised 10:10 campaign that invites individuals and organisations to reduce their carbon emissions by 10% over the course of the year, officially kicks off in January. (The Futures Company has signed up).

However, there’s still a fair way to go before we can be confident of 2010’s ability to announce the dawn of a new era. Look at where the most influential global powers are on the issue, for example with Obama’s well-publicised absence from the Copenhagen talks next month. [Update 26/11: No sooner had we posted this than Obama decided to go to Copenhagen after all].  There is no doubt that he is concerned about climate change and takes it seriously. It is also equally clear that the difficulties he faces domestically from within the Senate are serious, and have led him to feel that the possibility of reaching global accord this year is unrealistic.

In spite of this, there is something undeniably depressing about a protocol to replace Kyoto being delayed. Even alone, the very symbolism of the American president’s absence from Copenhagen packs a powerful punch in the gut of the climate change movement.

This tardiness to act on climate change is increasingly at odds with public opinion. 2009 Global Monitor data shows that globally, 67% of consumers agree that climate change is the biggest single problem facing the world today – even after the financial crisis. Take also, the proliferation of grass-roots movements that are galvanising the public’s appetite for change and progress, from 10:10, to Do the Green Thing, to the Campaign against Climate Change, as well as a host of cultural interventions (the RSA’s Arts and Ecology blog is the best guide).

The chasm between the positions of politicians and the public on climate change is perilous. There are risks here for politicians as well, if they get too far out of step with what the public is both saying and doing. Even in the US, carbon emissions are now falling. Closing the gap and delivering meaningful action from the top as well as the bottom could see 2010 jubilant in realising its potential for being the year that finally delivers on climate change.

The picture is from the greenzer blog, and is used with thanks.

24 November 2009 at 1:52 pm Leave a comment

The new era of consequences

consequence

Andrew Curry writes:

The shape of the post-recession consumer landscape is becoming clearer. Our latest wave of Henley Planning for Consumer Change [PCC] research, launched to clients at recent breakfast meetings, maps this. The headline is that risk is back on the agenda, and as a result, consumers have found ways of living with uncertainty; they are looking for greater control; and they are considering the consequences of their choices.

Some of these changes were already becoming visible before the recession. As our UK Managing Director Will Galgey pointed out, it has been an accelerator rather than a catalyst.

For our UK business, the launch represents a return to selling an annual trends report containing analysis and data, which we last did in 2001. We’ve been able to do this because of the expertise of some of our Chapel Hill colleagues – formerly Yankelovich – in managing published services.

Some of the data in PCC are familiar. Obviously financial worries are on the up. Confidence in corporations has fallen – the proportion agreeing that “I can trust the following [sectors] to be honest and fair” has fallen across all commercial sectors, with utilities falling even faster than banks. But the research suggests that people are less rattled by the recession than they were a year ago, even though the economy is weaker now than it was then.

This has had some costs. People now feel under more time pressure than at any time since the late ’90s, though not for exactly the same reasons. And people’s desire for more control isn’t matched by their ability to achieve more control in their lives. 

The biggest impact seems to be on consumers’ willingness to make connections between their immediate surroundings and the wider world. 50% of the sample, of 2,500, thought it “very or fairly desirable” that “we won’t be able to consume as many goods and services as we have in the past”. 32% think it not at all or not very desirable, while 18% aren’t sure.

Similarly, nearly 60% now think we are at fault as individuals for environmental change – and around the same numbers think that it is both their responsibility to do something about it, and that doing something will make a difference.

From all of this, the Planning for Consumer Change data suggests strongly that new consumer values are emerging around vigilance, optimism, self-reliance, resourcefulness, connectedness, and prioritisation. This is a more complex world for brands to navigate, although the smart ones are doing it already. The good news, though, is that this offers more strategic options (and more interesting options) than a race to the bottom on price.

But as Director Henry Tucker observed at the breakfast sessions, “You’re probably not going to be able to sell the same old products to the same old consumers”. They’re expecting something from you which is more helpful – and demonstrates that you’re in tune with their new values.

For more information about accessing Planning for Consumer Change, please contact our UK Marketing and PR Manager, Jennifer Childs. The ‘era of consequences’ icon, seen at the top of the post, was designed by Tom Warren.

10 November 2009 at 11:48 am Leave a comment

Some good things we’ve seen #4

Hema-Amsterdam-2

Compiled by Oliver Wright

It’s been a little while since we last posted an assortment of links, but this is a selection of some of the things which have been going round the office lately:

  • Boris – the London Mayor – officially launches the city’s ‘cycle superhighways’, a cycle hire scheme, and demand for cycle parking in the capital is (apparently) on the rise
  • The inside-out bloody mary – a new take on an old classic!
  • By way of previewing a forthcoming post on data visualisation – two great articles discussing the state of the art on CNNtech and Creativity Online
  • This fun website from Dutch company Hema (similar to Ikea in the UK) won some awards for its playful approach to household products. Although the site’s in Dutch, the visual gags are pretty universal.
  • Portuguese workers are struggling in the recession to find jobs – and some are heading to former colony Angola in search of better fortunes
  • The Atlantic publishes a somewhat timid and fairly American list of ‘Brave Thinkers’ – I mean, Steve Jobs? Mark Zuckerberg? We’re working on a list of people who deserve a place but aren’t here. Do you have a contribution?

4 November 2009 at 4:21 pm Leave a comment


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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.


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