Archive for December, 2009

Christmas collection # 4

Walker Smith, Chapel Hill:’Watching Whales Watching Us’, New York Times

By far, the most interesting thing I read this year was a magazine article not a book.
Almost all of the books I read this year were about the recession and financial crisis or about the finance fundamentals I needed to learn in order to comprehend the economic crisis.  When I wasn’t reading books on economics and finance, I was reading blogs about economics and finance.  It reminded me why I chose cultural anthropology not macroeconomics as my undergraduate major.  My year was spent shaking my head in amazement over the extent to which so many economists just don’t seem to get it so much of the time.
On Sunday, July 12, smack dab in the middle of my self-tutorial on depression economics, I picked up The New York Times Magazine with a cover story entitled, “Watching Whales Watching Us.”  It begins with a familiar account of whales being driven to beaching themselves in acts of suicidal madness by the sonar tracking devices being used in military exercises.  Great, I thought, more ‘depression’ stuff to read, only ecology now.  But after recounting the court battles about this that culminated in a dismal U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Navy , the story segues into something entirely new if not surreal, though very inspiring.  (more…)

31 December 2009 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Christmas Collection # 3

Andrew Curry, London: Future Savvy, by Adam Gordon

Future Savvy was the most stimulating futures book I read this year. I was put off at first; it sets itself up as a book about forecasting, and I am sceptical about this (you learn early in futures work that all forecasts are wrong, except for the ones which are right for the wrong reasons). But businesses and governments live by forecasts, and as you go further in, you discover that  Adam Gordon’s intent is to make us appreciate the limits of forecasting.

There are good chapters on the nature of bias (social and personal), on why technology-led forecasts are so often wrong, and a reminder that the ‘blockers’ of change can be as influential as the ‘drivers of change’. Unlike some futures books, it is also clear and well-written.

It ends with a couple of chapters which are designed to improve the quality of our thinking about the future. The first takes some actual forecasts and interrogates their assumptions and gaps. (The forecast for the US housing market to 2013 by the US Homeownership Alliance is self-serving and spectacularly wrong). The second has a useful set of questions the reader can use to test the value of a forecast. As he concludes,

Good forecasting is as much about seeing what won’t change in the future. Even in fast-moving situations, not everything will change.

(The Future Savvy blog is here.)

Liz Walkling, London: The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson

I have just finished reading this crime trilogy inside a month! The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest are un-putdownable, with a complex, interconnected and riveting plot and a cast of intriguing characters – journalists, security experts, corporate heads and a network of hacking experts. Particularly likeable – even given her multi-faceted role as victim, anti-heroine and the saviour of the day – is the dysfunctional Lisbeth Salander, an extraordinarily gifted computer hacker. These skills enable her to uncover the long-unsolved disappearance of the daughter of a Swedish corporate millionaire, aided by the other central character, Mikael Blomqvist, an investigative reporter.  The trilogy starts and finishes in tight courtroom dramas.  It’s compelling because  Lisbeth’s own story is a true injustice in all the senses of the word, but it’s this that makes her unusual character so likable.  I was sad to finish it and desperately tried to slow down to eke out the pleasure, but the final volume was so gripping that I failed. I was so engrossed I almost missed my tube stop several times.

Claudia Rimington, London: Damien Hirst, No Love Lost

Hirst’s latest exhibition consists of 25 oil paintings, all large, dark and brooding, in two rooms in the Wallace collection. Most of the paintings contain an object associated with death (a skull, a skeleton) and they sit in dark blue spaces.  All similar in feeling, and dominating the two classical rooms in which they are housed, their exhibition space is cold and atmospheric. Though the exhibition isn’t full of cheery subject matter, I would definitely recommend a visit to this before it closes on January 24th.  What’s attractive about this exhibition is the rare beauty of some of the works.  There’s something strangely compelling about Hirst’s low lit skulls in the dark – the deepness of the colours, the contrast between a sense of humanity and the nothingness which surrounds.

(You can watch a short video where Damien Hirst talks about the works in this exhibition here.)

30 December 2009 at 9:18 am 2 comments

Christmas Collection #2

Oliver Wright, London: Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day, by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford & Orlanda Ruthven

When we hear about those living on less than $1 or $2 a day, it’s easy to assume that the world’s poor do, in fact, have a stable but incredibly meagre income. The authors of Portfolios of the Poor establish that this is far from the case, and from information gleaned from individual financial diaries kept over the course of a year (and also from the personal relationships formed in so doing) they uncover the complexity that characterizes financial management for those below the poverty line. In Bangladesh, India, and South Africa, they find that the poor have remarkable coping mechanisms to deal with uncertain and irregular incomes. In South Africa, they discover that over the course of a year, people often manage 17 different informal financial products, ranging from savings clubs, deposit collectors, and short-term cash loans. Lacking basic literacy skills, many keep track of these mentally. In order to manage the risks which often threaten their livelihoods, they find that the poor are often using a greater number of financial instruments than the rich.

(This review was based on a podcast with the authors, hosted on Development Drums.)

Ramona Liberoff, London: Rambert at Sadler’s Wells – Triple Bill

Modern dance scares the uninitiated.  Will the audience will be comprised of angular women with spectacles on rhinestone chains, with birds nests of greying hair?  Will dancers snap their wrists and flail around to honking random horn notes?  Nothing could be further than the Rambert’s last mixed bill at Sadler’s Wells.  The combination of young dancers, choreographers and audience brought accessibility and modernity to ‘old’ music: Schubert’s Death and the Maiden arranged by Mahler, Saint Saens’ Carnival of the Animals.  Modern dance is a great way of ‘hearing through seeing’: the submerged elements of the pieces were re-mixed by the imaginations of the choreographers, and made new again through associations with movements that – while being influenced through classical ballet – were much fresher than that.  Imagine a Hermes Kelly bag made of PVC, and you’ll get the picture.

Mary-Kay Harity, Chapel Hill: Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich

Wherever you are reading this, you’re likely to be seeing lots of familiar holiday reminders of those less fortunate: ubiquitous bellringers next to big red kettles, coat collections, food drives and other charity appeals. These are often accompanied by images of homeless families, isolated seniors, and gift-less children at Christmas. These may be even starker than usual this year, courtesy of the recession. That is why I highly recommend reading (or re-reading) Barbara Ehrenreich’s classic Nickel and Dimed.  Ehrenreich turns the spotlight on those ‘caught in the middle’ –  The unseen poor: neither destitute enough for aid nor solvent enough to live decently, all while working fulltime (and often two and three times ‘full time.’) Nickel and Dimed suggests a new item for the social agenda as a greater sense of shared responsibility takes hold among consumers.

29 December 2009 at 9:30 am Leave a comment

Christmas Collection #1

To see out 2009 on the blog, we asked people from across the company to give us a short review of a movie, book, exhibition, or anything that struck them during the year. Here’s what they sent us.

Andy Stubbings, London: The Hurt Locker, by Kathryn Bigelow

My favourite film of 2009 was The Hurt Locker by Kathryn Bigelow. Hugely captivating and at times ridiculously tense, I can’t remember the last time a film at the cinema has been so immersive (certainly not the slew of mediocre ‘disaster porn’ movies of the last couple of years). I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it, but if you do get the chance, try and see it in a great big, loud cinema. Just don’t sit too close.

Jessica Baluss, Chapel Hill: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall

Part-time runner, part-time journalist Chris McDougall tracks down the reclusive Tarahumara  (‘the Running People’) in the rugged terrain of Northern Mexico.  He explores physiology and training across sports and cultures; the subculture and relatively unknown athletes of modern ultra-running; and a quirky cast of characters – including the author himself – who ultimately face off against the Tarahumara “ghost runners” in a page-turning extreme race through the desert.  It’s a thought provoking take on why we run – examining unnecessary layers of the modern running shoe and ‘the Nike effect’, as well as the corporatization of racing and sponsorship. It’s inspired many runners to try a different stride, terrain, pair of shoes, and to rediscover the joy of their next jog.

Stacey Yates, London: Sophie Calle, ‘Talking To Strangers’

For her exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, Sophie has taken a ‘break up’ letter from her lover and sent it to 107 women with different backgrounds and asked them to interpret the letter from their professional, or in some cases, personal standpoint.  Among others she has called on a criminologist, writer, proof reader, opera singer, mother, mime artist, 9 year old school girl, editor, and an 18th century historian….the list goes on.

It’s a fascinating look at our capacity to approach subjects in a variety of different ways and it’s done brilliantly. A fantastic multimedia installation where the audience seems to be walking around, well… looking for themselves in the various interpretations! Interesting and inspiring – and on until 4th January.

(The picture is from the Whitechapel Gallery, and is used with thanks.)

28 December 2009 at 9:30 am Leave a comment

Happy Christmas from the Futures Company blog!

24 December 2009 at 9:30 am Leave a comment

The Great Brand Quiz

Eloise Keightley writes:

Every fortnight The Futures Company holds an internal breakfast meeting, the MMM (or Monday Morning Meetings), to share knowledge and ideas. In our last meeting before Christmas the MMM team put together a quick brands and advertising quiz to test how much the company had been paying attention to British brands and their ad campaigns during 2009.

Here’s a selection of the questions from the quiz. We think a good score is more than half – the answers are below the fold, if you feel the need to cheat a little. Just click on the right or left hand side of the slides to go forwards and back.

View this document on Scribd


23 December 2009 at 9:30 am Leave a comment

Struggling towards sustainability

Andrew Curry writes:

Whatever the disappointments about the Copenhagen talks, it’s clear that consumers have fairly strong attitudes to sustainability issues, and these  have barely been affected by the financial crisis. That was the view of a recent report on our Henley Planning for Consumer Change [PCC] research in New Civil Engineer. Indeed, politicians seem to be lagging consumers on the question of sustainability.

The managing director of The Futures Company’s London office, Will Galgey, told NCE that “The key thing is that there hasn’t been a significant diminishing of engagement with environmental issues. In fact we see the importance of those issues continuing to rise.”

At the same time, consumers increasingly see the links between environmental behaviours and financial prudence. But not all businesses seem to have registered this.

Frank Price, sustainability director at the engineering consultancy Grontmij, argues in the article, “Some businesses may be tempted to reel in their focus on sustainability, based on a false belief that the finances needed to introduce sustainable practices could be better spent elsewhere. On the contrary, businesses that are looking to save money and reduce costs should be looking at their sustainability measures as a priority.”

The costs of not increasing the level of business sustainability are likely to be measured in business reputation. PCC data show that 79% agree that companies have a responsibility to support the communities they operate in, and businesses are identified by some distance as the group “most at fault for causing environmental damage”. At the same time, trust in businesses continues to decline. Potentially this adds up to a vicious circle in which it is difficult for businesses to increase their credibility – or a welcome opportunity to rebuild trust.

For more information about accessing Planning for Consumer Change, please contact our UK Marketing and PR Manager, Jennifer Childs. The picture at the top of the post is from Australia’s fmcg sustainability institute, and is used with thanks.

22 December 2009 at 3:33 pm 1 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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