Archive for December, 2010

Holiday collection # 3

Joe Ballantyne: Whoops, by John Lanchester

For my money, Whoops is far and away the best book I’ve read about the financial crisis. It’s clear, concise and at times even funny. John Lanchester is first and foremost a novelist – but then perhaps it takes someone who produces fiction to write effectively about a crisis caused by made up money.

Sarah King: Gauguin, Tate Modern

Tate Modern’s blockbuster Gauguin show runs till 16th January in London. It is lucid and contains some wonderful things but I found it full of unexpected comedy. Famously curmudgeonly, Gauguin lived a life of self conscious provocation; the frontage he made for his house in the Marquesas Islands bore a legend roughly translated as house of fun, aimed, with as much venom as wit, at his pious neighbours. He seems to have died of sheer rage in a dispute with colonial tax officials in his adopted home. But the most absurd feature of his immersion was his failure over many years to learn the language that surrounded him. He picked up snatches of it to use with his art, only to discover the banality of their meaning later. Art is full of contradictions and that his reputation is a triumph of positioning and image making was a theme of the show. His magpie-like plundering of everything around him was a means to his end but for this viewer, along with the myth making, there was a strong whiff of fraud.

Andy Stubbings: It’s All Their Fault

The favourite thing that I’ve stumbled across this year was probably the anti-Boomer manifesto It’s All Their Fault. It’s a real angry screed, but at the same time it expresses the kind of frustration I have been  surprised (and maybe a little disappointed) not to see more of this year, directed by the younger generation towards their elders. Maybe we need to wait for 2011 for that. I liked it so much I got a t-shirt made (and then found that nobody in the UK knew what a Boomer was).

30 December 2010 at 10:30 am Leave a comment

Holiday collection # 2

Liz Walkling: Graffiti Classics:

I can’t remember an evening where I came away with my face aching from laughing and my hands sore from clapping so much.  Our local Arts Centre hosted an evening performance by Graffiti Classics, a professional string quartet of four (two guys, two girls) who met in 1997 when busking in Covent Garden and now perform worldwide.  Playing beautifully while dancing and singing energetically, from Ravel’s Bolero and Strauss to McCartney and Gershwin, cannot be easy. But they made it look so.  Great entertainment, very interactive with the audience, wonderful music performed to a lively stand-up-fall-down routine. Catch them if you can.  Or look them up on Youtube if you can’t.

Eleanor Cooksey: Four Lions

Smothering laughter whilst hiding my face behind hands was how I watched Four Lions, a film directed by Chris Morris about a group of Bradford-based jihadists who try to plan their own UK suicide bombings.

Why did it have this effect on me? I think because it represented the creative equivalent of ‘uncanny valley’ – a term used in robotics to describe how when a robot looks and acts almost like a human, it makes people recoil. Four Lions painted a scenario which seemed so believable and close to reality, it was frightening and almost unbearable. And still terribly, terribly funny.

Lindsay Kunkle:  Food, Inc., by Robert Kenner

A documentary that could change the way you eat forever, shines light on the messy politics of the food industry. Channeling popular food author and activist Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma), Kenner highlights the not so appetizing origins of our food. Genetically modified produce that refuses to rot, cows raised on unnatural diets of indigestible corn, the sheer over-abundance of corn in the marketplace, and the backhandedness of the soy industry are leaving us the victims as we battle food-borne illness, an out-of-hand obesity epidemic, and an economy that rewards unfair business, literally starving the small farmer.

The picture of Graffiti Classics is by Astralsound, and is used here with thanks.

28 December 2010 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Holiday collection # 1

To mark the end of the year – as is now traditional on the blog – we asked people across the company to share something they’d enjoyed this year. We’ll be publishing the responses on the blog between now and New Year’s Day.

Emily Pitts: Canaletto at the National Gallery

I recently went to see the Canaletto exhibition at The National Gallery, which proved a far more eye-opening experience than I’d expected. I went with vague memories of his Venice cityscapes as being slightly boring ….endless views of more or less the same thing. Whilst this exhibition centres on Venice, it is certainly not fair to say the paintings are boring. Taking some time to look at a city from various angles and in different lights made me look at London afresh on leaving the gallery. I found I was noticing more detail in the buildings, more rhythm in the skyline. Incidentally, it’s said that Renzo Piano designed The Shard – currently careering skywards a stone’s throw from our London office – based on Canaletto’s angular London paintings of church spires and tall ships. Whilst I’m not convinced by this design rationale, I’m sure the views from the building will provide new and challenging views of a city so many know so well. But, if you want to fall in love with London again this New Year without waiting for industrial architecture to bring it to you – visit Canaletto and His Rivals, showing until 16th January 2011.

Andrew Curry: Laura Marling, I Speak Because I Can

One of my disappointments this year was that Laura Marling didn’t win Britain’s Mercury Music Prize, given for the best record produced by a British artist that year. The judges were seemingly transfixed because last year’s winner – also a solo female artist – had slid back into obscurity afterwards, and cravenly gave the prize to the competent but unexciting The XX. To her credit, Marling seems unconcerned. But I want to be concerned on her behalf. I Speak Because I Can, her second record, is an extraordinary piece of work, steeped in the English folk tradition but sounding completely modern in a way which, say, Seth Lakeman can only dream of. Her songs tell rich stories, which are matched by melodies which are both tuneful and complex. The only other thing I heard this year which had as much depth was Gil Scott-Heron’s CD I’m New Here; but he’s been recording for 40 years and Laura Marling is barely 20.

Alex Steer: The State of Africa, by Martin Meredith

My holiday reading pick is Martin Meredith’s decidedly un-festive The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence. Curiously, though perhaps tellingly, this book was published in the US as The Fate of Africa. It’s easy to read Meredith’s compelling narrative of the continent’s troubled half-century as a write-off rather than a write-up. It’s relentless in showing how bad African leadership, not just colonial mismanagement, led to disaster again and again. But this isn’t Afro-pessimism. The honest dissection of Africa’s failures shows how they might be overcome. If you want to understand Africa (and you should), start here.

26 December 2010 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Financial advisors look to the future

Sarah King and Alex Oliver write:

The Futures Company spoke at two financial advisors’ conferences this month during the snowy weather.

At the IEA/Marketforce conference on the Future of Distribution in Financial Services, suited (and wellington booted) financial advice businesses met to discuss the effects of the Retail Distribution Review. The intention of the review is to bring about real change so that (in the words of the FSA) ‘more consumers buy what they need and have confidence in the products they hold and in the advice they take’. From our consumer work we continue to hear resoundingly that trust in the industry is low and so there is a real opportunity to build bridges and reconnect. But some speakers were frustrated by the lack of regulatory guidance around the concept of simplified advice and it didn’t look as if much of that was going to be on offer. As usual, the conversation focussed on that part of the market that can afford to pay for advice. There was some consensus too on the likely shape of the market with consolidation, and little apparent dismay from those present that a proportion, estimated at around 10%, will fall by the wayside.

Similarly, at Owen James’ Meeting of Minds CEO Forum, some discussion was focused on the challenge of meeting clients’ needs in an environment heavily constrained by regulatory compliance obligations.  Financial advice businesses felt that too many limits were being placed on their autonomy in communicating with their clients in ways which truly added value.  But some voices argued that there could be more opportunities to lead rather than follow the regulator – applying lessons from regulation in other industries.  And indeed opportunities to further innovate in communications formats and channels could hold some of the answers to building stronger relationships of trust and confidence in an era where consumers are increasingly wary.

The picture  is from Wikimedia Commons and is published under a GNU Free Documentation licence.

23 December 2010 at 1:00 pm Leave a comment

Myth comics

Anand Rao writes:

There is no escaping it. Religion has always been the zeitgeist in India and despite the strife it causes, it is beloved to the Indian psyche. India’s unique proposition is as the home of spirituality, the place to go to get a soul. Caricature aside, religion and mythology are also a popular business proposition in India – and in a good way. Companies use religion to appeal to consumers and this is not considered a negative thing in India.

Two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharataboth are collections of stories about life and death, about morality and ethics, governance and corruption, about love and warfare, and much more – have always been the mainstay of Indian mythology. Stories from these epics have been produced in every medium of communication throughout the ages in India, including the comics industry. While the Indian comic book giant Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) has illustrated stories from these epics for Indian audiences for years, it has now attracted interest outside of India, with a £4 million investment from the London-based private equity firm Elephant Capital.

New entrants to the Indian comic book industry have been creating content based on new interpretations of these epic stories. These include Ramayan 3392AD, a fantasy interpretation set in the future, and DevaShard, a comic based on stories from the Mahabharata.

I caught up with Vijayendra Mohanty on Twitter, a popular blogger and writer, who recently started writing for Level10 Comics, a new comic book venture in India. Mr. Mohanty, ‘Vimoh’ in the Indian blogosphere, is also writing a graphic novel called Ravanayan – a fresh take on the pivotal characters from the epic Ramayan. He told me:

“Ideas from Indian mythology are deeply ingrained in all of our daily lives. Comics are a pop medium. They tell stories, just like Bollywood does. But comics in India are not as pervasive as movies are. So comics as a medium can ride on the reach of mythology as a language that every Indian understands.

“On the other hand, stories and ideas from Indian mythology haven’t really had the ‘pop’ treatment until recently. Comics dealing with mythology, both as retellings and as reinventions, can expose people to a whole new way of looking at our thousand year old stories.”

While comics and graphic novels are still mostly an indulgence in India for urban, metro consumers, they are growing in popularity. Because of the inherent appeal of mythology and religion in India, it won’t be long before smart marketers figure out how to use the mythology comic medium to reach out to their audiences, and across the rapidly growing mobile platform.

The image at the top of the post is from the videogame Ramayan 3392 A.D., based on the comic, and is used with thanks.

19 December 2010 at 10:00 am 1 comment

Is small always beautiful?

Eleanor Cooksey writes:

I had the opportunity to attend a public sector conference last week where my colleague Alex Oliver was giving a talk about our recent research on the Big Society. The focus of the conference was to examine the strategic challenges facing those who manage our public services – people, as we kept being told, who will need to ensure they can deliver more for less – much less – in a time when budget cuts are going to be considerable.

A variety of speakers touched on different aspects to this overall challenge, but one recurrent theme which struck us was the idea that ‘small is beautiful’. Let me explain more what was meant by this – picking up on the three examples:

  • Small government – This goes without saying: departmental budgets are to be slashed by 30%.
  • Small and medium-sized enterprises – Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, highlighted that 25% of government contracts will be awarded to SMEs (in terms of volume).
  • Small customer base – Many services will now be commissioned and delivered at the very local level. Andrea Hill, Chief Executive of Suffolk County Council, described how, instead of tendering an unprofitable rural bus route, the service was delivered by a Demand Responsive Transport scheme, which can include people using their own cars.

If some things are getting smaller, it begs the question of what’s getting bigger. There is an obvious answer: ‘Society’.

However, there are some other ‘bigs’ implicit in the ‘smalls’ outlined above, which challenge the notion of ultra-responsive, locally-driven operations. John Collington, Head of Government Procurement at the Cabinet Office, talked about the need to consolidate the existing 16 government procurement frameworks into a smaller number. With possibly less choice at the very top and a plethora at the bottom, one of the challenges will be to ensure all decision-makers, at whatever level, feel confident they understand what their customers want and need, and are able to navigate this range of choices to deliver it effectively – for less.

The photograph at the top of this post was taken by Daniel Greene. It is from the blog, and is used with thanks,

2 December 2010 at 6:09 pm 2 comments

The Futures Company blog

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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