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Walk this way

Lindsay Kunkle writes: According to Google, it takes more than 6 days, non-stop, to walk 500 miles, which is also the distance from our Chapel Hill office to the office in New York. We’re not doing it non-stop, and we’re not going to end up in new York, but as a group The Chapel Hill office is planning to walk the equivalent of 500 miles over the course of eight weeks. If everyone participates, we’ll each be walking between 1.5 and 2 miles each week.

The obvious benefit of incorporating these walks into our weekly routine is physical—burning calories and becoming more fit. There is also the benefit of that post-walk re-energized feeling which exercise should give, getting some blood flowing, giving your eyes a break from the computer screen, mentally changing pace, and according to a growing amount of research, improving mental cognition and memory.

But the benefit of our walking initiative I have been most passionate about is the building and strengthening of connections across the office. For instance, our talented group of summer interns who just weeks ago were complete strangers now excitingly gather for the daily walk, indulging one another with stories—some work-related, some not. Maybe their closeness is not a direct result of walking, but it is at least a factor. For those who’ve been here longer, I’ve seen an incredible business benefit from these walks. We might all know one another, but learning more about your co-workers personally leads to greater understanding of one another and compassion in the workplace.  And ideally, these conversations can lead to creative collaboration and new ideas or even just lending a hand when needed.

So, while walking may not be the single secret of business success, spending 30 minutes to get some fresh air and engage in conversation with co-workers outside the office has been advantageous for us. So now I challenge you: go and walk— get fit, re-focus, grow your brain, and learn something new about a co-worker!

23 June 2011 at 10:40 am 1 comment

Climbing Mount Everest one stair at a time

Amy Esser writes:

Prompted by recent work with clients on changing behaviours  in the area of physical activity, I decided to enrol London office employees in a fitness challenge; to collectively climb the height of Mount Everest in four weeks by climbing the stairs at work.

So, doing the sums, Mount Everest is 29,029 feet high, or 8,848 metres, which equates to 58,070 steps or 3,871 flights of stairs. There are 10 flights of stairs leading up to our office, which means in order to complete the climb in four weeks (20 working days) we need to complete a total of 388 climbs – an average of 19.4 times a day. There are around 40 people in the office on a typical day which means that each individual needs to climb the stairs every other day – but will they? …

So far I am feeling positive – by Day 2 we had already reached the height of Ben Nevis, and if we continue like this we will reach the top of Mount Everest in half the time, although I sense enthusiasm may decline as the days go by.

My theory is that we need to change people’s habits so they fit exercise into their daily routine. Our challenge is about getting people to ditch the elevator for the stairs. And it’s tougher than it should be – our office building has been designed to lure you straight into a lift as you enter whilst the stairs have been hidden behind doors and corridors. One of the first questions I was asked about the challenge was, ‘where are the stairs?’! The actual experience of climbing the stairs is poor and uninspiring. The walls are grey, there are no windows, and our building managers prohibit us from putting up any motivational posters in the stairwells.

What we have been able to do is to encourage people and to communicate the benefits of taking part. One stair climb burns 30 calories, climbing the stairs will tone your legs and bum, and increase your confidence. Having a visual representation of the climb also really helps people engage. We have a log sheet where people sign their names after they have finished a climb, and this act of making your mark gives a sense of achievement and a sense of being part of a group activity.

Personally I’ve found this rewarding: I started a small social movement, and people are thanking me for it, so it seems that some people did want to be prodded to act. And I’ll be interested to see what happens once the challenge is over – will people continue to take the stairs instead of the lift?

11 May 2011 at 2:12 pm 4 comments

The new normal is still here, and here to stay

Eleanor Cooksey writes:

“I’ve found the cost of living has gone up substantially and it has had a huge impact on my life. I am not buying luxuries as often and I will change the way I deal with my finances.”

This sobering quote comes from a Scottish man we spoke to as part of our fifth in-depth review of how UK consumers are responding to the current economic situation. In our breakfast briefing held in London last week to launch this review, we highlighted four themes which describe the current environment:

  1. The New Normal is firmly embedded: Reflecting the broader economic uncertainty, individuals feel the outlook is gloomy: 25% feel the UK economy is going very badly these days, an increase of 10% compared to when the survey was last carried out six months ago. People are even less optimistic about their personal financial situation with almost half thinking they will be worse off over the next 12 months. The message is clear: no one expects things to go back to how they were and we are learning how to cope.
  2. Rising prices are hurting:Though inflation has recently dropped a fraction, our data showed levels of anxiety about rising prices similar to those seen in 2008. Many of the people we spoke to were highly sensitive to these changes, whether this was about an increase in the cost of petrol or bell peppers.
  3. Savvy shopping matters to consumers: 43% of consumers have had to dip into savings to make ends meet and they are trying hard to make their money going further. Deals and special offers are still very much part of this, but consumers are doing more than that: they are giving serious thought to what they really need and what they really don’t. One lady in Staines realised she didn’t have to spend £70 every six weeks at the hairdresser and could use a £3.50 home dye kit instead. However, she wasn’t going to cut back on her expensive make-up and perfume.
  4. It’s a constant struggle to stay on top of things: In our last survey, we identified three groups who represent the various responses to the current financial downturn, and this time round, ‘All Hands on Deck’ were the only group which had increased in size. Though people in this group feel the struggle to make ends meet most acutely, making the most of your budget is relevant to everyone, even for the relatively unaffected ‘Plain Sailing’ group. All want to feel they can loosen their belt without losing it.

I’ll finish with a quote from a young woman in Sheffield which sums up the dilemma the New Normal presents for some:
“I could lose my job tomorrow, so I should plan to protect myself against that – but then again, I could lose my job tomorrow…so why not live for the moment?”.

There are limited places available for a repeat of this breakfast briefing on 12th May. To find out more please contact Karen Kidson.

20 April 2011 at 2:09 pm 1 comment

Finding the future in the Oscar nominations

Alex Steer writes:

Did you know there are more people with genius IQs living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?

That’s the first line of The Social Network, one of two hotly-tipped films fighting it out for the Best Picture award at tonight’s Oscars, and it’s about change. I am writing this before the show begins, so before the post-match analysis begins (although by the time this is posted you will know the winners), here’s a thought about the two Best Picture frontrunners.

The other is The King’s Speech, and on the surface it couldn’t begin more differently. It starts with a radio announcement:

Good afternoon. This is the BBC National Programme and Empire Services taking you to Wembley Stadium for the Closing Ceremony of the Second and Final Season of the Empire Exhibition.

The Social Network begins with a look forward: a driver of change shaping the balance of power, pointing towards an uncertain future. The King’s Speech seems to offer us a look back to the reassuring institutions, technologies and fashions of the past. It’s been a criticism of the big movies of the last few years (as of contemporary fiction and science fiction) that it is focused on the rear view, and is losing a sense of the future. Is The King’s Speech part of that backward tendency?

I don’t think so. Look again at that opening line. A closing ceremony, a final season, a fading empire. The King’s Speech, like The Social Network, begins with change. The film’s entire premise is based on the struggles of two men (King George VI and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue) to defend an ancient institution – Britain and the crown – against threatening forces of change. As in the most interesting and uncertain futures, the challenges are several: the abdication of Edward VIII, the rise of Hitler, the dawn of the era of mass radio communication, the declaration of war.

The Social Network is a story not of resilience but of disruption. Its creation mythology for Facebook involves a group of outsiders finding a way to beat the conventions of an elite social institution, the Harvard Final Clubs, through sheer ingenuity. In doing so they create a phenomenon that disrupts and reconfigures the social connections between people across the world.

So both this year’s frontrunners are films about finding new ways to communicate in times of disruptive change: one about a leader challenging itself, another about a challenger taking the lead. Whichever takes the statue (and by the time you read this, you’ll probably know), both reflect widespread mixed feelings of uncertainty and opportunity, and both have lessons for organizations, brands or individuals wondering how to take control of their futures.

28 February 2011 at 9:28 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

Google: friend or foe for news publishers?

Tom Richardson writes:

It’s hardly new news, but the Google vs. publisher showdown is no less interesting for that fact. And as The Times has become the canary in the coalmine with the fourth estate’s first mainstream paywall, it’s reaching a critical turning point.

I was recently at the Frontline Club in Paddington, listening to Peter Barron, a former journalist and now Head of Communications and PR at Google UK, defend the company against the accusation that it is, by default, the ‘foe’ of newsprint publishers. Peter was joined at the top table by Matt Kelly from Mirror Newspapers’ digital division, Wired Magazine and Press Gazette columnist Peter Kirwan, Robert Andrews from Paid Content, and Patrick Barwise from London Business School.

The journalists’ respect for Barron, one of their own until recently, prevented the discussion from turning into a ding-dong battle, but there were some interesting points of contention.

The first point that Barron took issue with was the suggestion that Google ‘steals’ content. He was emphatic that news publishers were putting their content on the web for free, and Google simply helps people to find that content. He said that Google’s technology sent 1 billion clicks to news publishers per month, while Peter Kirwan pointed out that the Guardian has budgeted for £40 million in revenue from digital this year. So, Google makes a lot of money from news publishers, but it also helps publishers themselves to make more. And given that 70-80% of the cost of running a newspaper comes from paper, printing and distribution, there seems to be a cost-cutting opportunity created by the move to online.

Barron was also keen to point out that people should not confuse Google and the internet, identifying the latter as the technology that really threatens newsprint, and that had already begun to do so before Google came on the scene in 1998.

Matt Kelly was scathing about his own industry’s failure to adapt, refusing to lay the blame at Google’s door. He argued that reach does not mean audience, and that reading does not mean engagement, so newspapers must stop the mad scramble for ‘reach’ and return focus to their readers.  After all, what use is it to ‘reach’ 40 million people if you can’t make money out of them?

It seems clear that although this feels like an old story, there’s plenty of mileage in it yet, and not even the top executives know exactly where it’s heading. I think though, that there are some certainties:

  • Mobile devices will never replace the pleasure of watching television and films at home;
  • People like the tactile experience of a newspaper in their hands;
  • People will remain attracted to quality news content from their chosen news print brands;
  • Uploading photos and comments about breaking news, tweeting or writing blogs will never replace the work of quality journalists.

But, sadly, that’s not the whole story. People have to be willing to pay to ensure quality. The next challenge for the news publishing industry is: how do you convince people that quality journalism is an essential expense? Mr. Murdoch’s first paywall then looks like a brave and well-timed venture. The Times will have mopped up a lot of early adopters who are already convinced of this. If the canary keeps chirping, its rivals will face a mad scramble in a much more competitive market.

You can see the discussion in full here.

25 August 2010 at 12:33 pm 1 comment

Advertising evaluation en masse

Denise Hicks writes:

Lobbyists 38 Degrees are one of the many organisations that have become heavily involved in protesting against the BBC cuts. In response to the huge amount of opposition, particularly to the potential closures of 6music and the Asian network, 38 Degrees have managed to raise enough money to launched a billboard campaign in protest.

They have just posted a first concept of the proposed billboards on their site and are asking for public feedback.

Now it’s not a great concept in my opinion and pretty much misses the point. As you can imagine, akin to a YouTube commentary, the feedback is varied and entertaining, with comments such as…

  • ‘Poor miserable counterproductive lack of imagination.’
  • ‘it’s very white’
  • ‘I’d suggest that you start again from scratch.’
  • ‘Driving past will cause confusion and accidents ala the wondabra advert’
  • ‘I think it’s lovely’
  • ‘I would suggest just typography – big letters “NO TO BBC CUTS!” or somesuch’
  • ‘does it need to be “clever”?
  • ‘The DDM (Detracting Demographic Monkees) are at it again’
  • ‘You have paid an ad agency for this? If so, I am very disappointed. May I suggest you talk to some other companies instead? Airside are superb’

See what you think… I’m sure they’d be grateful for any (constructive and informed) thoughts!

9 April 2010 at 1:47 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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