Slogans and Labels

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We are more inclined to read slogans than labels. We like sound-bites rather than information. We’re drawn to quick wins rather than long-term solutions.

During the US Election campaign, some Trump supporters bought hats bearing the slogan “Make America Great Again”.  Reports suggested that some of the hats available online had labels stating they were made in China. These may have not been official Trump merchandise, and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with hats made in China. But, if you believe buying domestic products is an important aspect of making your nation great again, it’s important to check the label, as well as read the slogan.

Politics has always favoured slogans. And all too often, the electorate vote for the soundbite, not caring about the truth behind it. It seems that, as long as it fits on a cap, t-shirt, or can be plastered in massive letters on the side of a bus, many people don’t care about the truth behind the slogan. In fact some commentators have gone so far as to say that we are living in a “post-truth era”. (Another “sound-bite”, I guess).

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The Hidden Cost Of Perfection

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Vegetables in a supermarket, so uniform and perfect, but how many tonnes of misshapen fruit and veg are dumped by farmers because supermarkets don’t want them? Because we won’t buy them. I don’t remember being asked, do you?

Or have we been asked without knowing? Have we shopped for vegetables and picked out the straighter carrots, the redder tomatoes, the rounder lettuce, leaving the rest for the supermarket to dump and take the cost?

Over the years the supermarkets buy what their consumers (that’s us) want to buy. We are clearly demanding perfection. So each year in the UK (and many other developed countries) masses of edible food are dumped, when less than a 10 hour flight away human beings are literally dying of starvation.

Fundamentally, regardless of economic theories, that is wrong.

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Do I Have Your Vote?

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The freedom to vote is a freedom I cherish. For me it’s not just about the freedom to vote, it represents a wider set of freedoms that accompany living in a democracy. You only have to switch on the news, or look at what is being shared on social media to recognise the value of democracy.

In the UK, and many other countries around the world, we have an amazing level of freedom, and it grows all the time. I am grateful every day for the freedoms I enjoy which allow me to live my life on my terms and pursue my goals and dreams.

Yet I have friends, some very close friends (you know who you are), who don’t exercise their right to vote. It’s not something they cherish. And I guess, when I think about it, the freedom to vote also includes the freedom not to vote; after all if it was compulsory to vote it would probably not feel like a democracy at all.

And my friends are not alone. Many people feel completely disengaged with politics, and feel that there is very little point in voting. What does it really change? Aren’t politicians ultimately all the same? Does it really make a difference?

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Let’s Get Physical

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Holding a worn, torn, faded photograph in your hand can often evoke more feelings and stir our emotional memories far more deeply than scrolling through thousands of crystal-clear images on a digital device.

Why is that? What is it about a physical photograph that affords it more emotional currency than a digital one? Maybe it is the act of holding it, of touching it, that makes the difference. No matter what the resolution of your modern day camera, in many ways a physical photograph will always have the edge over a digital image.

It’s the reason why so many people still get their digital photos printed; it provides us with the means to hold them, to connect with them in a way that is more than just visual. They take up physical space and, on so many levels, we always return to the physical…

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It Doesn’t Count

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As a society we seem obsessed with measuring something so that we can put a number on it. Maybe it’s because of our tendency to perceive numbers as facts. But it does mean we risk missing things that could be equally important, or perhaps more so, than the things we can attach a number to.

In business it’s all about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  As we strive to represent performance as a number, the KPIs take on paramount importance in understanding how a business is doing, even though less tangible aspects such as employee engagement, or customer experience are also massively important ingredients in achieving success.

Sadly, it seems that what we can’t count, ends up not counting.

If we overlook or dismiss such intangibles, we limit our understanding. We do ourselves and our businesses a disservice because we’re missing out on important opportunities to learn, to grow or to develop.

The same applies to schools and education. In the UK and many other countries, there is an obsession with school league tables. There’s a considerable over-emphasis on counting the numbers of children who can read, spell and perform calculations to a certain level. Yet there is plenty of truly valuable stuff that doesn’t get counted – and therefore doesn’t count – because it can’t be reduced to a number in a league table…

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What Do You Know?

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“For this discovery of yours [writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember for themselves”

– Plato

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato lived about 2,400 years ago. The above quote expresses his concern that when something is written down, people may take it – whatever it is – to be a fact;  they won’t think on the issue, they won’t ponder or pontificate. They won’t expand their understanding through those “lightbulb” moments we all experience from time to time.

How amazing that Plato’s simple question is more relevant today than it was then. Today we don’t need to think, we don’t need to discover our knowledge; we don’t need to learn.

We can just “Google” it.

We now “own” knowledge – practically all of human knowledge can be accessed from our devices in our hands or pockets. Everything is just a click away. The sheer volume of information is mind-boggling, all available at the touch of a few buttons. But have we sacrificed quality, truth and fact, for volume?

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The Disposable Mindset

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There is a large area of the Pacific Ocean, roughly the size of Texas, known as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This vast area has formed as oceanic currents have gathered up enormous amounts of marine pollution – predominantly plastic – and trapped them within the whirl of its gyres.

For the most part, plastic is seen as a disposable substance. It’s cheap to manufacture. It’s everywhere. And, as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch attests, we seem happy to dispose of it carelessly, without a second thought.

So many things in our lives have become disposable. Many people reading this blog post will have had more than half a dozen different mobile phones during the last decade. Mobile phone companies now provide buy-out clauses to make it even easier for you to move to the latest handset, before you’ve even finished paying for the one you’re using currently.

Imagine being in a restaurant when, half way through your meal, you learn that the chef has created a fabulous new dish, so much more tasty than the one you’re eating now. “Quick – dispose of your food and order the new dish!” It sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

Nonetheless, the disposable mindset can be found everywhere…

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Have You Ever Kissed Money?

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During a recent trip to Mexico City, I found myself stuck in stationary traffic – it’s something that happens quite frequently in Mexico City. As I sat there I noticed a man washing the windscreens of the cars as they slowly crawled along. For every car that accepted his services he received a coin in payment. Although the amounts given to him seemed to vary, they always appeared small. Nonetheless, he kissed each coin before putting it in his pocket.

It made me realise that I’ve never kissed money; I’ve never felt the need to. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for the money I have, but it made me realise that gratitude often depends on certain thresholds.

I can easily pour away a glass of water that I’m not going to finish drinking, but imagine how grateful I would be for that water if I was stranded in a desert?

Farmers in many developed countries are forced to dump tons of vegetables before they ever make it to the shelves of our supermarkets, just because they are the wrong shape! Imagine how grateful we would be for any food, regardless of its shape, if we were starving.

Let’s face it, there is a huge variance in circumstances throughout the world. Some have more, a great many have less.

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This Is Not A Number

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I love numbers. They’ve always fascinated me. I don’t know why, but there it is.

I enjoy using numbers to understand things differently and play around with different concepts, For example, the life span for a great many animals is somewhere between two and three billion heart beats. Whilst this is a broad range (for an average human heart beat it puts life expectancy between 53 and 79 years), it underpins the point that the slower heart rate equates to a longer life.

For me, numbers have really interesting qualities: they are so important to all of us in so many ways and they integrate their way into our lives without us even knowing it. Some numbers mean more to us than others, such as the number of years we’ve been alive, the number we see when we step on the weighing scales, the number that arrives in our bank every month (and then quickly leaves our bank!). When talking about almost every aspect of our lives, I find it’s almost impossible to avoid numbers.

Some numbers are so huge that you don’t see them often; some calculators can’t display numbers over a billion. Whilst computers can display far larger numbers than the humble calculator, I’ve been fascinated on more than one occasion with finding the largest number I can get a computer to display using the built-in calculator app. I did this the other week and, as I multiplied incredibly large random numbers by other incredibly large random numbers, the computer continued to display dizzyingly larger numbers… until something happened that I’d never seen before.

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The Dark Side of Motivation

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One of the darkest and most disruptive emotions we can encounter is fear.  But can fear be a force for good? Can it be a motivator to push us towards better things?

A health scare might motivate someone to change their diet, quit drinking or smoking or start exercising. That’s good, right? Or, out of fear of losing your job, you push yourself to hit your targets at work. That’s also good, isn’t it? I mean, you not only keep your job but may even get a bonus for hitting your targets!

Does the end result justify the means, if fear is the means? Why does fear work so well as a motivator? Surely those people who quit smoking or adopt a healthier lifestyle or hit their targets at work have proved that they can do something now that they could have done earlier – before the fear set in…

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