“From Sappho to Suffrage: Women Who Dared” – and the women standing up in 2018

No one likes an uxorious man – but as my wife Prof. Senia Paseta is the curator of a new (and not untopical) exhibition about pioneering women, a plug seems very much in order. The exhibition opened this week in Oxford and is called From Sappho to Suffrage: Women Who Dared (Bodleian Libraries events page: From Sappho To Suffrage). Equally amazing is something else she has put together as co-director of Oxford University’s Women in the Humanities: a 2018 “Suffrage Wall” of contemporary prominent women who wanted to help mark women getting the vote 100 years ago: WiH’s 2018 Suffrage Wall. It is fascinating, inspiring and moving in equal measure.

The BBC website, like many, has picked up on the display of one particular curio from the suffrage era: the only known surviving copy of a suffrage board game called Suffragetto.  Senia explains the background a little here: BBC Arts: how a board game helped women win the vote.

Suffragetto high res

Suffragetto: the Albert Hall or the clink for our intrepid female democracy campaigners? Hiding £100 notes under your knee while your brother was getting some Kia Ora won’t help on this one.

In short, it’s an example of the ingenious lengths the Suffrage Movement went to to raise money for the cause. It’s a reminder too that an eye for popular culture is no recent thing in political campaigning. It’s like someone in 1909 making a Call of Duty: Green and Purple Ops. OK, so Boardgamegeek.com only rate it 5.9 (Boardgamegeek.com on Suffragetto), but on the other hand it’s almost certainly had considerably more female attention in the last week than the guys who write for Boardgamegeek.com have enjoyed in their lifetimes.

The suffrage artefacts in the exhibition are fantastic, but there’s a lot more to the exhibition. You’ll also want to see:

  • the “Suffrage Wall” – one wall of the exhibition is devoted to the 2018 “Suffrage Champions”, marking 2018 as the centenary of women’s suffrage. Prominent women of today from around the UK and across the political spectrum are there, “making a powerful statement about women’s achievements and the continuing need to challenge barriers to gender equality one hundred years since women were first enfranchised.” Suffrage Champions have each contributed a few words of inspiration and it makes fascinating reading. More detail than could be fitted into the exhibition space lives on the online version of the Suffrage Wall https://wih.web.ox.ac.uk/suffrage-wall.
    Screen Shot 2018-03-11 at 12.22.24

    Women in the Humanities’ Suffrage Wall, 2018: just some of the Ds … Warning: you may be embarrassingly moved by it, so bring some dark glasses and a hat if reading on the train.

    It is an absolutely brilliant thing, please do take a look. You might start with someone you know already like Katya Adler, Dame Katherine Grainger, Ali Smith or Bridget Christie – then discover amazing women you might not have heard of. I now know who Octavia Goredema, Purna Sen and Sarah Wood are and I realise I really should have already known them. The relative invisibility of women in large areas of public life is still a national, and international, shame.

  • As the title of the exhibition suggests, fragments of Greek poet Sappho’s writing, from versions transcribed almost 2,000 years ago: https://treasures.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/treasures/poems-by-sappho/
  • An original of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, from 1792: https://treasures.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/treasures/mary-wollstonecraft/
  • A teenage Jane Austen’s hand-written novella, called “The Beautifull Cassandra”: https://treasures.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/treasures/jane-austen/. It’s described as “a parody of sentimental literary convention and style: the heroine falls in love with a bonnet, ‘devours’ and refuses to pay for six ice creams, knocks down a pastry cook and runs away.” Coming with me to the beach, that one.

Prof. Senia Paseta, co-founder of Oxford University’s Women In The Humanities research centre, at the Suffrage Wall. Senia curated the exhibition and assembled the Suffrage Wall project. Here she is relishing an evening away from having her limbs chewed by our teething puppy, Lucky

The venue is the Weston Library, part of Oxford Universary’s remarkable Bodleian Libraries which underwent a multi-million pound refurb in 2015 and is a stunning place to visit these days – decent cafe too, which is always important. If you spent your student years as I did, you may know the Weston Library as that building between the King’s Arms and the White Horse on Broad Street.

It runs for the rest of 2018 and right through to February 2019, so there is no shortage of opportunities to pop your head in. If you’re a tight-a***e like me, you will be thrilled to hear it’s free entry too.


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Happy new year from Shore

I’m going to do more on the blog this year, he promises again – but this time he means it. But just to put 2017 behind us, I hereby recycle the Christmas tree of The Onion’s inestimable review of the year. Do yourself a favour and take a gander at the big stories of the year: The Onion Review of 2017.

A couple that I particularly loved. This is beautifully done:

Screen Shot 2018-01-02 at 12.38.00

The full text is worth reading, so well written – here: Earth’s orbit story

And I do like the expression on the woman on the left’s face in this:

Screen Shot 2018-01-02 at 12.24.04

So it’s back to work. Hoping to reconnect with some old collaborators in 2018. The last two years in particular have been super busy and it’s easy just to focus on delivering the projects and fall out of contact with old muckers. So I’ll be saying hello again to people and getting out of my coccoon a bit more.

Part of that is making sure I get booked onto some good training courses. I’ve signed up for two already, one with a sense of excitement and one with, being quite honest, some trepidation.

The exciting one is through the AQR, for whom I have been an “ambassador” for several years. It’s a two-parter on the impacts of Behavioural Economics (https://www.aqr.org.uk/calendar/info.shtml?event=EV18BE1), first session being at Wallace Space in Clerkenwell on 25th January, delivered by Crawford Hollingworth and Caroline Hayter. I was lucky enough to be at the AQR’s inaugural session on BE when it was bursting through into qual research consciousness back in 2011. The review of how clients see it now (session 2) will be particularly interesting.

The one I’m a bit nervous about, because it may involve me having to expend time and money on admin, is an online course run by Lesley Cooley, on General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). I am doing it because these important rule changes kick in in a few months and I need to see what Shore needs to do to be compliant. I am not anticipating a barrel of laughs, but it fits neatly with another bigger resolution for 2018 – possibly the most boring resolution I or anyone else has ever made – putting more effort into the admin side of the business. I have tried to shove this Cinderella into the basement with only a bucket of water and a mop, but it’s time to give Shore admin some sunlight this year. Especially with new quarterly accounting requirements starting in the Spring too.

If you haven’t shot yourself by this stage, in a post that started brightly, congratulations. But actually I do feel genuinely refreshed and ready to go, after a quiet close to 2017 that gave me time to catch up with myself. 2017 was a good year for Shore, which I measure by the variety of projects, the number of personal firsts and the enjoyment I’ve had in my work (and it was decent financially too, if you’re being all traditional businessy about it). Highlights of 2017 included:

  • running a longitudinal online and offline piece tracking and comparing the daily working lives of financial professionals in different roles
  • interviewing some of the country’s leading doctors about their careers and plans
  • making segment films with my trusted videographer and director of BBC3’s “The Rapper Who Chopped His Penis Off”, Tim Crawley. What Tim makes of my film projects having hung out with Wu Tang Clan collaborators, I know not. I certainly can’t be accused of not “keepin’ it real”. I mean, Eccles on a wet Tuesday morning …
  • sorting the hell out of the coffee aisle in big supermarkets, from a shopper perspective
  • moderating and analysing one of the most complex online communities ever, I think, on a food innovation project. Wowzer.
  • some initially angst-inducing but as it turned out, really successful fieldwork in the same room at Home Sweet Home, a few months apart, on two very different projects. The project on electrical goods packaging in particular was one where I really wondered how it would go, but it ended up really quite a vintage night’s groups. It’s great when the challenging topics come through and produce a bit of magic like that – and big thanks to Podengo for getting the brilliant participants on that one.
  • helping a fantastic copy writing agency with their clean up of a thicket of pensions communications
  • highlight of the year probably, no offence to other projects: listening to teenage boys talk about their attitudes to relationships. Only a small part of a much bigger project, but it is just so fascinating to see how young people are growing up now, particularly with mobiles now acting as almost part of themselves, with all the dangers that brings. Good news is, I think there is much to be optimistic about, on that side of life anyway.

Hoping for a good crop of projects to educate and entertain myself and others in 2018. If nothing else, it takes my mind off Brexit.

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How To Reform Capitalism

How to reform capitalismThe School of Life essay How To Reform Capitalism, (available at The School of Life shop), is worth a read for anyone engaged in the commercial world but who wonders about its values. Most of us then.

Here’s the blurb:

It is normal to feel frustrated and sad about aspects of modern capitalism. At the same time, realistic hope of change can seem either utopian or demented. In fact, the way that capitalism works is inherently open to alteration and improvement. This is because the problems of capitalism are, in their essence, not about money, law, or politics, but about human psychology – the field of expertise of The School of Life.

As this bold essay argues, the path to a better sort of capitalism starts with a clear-eyed understanding of our emotional functioning and the workings of our psyches. What follows is nothing less than a blueprint, revolutionary yet utterly practical, for a wiser and better kind of capitalism.

The main argument of the book is a simple but powerful one. It is that capitalism as practised so far has been good at getting the things it set out to do – but it set out with too little ambition. It’s not so much the tackiness and emptiness of brand communications that are the bane of modern life – though they are a bit – it’s that we haven’t yet created big markets in products that actually meet the emotional needs of modern life.

I love this critique of the emptiness of much of business culture, in a chapter wonderfully entitled The Depression of the Business Community:

Throughout history, when business has been harshly judged, criticism has focussed on the idea of greed; business is bad because it is an activity driven by greed.

However, this badly misses the point. If one were to accuse business of any single flaw, it should not be greed but pessimism … Hard-headed managers have rarely been outright corrupt or unnaturally avaricious: but they have very often suffered from a curious kind of melancholy, a distinctive sadness about the world and its inhabitants.

Vice-chair of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, 1983

They set out six depressive beliefs that pervade business culture:

  • customers will never care about workers
  • customers have low appetites that can’t be improved
  • the only way to sell is through deception
  • you can only make big money from the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid
  • you can’t afford to care about the psychology of your staff
  • the only legitimate role for surplus wealth is philanthropic donation (not, for example reinvestment in the people involved in the business).

Read the book for more explanation, it is I think entertaining and thought-provoking. A book coming from a Marxist point of view? Well, no.

I verge towards the left these days, but I’ve never been attracted to Marxism. While I admire the passion for fairness that runs through it, and I agree that every human being is ultimately of equal value – and some cats too – it’s always struck me as based on misconceptions about what makes people tick. So, for me, a communist utopia wouldn’t actually make people more fulfilled or happy. People want to do their own thing; they have their own ideas, ambitions and needs; they have their own dreams for life. In a Marxist system, innovative ideas get their head if the Party agrees with them, but otherwise get stuck somewhere in a Kafkaesque maze of petty officials with their own agendas. I heard a probably apocryphal story of a Russian official visiting London in the Soviet era and marvelling at the lack of queues for milk. “Who’s the minister in charge of milk distribution?” he is reputed to have asked.

The idealism of the far left also seems to me to suffer from a belief in the perfectability of humankind. It is a dangerous thing to believe in, no less so after reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens and Homo Deus (Harari Q&A in The Guardian ) – in which he posits that a growing ability to make ‘software improvements’ to ourselves may lead ultimately to a transhumanist future, in which our minds no longer reside in our bodies. To see what that could be like, and to get rather freaked out, watch Charlie Brooker’s brilliant Black Mirror, the episode called San Junipero (The Atlantic on Black Mirror’s San Junipero).

But it’s not as if capitalism is exactly pulling up trees at the moment either. Which is why I was interested to read How To Reform Capitalism. It’s not a book about economics, but a book about what a better society might look like. It takes as read, as I do, that commercial and consumer life is realistically always going to be part of what we’re dealing with. It proposes a shift in the way we think about it.

maslow wifi

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs these days

We have used it as a system for satisfying our physical needs, through feeding and clothing ourselves and providing (sometimes) a roof over our heads. We then wonder why capitalism does not satisfy us spiritually, why we are unhappy; why its leading brands sell things that don’t really matter to us that much and don’t make life better. And here, rather than despairing and decrying capitalism as inevitably a force to destroy happiness, The School of Life sees the potential for its future improvement. Why not imagine a capitalism in the future in which more enlightened consumers buy products that meet needs towards the top of Maslow’s pyramid – that fulfil them spiritually (Maslow used Jung’s term “self-actualisation” for this)? As the final sentence on the book says:

We don’t have to stop selling. We need to learn to engage commercially with our highest needs.

It imagines a future Times Square no longer advertising Coke or Nike but:

dedicated to the promotion of cures for loneliness, aids to forgiveness and those psychological ingredients that will help us be wise and kind.

This is what cathedrals once did. Is it so absurd to imagine a future age in which human activity focusses on meaning and purpose again? The bigger things of life – real meaning and purpose – are still exciting to think about; they move us when they fleetingly come to our attention. It’s just that our experience of them these days tends to be scatterfire. Churches brought focus on the deeper point of life (while unfortunately providing some misleading guidance on that). In the secular age, we connect with these deeper feelings  through a hundred splinters: a charity donation, a moving experience watching a film, a look in your child’s eye. The individual moments are satisfying but the whole is deeply unsatisfying, because we lack the help we need to join them up into coherence. It goes against received wisdom to suggest that a future commercial world might be a place that helps put this jigsaw of purpose together for people, rather than offering them pointless objects to buy in a moral wasteland. But actually, why not?

This is not, importantly, an anti-commercial book. For example, it praises advertising for identifying what really motivates people and for talking to our core needs and desires. It’s just that the products offered by that advertising – perfumes, clothes, cars – are unfit for purpose. What is needed, argues the School of Life, is not better advertising but better products:

The challenge now is to narrow the gap between the fantasies being offered and what we spend our lives making and our money buying.

It’s not about minimising capitalism but extending it to our “unattended needs”.

financial crash

I can’t treat myself to a new sofa now, so I’ll have to come at solving this “feeling deeply ill at ease with life” thing from a different angle …

I suspect they are onto something. Because I do see a generational shift in what people expect from life, a greater insistence on living lives that are worthwhile and have meaning. There is an impatience with the soulless. It’s not just because getting by has got harder for most of us since the Great Recession – material comfort has been ruled out as a solution. I think it started long before that, actually in my generation that entered the workforce in the 90s. We were appalled by – but felt powerless against – long hours working culture and drear in the workplace. Slowly, people more bold and inventive than me redesigned old workplaces, created new exciting ones, shifted attitudes and expectations. But it’s been more gentle evolution than paradigm shift so far.

My generation are now in our late 40s. While I “stepped sideways” into the freelance life – a whole other story – my peers are now business decision-makers. They are, I think, a generation that is open to change but won’t do it on their own (we Generation X people are just too cynical). What might bring the tectonic shift in business culture is the younger generation Y and Z people coming through, asking for it and needing it (Harvard Business Review on Generation X, Y & Z). These are generations for whom finding meaning and a deeper satisfaction in life are important. Might Generation X become unlikely FW de Klerks, wising up to the iniquities we inherited then administered, and enabling others to take a fairer and kinder capitalism forward?

Generation X, my generation, is not heroic – it does think the old world is rubbish, it is just too shaped and beholden to it to overturn it completely. Carrying on with our heart not in it is easier. But generational generalisations are always a bit broad brush, aren’t they – and the truth is, there is an optimistic, thoughtful wing of Generation X, which the School of Life’s mission and values exemplify. Here maybe is how my generation offers something for the Ys and Zs. But we have left them the heavy lifting.


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More patience, less blasting

I enjoyed this animated RSA Short film, illustrating Simon Sinek’s point about how, in business, the big fix is rarely as effective as creating a culture where a lot of small, everyday positive things are allowed to happen.

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The 5 hour rule: keep learning the Benjamin Franklin way


I thought you said an investment in knowledge pays the best interest, Ben? Rip-off merchant more  like.

I thought you said an investment in knowledge pays the best interest, Ben? Beneath you, mate.

I enjoyed this article from Michael Simmons in Inc. Like seemingly all Americans who write about anything, he has a Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) fixation – but why not, it probably beats my fixation with Paul Scholes (1974- ), articulate and thoughtful though the Bury-born former midfield ace is.

Franklin was of course famously productive, unlike me. Marvellously the tenth son of a soap maker, he invented the lightning rod and bifocal glasses and managed to juggle, according to Wikipedia, being an “author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.” Though I bet he never took his kids to karate, did the washing up, or sat in rush hour traffic. I can’t claim any of those job titles – and have no insight into soap making either – but I have one thing in common with him. Like me, he was a Fellow of the RSA, where they now, down on John Adam Street off the Strand, have a Benjamin Franklin Room. I’m not so much Enlightenment as three-lighters-for-a-pound, but perhaps I can learn something from this dude.

So Franklin’s trick, says Simmons, was to devote an hour a day, every day of the working week, specifically to learning. He got up early to do it. Now, I already get up early to get my son’s breakfast, as he has a long trip to school (due to education cuts, ironically), so fat chance of reading and writing, unless we get into sleep deprivation territory. But I think I can squeeze in an hour a day on learning.

So how should I be doing it? Simmons says:

1. Plan out the learning. We shouldn’t just have goals for what we want to accomplish. We should also have goals for what we want to learn.

2. Deliberately practise. We can apply the proven principles of deliberate practice so we keep improving e.g. practising specific skills we want to improve. [Simmons should practise his spelling, he spelled it ‘practice’ when using as a verb. Schoolboy error]

3. Ruminate. This helps us get more perspective on our lessons learned and assimilate new ideas. It can also help us develop slow hunches in order to have creative breakthroughs.

4. Set aside time just for learning. This includes activities like reading, having conversations, participating in a mastermind, taking classes, observing others, etc.

5. Solve problems as they arise. Having slack creates the space to address small problems before they turn into big problems.

6. Do small experiments with big potential payoffs. Whether or not an experiment works, it’s an opportunity to learn and test your ideas.

Yes, this is slightly vague and waffly stuff. But the bigger point is, you get more done by working smarter, not necessarily burning the lightbulb at both ends [that was Thomas Edison, you numpty -Ed]. You only see those shortcuts and those big insights when you give yourself space to do so.

I must say freelance / independent qual life has its drawbacks, but has been (for me anyway) better at giving physical and mental space to think than agency life was. The catch is, you miss the interaction with others that you also need. So, a freelance / independent, going on training courses pretty regularly is a must. Freeing up the time and budget for that is easier said than done, but always worth it. In the meantime, I have some lighters to shift …

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Johnny behavioural science mnemonics: EAST and MINDSPACE



It’s too late to improve Keanu Reaves’ acting, but there’s still hope for using behavioural economics to improve other outcomes. Here are a couple of ‘what to remember about behavioural economics’ mnemonics I thought I’d share, from my recent reading of David Halpern’s Inside the Nudge Unit.

According to Halpern, the man behind the British government’s Behavioural Insights Team, E.A.S.T. is “a mental heuristic of mental heuristics” – a shortcut to remember how to cater for the mental shortcuts people commonly live their lives by. Organisations wanting to introduce cues or prompts to influence people’s behaviour, whether in government or in business, can be more effective if they remember:

  • Easy – make the behaviour easy for people to do
  • Attractive – make the behaviour attractive, something people would want to do
  • Social – tie the behaviour sought of an individual into something others are also doing
  • Timely  – prompt people towards the behaviour at the most opportune time.

Sounds simple but that’s an awful lot of research and testing boiled down nicely.

The other one I wanted to share is M.I.N.D.S.P.A.C.E. It’s been around since 2010 and seem to remember even using it myself in one project a few years back (where the team I was part of played around with some behavioural interventions, with the help of an academic behavioural economist). This one, says Halpern, was “to help busy policymakers think about what might influence people’s behaviour in a given context.” The framework is a series of very broad insights / truths established by social psychology. They may seem like statements of the obvious, but it is useful to have them as a checklist to make sure you have covered the main bases when thinking through the possible effects of any piece of public communication or public activity:

  • Messenger – we are very influenced by who is communicating the information
  • Incentives – we respond to incentives using mental shortcuts, like ‘loss aversion’
  • Norms – we are strongly influenced by what we think others are doing
  • Defaults – we tend to revert to established behaviour options
  • Salience – our attention is drawn to what is new and seems relevant to us
  • Priming – we are influenced by sub-conscious cues
  • Affect – our emotional associations can powerfully affect our actions
  • Commitments – we try to be consistent with our public promises and we seek to reciprocate what others do for us
  • Ego – we act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves.

M.I.N.D.S.P.A.C.E. is more fully explained in the Institute of Government report here: Mindspace Report. Hope that’s useful.

Halpern’s Inside The Nudge Unit is a fascinating read, by the way, full of practical examples of nudges in action – what worked and what didn’t and why. It’s a success story, really – how the Behavioural Insights Team won over decision-makers and influencers in government to making policy have more impact by taking account of how real people actually behave. It has been a quiet revolution. This has taken off massively over the past 5-6 years, but it is still in its infancy. Halpern can currently (October / November 2016) be heard on the BBC Radio iPlayer, for people in the UK, as part of Bronwen Maddox’s Radio 4 series The Pursuit of Power, talking about “the power of nudge”: The Power of Nudge.



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Petrels: Flailing Tomb

Thanks to Paul Margree for taking me to such an enjoyable evening of sound at Cafe Oto in Dalston last Thursday – Petrels, with Ensemble Economique as support. The kind of thing I would never find on my own 🙂 Here’s Paul’s Petrels album review from last year for Louder Than War.

We need no swords


“An inspired marriage of ecstatic drone, krautrock and synthpop.”

Read the review at Louder Than War.


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