IT'S WHAT YOU'D LIKE TO BE

My Journalist self follows fabulous people into fabulous places.

Category: longform

You’d like to be Tom Hulme. But, Would you really?

Another White Man Saving Brown Women from Brown Men?

(Disclaimer: I adore Tom Hulme and I would love to intern at his company. But after this article I’d imagine it would have slipped away naturally)

In complete contrast to his dishevelled hair – this gentleman’s list of achievements is as breath-takingly linear and long as they are well documented, in another word, world-class. Carrying the charisma that sets himself apart from other entrepreneurs who utilizes pretension for a conspicuous cause to establish status, Hulme – in check shirts and trainers talking to a podium-ful of work hungry students playfully.

“a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum and was listed in WIRED UK’s top 100 “digital power brokers” in 2011 and 2012. In November 2012 he was included in the Evening Standard list of London’s 1000 most influential people. Tom is also a member of the advisory board of the Tech City Investment Organisation of the UK government, supporting the startup community in East London.”

Founder of OpenIDEO, a project that enables “anybody” to contribute ideas usually for a specific seasonal task is currently burgeoning a campaign aiming at Indian women’s safety in low socio-economic areas, extending the social debate that gained worldwide attention due to the number of cases of rape, gang-rape in India last year, coinciding with the biggest election that the world has seen in India where 800+ million voters participated last Saturday certainly has got all eyes on him.

His hour-long talk at London College of Communication ended with a Q&A session where I had the privilege to ask the final question:

Me: “Post colonial cultural theorist, Gayaki Spivak is known for her criticism of “Western” doctrine’s interest in the debates on post colonial states, like India. She once famously criticized the ‘West’ for ‘White men saving brown women from Brown men’, do you think that your challenge on helping indian women could be a bit indulgent.”

Probably not as indulgent as my question.

It was the journalist in me that made me want to stir up the otherwise homogenous agreeable applause applause talk. Branded as an open innovation platform, OpenIDEO serves as a levelling tool to democratize ideas. Slide after slide of empirical data and research findings narrated in his non-threatening and yet authoritative tone, Hulme had smitten the room with the look of an Australian surfer and the backlog of jaw dropping credentials, as well as saint-like proclaims of the non-profit driven nature of his work. The question on my mind was, has he really discovered the ultimate levelling platform for ideas or is he just an amazing motivational speaker?

India, with its roots lying in a culture built around hierarchies of gender, religion, caste and colour produces the most number of millionaires in a country in the world but is known for the human pyramids built on travelling trains and “slum dogs”. Dealing with the issue of women’s safety in India is comparable to dealing with cocaine use in Hollywood, Indian men’s disrespect towards women is justified by the disregard of women’s identity as a whole. From the time a brother is sent to college whereas the sisters are left running errands to accompany the mom, to the criticism of a western tourist showing cleavage inviting a gangbang, to me woken up by a penis on my face that belongs to a married Indian friend of my housemate’s that was staying over who was told that I was gay, all these evidence suggest that sexual crimes can all be justified because the victims have all “asked” for it. (Possibly not all) Indian men live by the rules that the patriarch structure can be taken for granted and sexual offenses are the reward of sexually deprived women and gay men. Where can I send my “thank you for your penis” card?

The Khajuraho Group of Monuments in Khajuraho, a town in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, located in Chhatarpur District, about 620 kilometres (385 mi) southeast of New Delhi

From the country that brought you Kama Sutra, which features not only the 100s of sexercize positions (some even include horses, probably as props) but also the depictions of gay and lesbian sex to a society that bans prostitution as well as homosexuality, the change is held accountable by one country – UK. It was during the Victorian colonial period did the British labelled the Orientals “the oriental vice” during its “Fanatical Purity Campaign” – meaning the “West” didn’t like it that the Indians expressed their sexuality freely whose gods include hermaphrodites and androgynous beings.

Arjuna and Krishna – 2 Indian gods who are frequently referrenced for their same sex love. Photo by pramoduniverse.com

Centuries later, the repressed physiological needs of men (sex) are compensated by the compromised safety needs of women, due to the very fact that it was the colonial Victorians who initiated the increasing imbalance. We are brainstorming ideas globally to help with women’s safety? Something’s got to give. And solving the problem one-sidedly will only create future imbalance. If men were to blame, help THEM first. After all Marslow views sex as a more basic form of needs than safety. Shouldn’t we be thinking about how to feed the wolves?

Indian Men in/on/above A Running Train. Photo by BBC

An Indian girlfriend once said to me, “look at the UAE, if someone steals, they chop his hands off. That’s why their crime rate is so low, why can’t we do something like that?” Obviously we can’t, coz we are the “West” and they one thing we take pride in is the discourse of human rights. In cultural theorist Spivak’s essay “Can Subalterns Speak?”, long story short, subalterns can’t speak. Coz when they do speak, how are we going to listen with an ear that only takes in what fits in the western discourses such as feminism and human rights?

Solving a third world problem within the Western doctrine is very likely to lead nowhere. But if Hulme’s challenge is aimed at raising awareness and showing concern or goodwill, he certainly has accomplished that. After all, as of today, 585 profiles have contributed to their research, a research according to my question to him, could be of western problem-solvers’ indulgence.

My question for him certain got him interested. Having distinguished the contributors to OpenIDEO from the Westminster suit and tie white middle aged men, he gave a convincing answer that OpenIDEO users are of wide demographics which include victims themselves. However, my scepticism remains as my enthusiasm continues to find out how big of an impact could this challange manifest.

Hulme at London College of Communication, 2013. Photo by London College of Communication

N: is there any personal reason that made you consciously choose a path that’s not necessarily guaranteed to generate great revenue?

H: “My dad was an entrepreneur so I’ve always admired entrepreneurs. And I spent a year in Africa before I went to university the first time when I was 18 and that had a huge impact on me. I promised myself that I’d create businesses and do start ups that will have positive social impact so I combined the two things. That why I never went to work for a big company I never consider it.”

All eyes on Hulme and his OpenIDEO contributors. Participate and contribute to the reasearch and ideas here: http://www.openideo.com/
Follow Hulme on Twitter:

You’d Like To Be Peter Firth

“It was enthusiasm that did it, rather than any degree of talent.”

Probably a bit of both. Senior Journalist Peter Firth from the Future Laboratory – one of the world’s most renowned and respected trend forecasting consultancies speaks of the beginning of his career in the most understated fashion. Citing the article “Doormen in it for the kicks” in the Guardian as his first commissioned piece, having just graduated from London School of Journalism, his articles can be seen in Total Guitar Magazine, Songlines and the Hackney Gazette. But it wasn’t until he joined LS: N Global of the Future Laboratory, did he witness exponential personal and career growth. On some occasion his words are heard by an audience of 400-500 people including clients from Microsoft and Harrods in Tate Tanks. Firth in a telephone interview speaks to me about what the futures industry entails.

Firth has given Trend Briefings to brands including Marks & Spencer, Estée Lauder, Microsoft and Harrods, examining consumer behavior through case studies, quantitative data and expert analysis.

F: “Future Laboratory has developed a reputation for being accurate.”

Trend forecasting as an industry seems to resonates with the ideas of many contemporary cultural theorists. Michel Foucault, Friedrich Nietzsche and Pierre Bourdieu to name a few have all made their prophecies on what the western societies could become and underpinned the principles that fuel the subsequent commercial affluence. In Firth’s work however, it is not as taste driven or theoretical like you’d except. Firth’s predictions are based on empirical data, the results of think tanks, and a congruence with the opinions of industry experts such as Stephan Sigrist from Wire and Steve Vranikis the creative director of Google. These foundations underpin the accuracy and confidence in the trend future forecasting.

F: “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” Firth quoting William Gibson.

Tactfully exploring social shifts and human behavioural patterns, LS: N Global clears the visions of the lucky and selected few who bare the privilege of seeing life from the other side of the microscope, by subscribing LS :N Global‘s reports – some of which are often adorned hilarious and intentionally self-referential and peudo-scientific titles such as the upcoming one in New York called “The Polarity Paradox”.

A sneak peak into the near future

LS: N Global present their briefings to clients such as Harrods, Marks & Spencer and Harvey Nichols which for members of the public are trends’ driving force and taste makers. When asked about the balance between finding/forecasting trends and creating trends when reporting to clients of such profile:

F: “There’s a self-perpetuating quality about these things. When you think that something is happening you will have an selective eye. When you buy an iPhone, other people start buying iPhones and when you start smoking, other people seem to start smoking. It’s not that more people are smoking but it’s just that you notice it more. Things to watch out for. The way we get around that is by having a network of forecasting. It’s not just me on my own forecasting because we are a range of diverse thinkers.”

N: “What is it like to forecast trends knowing that what you like may be very subjective to your own taste. Do you fight the tendency to project your own taste into the work in hopes that it will turn into something big?”

F: “Actually I had this discussion with our visual editor a while ago. Certain things are subjective. Seeing the emergence of certain design over the course of certain time, you can talk things over chronology, rather than taste. One of our jobs is to find stuff, which can be fashion, a poster, an advertising campaign, something about the consumers’ way of living, that we can create and mimic.”

Since April 2012, Peter has been technology publication T3’s futurology columnist, examining the big questions surrounding our long-term relationship with technology.

Firth on BBC World Service, "The Hub", December 2012 Discussing the future of human communication, as well as the first wifi linked communication between two people's pulses.

Firth on BBC World Service, “The Hub”, December 2012 Discussing the future of human communication, as well as the first wifi linked communication between two people’s pulses.

Trend forecasting has definitely taken journalism into new grounds as the newly “taken off” form of journalism aims to drive commercialism within a codependent club as oppose to the old fashioned extra extra that’s just in. We are definitely witnessing a divisive industry which trades information about who wears what, what sells where, where likes whom secretively and hyped-up more than stock prices.

N: It seems to me that your work is closely tied in with commercialism and your findings are targeted at the middle class, which casts out a big sector of the bigger society. Do you ever feel that your work may carry some social responsibilities? Do you ever feel a bit detached from traditional journalistic work?

F: There are a lot of independent factors that weigh in here. First of all you become a journalist, you kind of want to believe in free speech and the idea that the public has the right to know about what goes on internationally, their locale and all the rest of that, which is what I completely agree with. It is kind of interesting to be on the business side. Essentially it’s not doing the same thing. It’s the same set of skills, you are doing it to empower organizations, which is kind of strange, but those organizations are not always the big and frighting ones, quite often some of them are small design studios and starting up ad agencies, people that are doing interesting work, the work itself might have an element of social responsibilities to it. That’s definitely an angle. Also that form of journalism is taking off. You are using the skills of a journalist to pursue other angles.

The angle I should take with my skills learned in school as a journalist may not be as arbitrary as I might believe. The girl who makes my coffee in Shoreditch Grind calls herself a writer/blogger/journalist. I’d imagine becoming a barista was probably not the best angle for her.

LS:N Global senior journalist Peter Firth explored the topic of Millennial luxury consumers with 22-year-old Amber Atherton, founder of online jewellery and accessories boutique MyFlashTrash.

“You are here because of your enthusiasm.”

It took me 3 weeks and at least 10 emails to get Mr Firth on the phone. Judging by the sound quality, he was talking to me on a mobile phone while walking in the cold streets of London. As a journalism student who has yet to get an article commissioned, and I know I am not alone on this, I had to ask what it takes to break into the industry.

N: There’s this tweet of yours, “There’s often a no before a yes.” I certainly had a bitter sweet taste of what that quote entails. Can you tell us about your experience in some of the hardships or disappointments on the road to success?

F: I know what you mean. I think it’s really tough to try and break into journalism. It’s kinda infamous. You know what, it’s probably even tougher now than it was when I was trying in 2009 or 2010. I think it’s just about perseverance. I think you should just TRY (X5), that’s how I sort of did it. I started as an intern at LS: N Global and it was kind of position swoop and I guess it was enthusiasm which did it rather than any degree of talent. At the beginning for a certain time, I didn’t particularly believe in my talent, or actually I think I did, but it was that [enthusiasm] which was attractive. Remember I said “you are here because of your enthusiasm”.

The next LS: N Global Trend Briefing – The Polarity Paradox takes place in New York on March 19. What does this mean for brands, stores and products? What does this mean for Peter Firth? And what does this mean for student journalists? I’d certainly want to be him, especially on that day.

Report by Nate

Follow Peter Firth on Twitter @PJFirth


LS: N GLOBAL

The Future Laboratory