The Hub Cool News

Flop Affinity

new-cokeA new product’s prospects can be assessed by studying people with an affinity for failed products, reports Daniel Akst in The Wall Street Journal (6/27/15). Researchers at Northwestern University and MIT refer to this “strange breed of consumers” as “harbingers of failure” because they tend to buy “products destined to fail.” Their finding is based on a study of “more than 10 million transactions by 127,925 customers” using a loyalty card from an unnamed chain of convenience stores in the Midwest and Southwest.

A failed product is defined as one that is “no longer stocked after three years … Customers who bought at least two new products were assigned ‘flop affinity’ scores, depending on the proportion of their new-product purchases that flopped … If a new product was bought heavily by customers with a flop rate exceeding 50%, that was a good sign that the item would be a bust.” The pattern also held up for products lasting “just two years. And the scientists have since replicated their findings at stores all across the country.”

The “flop affinity” cohort consists of “about 13% of consumers in the study” and “tend to have more education, higher income and more children” than others. “Their favorite store is Costco and Dollar General is the last place they would shop.” They are mostly female, although “women do most of the shopping. And they seem to like trying new things, perhaps because they can bear the cost of failures or because their larger families will gobble down anything once. They also buy more niche products than the average consumer.”

Statistical Malpractice

croodsDid you know that The Croods was a bigger box-office hit than The Sound of Music? It’s true, writes Jordan Ellenberg in The Wall Street Journal (6/27/15). The Croods was a 2013 film that took in $187 million, compared to just $150 million for The Sound of Music. This is based on “unadjusted dollar value,” which of course renders the comparison meaningless. It is one of any numbers of examples of how numbers, when stripped of context, can be misleading with involving “any actual falsehoods.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo engaged in one such sleight of numerical hand when he cited his state’s 6.2% unemployment rate as evidence that “New York is on the move.” What he left out was that the overall US unemployment rate was 5.9%. In a similar vein, Vani Hari (The Food Babe) in 2011 warned readers that airplane cabin air is not pure oxygen, that it is “sometimes almost 50%” nitrogen.” This might sound alarming, except that “the natural proportion of nitrogen in the Earth’s atmosphere is 78%.”

A study of American college students grabbed headlines because 35% said that getting rich was a high priority — “the highest proportion in the developed world.” However, the news reports omitted any mention of other questions in the survey that place American students in a less materialistic light. “In the era of data journalism,” Jordan writes, “truth is not enough.” If left unchecked, “we’re going to be reading a lot of data-driven stories that are true in every particular — but still wrong.”

Knowing NASA

nasaWherever Ed Hoffman goes, young people tell him their dream is to work for NASA. Sometimes they don’t even seem to know exactly what NASA is. If that isn’t the hallmark of a powerhouse brand, it’s hard to imagine what is. “The NASA brand,” says Ed, “is that people can work peacefully together in terms of science, engineering, and management. Ultimately, it’s a brand about present and future possibilities, and that we can do great things.” Plus it has the coolest logo of all time. Ed Hoffman — Dr. Edward J. Hoffman — has been with NASA for 32 years. He’s not an engineer or scientist. Okay, he’s a social scientist. Ed earned his doctorate in social and organizational psychology at Columbia University. He arrived at NASA to help develop leadership training programs.

NASA recognized, even back then, that while there’s always a lot of talk about numbers and data, of probabilities and science, that the difference between mind-bending success and catastrophic failure comes down to how well people communicate and work in teams. Four years ago, NASA appointed Ed as its first Chief Knowledge Officer to promote an environment of collaboration, of learning, capturing and sharing knowledge. The idea is to promote mission success, day-to-day, by helping people work together better. After all, sharing knowledge and teamwork is a foundational element of every successful mission — of every successful brand.

Most important, ‘teamwork‘ is not a department; it is a way of life that runs deep in NASA’s culture and throughout its organization. Legend has it that on a tour of NASA in 1962, President Kennedy approached a man pushing a broom. “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy,” the President said. “What are you doing?” The man replied: “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” Like so many great stories, this one may be apocryphal. Would JFK have asked a man pushing a broom what he was doing? Maybe he did. Either way, a half-century later the tale continues to spread, here on the pages of The Hub, because of what it says about collaboration at one of the most revered organizations in history — the one that did indeed put men on the moon, and so much more. Read The Hub Q&A with Ed Hoffman of NASA.

Horsefeathers

horsefeathers“I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” It’s a classic Groucho Marx line that’s still pretty funny after all these years. In its own twisted way, it also kind of captures how many of us feel about the elusive idea that brands can be ‘communities.’ Brands seem more heavily invested in the idea of ‘community’ than ever before, likely because social networks afford them new ways to connect with current and potential devotees. But do these networks truly create communities? With this question in mind, we surveyed Hub readers. We simply paired well-respected brands and asked respondents to pick the one that provided the stronger sense of community.

For most brands, the notion that they offer anything remotely like a sense of community is a nonstarter. Based on responses, most people still basically identify with brands because of ad campaigns, price/value, convenience and quality. For the most part, they exhibit little to no interest in their fellow customers — it’s really all about how well the brand serves their needs as individuals. It’s all about me, not us. One of the most interesting matchups was Lego and Nike. The dividing line was demographics. If you played with Legos as a kid, or have kids today, Lego was the choice. If Lego is no longer relevant to your lifestage, however, chances are you picked Nike.

Granted, some brands — but very few — are indeed like communities. Harley-Davidson springs immediately to mind. But even here, some dismissed the community as just a bunch of old white guys. That hurts. Remember Saturn? The only thing crazier than the bond between owners of that car was that General Motors killed their joy. For all its fanboys, it’s not clear that Apple is exactly a community, either. It’s more like the world’s largest cult. But its stores certainly have made a point of becoming a gathering place for true believers. To a lesser degree, Starbucks, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s engender a sense of community. Starbucks, in particular, often doubles as a neighborhood gathering place. Continue Reading.

Retail Politics

money-bagsSupermarkets may be the only business that makes more money buying goods than selling them. According to The Economist, “American retailers may now rake in $18 billion or more in” slotting fees for shelf space and other payments from brand manufacturers. That is “up from $1 billion in the 1990s. In Britain, by some estimates the big four supermarkets receive more in payments from their suppliers than they make in operating profit … So lucrative have slotting fees become that industry insiders joke that supermarket shelves are now the world’s most expensive property.” The resulting situation is no joke for Tesco, however, which “inflated its profits” by “wrongly booking” payments from its suppliers, and is currently under investigation as its sales slide.

Slotting fees for shelf space and or rebates for supporting promotional offers “have been around since the 1970s.” The practice has grown in no small part because of “competition from deep-discount supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl — which mostly sell cheap, own-label products.” Retailers like Tesco “have reacted by squeezing higher fees out of their suppliers. Although the makers of branded food and household supplies may complain about having to pay, the prominent placing they get in return helps them to fend off competition from cheaper rivals.” Unfortunately, the practice effectively “increases barriers to entry for new and potentially disruptive competitors.” It also discourages retailers from “promoting their own-label products,” making cheaper goods “harder to find” for shoppers.

America banned such fees ten years ago, mostly out of concern “that prominent displays of booze promoted irresponsible drinking.” China “launched a crackdown in 2011 on retailers demanding excessively large fees. But last October, when America’s FTC revised its guidelines on rebates, it did little other than require suppliers to offer comparable payments to all retailers. Britain’s FRC said last month that it would take a close look at how retailers were accounting for rebates, though there have been no moves to curb them.” Tesco, for its part, says it will reduce the types of rebates it seeks from 24 to three in 2017. Shoppers, while perhaps “unaware of why mainstream supermarkets seem so full of pricey branded products,” are in the meantime “heading to the deep discounters.”

Politics Retail

lincoln-buttonIf you buy something in a presidential candidate’s online store, you are actually selling yourself. That’s because selling stuff is less valuable than the information collected about the buyers, reports Vanessa Friedman in The New York Times (6/25/15). For starters, any money given to a campaign is considered to be a donation, and federal regulations require everyone who makes a “purchase” to disclose not only a name and address but also an employer, occupation and retirement status. Even more important, selected items “can reveal whether you are a beer drinker, a sports fan or what cellphone you use.” “It is all about learning who your supporter base is,” says Marshal Cohen of NPD Group, who adds that the information is “worth its weight in gold.”

Supporters are “segmented into very specific streams that will be organized into fund-raising buckets and targeted communications,” not unlike the way “a large or midsize fashion chain” would segment its customers, according to a former Obama political merchandise designer. The Obama plan was “to come up with new proposals for products every week for different personality types: What would your sister want to buy? Your mother? Your uncle?” The modern link between retail and politics was in many ways forged by the 2008 Obama effort. “We knew we had a brand that was different,” says Joe Rospars of Blue State Digital, a mastermind of the Obama digital strategy. “In a world where you are relying on small donors for your margins, you have to press for every last advantage.”

Such advantage can be elusive, given the imperative that all goods be made in the USA. This has stymied the Santorum campaign, which is no longer offering the candidate’s “famous sweater vests” because it “could only find one American manufacturer” and didn’t want to risk angering customers/voters with a perpetual backlog. The American-made issue hasn’t stopped the Rand Paul store, however, which sells cellphone cases mostly made in Asia. A spokesperson explains that backers should be free to “take their brand support with them however they choose.” Cellphone cases may be extra important to the Paul campaign, as it is targeting Millennials. Popular Hillary Clinton products meanwhile include “a Future Voter onesie” and a tote bag “with the H logo printed all over the front, like so many Fendi Fs.”

Overhead vs. Air

ektorp-sofaIKEA’s key to affordability is in the way it packs its goods, reports Saabira Chaudhuri in The Wall Street Journal (6/18/15). “We hate air at IKEA,” says CEO Peter Agnefjall. For example, “IKEA changed its Ektorp sofa from one solid piece into several, with detachable arm rests and a hinged back. The move translated into a package size that is 50% smaller, removing 7,477 trucks from roads annually, and a price tag that is 14% lower.” The downside is that detaching so many parts “runs the risk of alienating customers by increasing assembly time.” “It’s always a balance,” says packaging manager, Allan Dickner.

The best approach is to design “things with packaging and manufacturing in mind from the start.” “The good designers, the experienced ones, they have this in their backbone,” says Allan. The designers “use software that calculates optimal sizes and shapes, helping the company avoid having to tweak designs or scrap ideas entirely because they’re deemed too expensive to ship.” “We are engineering costs out of our value chain that don’t contribute anything,” says Peter, the CEO. This sensibility runs deep at IKEA, which was founded in Almhult, Sweden, “an infertile part of the country with scant natural resources.”

The culture is one of sharing and making the most of very little. Company founder Ingvar Kamprad, now 89, is famous for flying coach and “was once denied entry to a business awards ceremony for arriving on a bus.” “He’s a very down-to-earth man,” says IKEA’s Michael La Cour. IKEA, which currently has more than 300 stores, plans to open “13 new stores” in 2015, including one in Hamburg, Germany, “from which customers can use company bikes designed to hold cargo to take their purchases home free of charge.” In a similar vein, IKEA recently opened a store in Seoul “that is a 10-minute walk from a subway station.”

Air vs. Overheads

overhead-binsSolving the overhead bins problem may take some airlines a decade, reports Scott McCartney in The Wall Street Journal (6/25/15). For many airlines, the problem is of their own making. By cutting the number of flights to fill more planes to capacity they made it impossible for some passengers to bring bags on board. A Boeing 737-900, for instance, “has about 180 seats” but only enough bin space for 125 carry-on bags. Charging fees for checked bags further compounds the problem, as it motivates passengers to use carry-ons instead. Some note that airlines may have this backwards. “We give away the most valuable space on the airplane — the overhead bin — and we charge for the least expensive space — in the belly,” says David Cush, CEO of Virgin America, which has no plans to change its policy.

Southwest has taken a different approach to solving the problem; it simply doesn’t charge for checked bags, which tends to reduce the number of carry-ons. The airline’s bins also accommodate carry-ons that are “2 inches longer, 2 inches wider and 1 inch deeper than American, Delta and United.” Southwest reports that this “makes it more attractive to travelers, and revenue from extra passengers exceeds potential bag-fee revenue.” Passengers on Spirit Airlines, on the other hand, must pay more for carry-ons ($35) than checked ($30) bags. Those rates go up to $55 and $50, respectively, at the airport. This also reduces the number of carry-ons, and Spirit says it also has improved its record of on-time departures because “flight attendants aren’t frantically checking bags that don’t fit.”

Delta’s possible solution is a valet service that has “airline staff load passengers’ carry-on bags,” on the theory that they can do so faster “and with less wasted space” than passengers. Boeing, meanwhile, is working on “a new bin design … with a bin that pivots up into the ceiling rather than being a fixed cabinet.” New planes can also be ordered with so-called “space bins that are large enough to turn roll-aboard bags on their side instead of lying them flat. That means six bags in each 60-inch long bin instead of four.” Then there’s the Air Transport Association, which proposes “worldwide guidelines that would shrink maximum carry-on sizes by about 21%.” This would force travelers either to buy new bags or pay to check their existing ones — either way paying “to solve a problem airlines created.”

Jane’s Brew

janes-brewJill Amen hopes to take coffee shops to “higher” grounds. Jill has two passions — coffee and cannabis — and is combining them into a new product and potential retail concept she calls Jane’s Brew, reports Olga Khazan in The Atlantic (6/20/15). She got the idea while visiting Amsterdam, where the “coffeeshops” really are “just pubs for pot smoking.” With co-founder Ben-David Sheppard, she launched Jane’s Brew “in January at Hempcon, a cannabis showcase, where it won two first-place awards. It’s now in 100 dispensaries in California, and it moved into Nevada last month.” She’s also eyeing Washington, DC, where “recreational” maryjane is now legal.

Jill and Ben-David recently held a “tasting” party in DC “in the backyard of a small gray house in a nice part of town” because marijuana use is “only legal in private residences.” If Jane’s Brew enters the DC market, “it could only be sold in dispensaries to patients who have medical marijuana cards” because even though it is legal to use the weed it is not okay to sell it. Alex Jeffrey of NORML, a marijuana advocacy group, says the DC party underscored that pot use can be respectable. “As a cannabis user, we have to constantly overcome stereotypes,” he says. “I like putting on a tie and being able to talk world politics. We want this to be high caliber.” So to speak.

Jill’s cannabis-infused drinks “consist of regular tea or coffee that’s combined with a secret powder that took a food scientist one year to develop, she says. The powder helps cover the grassy taste of marijuana and blends the cannabis oil into the drink. A standard dose is a cup containing 20 mg of cannabis, but veteran smokers might need a bit more to feel the effects.” Jill says that it usually takes about a half hour for the effect to kick in, and then, she says, “the world opens up.” Ben-David thinks the drinks could attract “grandmothers and aunts who would never smoke, but would love a cup of tea.” The cost is about $7 a cup.

Smokin 94.1

smokin-941A bored millionaire is “bringing back the old days of radio” with a bit of reefer madness. Marc Paskin, 66, made lots of money in real estate and used to enjoy driving around Hawaii giving money away to the needy, reports Julie Turkewitz in The New York Times (6/26/15). This past spring, “he moved to Denver, bought a radio station for $875,000 and christened it Smokin 94.1, declaring it the state’s only pot-themed FM station.” He’s not the first in Colorado to attempt this: “At least two other stations in Colorado experimented briefly with marijuana-centric formats, but quickly left the air.”

In one case this was because the owner died, but clearly there would be commercial challenges, given that few advertisers would likely associate with cannabis. This is not a problem for Marc, who has no need to be profitable. “Radio has become boring, it’s corporate-controlled, every station sounds alike,” says Marc, whose radio name is Gary Ganja. “If you tell a weird joke, they’ll fire you.” Among Gary’s comedy routines is Dead People Who Smoke Pot, in which he does imaginary dope-infused interviews with departed celebrities, and Presidents on Weed, fantasy “conversations with leaders who have admitted to trying marijuana.”

The music includes a heady mix of Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones “and several reggae artists.” Other hosts use names like Ed Blaze, Mary Jane, Billy Blunt and Stoney Reynolds. Not everyone is amused. Scott Greene, who advocates legalized marijuana, “said the station’s lazy-stoner vibe promotes an outdated notion of the state’s marijuana users, who include mothers, high-level executives and even children on medical treatment.” Marc, who says he’s never stoned while on-air, says critics should chill out. “Some people want to be real sophisticated,” he says. “But it’s like — big deal. You know what? This is comedy.”

Harley Kickstarts

harley-logoFor Harley, the new counterculture is where the rubber hits the road. As reported by James R. Hagerty in The Wall Street Journal (6/20/15), the motorcycle maker’s new CEO spends “much of his time thinking about how to pull today’s young people away from their electronic devices and onto the road.” It’s not that Matt Levatich necessarily thinks there’s anything wrong with screen time, just that perhaps people are ready for something else. “People are going to want to actually live for real,” he says, “and I think we have a product that has a great fit with that outlet.”

That product may not be your father’s Harley — “many of which sell for more than $30,000.” Harley now has Street bikes “priced as low as $6,800″ and “has demonstrated prototypes for a battery-powered LiveWire motorcycle designed for young, urban riders who think gasoline engines are bad for the planet.” Harley hasn’t given up on Baby Boomers, “catering to them by offering three-wheeled models and lower-slung two-wheelers that are easier to mount.” But the real challenge is to get a new generation on wheels, which is uphill even when it comes to Matt’s own teenaged sons.

Matt tried getting his kids interested in dirt bikes, but they didn’t bite. It was only after his older son’s Yale roommate expressed astonishment that “the son of a top Harley executive didn’t ride motorcycles” that he finally got himself a biker’s license. Harley’s other priority is to attract women and minorities, and hopes that its “smaller, nimbler” Street bikes will appeal to urban riders. It is also now making bikes in India as a gateway into Asia, which it expects to become its biggest market for Street bikes. Overall, Harley anticipates its greatest future growth will happen outside the US.

Hack Attack

ural-motorcyclesMotorcycle sidecars are seeing surprising growth among families with children, reports Jonathan Welsh in The Wall Street Journal (6/20/15). Midlife crisis tends to be the main driver of motorcycle sales among aging men, but now some are buying bikes for “the whole family.” Michael Homsany, 61, bought a sidecar motorcycle that has “become his go-to vehicle for a range of errands, from grocery shopping to school drop-offs” for his 7-year-old son. Whether putting a child in a sidecar is safe may be debatable, “but it is legal.” Michael’s son “wears a full-faced helmet, armored riding jacket and gloves.”

It can be a wild ride, as “a lightly loaded sidecar can suddenly rise off the ground.” Tony Poulson, 32, hasn’t yet put his two children in his sidecar because they aren’t yet three. But he is eager for them to experience “the sounds, sights and feeling of being on a bike.” In the meantime, he and his wife use the sidecar bike for date nights. Al Olme of the United Sidecar Association says his group’s membership of about 1,000 is up 8 percent over the last year, and actively encourages families. “We try to make our events as family-friendly as possible by including activities for kids,” he says.

When “motorized transportation was new,” motorcycle sidecars “competed with cars as an efficient way to get around on the era’s rutted, unpaved roads.” “During those years we were marketing the motorcycle and sidecar as a serious alternative to the car,” says Bob Klein of Harley-Davidson. As “relatively inexpensive cars like the Ford Model T” became more mainstream, sidecar demand declined and “they have long been near or on the fringe. Harley stopped offering them in 2010.” Ural, a Russian outfit, is a sidecar leader, selling “about 600 bikes a year — or half its total production — in the US.”

Democratic Design

HUB LIVE: Leontyne Green-Sykes, CMO of IKEA, on the power of democratic design to make people’s lives better every day. (video)

Pirch

pirchPirch “is looking to reinvent the way consumers shop for appliances,” reports Krystina Gustafson on CNBC (6/18/15). Based in California, with eight other US locations, Pirch offers a shopping experience that has “all the makings of a vacation at a high-end resort.” Shoppers can have breakfast at Pirch, enjoy a beer or a latte — even take a shower or have a sauna bath. The idea is to “let shoppers test the products in its stores, whether it’s turning the dials on a kitchen stove or standing under a showerhead.” Customers reportedly spend “an average of two hours and 11 minutes” at Pirch, which claims “sales greater than $3,000 per square foot.”

The overall effect, says Robin Lewis of The Robin Report, is a “neurologically addictive experience.” “We know that when people walk through the space they’re just stunned and they start to dream,” says CEO Jeffery Sears. “Water runs, the chefs are cooking and people are learning. Pretty soon you just simply say, ‘My house sucks’.” Such dreams can come with hefty price tags, as Pirch’s offerings include “a $12,000 shower head, a $15,000 grill or a $25,000 stone bathtub.” However, the store “carries more than one million items on the plumbing side alone, which makes room for more reasonable entry prices for moderate-income shoppers.”

The focus is luxury, of course, and as such, Pirch doesn’t exactly compete with Home Depot or Lowes. “I think our competition is really Lexus, BMW, Mercedes … three weeks in Africa, a diamond ring,” says Jeffery. “Yes there are people in our space, but we don’t believe we are in the same business they’re in.” Pirch also specializes in just “two home areas — kitchen and bath — to offer a more in-depth experience for shoppers.” Jeffery won’t say whether Pirch is profitable, but “plans to roll out three locations a year,” in 2016 including “a three-level, 32,000-square-foot store in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.”

GeneU

geneuA new skin-care shop in London uses a DNA test to recommend products, reports Courtney Rubin in The New York Times (6/18/15). The shopping experience at GeneU begins with a “good saliva sample, from which DNA will be extracted and serums tailored to one’s genetic blueprint.” The test is “administered by one of a handful of improbably dewy-skinned beauties who also happen to have PhDs.” It takes about 30 minutes to complete, looking at “two genes: one that contains instructions for how fast your body degrades collagen and the other for antioxidant protection.”

The results are combined “with answers to a short lifestyle questionnaire,” fed “into an algorithm, which produces the two of the company’s 18 serums that are the best match.” The cost is about $940, but the pitch is that “it’s a waste of time (and money) to spend years slathering creams” that “are not what your skin specifically needs.” “For us it’s about giving people the right concentrations that their skin can metabolize,” says Christofer Toumazou, who is both GeneU’s founder and a professor at Imperial College London. He’s not a dermatologist, and neither is GeneU’s creative director, Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran.

Nick “designed the shop … which looks like a cross between a science fiction movie set and a silver-gray-and-red-dipped Apple store.” He also “recruited Antony Price, the designer of Duran Duran’s fluorescent suits in its Rio video “to create staff uniforms of silver silk pants and matching tops with standing collars.” Clinical trials “suggest that GeneU reduces fine lines and wrinkles by up to 30 percent in 12 weeks,” however Dr. S. Tyler Hollmig, a Stanford University professor of dermatologic surgery, is skeptical. “It’s the environment that drives aging,” he says, adding that he nonetheless thinks GeneU’s idea is “really cool and admirable.”

Rue de Workplace

rude-bossRude co-workers think they get more respect, but realities suggest otherwise, writes Christine Porath in The New York Times (6/21/15). Christine’s research includes a study showing “that behavior involving politeness and regard for others in the workplace pays off.” Another study finds that “warmth and competence” account for “more than 90 percent of the variation in the positive or negative impressions we form of those around us. These impressions dictate whether people will trust you, build relationships with you, follow you and support you.” Still more studies find that uncivil workplaces are both less creative and productive.

This pattern extends into the brand or retail experience. In yet another study, “people were less likely to patronize a business that has an employee who is perceived as rude … Witnessing a short, negative interaction leads customers to generalize about other employees, the organization and even the brand.” Yet “nearly 40 percent are afraid that they’ll be taken advantage of if they are nice at work.” What’s more, “warmth and competence” are seen by some as having “an inverse relationship … Some people are seen as competent but cold … or they’re seen as warm but incompetent.”

Conversely, a study found “that the No. 1 characteristic associated with an executive’s failure is an insensitive, abrasive or bullying style.” Either way, rudeness is on the rise. In 1998, Christine’s research found that about 25 percent reported being “treated rudely at work at least once a week. That figure rose to nearly half in 2005, then to just over half in 2011.” This can be changed, says Christine, simply by “listening, smiling, sharing and thanking others more often.” Banning digital devices from meetings helps, too — resulting shorter, more productive meetings with “more presence, participation,” and ultimately, fun.

Farmer in the Deli

rude-switchA New York bodega may prove that rudeness can be a form of customer service. At Farmer in the Deli, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, “the rules are simple,” writes Sasha Frere-Jones in The New York Times (6/21/15). “Be direct and loud, and never say please or thank you. Make as many revisions as you like while you supervise your sandwich’s preparation … In most other settings, this would seem like a spark for a shouting match … But the countermen seem not to notice, and they breeze through their work in deferential silence.”

The result “is remarkable,” Sasha continues. “This is no easy trick when every bodega in the borough has the same tools at their disposal … The bread is bulkie, the lettuce iceberg, the tomatoes pale and the fillings Boar’s Head. But the countermen pay attention to the quantity and proportion of each ingredient, no matter how late the hour or how harsh the customer … the extra effort earns it a reputation that comes with virtuously cyclical fringe benefits. Basically, unlike at most bodegas, Farmer’s stock rotates quickly.”

At Farmer’s, Sasha writes, “Nobody pretends to be friends with anybody else, and as a result, nobody wastes anybody’s time. This kind of bluntness, the comfort with unpasteurized feedback … are embedded in a stereotype of New York that is fading into inaccuracy, ceding ground (literally) to muffled passive aggression … People rarely make an economic case for the ‘rude’ New York, but the rudeness is one of the joys of living here,” says Sasha. “Farmer in the Deli is a space where people feel comfortable being as loud as they want.”

The Big Quiet

big-quietMeditation is being re-branded for big-city Millennials, reports Lizzie Simon in The Wall Street Journal (6/19/15). Central to this effort is The Big Quiet, which “allows New Yorkers to partake in a 20-minute group meditation,” followed by “a rollicking afterparty” featuring live music. “This is for city people who want to take a break and re-charge,” says Jesse Israel, the event’s organizer. It is also for those who want to quiet their minds without any particular religion attached. Jesse says he sees a need for “a new dictionary” that might make meditation and other spiritual experiences “more socially acceptable.”

Jesse’s expanded view of spirituality was sparked while biking through Tanzania in 2014 and noticing “that children faced miles-long commutes to school on foot.” So he began raising funds through his cycling group, the Cyclones, and, through Globalbike, a non-profit, will soon “break ground on a bike-and-rental shop in Tanzania owned and operated by women.” He later formed the Medi Club, “a collective of several hundred young New Yorkers, predominantly entrepreneurs and creatives in fashion, entertainment and technology.” They meet once a month “to meditate” and talk about various “facets of modern life.”

“Millennials are hungry for personal growth,” Jesse says. “They’re hipsters, let’s face it,” says Ian Noble, an attendee. Ian is executive director of SummerStage, which is hosting The Big Quiet and explains that the music tie-in is essential. “We want a reason for people to come and a reason for people to stay.” Jesse sees a potential ripple effect from The Big Quiet, eventually potentially reaching millions. Ganden Thurman of Tibet House US, which hosts weekly meditation classes, likes the idea, suggesting that “maybe life in general is spiritual. Getting in touch with yourself is probably inherently spiritual.”

Court of Zen

warrior-oneThe “mindfulness movement” has even reached the legal profession, reports Jacob Gershman in The Wall Street Journal (6/18/15). At the University of Miami School of Law, this meant students “deliberately losing an argument” for homework. Scott Rogers, a professor at the University of Miami “says looser vibes have touched a nerve with younger generations turned off by the perceived nastiness of the profession.” “It’s not about losing a fight or giving up at all,” says Scott, who directs the university’s Mindfulness in Law Program. “It’s developing greater insight in the ways we lose touch.”

The Miami program is “one of about two dozen across the country.” In New York, meanwhile, “dozens of law professors, litigators and judges” recently spent “three days meditating … under a blanket of silence and the tutelage of a Buddhist priest.” A Bay area real-estate lawyer, Judi Cohen, founded a mindfulness-coaching company called Warrior One — “homage to the mystical warrior-kings of Tibet” — with clients including Facebook’s legal department, who hope to “communicate better” with each other. One exercise involves having pairs of lawyers try to have conversations without interrupting each other.

Another exercise has lawyers “pick out three random people during the day and silently wish them well.” This was a non-starter for one lawyer, who said: “I didn’t see anyone worthy.” Sometimes it’s a victory just to get the lawyers to turn off their cell phones during training. One lawyer challenged the value of this: “If mindfulness is just about paying attention, couldn’t that make you a good assassin instead of a compassionate person?” he argued. But Cari Rincker, a family and divorce lawyer who participated in a mindfulness retreat, says that being in a room full of lawyers where no one was talking is “quite refreshing.”

Real-Time Retail

HUB LIVE: Laura Gordon of 7-Eleven on customizing the Slurpee experience in the city of Detroit. (video)