Since Homo Sapiens gathered around fires with tales of successful hunts, storytelling has been the driving force behind human culture and creativity. It’s evolutionarily entangled into our DNA to enjoy legends, fairy tales and creation myths as a way to better understand what it means to be alive. So some pretty strong stuff!
It’s no surprise then that many companies have used this primordial pull to entice people to their product, weaving stories to market themselves and give their audience an emotional connection to the brand. Whether that be Nescafe essentially creating a soap opera of two neighbours falling in love over their Gold blend, or Manchester United saving the world from an alien onslaught through battles on the soccer pitch, storytelling is undoubtedly a powerful tool that can work for any business.
How do you tell a good story though? As the gruesome saying goes, ‘there are many ways to skin a cat’, but to add my own equally gruesome thought, they all have the same skeleton. What do I mean by this? Well, if you follow the teachings of Joseph Campbell and his theory of the Monomyth, you’ll know where I’m coming from.
For the uninitiated, Campbell outlined what he argued is the common template of nearly every myth ever created, regardless of origin. After refining the idea over several books (starting with, The Hero with a Thousand Faces in 1949) Campbell established the narrative pattern, The Hero’s Journey. Ever since, this guide has been used by writers across all mediums, most famously being a massive influence on the structure for Star Wars. Since Disney has made sure we’re all very familiar with that tale, let’s use Luke’s journey as our own framework of how we can utilize and tell stories.
In his original book, Campbell outlines 17 different points all stories hit, but as I’ve got a limited amount of your attention, I’ll only focus on 3.
- THE CALL TO ADVENTURE!
All journeys have a beginning, and in the beginning our hero is usually stuck in a world of banality and security. Luke’s life on Tatooine is dull (I mean his de facto parents farm moisture for peats sake), so when he accidentally triggers R2-D2’s holographic message from some distant princess, it’s the first narrative thread that unravels the whole cosmic story.
Now for marketing translation: your client’s world pre your product/service is Tatooine. It’s safe, known and uninteresting, but they may be happy there. Ignorance is bliss as Johnny Ramone likes to remind us, so we need to offer them a call to action, a chance to adventure in new terrain. More often than not, it’s the advertisement itself that is the call to action. Be it a TV ad portraying how much better and more smile-soaked life is when you drink coke, or a billboard simply questioning if you’ve “got milk?” You’re asking the potential client to reconsider some aspect of their lives.
If the goal is to create a story around your product rather than straight selling, then the main character (effectively a client avatar) needs to exist in a world they’d be happy to escape. For example, the unnamed character in this HomePod ad by legendary director, Spike Jonze, starts in a world of grey crowds and silence. Not a smile to be found until the HomePod plays music, unlocking our protagonist’s ability to transform her surroundings!
From here, the call can be refused or answered. Luke initially refuses to join the rebels with Obi-Wan until pushed by the death of his aunt and uncle, unlike the HomePod character who immediately embraces her new reality. Once committed though, they’ll need guidance and aid to prepare for the trials ahead.
- SUPERNATURAL AID/CROSSING THE THRESHOLD
It’s at this point in a story that the tools currently available to the character aren’t enough. Yes, Luke could bullseye womp rats, but that doesn’t mean he could defeat the emperor! He needs a mentor – in mythology often supernatural – to offer up the skills required. Enter Obi-Wan, speaking of some ancient religion and mystical power called the Force.
This is the role you as a company play, the giver of wisdom or the platform that initiates change allowing the hero (client) to cross the threshold from the known into the unknown. To quote Campbell:
“The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades”
As a business, the client should gain that competence and courage from you. Either directly, or through a character that embodies your company, you need to show Luke the way the of the force!
It doesn’t need to be such cosmic levels of course. Perhaps you’re a solar panel company and are creating a campaign where you interview happy clients to persuade those still relying on conventional sources. Even in that example, you as the company are the facilitator of this new life with cheaper bills and guilt free power, the ticket to crossing the threshold.
- THE ULTIMATE BOON/MASTER OF TWO WORLDS
We’re jumping many steps now to get to what is the achievement of the goal, the finding of the holy grail or the destruction of the Galactic Empire. All the trials and tribulations have led to this, and in many myths, it is a transcendent experience that leads to a life devoid of fear and doubt. When Luke watches his father throw the Emperor down that reactor shaft, so too is he seeing all the barriers of his life perish as well. He emerges from the whole experience a fully-fledged jedi, and master of the previously unknown world.
Most print advertising starts here, encapsulating that moment of glory and realization in a single frame. This could be a person laying in a hammock on a beach while sipping a cold corona, or happy family bonding over previously frozen chips, it’s an ending that only your company can provide and is the manifestation of your client’s fantasies.
However, if you’re wanting to tell a more detailed and complex story, this cannot easily be achieved. Conflict births tension and drama so don’t be afraid to put as many roadblocks in your character’s way as possible! Think of how many trials Odysseus faces before returning to Ithaca at the end of the Odyssey. I’ll save you some reading, it’s a lot! In the end though, they must reach this ultimate boon, or to tie up previous examples, the Gold Blend couple must finally get together, the aliens sent packing by Manchester United, and the Homepod girl rests on her regular couch smiling with her Apple device quietly recording every moment!
In the end, whether homo sapiens staring into the flames or millennials staring into screens, stories have been constantly proven to generate empathy and help us learn. Nothing can stir up emotions quite like a well told story, and nearly all purchases are decided by buyer’s emotions, so it’s easy to see why brands often utilize narratives to promote themselves.
Which leaves me with this one question for you dear reader, what’s the story of your company?
From a young age, we’re filled with stories of love sparking from glances across a crowded room or shooting like a jolt of electricity the first time you hold someone’s hand. But when you’re single, living alone, and a world crisis means you can’t be out for more than an hour, where’s the room for romance? Well the answer has been on free agents’ phones for years now, dating apps.
Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and a slew of new applications every week are promising connection through isolation, and with a rise in users over the quarantine period, there still are plenty looking for that certain someone. Although, like many industries in the current era, dating apps have had to pivot with the times to pair up those lonely hearts. It used to be that after messaging with a prospective match, you’re encouraged to be brave and ask them out for a drink (caffeinated or alcoholic) in an effort to progress things further, however these nudges to the physical have been replaced to the virtual. For instance, Hinge now greets its members with the banner message, “70% of Hinge Members would be up for a phone or video call right now. No pressure, just keep it short and fun!”
Does this work though?
From personal experience, I can tell you that it does. To keep my gentlemanly status, I won’t bore you with details, but I’ve been an active user on the aforementioned apps longer than I’d care to mention. Quarantine or not, it always begins the same, you’re bored at home so you start swiping. This was the case for me back in June when an afternoon flicking through Hinge ended up with a match. After the initial rush of dopamine hit (matches = validation), I sent the all-important first message which lead to the usual, “what (insert topic here) do you like?” etc. After she listed two of her favourite bands being A Tribe Called Quest and The Velvet Underground, both near and dear to me, I knew I wasn’t going to let this conversation dissipate like so many inevitably do on the apps. With fear of Covid still thick in the air, we set up a zoom date.
Now even admitting that I’m active on these apps (let alone writing an article about it) feels like it comes with some stigma attached. I mean, Cinderella didn’t meet prince charming online. Modern Romance isn’t written in story books though, it bounces off satellites from phone to phone. In a study from last year by Stanford Socialogist, Michael Rosenfeld, he found that majority of heterosexual couples in the US met online. Leaving me to wonder if Cinderella would’ve mentioned her shoe size in the bio!
Essentially, it’s the way of the world at the moment, so if I wanted to meet someone new, it was the only avenue.
What does a zoom date look like? Like any zoom interaction at the beginning, except perhaps with wine. For my own, I sat at my desk with glass in hand and she on her bed with a glass of her own. According to the timer we spoke for a good 2 hours before the awkwardness of the situation kicked in and we said goodnight to each other.
Video calls are always full of tripping over each other’s sentences, pregnant pauses, and the narcissism you feel by constantly checking your appearance on screen (something I felt myself doing tenfold on this call, wanting to make a good impression), but in the current climate it’s a necessary step in the dance of dating. She had more experience than I, it being her third video date and my first, but I must have gotten the rhythm of the moves correct as before leaving the meeting we organized an IRL meet up.
This was back when you could walk around a park for as long as you like without a mask, simpler times, but we met up for a coffee and meandered around Carlton Gardens chatting for hours about our respective histories. However, the pandemic wasn’t on hold, so even though this felt like a step towards normality, it still came with social distancing. A first date where you don’t even hug the other person goodbye may seem quite primary school in normal contexts, but it’s the struggle of anyone looking to connect in COVID. It’d be even harder under Stage 4, unless your potential partner lives under 5km away, the likelihood of a first meet up is quite small.
What are the ramifications of contactless courtship? Overall, I would say it can help lead to deeper connections between people. When all you can do is talk and listen, it means you bond as personalities rather than bodies, which is wholesome in a way. The physical aspect doesn’t disappear completely though thanks to the loophole of “intimate partner” visits to Stage 4 Restrictions, meaning you can travel over 5km to see that special someone. Curfew still applies though.
To be honest, that loophole has been a massive saving grace for myself and many living in Melbourne. It’s an island of “normality” that can be found in this sea of restrictions. That island isn’t large though, as after walking around for an hour it’s straight back to the safety of home where you have to get creative in terms of dates. Can’t go out to dinner and a movie, build a fort and eat takeaway in there while watching the newest additions to Stan/Netflix/etc. No live gigs to see, livestream performances from the couch (be sure to clear a space for the dancefloor though). Missing out on art exhibitions, well there’s plenty of virtual tours you can take of the greatest museums in the world!
Dating is still alive and well, but like all things affected by COVID, it just looks a little different and has a few more steps to it. So I raise my metaphorical glass to all the single souls isolating at home and encourage them to keep hope strong, as it’s still possible to connect with someone through quarantine.
Everyone and their dog seem to have a podcast these days, there’s over a million of them alone on Apple podcasts, with more constantly being added every hour. They range from topics as broad as the imaginations that created them, be it interviews, long form journalism, witty banter between comedians, or 6-hour dives into historic events! More and more businesses are taking advantage of this new platform to help promote themselves, but how can you stand out in such an oversaturated market and how do you even go about making a podcast in the first place? To get a better understanding of the medium and its benefits, we spoke with Clusterian, Adam Jaffrey, the strategy director of podcasting agency Wavelength Creative.
Adam’s own passion for his work was born while at university, but not how you’d think. Whilst in the midst of a Business and Marketing degree, Adam found himself listening more and more to podcasts for insights into his field. Shows like Marketing Today, 6 pixels of Separation, The bean cast, and a little Hamish and Andy for fun (only in podcast form, of course) filled his youthful green ears and felt like a “secret window into [industry] leader’s stream of consciousness”. On recalling his uni days, Adam comments, “I ended up learning more from the podcasts than my lecturers”!
When I thought about this, it seemed to make a lot of sense. In a lecture hall, you are one of a potential hundred that are being presented to at a time that doesn’t always suit. I feel we’ve all had that one Uni class we barely listened to because it followed a big night out! Compare that to a podcast on the same subject where it’s just you and the speaker, on a time of your choosing. This intimate setting allows for more retention of knowledge and engagement with the listener.
For a young Adam, these podcasts offered invaluable insight into the minds of industry titans, gifting him a knowledge beyond his years, “you know a lot for not working in the industry” was a comment he often heard when talking with professionals. This comprehension of marketing secured Adam a job at Leo Burnett in 2013, where he wrote from scratch the digital marketing strategy of brands like NAB, Officeworks and Old El Paso. Although while building these strategies, Adam realised how little consideration big agencies like Leo Burnett were giving to podcasts. It was essentially none. Noticing a rising interest in Podcasting from clients, he wanted to take advantage of the moment which lead to the birth of Wavelength Creative, an agency purely focused on podcasts.
It all started with the show M.A.T.E, short for, Marketing, Advertising, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. Adam began the podcast back in 2015-16 for fun and to learn more from those he admired in the field. Like any endeavour, it was a bumpy start as Adam openly admits to the first episode being, “awful”, full of ums/ahs and the realisation that although he was a good speaker, that didn’t make him a good interviewer.
Perseverance is key though, and the more episodes he put out, the more polished this diamond in the rough became. He learned better editing techniques (any hesitation forms were immediately removed), which microphones worked best (a couple Blue Yetis was a good starting point), as well as interviewing etiquette. On that last point he says it was learning, “to shut up… and make the interviewee the superstar”. I ask if there was a moment or episode that served as a penny drop epiphany for him, to which he replies, “it’s a nice narrative, but no, you have put in the work!” and work he did, as while refining his podcast, he was also refining his business.
A question on a few minds may be, “people make podcasts in their bedrooms, how hard can it be?” It is true that anyone can make a podcast, but how many can make a good podcast? It’s not 2006 anymore, and with such an abundant choice of content to listen to, audiences are less forgiving of lower quality productions. The art of podcasting is so sophisticated now, that unless you have compelling characters (real or fictional) and clear concise recording, your work will be heard as much as the proverbial tree falling in the forest. Does it really make a sound?
That’s why a company like Wavelength is so beneficial, they help by handling the entire process end-to-end, ensuring the podcast you create is as polished and professional as your own business. It all starts with two key points:
- What is the objective for the podcast, what does success look like?
- Who is your target listener?
From there Adam and his team workshop ideas with you for shows that have those objectives and audiences in mind.
Perhaps one of the best examples in Wavelength’s catalogue is a show called, “Saving Apollo 13”, which was developed for the forensic engineering company, Brady Heywood. It’s a six episode series about how a team of forensic engineers ended up saving the astronauts of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission (as a native Houstonian, I was appropriately ashamed not to immediately recognise the mission for its iconic line, “Uh, Houston, we’ve had a problem”). Narrated by Managing Director, Sean Brady, his lush Irish accent dramatically retells the events while accompanied by cosmic music and sound design, courtesy of Jack Traynor. I can personally attest to the brilliance of the show, having already listened to half of the series. To keep productivity in check, I’m saving the rest for after I finish this article!
While listening, it did spark a question in my mind of the potential for content to overshadow a brand? Despite plugs for Brady Heywood at the end of every episode, I found myself simply enjoying it as a great podcast and not really paying too much attention to its connection to the business. When I brought this up with Adam he had a simple response, “Great content never overshadows the brand. You know why? People don’t listen to podcasts for the brand. They listen for the content. So I’d choose a compelling story which is brought to you by XYZ Corp over an infomercial every day of the week.”
That really hits on the ultimate benefit of Podcasting as a medium. Unlike YouTube or Blog writing which only capture the average attention for 5 minutes (unless it’s this blog, which I’m sure you read for hours on end because it’s so good!), storytelling in podcasts is intimate and often listened to alone, so you’re fully invested in the content. The average listener will spend nearly half an hour engaging with a show, which allows for a slower burn of ideas and more time to ingest them. That elongated time helps develop a relationship between audience and host, and that relationship can lead to trust in that host and their company. I mean, after listening to Saving Apollo 13, if I am ever in the need of a forensic engineer I know where I’ll go!
To reiterate, Podcasts are a marathon and not a sprint, so the astounding results that they offer are often not seen until months down the line. Although if you want to generate a loyal fan-base while slow selling yourself/company than there’s no better avenue than Podcasting. The insight from Adam and his experience from the creation of Wavelength Creative has so much value to any eager podcasters of the future.
Australia started off this year looking like a scene from Dante’s Inferno. Flames engulfed all corners of the country and took so much from so many, it’s impossible to know the full extent of the damages, particularly thanks to a certain pandemic hitting before the embers even died out. COVID may be what’s on everyone’s minds and lips at the moment, but while we’ve all been isolating at home, cleanup and damage assessments of the Black Summer have continued. Albeit quite slowly.
In NSW alone, 5.5 million hectares of land was incinerated of which 2.6 million was national park. Victoria fared a little better, losing 1.5 million hectares but recent calculations show that as a state we have lost 27% of our national park land. All this information is only just coming out as the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements hold hearings in Canberra. The commission was proposed by Scott Morrison in mid-January and was officially established on the 20th of February, but it has been 5 months now and those most effected by the fires are still not getting the full help they need.
One of the many towns that are still picking up the pieces of their former life is Cobargo in NSW (you may remember it as the town that refused to shake ScoMo’s hand). ABC Four Corners recently did a story on Cobargo and how the population is faring these many months later, and the main issue is a lack of water. The fires decimated all water silos and infrastructure leaving the town to rely on the 207 donated tanks to quench their thirst, and at 1000 litres a tank, that’s about all they’ll be used for. 466 homes were lost in the region, so there’s not enough tanks for everyone. These supplies are available at the Bushfire Relief Centre set up in Cobargo’s showgrounds, and coordinator Chris Walters is charged with the distribution of the water.
One person interviewed for the piece was Ronnie Eagles whose family farm was taken by the blaze and they now must live in a donated caravan on their property. It’s harrowing listening to Ronnie describe how she must drive to the town’s public bathroom simply to take a shower, and how they “can’t do it every day. It’s too far and uses too much petrol”.
Another local interviewed is, Stefan Talmatzky, a German Australian who lost a mudbrick house he built with his own hands. He now lives in the ruins of his former home which looks like the remnants of Dresden after being firebombed. He’s been given $8,000 from the government and $50,000 from the redcross to rebuild, but structures such as his home are filled with dreams and memories that cannot be replaced. However, he’s still able to smile through the pain. In fact, the biggest takeaway from the story is the strength of Aussie resilience, as even though the town is waking up to freezing mornings for days full of struggles to simply exist, they face it all with a smile and an attitude of, “I dunno how we do it, but we do.”
According to Dominique Hogan-Doran, the Senior Counsel Assisting for the Royal Commission, the damages on “Built Environments” is a “devastation never seen before in modern recorded history”. In NSW alone, 2,476 houses, 284 facilities, and 5,559 outbuildings were destroyed. The cleanup of these structures isn’t that simple because of their age, in Victoria 40 – 50% of the damaged buildings were riddled with asbestos which means that any machines used to clear the wreckage must be deep cleaned before moving onto another site.
The Victorian Government has signed a $75 million dollar contract with GroCon to clear the debris, but because of the hazardous materials they must contend with, only 72% of registered properties (546) have been cleared so far. The deadline for this free clean scheme has passed, so there’s a possibility that many homes and businesses that need assistance may not get any. It’s hard to get any concrete figures on the economic impact of the Black Summer because of its proximity to COVID, but it’s said that in Victoria $400 million has been lost in agriculture, $73.1 million in tourism, and even businesses unaffected by the fires have seen a historic downturn during the peak of tourism season.
All these numbers can seem extremely daunting and bleak, but there’s still hope for those businesses and people who were caught in the inferno. Grants for small businesses are still available in Victoria until the 31st of December and those eligible applicants can receive up to $10,000 to help with costs such as covering employee salary/utilities, marketing and comms development, or improvements to make the company resilient to future disasters.
Another silver lining of this tragedy has been illuminating the limitations and faults of disaster response on a local and federal level. Before now, there was no single point of contact or data sharing between states, so Victoria couldn’t keep up with how close the fires of NSW were getting to the boarder, and vice versa. It seems hard to imagine seeing how well all the states have communicated with each other over the COVID response, but perhaps the Black Summer was some horrific test run for the viral main event. Either way, the bushfires taught us how deficiently supplied local government truly was and how we must make necessary improvements, especially as future disasters may only get worse.
The millions of charitable dollars that were collected are finally being actioned into place and some are getting the resources they need to rebuild their lives. Areas where the flames loomed high are now home to community recovery hubs, set up by the government to help locals get the assistance they need to get back on their feet.
As a community we did our own part. Back in January we held a silent Auction at the Cluster to raise funds for Bushfire relief. Over a week of bidding on prizes that ranged from original artwork, family day trips and even a record player, we were able to gather $2,577. That money was spread between the RFS NSW and CFA, as well as Wildlife rescue VIC and WIRES. I’m so proud of the altruistic efforts of our community, especially in the support of native fauna, as it’s been reported that over 1 billion animals were taken by the firestorm!
What now though? Support is still needed in many ways, the easiest being donating to any of the previously mentioned charities or places like FoodBank that supply water to local communities.
Another fun (and cost-effective) way of helping is, birdwatching! Of those Billion animals decimated, 45% were birds and Bird Life Australia is struggling to rebuild their research on our feathery neighbours. To obtain the data they’ve set up the “Birds in Backyards” program, which is a public resource where you identify and record the birds in your area. There’s an app you can download (Birdata) which allows you to do so on the go, and all the information collected will help gain insight and protect Australia’s birds. There are even tips on how to make your backyard a sanctuary for birds, which means more friends visiting in quarantine!
The story of the Black Summer is still far from over, and there’s many challenges ahead, but if 2020 has been good for anything, it’s learning from mistakes and building resilience. Hopefully, we’ll rise like a phoenix from the ashes of summer with strength and fortitude to weather any storm. In the meantime, those birds won’t be watching themselves!
Often when one thinks of “creativity” it can seem like an illusory trait afforded only to the upper echelon of society. Painters, poets, musicians, and artists of all kinds are these rare breeds of human who’ve somehow been able to tap into the well of creative thought, and this mindset of creativity as a limited resource has made many people submit to the fact that they’re, “not creative.”
However, as Clusterian Shourov Bhattacharya passionately proclaims in his recent TEDx talk, “this is a Myth! This is a fallacy! This is what you might call, the myth of the creative as special. This idea that Steve Jobs is creative, and you are not.”
To elaborate on his point, he looks no further than his own children. Children in general really, as they seem to live in a world of boundless imagination and play. This freedom affords them a happiness and confidence that seems to have been forgotten by many adults, yet it’s something we all had at one point. So what changes? For Shourov it comes down to the ratio of Creation vs Consumption, “When I create, I’m happy, and when I’m consuming, I’m not happy.”
There you have it, just create more! Perhaps easier said than done, children have limitless time to flex their creative muscles, but adults have bills to pay, deadlines to meet and after a long day of work, the next episode of Married at First Sight is a lot easier to sink into than that novel you’ve been tossing around in your brain. The crux of it is consumption is easy, insanely easy and plentiful, it’s also become the base of how we communicate, “what have you been watching” is a much more common question than “what have you been creating?”
Can this cycle of consumption be broken? Of course, that’s why you’re reading this article (great choice by you, by the way)! It starts with being mindful of your consumption, try and notice when you’re automatically turning on Netflix to settle in for a binge marathon, and allow yourself to break that mental barrier of creative doubt. A tip for this was given by the author, Kurt Vonnegut, in a response to several letters from students of Xavier Highschool asking for him to speak at their graduation. He never did come in person, but instead wrote them:
“What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”
Lofty, yes, but certainly true. He is essentially imploring them to maintain the sense of play that Shourov points out in his own children. As mentioned before, creativity is a muscle that Vonnegut is telling the students to flex, although, “any art” is a tremendously broad and daunting range to pick from. Shourov says to me a great place to start whittling that down is, “talking about childhood,what did you love then?” For him, it was music, and when music wasn’t a factor in his life, he forlornly referred to it as “lost”. Yet, what is lost can always be found, and when he started making the time to play again with musician friends, Shourov said that passion came back stronger than ever. It also led to him auditioning for the band, The Bombay Royale, initially for fun but four albums and several tours later, it certainly cannot be called a hobby! Neither is it slowing down, be sure to look out for Shourov’s solo EP set for release later this year!
In his TED talk, Shourov mentions another ratio that he finds pivotal for breaking the creative malaise, Play vs Purpose. “If the conditions are right, you are creative” he says to me while chatting for this blog, “if you create an environment that allows play” it can help creativity and that can often “lead to purpose”. Much like how playing music for fun led to him doing it professionally.
How can that environment be cultivated though? How can I as a talent scout, investment manager, accountant, CRO specialist or what have you, be able to include play in a place of business? Creativity needs structure, to be kept in check, and an example Shourov offers of how it can be done is implemented by everyone’s favorite search engine, Bing… just kidding. Google employees are given 20% of their work week (one full day) to focus on passion projects that are Google-related. It’s something that the company has done since 2004 and has led to the creation of google staples like, Gmail, Google Maps, Twitter, AdSense, Slack and Groupon. This method has been used by other CEOs and from their reports, results have been phenomenal!
Shourov’s own ruminations on creativity, and play with purpose, sparked the idea for his game Polynize. Done either digitally or physically, the game brings players from a wide range of backgrounds together to solve a problem set by a “sponsor”. Following the pattern of “Set, Spark, Solve and Select”, all the players come up with solutions (sparks) of their own and then come together as a group to analyze each other’s ideas (solve), before an idea is finally chosen by the sponsor (select). Designed to support innovation and creative problem solving, Shourov and his business partner, Marrs Corio, have started testing the game at Melbourne High, to teach students the ratios mentioned previously. “The kids love it,” Shourov reports and plans to start expanding to other schools are already in place!
It all seems part of a personal vendetta Shourov has to demystify, “the myth of the creative” and embolden people to, “give their creativity to the world!” He’s quite good at it too, as after chatting with him I certainly started to check my ratios, as it were, and give myself more time to creatively play rather than passively consume. Instead of re-watching Schitt’s Creek for the umpteenth time, I’m spending more time playing guitar, painting or writing six lines poems that I then tear to shreds and distribute into different trash receptacles (that last one being the assignment Vonnegut ended up giving to the students of Xavier High)!
However play manifests for you, cherish it, grow upon it, and that virtuous cycle will draw other creative and like minded people to you!
In 2009 Clusterian Torsten Hoffmann was studying for his MBA at Oxford University. A major part of the course was looking into the potential of alternative forms of currency and on January 9th of that year, it seemed like the answer finally came when the world was introduced to Bitcoin. It wasn’t until 2013 that Torsten personally found out about this new technology, but he was immediately enthralled. The potential he saw in Bitcoin inspired his first venture into feature film making, and a year later the release of his documentary, Bitcoin: The End of Money as we Know it.
Although he couldn’t leave it there. With constant innovations and rapid expansions in cryptocurrency, the full story couldn’t be contained in one film. Flash forward to six years later and now we have the release of, Cryptopia: Bitcoin, Blockchain and the Future of the Internet.
As a layman to the subject of digital currencies, I was excited to watch the film to get a better understanding of this technology so many hail as being the future of commerce. I must admit though, it’s a steep learning curve! When I spoke about this with Torsten, he wasn’t too surprised. He admits, “the film is really for the community”, although its reach is certainly not limited to that.
Broken up into three acts, the film goes through the history of blockchains, how they work as well as the culture that surrounds them. In the trailer, Torsten’s voice over speaks of “the big minds, and the big egos” of the leading figures in the cryptocurrency world, and as you watch the interviews throughout the film ,you can certainly see that is no exaggeration! One of my biggest take aways from the doco was being introduced to these characters and the zealous passion they have for this technology, as well as the “crypto-utopia” that they see it offering to the world.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the lot is Roger Ver, the CEO of Bitcoin.com. There are several interviews with him sprinkled throughout the film, in which he makes claims as outlandish as equating the creators of darknet marketplace, SilkRoad, to Rosa Parks in terms of being pioneers for civil rights. I would argue one of the many differences is Mrs. Parks wasn’t using her platform to traffic and sell illegal drugs!
Other highlights of the film include a tour of the swiss Fort Knox. Hidden in the depths of the Swiss alps, this vault holds servers containing 10% of all the bitcoin in the world. It was the first time I realized how tactile cryptocurrency can be. As you watch Torsten being led through this ultra-secure facility, you can’t help imagining it being the perfect backdrop for a heist film or secret lair for a Bond villain!
A joy any Clusterian watching the film will get, is seeing how often our offices feature in the movie. Every time I saw that familiar background, I couldn’t help but say a little, “I know that place!” to myself. While we were chatting, Torsten made a point of how great it was to shoot scenes at the Cluster as it offered, “a lot of variety”. It certainly did as it you see our office transform from scene to scene, acting as not only a Melbourne office, but one in Shanghai as well, and even transformed the Warehouse into a bustling café!
One of the main promises of Cryptocurrency is independence, financial freedom from government and cultural institutions. An example used in the film is of an Afghani woman stuck in an abusive relationship and in a country that systematically oppresses her civil liberties, in order to save money for herself, she collected bitcoin in secret. Eventually when she raised enough, she and her child were able to escape the tyrannical rule of her husband and carve out a life on their own terms.
This theme of independence is not just found in the film, but in the making of it as well. Torsten is a big champion of independent filmmakers, from his days representing them to distributors, to the eventual jump to becoming one himself. He likens making a film to,“starting a company. The filmmaker is the entrepreneur!” Perhaps that MBA was more film relevant than it first may seem!
It was this entrepreneurial spirit that pushed the successful Kickstarter campaign (earning the film over $44,000!) and got the backing of institutions like Screen Australia and Studio Hamburg as well.
Even the distribution of this film is autonomous. Only 5 stops into the Cryptopia world tour, the plans had to change when a certain pandemic hit, but that’s not stopping Torsten from getting his film out there! Forgoing “conventional” streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, etc, the film is only available for purchase from its website. A bold move that many advised against, but perfectly in-keeping with the “cut out the middle man” ethos of Crypto enthusiasts. The decision has led to a more organic following for the film, with a heavy reliance on social media to spread the word. With 700,000 impressions on twitter and 55,000 views for the trailer (linked below) in only 30 days, it’s a strategy that’s obviously working! Torsten recently wrote a blog outlining the decision and how it’s worked out so far, you can read that here.
Be sure to check out the film via its website and lose yourself in the wonderfully weird and innovative world of Cryptocurrency. Once you have, come find me and together we can try and figure out who Satoshi Nakamoto really is!
In late 2010, YouTube made a change to their platform that would introduce a whole new world to the site. It took away the time restriction of 15 minutes per video and raised it to… at the time, few really knew. The announcement of the rise in length was not massively publicised and many casual viewers wouldn’t have noticed a dramatic change in the runtime for videos. Then came a little pop tart cat flying across an 8-bit galaxy with a rainbow trail in tow, and it soon became clear what we were all in for!
Nyan Cat, for those unaware, is a three and a half minute long animation of a strawberry pop tart with the head, legs and tail of a cat. It bobs along to a background of digital stars with a repetitive synth soundtrack and enough meows for a lifetime. It’s a cute video, but I don’t think I’ve ever finished the whole thing for fear of my ears bleeding.
Nyan Cat’s true legacy though, didn’t come until 24 days after it’s upload, when a channel called “TehN1ppe” uploaded essentially the same video but looped for 10 hours! It quickly became an endurance test and viral challenge to view the whole thing, and there was no shortage of people willing to accept. Its popularity (currently sitting at 94 million views) sparked a wave of memes and other simple videos to be stretched to the mammoth runtime. To try and list them all is a fool’s errand, but these joke videos gave rise to something that I think is truly special.
When irony steps aside, sincerity can shine though, and that’s what happened with 10-hour videos. People started to seriously consider, “what would someone want to watch for 10 hours? Clearly there’s an audience!”
One answer to this question is something I like to call, “ambient videos”, ones designed to melt into the background and enhance the mood of a room. You’ve all seen the main example of this at a few of our End of Month drinks, the 10-hour fireplace, which promises a “romantic moment” to the viewer…
Can a moment last 36,086 seconds?
Our intentions are more, HR appropriate, when we use the video. It’s something about those eternal flames crackling away that can actually trick you into feeling warmer, even transport you to some log cabin lost in the middle of Black Hills, South Dakota (or Grampians, Victoria for a more local reference).
In fact, the flames look so real that it once caused an event being held in our penthouse event space, The Lounge, to be raided by a group of firemen suited up to assault hell itself! A concerned citizen in a nearby building had seen the video being projected and mistook it for an actual fire. The fireman couldn’t help but laugh when they saw the two-dimensional threat.
Ambient videos don’t seek your attention like most of the content on YouTube, they’re designed to be forgotten. In that regard, they carry on a tradition that has been alive in music since the turn of the 20th Century. In 1917, French composer, Erik Satie, coined the term “musique d’ameublement” (furniture music) to describe his compositions. He didn’t want you to focus on the music he made, quite the opposite, he wanted it to be so unimportant that it was like furniture in the room. If you listen to his work and those of artists like John Cage or Brian Eno, who progressed this idea to “ambient music”, you can get a sense of what Satie meant.
For those reading this saying, “what the fuck is ambient music?” I would point you to the aforementioned Eno’s, Ambient 1: Music for Airports. It is a truly beautiful album of minimal compositions that I think offer something that most music/entertainment robs you of, the space to think! Listening to Ambient 1, it’s hard not to be meditative and relaxed, the album’s designed to chill people out in a crowded airport so it works extra well on one person at home!
10-hour videos function in the same way. Their simplicity and length means you’re not going to be looking at the screen constantly while they’re on. You’re allowed the mental freedom to dream, work, create, or simply relax. They also remove a layer of distraction, as the screen that is normally used for surfing the web or binging on Netflix docos, is hijacked for a decade of hours. I think there is a comfort in that commitment. Whenever I need to get serious about focusing on a project, one thing I’ll do is put on a 10-hour video, so that I can ease in and get lost to the runtime. I know it’ll be going for as long as I need to finish my work.
Even while writing this article, I’m currently watching a volcano eruption in real time. Getting lost in the sparks whenever I need a second to mentally compose a sentence (That one took a couple seconds). I’ve used this one before and I can’t fully articulate why it speaks so much to me, but there’s something in those dull rumbles and cascading embers that gets my brain working. It may not work the same for you, but with so many options it doesn’t need to. You have the choice of watching Rain or snow fall, cosmic simulations, travel on a country train, watch whales sing or even simple nothingness! The variations are as boundless as the videos themselves.
So next time you have a project that requires extra attention, or just chilling at home reading a book, I implore you to experiment with some 10-hour videos and find one that suits you. If you are open to falling under their spell, I promise they offer a great ROI!
As meetings have moved from the physical to virtual space, it seems one company is being trusted above all others to keep us connected. Zoom has been a saving grace for many in the quarantine era, as it’s allowed us all to host business meetings, Webinars, trivia/games nights, or just catch up with friends and family! It’s certainly been a help for us here at the Cluster as a means of staying connected to our team/clients. Although as with any technology, it has it’s faults, but the convenience of Zoom cannot be denied.
Their rapid growth in the market comes with the new wave of “stay at home” stocks that have become “bright spots” in a currently volatile market. Others riding this wave (according to JP Morgan analysts) are companies like Netflix, Amazon and Facebook, all of who’s share prices and revenue estimates have been rising during the pandemic.
Keen investors have also been trying to ride this wave along with ZOOM. Although it seems many have failed to read the fine print as they blindly invested in the OTC:ZOOM ticker, despite it belonging to a company that has had no reported earnings since 2011!
The ticker belongs to, ZOOM TECHNOLOGIES (not Zoom Video Communications which is OTC:ZM), and because of this mistaken identity shares in the company went up +52% as reported on Feb 27th,and a further +72% as recently as March 20th! Its market summary is quite dramatic to look at.
Shortly after that 72% spike, trading in ZOOM TECHNOLOGIES was suspended till the 8th of April by the US Securities and Exchange Commission. They addressed the decision in the following statement:
“The Commission temporarily suspended trading in the securities of ZOOM because of concerns about the adequacy and accuracy of publicly available information concerning ZOOM, including its financial condition and its operations, if any,in light of the absence of any public disclosure by the company since 2015…
“The Commission cautions broker-dealers, shareholders and prospective purchasers that they should carefully consider the foregoing information along with all other currently available information and any information subsequently issued by the company.”
The freeze happened, the fog of confusion cleared, and it seems ZOOM TECH has returned to the obscurity from whence it came. This has left plenty of room for ZOOM VIDEO stocks to grow and grow, although another hurdle has caused its celebration party to come plummeting down. This time the party pooper is Zuckerberg and the Facebook empire, as they announced recently they’ll be launching, Messenger Rooms, which will allow as many as 50 people onto a call (along with many other features)! The “Rooms” are more focused on the social aspects of video calls and aim to feel less corporate than what is currently on the market. However, the announcement has sent ZOOM VIDEO stocks falling.
I wouldn’t feel too sorry for them though, as ZOOM (video) still has an evaluation of $44 Billion dollars. Although, will this be enough to take on the behemoth, Facebook? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!
STAY AT HOME!
That message has been drilled into the world populous through political speeches, online campaigns, pop up ads, the news, and even police officers on the street! But what about those without a home to stay in at all?
According to a survey conducted in 2018, nearly 400 people are sleeping rough each night in Melbourne CBD and surrounding suburbs. With the invisible fear of COVID-19 staining the air of the city, the risk of contracting the disease is far greater for its homeless population. To get a better understanding of the situation I spoke with Clusterian, Levi Fernandez of Society Melbourne.
Society Melbourne is a social enterprise with the vision of eliminating youth homelessness in Australia. They achieve this amazing goal through a series of initiatives (focusing on hospitality) that help train and give employment to young people currently experiencing homelessness. However, with the hospitality industry crippled by the current pandemic, they have had to close four out of the five programs they were running. These include their Crêpes for Change food truck, two coffee carts, and the café home.two on the University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus. However, home.one on Florence St, Brunswick is still open for some delicious coffee and plant-based meals. Takeaway only, of course!
Levi didn’t seem too downtrodden by these closures, as thanks to some pre-planning on permits and grants, Society Melbourne has enough available funds to see them through quarantine. With government schemes, like the Job Keeper payment, giving them an additional 6 months to their contracts.
Although these schemes have been a saving grace for many, Levi comments that they “only help people like you or me” who already have a stable foundation. Those in less fortunate situations are left relying on independent organizations like Launch Housing and Melbourne City Mission to keep them safe and healthy. In fact, it’s in foyers like these that 90% of the young people in Society Melbourne’s courses are living. The remaining 10% are in private residences with rent covered by Society Melbourne. All have been able to join the Job Seeker scheme, which is now, “actually a liveable wage” at $550 a week.
Levi then reminisced on how during the 2000 Olympic games, the city of Sydney housed a large portion of its homeless population in hotels and motels in order to preserve a “cleaner” image when the world’s eyes were on them. Leaving both of us asking the same question, where’s that offer now? It was only a few days after our conversation that the answer came when state governments announced they’ll be housing rough sleepers in empty hotel rooms of their major cities. A silver lining through the fog for sure.
Another silver lining through these turbulent times, is that many have had to face the reality that we’re, “closer to being homeless than millionaires!”, to quote Levi. The hope is that empathy may replace sympathy when it comes to people attitudes towards those living on the streets, as it doesn’t matter how comfortable you may live, that comfort isn’t as solid as you think.
Even those lucky enough not to be under financial strain will perhaps gain new perspective at the end of this, because this is the first time in our lives that every single person we know is going through the exact same thing. Rich or poor, New York or Milan, doesn’t matter the circumstances every human has been affected by this virus and perhaps that universal experience can bring us closer together.
Though the world may be on hold, it’s not stopping Society Melbourne from making the most of this time. During quarantine, they’ll be repairing/upgrading their food truck and working on the back end of things to make sure that when everything returns to normal, they’ll be out there and ready to help again!
If you would like to lend your support in helping the homeless population, than Levi recommends donating to the National Homeless Collective and all the great work they do supplying essential things like sleeping bags and “BLACKPACKS” of food,toiletries, and essential sanitary items.
Thanks so much to Levi for is insights, and stay safe and healthy out there!
We all know COVID – 19 has left devastation in its wake. Thanks to a lot of great initiatives from the private and public sectors, that wake’s effects have been lessened, but the ripples are still pulsating through the world economy. To better understand the repercussions of these waves, we spoke with Dean Fergie from Cyan Investment.
Back in January, when the world was still open, I was sitting behind the front desk of the Cluster reception reading about some virus that has taken over regions of China. It was tragic, but foreign and therefore not something I put much credence in. Although it was a comment from Dean (aka Fergie) that made me realize that this wasn’t just China’s issue, it was soon becoming everyone’s.
The comment wasn’t anything too dire, just a simple, “corona is making things hard at the moment” to a typical, “how’s it going for you?”. It was the first time I had heard anyone in the office mention the virus directly effecting their business. When I relayed this to Fergie he was a little surprised to hear he was the first, but then mentioned that because he’s an investment manager, any changes to the stock market they feel immediately. He then mused that the stock market is like a “proactive forward-looking machine”, a way of economically predicting the future. I couldn’t help but imagine the field day Nostradamus would have had if he were a stockbroker!
It was thanks to this machine’s foresight, that when the signs came from China’s faltering supply chain, he knew things weren’t going to get better anytime soon. This was before the COVID infection even reached western shores. Although when you think about how much the world relies on Chinese products – I can list three things I’m currently wearing that were made there – it’s easy to comprehend the county’s economic effect on the world.
That was January though, and a lot has changed in a few months! No one expected the spread to be this fast or vast (guess the machine can only see so much) and big sections of commerce have fallen. Tourism and hospitality are obviously taking the biggest beatings, but as all the isolated go online, so does the stock market. Things like e-commerce and retailers are stronger than before, “If you go on JB-Hifi’s website, everything to do with home working or entertainment is sold out!” Fergie mentions and is something I can attest to having recently tried to purchase a Playstation from them. Cashconverters came through in the end, don’t worry!
Online education is also growing rapidly in this climate, many are using this time to better themselves and learn new skills, or at least pay for a course that promises as much and then never actually view it. Either way, money in the pocket of the creators!
I asked Fergie if there were any sectors he’d recommend investing in, to which he replied, “online educational businesses and Telecommunications are interesting”. Book a consultation to find out more!
Although what will the consultation look like? Probably a zoom call, like most everything these days. “The business community was unaware how well zoom works,” and when this pandemic is just pages in history books “face to face meetings will come back, but not the same way”. Fergie explains that because telecommunications have proven themselves cost effective and efficient, more international business will rely on them. No longer will lounges of airports be full with suits on laptops prepping for far flung meetings, they’ll instead beat home prepping with button upped shirts tucked into sweatpants! This “virtual regime has improved the game” he says and then elaborates, “it’s given the opportunity for a high quantity of meetings” which for a company like Cyan, means being able to explore many more investment opportunities and meet with more potential clients.
What about the quality though, can you really get a full sense of a person through pixels on a screen? Fergie admits, he’ll definitely miss the more subtle cues things like body behaviour can reveal, but for him that’s only about 10% of the equation.
I forgot to ask him if all these predictions were his own or coming from the machine? I took them as his own.
How does the machine work? The stock market is famously volatile and changes its mind week by week. Fergie explains it has, “the wisdom of crowds” and offered the analogy of a Country Fair with one of those “guess how many jellybeans are in the jar” type competitions. Individually, guesses may vary drastically, but when averaged out they usually fall very close to the truth.
That average now shows that the economy will rebound, but perhaps not as bright as before. A few key factors are still in flux, the biggest being if the world relapses into a second wave of infection and quarantine lasts longer. It happened in Singapore when they jumped the gun on reopening the city, it can happen elsewhere. Fergie didn’t seem too concerned though, “society is resilient, and the Government is doing a sensible job, but it can’t do it forever”. It may take up to two years to reach the heights we were at before the pandemic, a lot of that depending on when tourism reopens.
“I may be wrong” Fergie stipulates at the end, with a modesty not found in many fortunetellers.
I was surprised though when he reflected on this being a “good pause for the world”, a chance for us to slow down and humble ourselves from unnecessary excess and consumerism. “Take a breather for a week or two” he chuckles, “maybe you don’t need to keep buying those items from ASOS!” I find myself agreeing to an extent, when you look at how this pause has allowed the environment to heal from all the jumbo jets cutting through its atmosphere, how homely activities like gardening and elaborate cooking are on the rise, it’s not hard to imagine the world being a little more wholesome on the other end of this.
Who really knows though? For all of Fergie or the machine’s predictions, only time will truly tell what the global landscape will look like on the other side of isolation. Hopefully, a brave new world to explore!