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?
Of the many government relief packages introduced in the wake of COVID-19, one of the most transformative was the childcare subsidy. Australia holds the 4th most expensive childcare in the world, so when Covid-19 hit and saw already-struggling families face further financial loss, the Morrison government introduced the emergency relief package, providing Australian families with a taste of free childcare. This offering was available to families who already had their children enrolled in a childcare center, with the federal government covering all fees until July 13th.
The expiration of these measures has since shone a light on the cost and inaccessibility of childcare in Australia, which may have otherwise gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for Covid. Many Aussie parents spend more on childcare than they would for a private primary school. There is a clear irony in our current system, as parents need childcare in order to be able to go to work, but for the majority, even with pre-COVID government subsidies, their income minus the fees means it’s not worth it.
A survey conducted by The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA), found that 80 per cent of parents said they face “substantial problems” with childcare when it comes to access, quality or cost. This is why, for so many Australian families the only option is to choose informal care, with around 35% of families with children aged 2-4 having to rely on care from grandparents or other family members and friends. With the drastic levels of unemployment rising since March 2020, you would therefore expect even more families forced to rely on informal care due to impracticable fees. However, whilst Morrison’s childcare subsidy was in place, less that 1 percent of childcare centers were forced to shut doors.
Campaigners have since argued that we cannot simply revert to the way things were before, with mammoth fees, dependence on informal childcare, and families struggling to make ends meet. A survey was conducted in May that confirms this, finding that 42% of families were suffering from income loss due to the pandemic, making the soaring childcare fees impossible to meet without government assistance. Researchers predict that up to 2 thirds of those families will consequently need to lessen the days their children spend in childcare or take their children out altogether, which effectively bars parents from returning to the workforce thereafter.
So, it is pivotal that something changes. But slashing these costs wont only benefit the domestic balance of work and childcare, in fact, it has been argued that making childcare more affordable may actually be the key to lifting us out of this unprecedented recession. Making childcare less expensive means more parents can enter and return to the workforce, thus more money is being earned per household, followed by more spending, and a stronger economy. Currently the percentage of subsidy a family is entitled to is based on their combined annual income, with more support available to families with a lower income. A family who earns up to $69,390 per year is entitled to the full subsidy percentage of 85%, which as mentioned before still isn’t enough. Modelling by the Grattan institute has argued that by raising the Child Care Subsidy for families with low-income from 85 per cent to 95 per cent, would boost the GDP by $11 billion per year, at a cost of only $5 billion to the federal budget.
It is clear why childcare is so important for both parents and for a child’s development, as the saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child”. Australia could potentially learn a lot from Sweden, who have been praised for their ‘gold standard’ childcare system named “EDUCARE”. A system built on the firm belief of high-quality care for children as well as providing them with the best possible start to their lives. It’s more than a child-minding service, all teachers need to complete a 3.5-year degree in order to be qualified to be a teach for EDUCARE. The curriculum is based around “goals to strive for” and assessments are not ‘top-down’ instead growth is looked at by teachers, parents, and children’s valuable opinions and experiences. These centers open from 6:30am – 6:00pm year-round (with many now offering extended hours to accommodate night shift workers). The fee is 2-3% of a family’s income before tax for the first child, and less for each child following, with a maximum fee equivalent to less than $200AU a month. This is an enormous difference to Australian fees which are about 31.1% of a couples average earning.
Gender equality was the driving feature in cultivating EDUCARE. After decades of struggling, a call for change occurred when women wanted to guarantee access to the labor industry and full-time work. This created a mission to design a stimulating childcare system that would be affordable, and accessible, and importantly where mothers would feel comfortable leaving their children. The issue of childcare became more than the plight of working women but ensuring quality care and education for all Swedish children, not just those of working women. Thus, the birth of EDUCARE.
In order for Australian families to be able to have the access to childcare that they deserve, and to help lift our economy out of recession, it’s obvious the government needs to alter the system and make it more affordable. Whether that’s raising the subsidy to 95% or working towards creating a similar system to Sweden’s, parents shouldn’t have to turn down an extra work because they would earn less than what a day of childcare would cost, the fact that this is an issue simply doesn’t make sense!
TikTok is the mobile app currently taking the world by storm! Previously known as Musical.ly, it was used mainly for lip syncing and duet videos. Although it still has a highly musical influence, Tiktok videos now range from comedy, challenges, tips, talent and of course dancing!
Anyone with the app can create and upload a video, TikTok also offers a variety of effects, songs and sounds you can add to make your content viewer ready. It kind of works like Instagram in the way that you follow accounts whose videos you want to see. However, when you first log in, rather than being greeted by videos uploaded by the people you follow, you’re instead directed to the “for you page”. The “for you” page is a bunch of recommended videos created by anyone on the app. This makes TikTok the easiest platform to go viral on, as your content is constantly being promoted within the app to many users.
The thing I’ve loved most about TikTok is that unlike Instagram, the majority of creators are every day, relatable people, just sharing their talents or experiences. Unlike Instagram, where every second post is an influencer trying to sell you hair vitamins or skinny tea, majority of the people on TikTok seem authentic and approachable. This makes you feel much closer to the creators and leaves you genuinely invested in their content.
I’ve honestly been so inspired by the things I’ve found on TikTok, specifically user @rohitroygre who gives daily updates on his journey to stop drinking fizzy drink. Rohit is on day 63 – which is a huge deal and thanks to his encouraging videos, I’ve made it a whole month and a half! He said he had been struggling to give it up even though his doctor advised him to do so immediately. Rohit turned to TikTok and has received an overwhelming amount of support with 155 thousand followers and millions of views. His daily updates have really motivated me to ditch the dirty juice myself.
So how does one use TikTok to promote their brand?
With 800 million users per day, utilising TikTok to promote your brand might seem like a no-brainer, but there are a few important things you might need to consider…
First and foremost, TikTok has a uniquely young demographic. Gen Z, young people aged between 16-24 make up 41% of users globally and 66% of users are under 30. This is most likely because from the beginning, the designers of the application chose under 18’s as their target audience. TikTok is a really great way for the young people of the world to express their creativity in a multitude of ways. Some of my favorite videos to watch on TikTok involve story times, as well as fashion and dance challenges but you can pretty much find anything related to one of your hobbies within the app.
There are a few ways businesses can use TikTok to advertise. One way is creating a 9 to 15-second-long paid ad that plays between user content. The price for this is approximately 10c per impression, however, you must pay for a minimum of 600 impressions. Though this still only translates to $60 spend per 600 users, it’s important to note that unlike other platforms, such as Facebook and YouTube, users can skip paid advertising. Speaking personally, I skip every ad I see – so it’s therfore difficult to guarantee engagement with paid advertising.
Another avenue for advertising is to develop influencer created content; this works similarly to Instagram sponsorships. You find someone with a large following and a high engagement rate who fits the theme of your brand and have them generate content for you. Some influencers may do this in exchange for free products and others can charge big bucks, it all depends on what you’re offering and who you’re working with.
There are other ways you can use TikTok for business such as hashtag challenges like Colgate’s #MakeMomSmile in honour of Mother’s Day, this one was simply about doing anything to make your mum or mother-figure smile, maybe by delivering her breakfast in bed or giving her a gift whilst recording it and uploading to TikTok with the hashtag #MakeMomSmile. Hashtag challenges can easily go viral but not all of them do, it’s important you do your research and ensure you make your challenge simple and inclusive for all.
Is TikTok Safe?
Currently, TikTok is facing global backlash due to privacy concerns and its ties with China. The app has already been banned in India, with countries such as the US (Trump’s famously not a fan) and Australia deciding whether to follow suit. Like most of the apps on your phone, TikTok collects a massive amount of your data and personal information. Andrew Hastie Federal MP and chairman of parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, fears that TikTok could be sharing that private information with authorities in Beijing. Everyone has their own stance on this and many politicians still have accounts, including Victoria’s own premier Dan Andrews. Although this fear of data mining its users has turned may off the app.
Could TikTok be an effective way to market your business?
Obviously if you’re a youth-orientated brand, big or small, TikTok could truly be an effective advertising platform for you. However, if you’re a small tech company, a business consultant or you’re in another industry that doesn’t spark excitement in the youngsters of the world, I don’t think TikTok is your most cost-effective advertising solution. This is just my personal opinion so do with it what you will, but as a 24-year-old weekly avid user of the app I can say that I never open TikTok, see an ad, watch the whole thing through and check out the brand, I immediately swipe away to the content I came looking for.
I’m not saying don’t do it, I just think it’s worth doing a lot of research, maybe even sign up and check out the world of TikTok yourself, but beware – it’s extremely addictive!
With technology constantly evolving and artificial intelligence becoming more intelligent, it leaves a lot of people wondering how safe their job will be in the coming decades. These changes are not unprecedented, in the 1990s we saw Automated Teller Machines installed in most prominent banks, whilst 2008 saw self-serve checkouts in Woolworths become the new industry standard in Australian supermarkets, while these jobs haven’t been completely taken over by robots, it is the perfect example of the automation of manual labour.
In fact, technology and automation processes have been taking over human completed jobs for centuries. For example, switchboard operating, lift operating, meeting scheduling, transport ticket operators and bowling alley pin setters. Even the alarm clock replaced “knocker-uppers“, who used to wake early risers with a truncheon, long stick or even a pea-shooter to strike their windows every morning.
It’s been happening right before our eyes, often imperceptibly, even in the administration and reception industry. Google recently expanded Google Duplex to Australia. Google Duplex is an Artificial Intelligence powered calling service that calls and makes appointments for you, it even sounds like a real human being and understands the nuances of conversation. The below video shows just how real this machine sounds.
Naturally, this instilled some fear into me about the future of my career, which lead me to this website, https://willrobotstakemyjob.com/ – you can enter your specific job title and the machine will let you know how likely your job is to be automated. As expected, my role is doomed!
According to this study: there could be 14 million robots put to work in China alone, within the next 11 years. Adrian Cooper, CEO and Chief Economist at Oxford Economics states that “tens of millions of existing jobs will be lost, with human workers displaced by robots at an increasing rate as robots become steadily more sophisticated.” It is estimated that 20 million manufacturing jobs will be lost to robots by 2030. There are regional vulnerabilities to take into consideration, countries with a high number of manufacturing roles will be most affected, so what does this look like in Australia?
As you can see on the below map, South Australia is our most vulnerable state as it is the heart of Australia’s manufacturing industry, Victoria comes in at a close second with NSW and ACT being the least vulnerable states as manufacturing productivity has improved.
Everyone seems to have a slightly different opinion on which industries will be most affected by automation and AI. Manufacturing, customer service, transportation, healthcare and data entry are all said to be the most effected. However, maybe we underestimate just how far-reaching the development of this technology will be. Indeed, automation processes long predate the ATMs of the 1990s. With COVID happening, turns towards automation could even increase as robots don’t need to social distance or take sick days!
Perhaps automation has been around for so long that we ourselves are AI that’s been created to power some greater being’s coffee pot! Who knows, either way though I guess the real question is, how do we know we aren’t robots… already automating our jobs? Maybe we’re just programmed to live as real human beings.
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.
With the second wave of Covid-19 slingshot-ing us back to the safety of our lounge rooms, virtual calls have again become our meeting medium. Platforms such as Zoom, Skype and House Party have been interwoven into our daily work life, providing us with the ability to host workshops, meetings, team catch-ups, and virtual drinks with participants all over the globe from the comfort of our homes. It is technology like this that really separates us from the 14th century Black Plague… okay and maybe a few other things too like our mask fashion has dropped the spooky bird look…
But even with our advanced technology, video conferencing still faces dilemmas. New terms like “Zoom Doom” and “Zoom fatigue” are often on peoples tongues, but what exactly is Zoom Doom? And how do we defeat it? Cluster Member Olivia Solomons and her company, Glow, have begun hosting webinars to tackle this issue, helping people develop their video presenting, public speaking and conferencing skills. Her unique offering in Glow comes from a range of strategies and techniques cultivated from her years of experience acting on stage and working both sides of the camera!
What Is Zoom Doom
Regular Virtual meetings are beginning to drain both the viewers, who are struggling to stay engaged, and hosts who feel exhausted from having to emote more than they regularly would so they aren’t just another talking face in a little box. For some people the inability to be engaged leads to feelings of unproductiveness and embarrassment.
Why is it difficult to concentrate?
Humans are social creatures and as the adage goes: actions speak louder than words. Numerous experts acknowledge this, agreeing that 70 to 93 percent of communication is non-verbal. Although video conferencing is magnificent in the sense that it allows you to see your presenter and all the participants in a gallery view, it is usually only framed from the shoulders up, eliminating a huge portion of body language. This “Brady-bunch” style can be an overwhelming sensory distraction as it’s easier to look at to someone’s cat walking in the background rather than listening to your boss chatting about revenues.
It is also important to acknowledge that there is a huge difference between meetings in real life vs those on a screen. Everyone is in a different setting and environment, which often comes with their own background noises. Ted’s worried the his toaster’s about to pop, whilst Bev’s still struggling to stay awake, maybe Alley has to pick her kids up in 10 minutes, and Maya puts away a rouge bobby pin in her heater only get electrocuted in front of everyone in the team meeting (an unfortunately true story )! It is possible your coworkers speak and behave slightly differently; this could be because they are at home and might not feel completely immersed in the work mindset. There is also no ability to have side chats or small talk with the people next to you as only one person can speak at a time (perhaps not always a bad thing). It’s important to acknowledge all these factors.
For many parents, children in the background or knowing they are downstairs and could appear at anytime, creates an inner anxiety. Millions got a laugh from the BBC interview of a father in his study unfazed by his child scattering into the room, followed by the baby in it’s walker, and finally by the panicky mother gathering them all out of the room! A hilarious moment, but the fear of any parent in a zoom meeting.
Individual Learning styles
We all retain information and learn indifferent ways, which it vital to remember when on a video call. So it’s important to know where your team falls in regards to the three categories below:
kinaesthetic: Hands-on approach, you learn best from physically doing something rather than passively watching someone else do it.
Auditory: Information is gained best through listening, so speeches, presentations, audio books and podcasts work best.
Visual: Learn mostly from graphics or visual aids such as pictures and colours. When recalling information, you often visualise it in your head as you saw it written down.
The real key to engaging an entire audience is understanding this and finding ways to involve all senses.
Olivia’s Steps to take to improve your Video skills.
With 20 years of experience, Olivia is an Actress, Presenter, Director and Producer with a wide net of experiences, which has lead to develop a range of skills and strategies to mitigate Zoom Doom. Here are few nifty tricks taken from her webinar:
Check your technology! Is your microphone clear? Have you wiped the lens of your camera? Have you thought about pre-recording yourself so that you know how your audience is hearing you? If you have 2 monitors make sure your video conference is on the monitor right in front of you/your eyes.
Have a’plan B’ if technology or internet connection fails you. If you are the host it is your job to take care of your guests.
In person we get to see and hear all verbal and non-verbal language. Online, you only have one frame so be selective of what makes it in. Avoid backgrounds that will distract from you (so frame out those dirty dishes, messy bedroom settings). Be your own location scout or set designer – maybe add some greenery or a bookcase as props can help balance sound and make the scene more appealing. Natural lighting is always best and the rule of thumb with natural light, is to face it (i.e. if you face away from the window, you will get shadows and darkness making it harder to see you). If you don’t have sunshine, use your room lighting and bring in some lamps around the house, or invest in a ring light/LED light.)
How do you look and sound today? Bring the same ‘in-person’ behaviour into your online meetings. Wear what you would normally wear in these circumstances. If it’s a high-pressure meeting and you normally wear a blazer or heels, feel free to still wear these – if they help your mindset/ psychological state, then use these same tools to empower you for the video medium.
How do you sound? Have you warmed your voice and body up? In between your meetings do you walk and stretch? Introduce your own ‘circuit breakers’ to get refocused.
Eye contact is key!
Where is your audience? On the other side of the lens! It’s hard staring down a camera barrel but we must form this habit to connect to the audience and signal our active listening. Audience connection takes place when people feel seen and heard, so look up! It might feel strange at first, but it’ll feel normal to your audience. Divide your time between looking at them on your screen, looking at your material and looking down the barrel of your camera.
Use your hands and gestures!
Our non-verbal communication is important. Showing your hands and engaging your body is key. When we are aligned, we talk and breathe with our whole body. We must be creative and remember to bring this same behaviour to our frame. If standing up helps you to do this, then have your meetings standing!
Clarity in communication, active listening and valuable content is also essential. If you’d like to build your video muscles and gain strategies to implement into your next zoom meeting, then be sure to chat to Liv!
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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!
With all the chaos happening around the world at the moment, thanks COVID-19, you may be wondering if there’s any extra ways you can fight the virus on top of social distancing and following the government’s guidelines – the answer is YES! You can help beat COVID-19 with your computers at home through a process called, distributed computing, which is where a bunch of computers essentially team up to calculate values or create formulas.
Here at The Cluster, we have decided to help fight COVID-19 from our office with some of our servers and unused computers. We have done this through a program called Folding@Home which simulates protein dynamics, that means we volunteer our computers to calculate how different proteins are made up, how they can be broken down and what the proteins can do.
This isn’t just for COVID-19. The research can help scientists better understand diseases from Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis, BSE (Mad Cow disease) and even many cancer studies are benefiting from the project. To find out the amount a computer is calculating is done via a measurement called, floating point operations per second (FLOPS for short). FLOPS are mainly used with extremely large or extremely small numbers, as well as computations that require a large range of calculations. When using this to measure performance, its done by quantifying how many calculations a computer can do per second. With all its volunteers, Folding@home has more combined power than the top super computers of the world! Computing around 2 exaFLOPS of data per second (a normal home computer can do about 109 gigaFLOPS of data per second), compare that with the most powerful supercomputer in the world, “The American Summit” and its 143.5 petaFLOPS of data per second, and you can begin to understand what a huge difference this program can make!
You may be asking, “What is folding, and how does it relate to COVID-19?”. Folding is where you simulate how proteins ‘fold’ in different shapes, these shapes determine what the protein makes up and how they function. COVID-19, like any virus, is made up of proteins, so by understanding how the proteins of COVID-19 work, we will discover the vaccines and medicine required to beat it! Even if you can only offer your computer’s power for a few hours here and there, it’s still a major help in the effort to find a cure.
If you want to join this computing fight against COVID-19, you can sign up with Folding@home a few different ways; go onto the Folding@home website, download the software for your operating system, run the program, join The Cluster team (by entering the team number 260375) then decide when and how your computer will be used to start folding these proteins for the researchers! Typically, if you use the computer at the same time, the recommended setting for the power slider is ”Light” and setting the ”When” buttons to ”while I’m working”. Depending on how powerful your computer is will determine how many folding tasks you will be given at one time, but even just 1 folding task makes all the difference in the fight against COVID-19!
Come join The Cluster’s Folding@home team, lets help the researchers find ways to beat COVID-19 whilst we are still working from home and have access to so many computers!